Earl Edward Smith - construction photos
Earl Edward "Smitty" Smith
1900 - 1982
I am scanning over 50 photos that were taken of or by my grandfather, Earl Smith, at various construction sites that he worked on. He operated cranes and shovels at many locations around New York state and northeastern Pennsylvania near the border with New York - possibly also other states in the northeast - from around the late 1920s or early 1930s through at least the 1950s. Identifying the locations of these is difficult because Grandpa usually never bothered to label his photos. I put about a dozen of them on this website - will try to get around to the others later. I think they're all interesting, but it will take time to get the rest organized and uploaded.
The links below will take you to the few photos of Grandpa's that either have been identified by location or have been sorted into categories by similar subject matter. The rest of the page below the links contains miscellaneous unidentified photos - I hope to try to sort these further or at least split them into more than one page so that it doesn't take forever to load them all. Near the bottom of the page are a couple of stories and recollections about my grandfather and his shovels.
The Steam Shovel Register is a web site listing steam shovels and cranes that still exist in various places around the world. There are many photos on this page of machines that have been restored to operating condition. PLEASE NOTE: There are many large images on their website, so if you have a slow connection, it may take quite awhile to load.
- Wadhams, New York, 1938. Nine photos of construction of a new bridge over a creek.
- Adams, New York, 1940. Six photos of some kind of big road job through the town. It looks like an underpass is being built and a road dug under an existing road.
- Four photos of a bridge being built over a canal sometime in the 1930s or 40s.
- Four photos taken of various job sites sometime in the 1950s.
- Hurley Sand and Gravel Co., Lomontville, Ulster County, New York. I think Grandpa worked for this company approximately from the 1960s into the 1980s.
- Miscellaneous photos of things other than cranes and shovels. This section includes (so far) three photos of very old trucks, what appears to be concrete-mixing equipment, and some non-worksite-related photos: a barnstormer's plane, a third place photo of a fallen tree, two photos of a collapsed bridge with wrecked cars.
- More photos to come!
Members of the Historical Construction Equipment Association collect and display old construction equipment. Their website has some great photos of equipment shown and run at some of their national conventions.
Miscellaneous Construction Photos
- Two steam shovels working on the Gilboa Reservoir dam in upstate New York. This photo reminds me of dinosaurs for some reason. This is probably not a job that Grandpa actually worked on as he never worked on any of the reservoir projects and he would have been too young for this one anyway. He may have visited the site and taken this photo (my mom and my uncle remember that he liked to visit and photograph construction sites whether they were jobs he was working on or not), although he usually did not bother to label his photos. This photo is more likely to be connected to the Van Kleeck family as my grandmother remembers her father, Abram Van Kleeck, and older brothers working as laborers on the Gilboa Dam project. There is also a possibility that this may be a photo relating to one of Lester Personeus' (Earl's wife's uncle) jobs as Mom remembers they lived up that way at the time and Lester may have worked on the dam.
- Earl Smith in a steam shovel. Lettering along the top reads "Erie Steam Shovel Co. Erie, PA." Date and location unknown. Some of the large cans in the back behind Earl's lunchbox have writing on them, but I can't make out what it says.
- Earl Smith with some of his co-workers. These may have been taken on different jobs - no idea where. Earl's co-workers are unidentified. Earl is the smiling guy on the far right in each photo (not counting the guy sleeping in the background in the photo on the left).
- One of Earl's co-workers. This man is identified as "Jimmy Hill." My mother remembers that the Hills were good friends of the family and my grandmother often talked about them. Mr. Hill and my grandfather apparently worked on several jobs together. In those days, the wives went along, they rented living quarters and the families became friends.
- Two photos identified as Rauchtown, Pennsylvania in 1930. The subject appears to be a partially disassembled steam shovel. The vertical boiler has been removed and is sitting off to the right.
- Steam shovels seen from the rear - not necessarily the same shovel or the same job. The photo on the left looks like they were laying a pipe along a country road somewhere.
- Constructing a road in the country somewhere. This is a neat photograph - equipment being used includes a steam shovel, a roller and possibly a small bulldozer with the group of men working on the left.
- A steam shovel covered with snow.
- Two photos of a crane using a pile-driver attachment in winter. I don't know whether both photos are from the same job.
- Two photos of overturned cranes. I have no information on when or where these were taken and am not even certain whether both photos are of the same incident. The men in the photos are unidentified.
- We aren't sure exactly when or where these were taken. It seems there was a large boulder in the way of the construction and some of Earl's co-workers bet him that he couldn't move it out of the way with his shovel. Grandpa won the bet - instead of trying to lift the boulder as the other men probably expected him to, he rolled it out of the way with the shovel's nose. The number 79 is clearly visible on the shovel's body. There is a light colored plate on the shovel's boom - the top word is very fuzzy (probably "Thew"), but the bottom word reads "Lorain" and there is a number 75.
- This photo appears to show a railroad-mounted crane being used to clear a train wreck. It's hard to tell what happened to the train because of the tall corn, but it looks as though several freight cars were involved. At least one (on the other side of the men in the photo) appears to be upside down. From what I can make out in the high-resolution scan, the cars appear to have been Boston & Maine gondolas filled with what looks like coal.
- A steam shovel working by water near a farm. This appears to have been painted a light color and the words "BUCYRUS ERIE" are visible on its boom. This may be the same shovel as the one on the railroad car below (see the story below that about why it was light-colored).
- A Bucyrus Erie steam shovel loaded on an Ontario & Western railroad car. I tried to get some detail out of the writing on the right hand car with a high-resolution scan, but it was still a bit fuzzy. Some members of the Ontario & Western Railway Historical Society were interested in this photo and one of them even made an HO scale model of the shovel on the railroad cars (look for the "Steam Shovel" entry about halfway down the page in the link). My uncle remembers the following stories about this photo:
My uncle is not sure where this picture was taken. He thinks possibly Goshen, NY but it could have been somewhere else; e.g. Whitney Point. Not only did the O& W run to many places Earl worked, but their cars ran on other lines also.
A correspondent agrees that the photo does seem to be of Goshen, NY and notes that the house in the background looks like one across the street from where he grew up.
My uncle noticed that the shovel in the photo is a "light color". This reminds him of a story Earl told.
Mr. Hopkins (Earl's boss) visited a job and said that was the "worst looking shovel, it
needs to be painted." Earl or someone went to a store in town and bought
paint. The only paint the store had enough of was pale green - so the shovel
was painted green. My uncle thinks this might be that shovel.
My uncle tells about the job in Goshen. Earl had worked for Mr. Hopkins at the Albany Sand & Gravel Co. for many years, both in Albany and on various construction sites in NY and PA. He left Albany Gravel in the 1940's and worked for Everett Van Kleeck at his garage in Kingston. Shortly after the garage closed in the 1950's, Mr. Hopkins called Earl. He had sent the last old steam shovel he had to a job in Goshen, NY (this could have been it sitting on the RR car). They were having trouble getting the old shovel to run and he asked Earl to go down and see if he could help. He did, and my uncle thinks Earl might have worked there for a while.
Some years later when my uncle was working as a truck driver - hauling milk in a tanker, he passed through Goshen. He noticed an old shovel sitting there rusting away. Later he mentioned this to Earl. Earl asked some questions about the shovel and said "That's my old shovel. They didn't use steam shovels anymore after that job, so they just abandoned it there".
My late relative Warren Van Kleeck remembered the following:
"I remember, as a youngster, traveling with Mom and Dad to somewheres in PA. where Uncle Smitty was operating a power shovel. I was in awe of the big machine, and years later, for a short period of time I became a heavy equipment operator for Geo. M. Brewster & Son on the NYS Thruway construction 1953- 1954, and I was informed I would be going to Brazil, and thus ended my career, and back to the world of trucks."
I was told that back in the days when the cranes and shovels ran on steam, the operators owned their own steam whistles and carried them from job site to job site. My grandfather, Earl Smith, had two of these whistles - my uncle has one and my brother has the other. A couple of years ago (I was not home at the time and found out about this later), my brother got curious what the thing sounded like, so he hooked it up to his air compressor. His curiosity was satisfied as well as that of most of the neighbors. I don't think he has blown the whistle since then.
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© 2001 by Roxy Triebel or the original contributor.
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