Pufferbellies

November 20, 2009

Two of my granddaughters are becoming violinists. I’m very happy to see their interest in music and do what I can to encourage it.

Recently Rachel began singing a little tune and seemed rather shocked when I joined in. “See the little pufferbellies all in a row.”

Not surprisingly, my twelve-year-old granddaughter had no idea what a pufferbelly was. I gave her a brief explanation, but our visit to Paducah, Kentucky provided me with a perfect pictorial example.

A not-so-little pufferbelly

As with so many things I run across nowadays, seeing the steam locomotive brought back more than a few memories.

For example, I recall my parents taking us to see Rook Station near Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Besides having a fairly large rail yard, Rook Station had a round house where the pufferbellies could be turned around and maintained.

A similar turn-table in Savannah, Georgia

I also remember a time when I was about Rachel’s age that I went on a field trip to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in downtown Pittsburgh. Part of the tour included an animated film telling us about the future of railroading. They were getting ready to introduce diesel locomotives which would spell the end of most pufferbellies.

The "new" locomotive on the Branson Scenic Railway

A few scenic railways still use the steam engines, but they are becoming harder and harder to find. I believe the one that runs out of Bryson City, North Carolina is still using a pufferbelly.

A few years back I discovered how intense true railroad buffs are. I was working at a lumber yard in Texas when a load of old railroad ties was delivered. Almost immediately there were swarms of men intently searching for nails stuck in the wood. But these weren’t ordinary nails; they had two digit dates embossed in the heads. Those dates indicated the year the tie was put into place and were used to help the workers determine when to replace the tie. To my surprise, the nails were seen as valuable collectors’ items. I managed to obtain one and passed it on to Andy Sarge.

I mention Andy’s name because I’m hoping he can answer a question of two. While we were watching the Veteran’s Day parade in Branson, there were two machines working on the tracks of the scenic railway. The first machine was the one shown below:

A machine with steel teeth biting into the ground.

A closer look at the teeth

The teeth seemed to be used to loosen the dirt and gravel along side the track. Another interesting feature of this machine was the flimsy looking device being pushed ahead of the machine.

Unknown gizmo being pushed ahead

This thing seemed to be about twenty or thirty feet in front of the first machine. After this machine passed by, it was followed by a second machine.

The second machine

This machine would periodically drop the gray device in front and kick up a bunch of dust. I assume there were brushes cleaning the rails or redistributing the gravel loosened by the first machine.

Hopefully, Andy or some other railroad buffs will enlighten me.

In the meantime, let’s return to pufferbellies. Back in the late forties or early fifties, the Four Preps took that children’s song and produced the following recording.

And that is why I was able to sing along with my granddaughter.

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Another Mystery Solved

July 24, 2009

About a week ago I mentioned that I was trying to learn the origin of the names of two towns. One was Laboratory, Pennsylvania, and the other was Forks of Ivy, North Carolina.

A basic search of the Internet told me that Laboratory, PA was originally known as Pancake, PA because a man named George Pancake ran a tavern there. I guessed that the name had to be changed in order to get a Post Office; at the time, Pennsylvania had two towns named Pancake.

I sent a request for information to the Washington County Historical Society in Pennsylvania. Here is the response sent me by Janet Wareham.

Earle Forrest wrote about this area in his 1926 History of Washington County, Pennsylvania in the chapter on South Strabane Township.  He discusses first George Pancake, then Jonathan Martin and adds this paragraph:

“About thirty years ago the late Dr. Byron Clark, who resided near the end of East Maiden Street, Washington, established a chemical laboratory for the manufacture of patent medicine, which he sold throughout the country.  He had a post office established and named the place Laboratory, by which it is still known, although the original name of Pancake still sticks.”

The only part I had right was that the U.S. Post Office was involved.

Now, let’s see if we can solve the mystery of Forks of Ivy. Maybe a member of the Forks of Ivy Baptist Church can help us.


Town Names

July 17, 2009

On our recent trip to Pittsburgh, we passed by two towns that caught my attention. Laboratory, Pennsylvania and Forks of Ivy, North Carolina.

We also passed by Eighty-four, Pennsylvania and, as I was telling my bride how that town got its name, I began to wonder about the two towns that had aroused my curiosity.

When we arrived home, I started searching the Internet for some answers. The only thing I learned was that Laboratory was once known as Pancake.

The Pancake name came from George Pancake who ran a tavern there back in the early 1800’s. My guess is that, similar to many towns across America, the name had to be changed when a post office was being built; there was another Pancake, Pennsylvania near State College. The other Pancake may have already built a post office. But why did they change the name to Laboratory?

I have no idea and I’m hoping that someone who reads this will supply an answer.

The same goes for Forks of Ivy, North Carolina. There is a Forks of Ivy Baptist Church nearby, but I could not find any explanation for the naming of the church or the town.

So, let’s see what our readers can tell us.