Travel

Local travelers spot
 infernal machine

 ... Poof, ca-chug, pop, clang, bang, putt putt putt, zzzzztttt, humma humma

by Don Norris



Sometimes you make a find. Like this, ah, thing. It was sitting in a clearing of pine and hemlock, right beside Blair Bridge Road. That would be just down the road from Campton Hollow, maybe five miles north of Plymouth, New Hampshire. In the White Mountains.

Take a guess. Early motor car? Some type of steam engine? A farm tractor. No. No. No.

This happens to be a John M. Smythe single cylinder infernal combustion engine. Well, maybe not infernal, for it works. One hundred years later, it still works. It was just sitting there, covered with loose sheets of corrugated steel, rusted, settling into the ground.

But on closer inspection, its big dual flywheels are greased and oiled, the left one obviously for turning some kind of belt-drive system. Yes, that's it. Down at the front end is a reduction wheel that turns a big round saw blade. This infernal machine is a timber saw.

Its owner lives in the small, neat white house just across the street, and he came out to talk when he saw us circling the wagon.

"Sure, it works," said Ed Pattee. "I just finished cutting that pile over there. Firewood for the tourists." The pile amounted to about two cords of slab-cut pine and hemlock. "See there," he said, pointing to a rusted nameplate on the side of the crankcase, "It was built by that Smythe outfit in Chicago, in 1905. And it still runs."

He said that he bought the rig in 1953 or so, from some 94-year old farmer named Barney Durgin -- for forty bucks. It sat there in Mr. Pattee's field for 38 years, unused.

"Then a fellow I know, likes these old machines, he come up and had it going in five minutes," Mr. Pattee said. "Now all I have to do is to pour the gas in, attach a six-volt battery to this gadget -- a magneto -- then turn this here wheel," he explained, grasping the heavy flywheel. "It'll start right up. Not much to it."

The second drive wheel, on the other side, had a spindle to fit a five-inch-wide leather drive belt. Up front was a smaller drive wheel, on whose axle was mounted the circular blade. The whole rig was mounted on two oak timbers, to which were attached the four metal, spoked wheels. No rubber tires here, just heavy metal wheels.

As for horsepower, one horse will pull it anywhere -- or a small tractor. Mr. Pattee said he had to rebuild the oak frame, but otherwise, his machine is as it was when it came out of the John Smythe factory in Chicago -- 99 years ago. Its plate gives it a three-digit serial, and states that the single cylinder engine is rated at four and a half horsepower.

I offered my thanks to Mr. Pattee, and my wife and I drove off -- past the town cemetery, and across Blair Bridge -- a double span wooden covered bridge that crosses the Pemigewasset. Now there's another story.



November 5, 2004


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