York Town Square

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Talking machines in York County, Pa., contrast old and new

York County, Pa., folks imitated, or tried to imitate the New York Wire factory steam whistle in this video. A sister to that famed whistle gave a short blast marking the noon hour at the “If Machines Could Talk” exhibition at the York County Agricultural and Industrial Museum last weekend. Also of interest: All New York Wire whistle posts from the start and The world’s loudest music without amplification from a non-musical instrument and New York Wire’s musical factory steam whistle – by the numbers.

Short blasts from two factory steam whistles at a recent York County Agricultural and Industrial Museum event were among many signs pointing to the old and new.
The whistles blew at noon at the “If Machines Could Talk” event, as a reminder of those days when factory whistles helped regulate life in York and other industrial towns. Their blasts marked the beginning of work days, time for lunch, return from lunch and the day’s end… .

The New York Wire factory steam whistle has remained a prominent vestige of that past because of its Christmas Eve concerts.
Now that tradition is endangered by a $15,000 annual price tag that largely goes toward underwriting the portable boiler needed to produce the steam. Heritage officials are exploring using compressed air – as was used at the Ag and Industrial Museum event to power the musical whistle.
Those short blasts were not the only old-and-new indicators at the event, designed to give the public a glimpse at the industrial life of the community 75 or 100 years ago.
– An exhibition of slate-splitting – sculpting the rock into flat sheets for roofing and other uses added an interesting element.
One of the splitters wore a hat bearing an atomic symbol and a shirt with an “Exelon” label. That provided an interesting low-tech/high-tech contrast between the primary employer of the late 1800s in the Delta-Peach Bottom region – slate mining – with the largest employer today – the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant.
– The restored trolley in the transportation wing was brighter and shinier inside and out than when it rolled around York County in the 1920s and 30s.
The car is lighted nowadays with those fancy coiled energy-saving bulbs setting up an interesting contrast with the old days when a trolley’s lights would dim as it used all its resources to pull a grade.
– Two exhibits required foot-and-leg power to provide energy by seated operators – a player piano, made by York-based Weaver Organ and Piano Co., and a Barnes Lathe, used by York’s B.M Root company.
Anyone operating either device for any period would get more than their daily exercise.
From the vantage point of the lathe, one could see York County Heritage Rail Trail users running or pedaling along the Codorus Creek, setting up a contrast the foot power of old and the artificial exercise needed in this day of office and service sector work.
This brought to mind a rail trail memory from a few years ago. Along the trail north of Seven Valleys, sweating field hands bailing hay took time out to observe cyclists pumping up some perspiration. The body language of the haymakers indicated, “If you want some real exercise, join us.”
Of course, today’s field hands have an advantage over one generation earlier.Then, field hands had to walk with the wagon and throw bales upward, without the benefit of today’s bailing machines that do the heavy work by kicking bales into the wagon.
Taking in hay is easier today with mechanization.
If machines could talk?
Well, they do, telling a story of old and new.
If we would only listen.