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Emil and Pete

By Robert E. Forsyth

Milestones Vol 33 No. 1


My parents, Emil Herman Forsyth and Marie Margaret Steinecke, were married in Pittsburgh, December 1921 after Dad's four-year hitch in the U.S. Navy.

They started housekeeping at a second-floor apartment at 512 7th Street in Ellwood City, PA. Dad's first permanent job was at the Koppel Car Works before taking a job at the Ellwood City Forge where he remained for 43 years.

Early in their marriage, Dad bought two lots in Franklin Township southeast of Ellwood known as the Knox Plan. It is nice level land with well divided streets and had at that time several new homes. The Harmony Short Line Trolley Company had a stop there known as "Knox Stop". The ink was hardly dry on our deed when the trolley company went belly up. Today more homes exist; a lot of space exists as well.

Dad and Mother built a garage on their new property. I estimate it was about 15' x 35', wooden structured, with workbenches, pot-bellied stove, a well, hand pump, toilet, and cesspool, no electric or gas. All this was located at the corner of Stiefel Ave. and Franklin St. Dad kept this place until 1944; he maintained the property as an auto repair shop, nursed a large garden and a small vineyard. Dad operated his hobby on a spare-time basis. The garage soon became a gathering place. These were the days of the "Great Depression" causing widespread unemployment and bank failures. Not all of our guests were working. Some were partially employed. I remember several tube mill people saying things like "I got one day in this pay." Almost everyone had a small garden in which they worked. Some who didn't have room at home for a garden made rock terraces on the banks of the Connequenessing Creek. Even today one can still see the evidence of these endeavors. The tube mill supplied truck transportation to an abandoned airport for their hard-put employees in order that gardens could be attended to. That area today is known as Shady Rest.

A regular visitor at the garage gathering was a neighbor, Lawrence C. Young, known as "Pete." He was a tube mill employee and as a sideline he delivered coal. Pete drove a Chrysler automobile. More about Pete later.
When I was a child my father often took me to the Knox hideaway. Dad slept only a couple hours in the morning and our trips usually took place after lunch. Normally we drove in our 1926 Buick "Doctor's Coupe." Sometimes we walked from our rented home in the 7th Street area - a distance of three miles. We walked north to Crescent Avenue, turned east to 6th Street, then north where we stopped at Little & Barnhart's Auto Parts Store. There we greeted Mr. Barnhart - to this day I still wonder who Mr. Little was and where he kept himself.

Loaded down with boxes of valves, piston rings, and brake lining we continued northward past the Central High School. When we reached the railroad tracks, we turned east again past the Union Station that was a ticket office for both the Baltimore & Ohio and the Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railway systems. Soon on our left we saw the tube mill, Ellwood City's largest industry.

These days, I sometimes reflect on the sounds heard during days past-the tube mill's clanking and banging, the heavy earth shaking thumping of the hammers and presses of the Forge, the ring of the blacksmith's anvil on Factory Avenue. Most factories had whistles to signal the beginning and end of each turn and to summon all sorts of assistance regarding fire and injury, loss of furnace heat, and power loss. During normal times the tube mill was on a three-turn schedule. The mill hands worked a five day week and alternated turns: 7 AM to 3 PM, 3 PM to 11 PM, and 11 PM to 7 AM. When the eleven o'clock whistle blew, most Ellwood children knew they had better be in bed. In the early summer evenings, Mr. Barsoti, the candy store proprietor, hitched his horse to a wagon; and blowing a conch shell to attract children, drove through Ellwood dispensing ice cream cones, sounds and fond memories.

As the trek progressed and we passed the 127 acres of the tube mill with its 18 miles of railroad track, the steam driven coal fired railway locomotives chugged and blew aggressive whistles to join the melody.

Next came the B & 0 Railway Tunnel; it was a fearful place for little boys-cold--dark--damp-malodorous--also with suspected troglodytes. I expected a train would come upon us. We walked the ties. Normally the ties are about 18" apart giving one the choice on making an 18" or 36" step. When we finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel we immediately met the railway bridge over the Connequenessing Creek. Overcoming this structure was an even more terrifying experience. The structure was poorly maintained; the walkway had rotten and missing boards. Dad decreed that for safety sake we stay on the ties (also in poor condition). The spaces between them allowed a view of the angry, green, swift waters of the creek 150 feet below. This space, one imagined, was large enough to fall through. The far end of the bridge passed over the River Road that ran from Wurtemburg to Frisco. We then left the tracks that led to the Pittsburgh Station at Water and Smithfield Streets, now long gone.

After a short walk east on River Road, Dad and I turned right on Stiefel Avenue and then at Franklin Street we reached the comfort of the garage.
These journeys to the Knox Plan were a treat for me. We didn't see enough of Dad while growing up. He worked seven nights a week, thirteen hours a night; vacations in the early days were rare, and I don't remember him taking a sick day off. As I grow older I have learned to increasingly appreciate my mother and dad.

Not long after our arrival at the shop, Dad's friends and neighbors gathered. Some visitors arrived barefoot from their gardens on summer days, thus "saving shoe leather." Dad was always busy, grinding valves, scraping carbon, installing spark plugs, and riveting brake bands in the autos of his customers. I'm sure he did much gratis work.
The discussions at these occasions included the merits of various autos, prohibition, and "hard times."

Pete Young had an idea, he dreamed of a perpetual motion machine. He and Dad started fabrication plans. Pete's thinking was to combine an electric motor with a generator on the same shaft. Once the flywheel was started, the generator supplied power to the motor and the motor supplied rotation to the generator. It should run forever! Coils were bolted to both sides of the bronze flywheel. Model T magnets were bolted in stationary position. The flywheel was cast at the Ellwood City Foundry located on Factory Avenue, between 8th and 9th Streets, about where the Allied Auto Accessories Store is now located. Dad made the pattern and we took it to Mr. Burrows and Mr. Anderson at George Hemmerly's Foundry and the flywheel was cast. These three men were typical foundry men; they labored in dark, smoky, sandy buildings, breathing in coal smoke and all sorts of foundry fumes. They were gaunt men with sunken eyes who spoke in in such a manner that one thought their lungs were made of paper bags. Dad machined and balanced the parts. After assembly Pete made the remark, "Emil, we will go to the moon with this."

After trials, experiments, and alterations, the machine didn't operate as expected, the program was abandoned, and I for one almost forgot about it. Pete died October 1974. Shirley Lash, Pete's niece, while visiting Pete's widow some years later associated me with the machine and Aunt Sylvia offered me the machine which I gladly accepted. Shirley Lash and I worked at the same office in Ellwood for over 20 years. She reflected that her father took her on the same trip through the terrible tunnel and across the rickety bridge, a generation after my experiences.
Shirley said some papers existed, correspondence with General Electric and the like, long gone now. I had some photos taken, then dismantled the machine, saving the hand-wound coils, the T Ford magnets and the flywheel.
Many years have now passed. This summer here in Enon Valley (2004) where Elsie and I now live, we were visited by my niece Mary Beth (Forsyth) Wischer from Wisconsin. One of her sons, Blake, a high school student, expressed an interest in his great grandfather's endeavors. I gave Blake a present, and the old brass flywheel had a new home.

Dad and Mom sold the garage in 1944 to the newly married son of one of his old Knox buddies and the newlyweds converted the old structure into a home.

After World War II a significant amount of interest among automakers and businessmen grew in regard to the development of a gas turbine auto. The Chrysler Motor Car Company received a grant from the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics for the purpose of developing a gas-turbine engine, the outgrowth of which would be a gas-turbine aircraft motor. Chrysler built several types of these engines and installed them in standard cars for tests with various degrees of success. High operating temperatures were a problem. A turbine engine lends itself best at constant speeds as in a ship, aircraft, or stationary installation. The turbine auto, as then built, did not lend itself to the rapid acceleration requirements that auto drivers were accustomed to when driving a piston engine.

The turbine rotary device has been around for a long time. Greece, during the first century AD, developed a steam driven rotary device. Ancient Persian documents tell of vertical windmills. One of the first recorded automobiles was built in 1678 by Father Ferdinand Verbiest, a Belgian Jesuit priest-missionary to China-and employed by the Emperor as inventor and astronomer. The auto was a coal fired, steam geared turbine. It was about the size of a baby buggy. I wonder how many Chinamen could get into it?

The Chrysler people were probably the first to experiment with the gas turbine auto engine. General Motors fielded a Firebird II. Chrysler put an engine in a standard Plymouth in 1954. Later they drove a car cross-country. A movie titled "The Lively Set" came out about the same time featuring a gas turbine Chrysler outperforming everything else on the road; public interest increased.

In 1963, Chrysler had fifty test cars built; the bodies were styled like the Ford Thunderbird. These cars were loaned to selected people, chosen from over thirty thousand applicants, who drove the cars three months each as "Customer Representatives" from 1963 to 1966.

Pete Young was one of the chosen ones as noted in the Ellwood City Ledger, 26 February 1964 and the New Castle News, 28 February 1964. Later, on a warm spring late afternoon Pete and Dad stopped off at my home in Ellwood City and I climbed in for a ride in the car of the future. This automobile, two-door, four passenger, was beautifully styled and bronze in color. The engine ran quietly, free of vibration, reflecting the few moving parts in the engine as opposed to the piston driven engine. I confirmed what I had already read: the car noticeably lagged at getting up speed, especially in traffic. Pete told me he was getting twenty miles per gallon using diesel fuel and it would run on gasoline and also kerosene. I read a couple of these cars found their way overseas. The French used Channel #5 perfume as a fuel and the South Africans fired up their vehicle on cognac!
My sister, Lois Wallace, recently sent me some data from the Internet regarding the gas turbine.

The New Castle, Pa. Public Library has several Chrysler related books.
Dad died in 1984, outliving Pete by ten years. They both, however, lived to see Neil Armstrong get to the moon without them.

The gas-turbine car didn't make it commercially. The government funding had stopped, new government emission regulations arrived, and fuel shortages all could have been negative factors.

Because of high import tariffs, the bronze beauties were scrapped. Today, only five remain-two with Chrysler and three in museums.

I passed the site of Dad's garage a few months ago and found an empty lot.
These days Chrysler (now Chrysler-Daimler) and others are working on a hydrogen fuel-cell electric driven cars, hybrid cars, and bio-fuels.