J. KENNETH ATHOE Transcript of a taped interview
Narrator: J. Kenneth Athoe. Tape: #9 A.
Date: September 29, 1982, Interviewers Paul Rebillard.
Mr. Athoe came to Lime Rock at the age of three. He remembers the community as it was when he was growing up. He describes the work done at the foundries of the Barnum- Richardson Company, a car wheel manufacturer. He is well- known as the assessor of the town of Salisbury and, in the interview, evaluates a few of the on-going problems of that office.
Property of the Oral History Project.Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library.Salisbury, Connecticut 06068.
ATHOE – 1
PR: This is Paul Reblllard speaking on the 29th of September I98I. Today, I am talking with Ken Athoe, J. Kenneth Athoe, better known as Ken, who was born in Lime Rock.
KA: I will correct that. I was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
PR: Born in Great Barrington. You lived there for how long?
KA: Well, approximately three years. My father was organist at the Episcopal Church in Great Barrington. When I was about three years old, which would bring it to about 1909, my dad had to find more lucrative employment than giving music lessons and playing the organ in the church. So, he took a job with the Barnum-Richardson Company in Lime Rock and was their paymaster. It was approximately 1909 that I began my life in Lime Rock.
PR: Your father was employed for how many years at Barnum-Richardson?
KA: Well, he was employed with the Barnum-Richardson Company until approximately 1918, 1918-1919. These are estimates, of course, because I have no notes to go from. But the Bamum-Richardson Company went bankrupt, I guess it was, and they reformed under the Salisbury Iron Corporation. This was just about wartime. Then my father lost his job and, fortunately, the Hotchkiss School needed an assistant business manager. So, Harry Jones came down and asked him if he would take the job, and it worked out very nicely for him.
PR: I can recall when he was business manager at Hotchkiss. During the early days at Barnum-Richardson, what did they make?
KA: Well, they had two foundries on the river. One north of the Lime Rock Lodge, which is now an apartment building, and one farther down the river south of the Lodge. The one north of the Lodge, which was at the dam which, in those days, was much higher than the present dam, they made car wheels, railroad car wheels. That was the car wheel shop. The car wheel foundry was on the east side of the river. The old mill, the pattern shop, was on the west side of the river.
PR1 When you say, pattern shop, was that the pattern from which the car wheels were made?
ATHOE – 2
KA: Right. This is where they made the wooden patterns which they used to form their molds for the castings.
PR: These were clay molds?
KA: No. They were wooden patterns, but the molds were sand which they called molding sand. It was mixed with some sort of a binder so that when it was tamped in a moist form it became very hard and stable.
PR: Was that dried or left in a damp condition?
KA: That was left in a damp condition. It was made in two or more sections so that the upper part of the mold could be lifted off, the pattern taken out, the mold put back together again with the pour holes in the top and vent holes to let the gases out as the molten iron flowed in.
PR: So, you had a wooden mold round the outside or a wooden frame…
KA: A wooden frame and tamped solidly with sand.
PR: These were pretty accurate or did they have to be returned or retreated in anyway after they were removed from the mold?
KA: They were finished on lathes after they left Lime Rock. Both to be fitted on to the axle and also the running rim. The portion that ran on the rail was trued up.
PR: Ore wheels, as I understand it, were very successful and they made literally thousands of them and they went all over the country. Is that true?
KA: That’s true. This ore which we had in Ore Hill and in this area was apparently a very special grade of ore which made a malleable iron. It was more resilient than some of the iron from other parts of the country and it was particularly suited for railroad car wheels, apparently. The Barnum-Richardson Company were the largest producers of car wheels for many years because of this.
PR: Now, when you say that iron was particularly suited for car wheels, do you mean that it had a certain resilience because it was malleable to a certain degree?
PR: Instead of being extremely hard, it had a certain resilience that was good?
KA: Right. It was not as brittle, shall we say chippable, as some of the cast iron from other areas of the country. In the lower foundry they molded many different objects, castings. Perhaps a typical one is a frog,
ATHOE – 3
PR: I know what it Is, but maybe you can explain what it is.
KA: It is a doorstop, actually. It is something that they played with more than anything else. It was not one of their real products. Someone had made a mold in the shape of a frog and they made a few castings of it and it became very popular and they produced quite a few of them,
PR: That isn’t at all what I thought that was going to be. When you said frog, I thought it was a railroad frog that went on the rails, that shifted the train from one track to another.
KA: I am trying to recall some of the things that they did.
PR: Did they make any axles?
KA: No, they didn’t make axles down there. They didn’t make anything as heavy as that at the lower foundry. They made many washers. Cast iron washers. Such as we used to use for quoits. We used to pitch them like they pitch horseshoes today. But they were made for very heavy construction as a washer under the head of a heavy tie-rod nut. Many of the railroad cars in those days, the freight cars, were made of wood. They were put together with, well, essentially bolts but they were long rods threaded on each end and a heavy nut and a washer holding the wooden sections together.
PR: Were those washers made from bar stock and then the hole punched out or drilled out?
KA: No. They were cast.
PR: They were cast.
KA: In fact, everything that was produced in Lime Rock in those days was cast. There was no steel and there was no malleable iron produced. By malleable iron, I guess I mean that kind of iron that can be heated and bent and twisted and turned and things of this sort. This is my impression of a malleable iron. These were all cast-iron products. Cast-iron being brittle, of course, and not manipulable.
PR: Now, get back, just a little bit. At your earliest recollection of the Bamum-Richardson, was there anything left, or any personalities around who knew anything about the old iron days when they made cannon balls and so forth in Lime Rock? To your recollection, did you ever speak with any of them?
ATHOE – 4
KA: Well, no. As a matter of fact, I don’t think they made cannon halls in Lime Rock. I could be wrong but…
PR: Did they test them there?
KA: It was before any recollection of mine.
PR: The old Ames Company…
KA: The old Ames Company was over in Falls Village and they made cannon balls over there.
PR: Oh, that is what it is.
KA: They also made cannons over there. But that operation had ceased before I came into the area.
PR: What, in your opinion, put Barnum-Richardson out of business? You said they went bankrupt. The proximity of steel in Pittsburgh?
KA: Well, no. It was the difficulty in mining the ore, getting the ore out. The mines in Ore Hill had become so deep that they were continually being flooded by ground water which seeped in and for a long time they tried to keep ahead of it with pumps. But it got to the point where pumps could no longer take care of the inflow of water.
PR: So, they were put out of business for lack of material actually?
KA: That is right.
PR: To get back to those earlier days again. Was the ore actually smelted in Lime Rock to obtain the iron that they used there to manufacture car wheels?
KA: Yes. Now the smelting was done farther up the river in what we called upper Lime Rock, which is now the preserved iron furnace. Now, there they mixed iron ore, charcoal, lime and coke to purify the iron, melt in and out and make pigs of it. This they called pig iron. This was raw cast iron.
PR: The pigs in turn were re-melted, brought to a molten state and then poured into the forms and made car wheels. So that brings us the whole picture of Lime Rock in that era. That brings that whole picture together, doesn’t it? How the material came in, how it was prepared through smelting, how then it was re-melted from the pigs, poured into the molds to make the car wheels.
ATHOE – 5
KA: There was also a mix of scrap iron with the pigs. To make the best iron, they used a certain proportion of old scrap iron with the new iron of the pigs.
PR: Because the new iron was too pure, is that right?
KA: No. Apparently the scrap iron which had already been processed and used for other purposes had a quality which new cast iron hadn’t developed for some reason or other. This is beyond my knowledge as far as chemistry and so forth is concerned of course, but there was always a big scrap pile at both the car wheel foundry and the lower foundry with which they charged the furnaces along with new pig iron.
PR: That way they got a continuous mix that they were satisfied with?
KA: Right. My first recollection of Lime Rock, of course, was that it was a beehive of activity all along the river.
PR: That is a little hard to understand these days, isn’t it?
KA: Yes, it is but you had everything there that made up a village. Starting in upper Lime Rock you had the foundry, or the blast furnace rather, which made the pig iron from the raw ore. The Bamum-Richardson Company’s office was originally up in upper Lime Rock. Then it came down to the car wheel foundry on the east of the river, taking power from the dam, water power. On the west of the river was the grain mill, grist mill.
PR: Also run by water power?
KA: Also run by water power. The pattern shop where patterns were made. The Lime Rock Lodge with the general store next to it. Little farther down the river were the blacksmith shop, a saw mill down below the foundry, the foundry itself. The post office was in the general store. Then, by the time I had come to Lime Rock, they had moved their office from up in upper Lime Rock – it was then known as Upper Town – down to the building across from Lime Rock Lodge Which later became Stone’s real estate office. Throughout the town, of course, were many homes owned by the Barnum-Richardson Company that they made available to their key employees.
PR: At the height of that operation, that you told about, about how many people were gainfully employed, resulting from the car wheel operation?
ATHOE – 6
KA: Well, of course, this is very much a guess. However, my recollections would he approximately ten people in the car wheel foundry, four or five in the pattern shop. The grist mill was tun by someone else, whether that was leased out to somebody or not, 1 don’t know. Anyway, the grist mill was not a part of the Barnum-Richardson Company operation. The blacksmith’s shop was independently operated by a blacksmith. The saw mill – there again I am not sure what the connection was – but the saw mill always seemed to have four or five men available. But the lower foundry probably employed more than any of the others and I would guess there were probably fifteen at least, maybe more, steadily employed in the lower foundry.
PR: At that time were both the Barnum family and the Richardson family residing in Lime Rock? Did you have any knowledge of that?
KA: Yes. I don’t remember William Barnum.
PR: He was quite a politician, as I recall.
KA: Yes, and he died shortly after we came to Lime Rock. Milo Richardson was living in Lime Rock at the time and it was his father that was the Richardson of the Barnum-Richardson Company. Richard Barnum lived down the White Hollow Road. He was of the second generation. Then there were some Richardsons that lived in what was most recently General Semantics, the Institute of General Semantics, there on the comer.
PR: Was George Richardson connected with the original Richardson family? Was he a scion of that family?
PR: George Richardson who married…
KA: No, George Sewallis,
PR: Oh, George Sewallis who married a Barnum?
KA: Married a Richardson.
PR: Marge Richardson, yes. And she was of the original Richardson family and lived off of the main road up on the hill?
KA: Right. She was Milo Richardson and Edith Richardson’s daughter. She would be the third generation of the original Richardsons.
ATHOE – 7
PR: They were the last members of the family to leave Lime Rook?
KA: Right. She was approximately my age. Philo Lyons was a grist mill operator at one time.
PR: Was he later postmaster?
KA: He was later postmaster. He built a little general store up on the hill. After the Bordens and Andersons moved over to Lakeville, he opened a little general store there on the main street and took the post office with him.
PR: Now that pretty well covers the car wheel industry. What do you know of the paper factory? Was it Dard Hunter? What was the name of that?
KA: Dard Hunter.
PR: Dard Hunter paper mill?
KA: Dard Hunter was a real authority on handmade paper. He had researched a lot of it. He had written several books on it and he was interested in preserving the handmade paper industry or reviving the handmade paper Industry in this country. He brought a family from England to give it the expertise that was needed to make the paper. The Beach family came from out in Illinois or somewhere around Michigan, I guess it was, and they took over the management of it. Dard Hunter very seldom came to Lime Rock. He spent very little time there, but he provided the money and the knowledge and laid out the mill on a small scale, as his research had indicated that the handmade paper Industry had operated. The family from England that came over was the Robertson family. The father’s name was Bob, Bob Robertson. He had two sons, Reggie and Tom, and a daughter, Gladys, who was engaged to a man by the name of Leonard Godding. Gladys would not accompany them, the family, apparently unless they brought her boyfriend along. So, Leonard Godding was one of the family that Dard Hunter brought over to run the paper mill and do the actual paper making. It was a very interesting process.
PR: It went on for a few years, I understand.
ATHOE – 8
KA: Yes. I worked with them almost from the time they started to get the place ready until they finally had to fold it up. But one of the main problems was the fact that the building was so impregnated with foundry dust, saw dust, dirt in general, that even though they tiled to seal all the ceilings, there was a very heavy vibration from what they called the knotter in the process of screening the papers that the knotter just shook the building to the point where all this dust was seeping down and it got into the paper and became black specks in paper which otherwise would have been good paper. They had to discard so much of it because of this dirt it became a very unprofitable operation. It was my understanding that this was the main reason that they had to discontinue.
PR: About what years was that, that they had to discontinue?
KA: Now, you see, we’re getting into years again. I was probably twenty years old – 1924 – 25 – 26 – maybe 27. Somewhere in there.
PR: That gives us a pretty good idea of the old industries in Lime Rock. That brings you up to young manhood. Now, when you became a young man, what did you do with yourself outside of going in the army, raising a family and all?
KA: Back in those days we had problems getting to school, for one thing. Of course, another of the industries in Lime Rock, at Lime Rock Station, was the Borden Milk Factory. There was a milk train that came up through every morning and back at night. When I started high school, the only way we had to get to high school was to walk down to Lime Rock Station, which was about a mile, take the milk train to Canaan. After school we got the return of the milk train to Lime Rock and walked another mile home from the Lime Rock Station.
PR: How many years did you do that?
KA: Well, of course, my older sisters did it for quite a number of years. I did it for two years and then a friend of my Dad’s gave us a horse and buggy and a sleigh and a saddle. So, I decided I would go to high school in Lakeville using the horse and buggy as transportation in the summer and sleigh in the winter and so forth.
ATHOE – 9
PR« Did you or did you not ride over from Lime Rook to Lakeville with a character, named Dinty Eggleston?
KA: I sure did. A great many times he rode with me. We did that for one year.
PR: Parked your horse across from what is now the Lakeville Post Office in a shed?
KA: That’s right. After the first year, it became a little more difficult and I decided that I was going to take a correspondence course in electricity rather than go back to the final year of high school. My dad was then assistant business manager at Hotchkiss School. Hotchkiss School let me have a room, and work in the power house while I was studying electrical engineering. When I finished the course, I went into business with Jerry Dower in Canaan in the electrical business. I don’t know if it is necessary to go into that. That was a mistake.
PR: Then you went into the army, and you were married?
KA: Of course, I was with Jerry Dower in the electrical business for several years. Then I went to work for the Suburban Propane Gas Corporation, which was then Phil Gas, and I worked for them as a salesman for five years. Then my dad died. I was offered his job at Hotchkiss School. I worked there for five years.
Then I was drafted in the army and when I came out of the army, I went into the Home Service Corporation in Salisbury.
PR: That was when I worked for you a short period of time and I went down to Torrington and sold refrigerators to the Eskimos down in Torrington.
KA: From there I went to the N.A. McNeil Company.
PR: You and Charlie Fitts were eminently successful, had a successful relationship.
KA: And, of course, again the N.A. McNeil Company goes back to Lime Rock because N.A. McNeil started his insurance business in Lime Rock. He owned a large home on Main Street. His insurance office was inhouse. He became very successful before he moved to Lakeville. As a matter of fact, he went to Millerton first and then back to Lakeville,
ATHOE – 10
PR: The name is still in existence. Now it’s Wagner and McNeil?
PR: Now, that brings us through your insurance era. Now before we close this thing, I want to get a little bit about your long term as assessor of the town of Salisbury. When did you start?
KA: Well, I was asked to be a member of the Board of Assessors the year before Dolf Bauman gave it up. Dolf was anxious to give it up. He wanted a chance to train someone that would be willing to take his place.
PR: You had to go out in the field and learn how to really assess a property,
KA: The work of the Board of Assessors had all been pretty much dropped in his lap for quite a few years. The Board of Assessors for a long time was a three-man board but carried on by one man, as a rule, who did most of the work. Dolf Bauman was the man who did most of the work in those days. So, I guess, it was shortly after I went with the N.A. McNeil Company that Bill Barnett asked me if I would consider taking over a spot on the Board of Assessors and then standing for the election at the next town election. Now, again, I am going to have to do a little guessing here, but it was approximately 1950. Probably between 1950 and 1955. Somewhere in that period. I’ve got notes at home, of course, that would pin it down.
PR: So, during that time you learned the business of assessing and you became number one assessor in the town, perhaps the whole area. Is that correct?
KA: Yes. The first year I was on the Board of Assessors I went to assessor school in Storrs, and from then on, I attended the assessor school at Storrs for fifteen years, annually. Again, it got to the point where it could no longer be handled as a part-time job, so I had to make the choice with either giving that up or giving up the N.A. McNeil Company association. I really enjoyed the work at the assessor’s office. So, I made that decision. I decided to go in as full-time assessor and I gave up my job with the N.A. McNeil Company.
PR: And you stayed at that post for some twenty years or more?
ATHOE – 11
KA: I was an assessor for the town of Salisbury, in one category or the other for twenty-four years.
PR: Twenty-four years. From your first experience as an assessor until the end you saw a lot of changes made.
KA: A great many, a great many changes.
PR: You saw the town grow. The assessed valuation grew from what to what?
KA: Well, we had a grand list of fifty million when I left it.
When I first started, we had a grand list of approximately twelve million dollars.
PR: Now, I would like to get your thoughts on the running problem of assessing private schools and such, which is a current problem, not only in the town of Salisbury, but throughout the state. What was your experience along these lines?
KA: Well, I’ve always been of two opinions as far as private schools and as far as churches were concerned. It always seems to me that a private school, if it is nonprofitable, is serving a purpose for the town which is deserving and where there is no profit to anyone should be tax-exempt. The same with churches. However, I have always felt that Connecticut’s attitude toward churches was perhaps ideal compared with many other states. The statutes of Connecticut exempted church properties which were used solely for religious purposes.
This is not true of many other states. There are some states that exempt church property per se. In other words, any property owned by a church is exempt. Many churches have taken advantage of this. As an example, they have bought business buildings in some cities, leased them back to the owners, paid no taxes on them and have enjoyed the profits from it, in competition with other property owners in the same business. This has not been true in Connecticut. If a church owned business property it is taxable, which is as I think it should be.
I think the same thing is true with private schools. Private schools are serving a purpose which, in some respects, takes a load off of the town or the state, except that any property that they own, which is not used for their specific educational purposes, should be taxed. The problem is where do you draw the line, you see.
ATHOE – 12
PR: Does this also encompass residences that are occupied by people who work at the private schools, for example?
KA: Right. And this is the bone of contention in most cases, actually. This idea of paying taxes on property that may or may not help to pay expenses by being leased, is a very small part of the problem. The bigger problem, I think, is the question of whether or not the many residences owned by a school should be tax-exempt, any more than a home in the village which is rented by a professor of a school.