Recollections of the Walck Cradle Shop
The following is a transcript of a tape recorded interview between Virginia Walck (Ginny) Fitz and Henry Zeigler Walck. It was recorded on February 19, 1984. Henry was the oldest child of Lester Ralph Walck who was the youngest child of Henry Stickell Walck. Ginny Fitz is the youngest sister of Henry Z. Walck. Henry Stickell Walck owned and operated a factory where he manufactured grain cradles, wooden rakes, and wooden forks. The cradle shop was located on the south side of the Leitersburg Road in an area called Canebrake. There was a one-room school called Canebrake School on the other side of the Leitershurg Road and just a bit further west than the shop. The school is now a home. The shop is no longer in existence, but the original Walck home is still on the property.
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Ginny: Henry, can you describe Grandpa Walck's cradle shop?
Henry: Obviously the building had been built in three parts on the side of the hill. The oldest part was the fartherest down the hill. The very old part had a hard-packed floor--I don't know what they are really called--like you sometimes see in old houses in England. This first section was where the cradles were really assembled. The next section was a little higher, and there was a step up to it. It was very efficient at catching a young lad. There were two or three steps from that seaction up to the new part. The oldest part housed the things that were done by hand. There was no powered machinery in that section at all. There were three or four benches. There were marks dug into the hardpacked flooring to measure the size and angle of the cradles. Also, there was a potbellied stove and a coal bin. Very close to that was a bench where Grandpa had his nap every day. In front of that was a home-made desk, and he did his book work there. To digress just a moment, he had the strangest filing system I have ever heard of. All the orders, letters, bills,--whatever he got in the mail--during a week were tied up with a string and hung up on the wall. I don't know how he decided what to throw away, but I do know that when he died, or we moved, there were a lot of these packets, and I burned them in the pot-bellied stove. One of Mother's cousins from Hagerstown came by as I was doing this, and he really stormed at me, claiming I had burned hundreds of dollars worth of stamps. To get back to the building--there were two or three steps from the old building up to the floor of the new one. This new section was two stories high, and all the machinery was run by one stationary steam engine. A belt ran from the engine to a pulley on a shaft which ran the length of the building, and there was an idler pulley and a regular pulley at each piece of machinery. Some went upstairs to the second floor, others were running machines on the first floor. There was a band saw and at least one circular saw. Unfortunately, the circular saw took off one of John Greenawalt's fingers. This was before I was born. However, I did see him cut an artery in his leg when he was taking the bark off the planks with an axe. Other machinery on that floor included an ordinary lathe and a sanding machine, and a boring machine. But to me the most interesting machine was on the second floor. This was a lathe; it would not be recognized by someone who operated a normal lathe. This lathe was used to make the cradle handles. The handle of the cradle was cured in two directions, and it was round and smooth. This lathe did its work by having a saw touch a little bit into the wood which had been cut and sawed in shape, but which had the earners still there. The function of the lathe was to turn these squarish pieces of wood into round ones. There was a pattern which was about the same width as the saw teeth, but larger than the piece of wood it was to form. This pattern revolved at exactly the same speed as the piece of wood being shaped. The whole top of the lathe rocked back and forth touching the saw blade as it went This was a very complicated machine, which I believe was invented by Grandpa. Power for it came from the shaft below through an opening in the floor. Also, on that floor was a sanding machine. For efficiency, it was not far from the lathe. The sanding machine was also powered from below. It had two pulleys and the sanding belt. The snath (handle of the cradle) was held against the sanding belt between the two pulleys. During the part of the season that the lathes were being made, the belt was resanded each evening. This meant putting on a machine that could be turned by hand. As it was turned by the belt, glue was applied with a brush and then sand was applied. After drying all night, it was ready to be used the next morning. Coming back to the first floor, there was the boring machine near the stairs to the second floor. It was run by the same shaft. The table on this machine was arranged to slide to the rake head. This provided the correct angle between the ground and the rake as it was used in the fields. The table that slid back and forth was boring the holes to put in the teeth. Also, there were two holes for a cured, round support to keep the angle between the rake head and rake handle correct. No hand work was done in this section of the shop. Handwork was done in the old section by machinery that did not require power, beyond manpower, that is.
Ginny: Henry, what years are we talking about in this description?
Henry: I was born in 1908 and my first job was to blow the whistle. Grandpa held me in his arms, and he had fashioned a wire with a hook on the end to extend the regular whistle pull.
Ginny: Did many people hear the whistle?
Henry: Neighbors in quite an area around heard and the story was that they set their watches by it because Grandpa was very particular about the time.
Ginny: This must have made a little boy feel very important.
Henry: I suppose so; at any rate I always wanted to blow the whistle longer than Grandpa would allow.
Ginny: How about telling the story that Mother told me about your first day in school.
Henry: Well the shop whistle blew at 11:30 a.m. as usual, and I walked up and told the teacher that I had to go home now because Grandpa's whistle blew and it was lunch time. She let me go, but said I should ask Mother to explain it to me.
Ginny: And Mother told you that the rest of the world did not run on Grandpa's schedule.
Henry: I don't know if she said that, but I went by the school's lunch schedule the next day and thereafter.
Ginny: Where did Grandpa get the lumber for the rakes, forks, and cradles?
Henry: Well, Grandpa would drive around the countryside with his horse and buggy and look for likely trees. When he saw one that he thought was suitable, he went to the farmer and negotiated to buy the tree. Then the shop crew plus Grandpa Zeigler would go cut the tree down and cut it into proper lengths. Grandpa Zeigler furnished the wagon and horses. The logs were rolled up on the wagon which was usually pulled by four horses. Then we went to the sawmill, Sam Fenwick owned the sawmill. It was about a quarter or half mile from home. Here the logs were sawed into planks of the proper thickness. I went a number of times to get these logs, and I was allowed to drink coffee from the jars they had. I was very annoyed that Mother would not let me have coffee at home. One of the trees was on the banks of Antietam Creek. It was a very hot day, and Dad let me go in the creek swimming, but I didn't know how to swim. All of a sudden, John Greenawalt ran out to me, picked me up, and carried me to shore. I had no idea what was going on, and he pointed to a snake swimming down the stream. John thought it was a water moccasin, but I was not sure.
Ginny: After the prime days of the cradle shop, did you spend a summer repairing cradles for local farmers?
Henry: Yes. That was the first summer after Grandpa sold the business, and I used the spare fingers for the broken cradles. There were a lot of fingers left over, and that was the thing that usually went wrong. The farmers didn't keep them adjusted correctly, and when they would swing into the wheat, "snap" would go the finger. To do the repairs, I used the marks on the shop floor to put the fingers in correctly. Each finger had a heavy support wire running from the finger to the snath. This wire could be adjusted by a metal key. When the wire was adjusted properly, you tapped it tight. I used all the fingers Grandpa had; I was able to hand carve some for the smaller cradles from the bigger ones.
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L. R. Walck, son of Henry Stickell Walck built his first hatchery near the cradle shop in 1908. In 1925 he built a second hatchery in Greencastle. In 1928 the hatchery at Canebrake bunred to the ground. He was in the hatchery business until his death in 1942.
Henry Zeigler Walck was a publisher. He served as president of Oxford University Press in New York from 1948-57. At that time he bought the Children's Book Division of the company and began publishing under his own name. He sold his company to the David McKay Pub. Co. in 1973. He had been associated with Putnam's and Prentice Hall before joining Oxford in 1936.
Circa 1928 the machinery from the cradle shop was sold to Christian Bricker who lived on Allison St. in Greencastle. Mr. Bricker sold the equipment to Ira Lesher of Marion circa 1936. Mr. Lesher incorporated some of the machinery into his furniture-making shop which he had founded in 1929. Mr. Lesher's son, J. Ira and his two sons, Jay and Dean, still make furniture and clocks in their Marion shop. J. Ira Lesher donated the Walck equipment and machinery to the Tayamentasachta Environmental Center. It is located in the barn on that property.