Edward Gorcyca, of West Mahwah, was another one of those inventors from American Brakeshoe. He was born in 1923 and served in the Navy from 1943-1945. He died in 1996 in San Diego, California.
I don’t know too much about Ed’s life or background. He was the second son of Myron (or Marion) and Anna Gorcyca who came to the U.S. from Poland in 1906. In 1940 Myron was a coremaker at American Brakeshoe and, according to an oral history taken in 1975 with his daughter, Jenny (who married Larry Nyland, one of our Mayors) the family also had a subsistence farm on Church Street. His brothers Ben and John were proteges of John Warhol and John was influential in persuading John to attend the University of Maryland. Ben was the long time chairman of the Board of Adjustment and John ran for the office of tax collector.
Between 1954 and 1965, Ed’s name appeared on five patents that were assigned to American Brakeshoe. They all related to improvement of journal boxes, which contained oiled packing materials to lubricate the bearings of railroad wheels. The picture shows a railroad employee inspecting the journal box on a wheel to make sure the packing was properly in place, because if it failed, the wheel bearings would burn out causing a “hotbox.” Until 1961, the primary inventor was a man named Llewellyn Hoyer, with Ed as a co-inventor. But the last two were in Ed’s name alone: for a clip to make keep the packing in place and a new dust guard that was easier to remove without disconnecting the entire journal box.
Three generations of Havemeyers were inventors. As you know, Theodore A. Havemeyer came to Mahwah in 1879 and established Mountain Side Farm, much of which is Ramapo College. He died in 1897. Although Theodore had nine children only his sons, Henry O. Havemeyer and Frederick C. Havemeyer, continued a presence in Mahwah. Henry O. Havemeyer died in 1965 but his son, Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. continued to live here until his death in 1992. The house in which Henry Jr. lived became the home of the President of Ramapo College. Theodore, Henry O., and Henry O., Jr. were all inventors.
Theodore A. Havemeyer, born in 1839, had only a grammar school education but joined the family sugar business as a partner in 1861. He was the technological expert in the family and an early age had spent a year in Europe studying the sugar refining process. In 1862 he and a man named Schnitzpan patented a new and improved carriage for sugar molds. He was a partner in Havemeyers & Elder, which was an integral part of the Sugar Trust. In his later years in Mahwah he was a patron of many agricultural and scientific societies that were advancing the technology of agriculture. He was on the forefront of ensilage– to generate feed for his cows—the breeding of cows to improve milk production, and the breeding of fantail pigeons for show.
Theodore Havemeyer’s son, Henry O. Havemeyer, dropped out of Yale in 1897 after the death of his father and became an apprentice at the family sugar business. He returned to Yale and graduated as a proud member of the Class of 1900. The Ramsey Journal reported in 1906 that he had gotten a speeding ticket in his newfangled automobile. So it is appropriate that he was the inventor of a license plate holder that could be flipped over so that it had the plate of one state on one side and the plate of another state on the reverse. Henry O. Havemeyer was not merely a playboy, however. He was the president of the Eastern District Terminal in Brooklyn which had been spun off from the family’s sugar business. He became an officer and later the long time president of the Eastern District Terminal. The Eastern District Terminal was the gateway for all railroads coming from the west and seeking to be in Brooklyn or Long Island. It was also the only way in which refined and packaged sugar could get from the Domino refinery in Brooklyn to the west. They had to come through these yards and be moved by small locomotives like these. It would be up to Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. – who also worked for the company – to make some important advances.
There were no tunnels under the Hudson River so railroad cars were barged or lightered over from the yards of Jersey City, Bayonne or Hoboken, to the Eastern District Terminal and then transferred to the industries or railroads in Brooklyn. To get one or more railroad cars across the river, there was a floating bridge connected to the tracks on the shore. The barge connected to the water side of the bridge. There were tracks on the barge to accept the car being transported. You can imagine how difficult it must have been to transfer a fully loaded railroad car from tracks on the bridge to the tracks on the rolling barge. There were constant mishaps and derailments. The invention of Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr., filed in 1925 when he was 22 years old, improves on the way that the rails on the bridge and barge could be aligned to make derailments rare. Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. lived in the house we today call the Havemeyer House and had a number of other inventions to improve railroad transportation.
Fitzwilliam Sargent was called the “father of brake-shoe engineering” and he obtained multiple patents for improvement of railroad brake shoes. He was born in 1859 in Philadelphia and attended Lehigh University where he graduated in 1879 with a Civil Engineering degree. He came to Mahwah (then Hohokus Township) in 1902 as the chief engineer of the American Brake Shoe and Foundry Company.
After joining American Brake Shoe, he built a large home on 5 acres off Olney Road. The house had all the latest improvements of the day, including electric lights and steam heat.
In 1935 the Board of Directors of American Brakeshoe built an up-to-date testing facility to keep up with the progress of the railroad industry. The building was named the F.W. Sargent Laboratory Building and from the opening of the building to the date of his death at the age of 80 he went to work as often as possible. The picture below shows his first invention, which he had done before he came to Brakeshoe, of a machine for testing brakeshoes. During his career, he had many patents relating to the improvement of brakeshoes. His last patent was issued to him in 1934 at age 75. The invention created a system of reinforcing a brake shoe so that, if the body of the shoe broke, it could continue in service and not need to be replaced as quickly.
Photos from Fitzwilliam Sargent Greene, `A Tribute to the Life of Fitzwilliam Sargent” (Mahwah Museum Library, 2013.17.072)
Between 1949 and 1982 he was granted at least 10 patents for metallurgy, welding rods and railroad track improvements that were assigned to American Brakeshoe. One of his primary focuses early on was in creating an alloy for a heat resistant manganese steel and then in figuring out how to make it machinable so that it could be used in Brakeshoe Products. His experiments on welding rods led to improvements in the ultimate weld. He was a recycler because one of his inventions was to take industrial scrap, containing sintered tungsten carbide and then converting it into tungsten oxide which, in turn would allow the recovery of tungsten metal.
Mr. Avery was a very active member of the Mahwah Community. He was the president of the Board of Education when the high school was designed and the papers he has given to the Museum reflect his disciplined, thorough and rapier sharp mind. He was a long time Scout leader and he has given us rare Scouting magazines, Troop 50 records, a detail for a few years of the proceeds of the Boy Scout Paper Drive that ultimately led to the recycling center. He was the head of civil defense which was an outgrowth of his interest in amateur radio which he developed at Virginia Tech. His Virginia Tech experience in the rifle club carried over to Mahwah where he tutored people like John Edwards in riflery.
In 1979 when the renovation of the high school was up for referendum, it was snowing hard. One of his neighbors called me and said that Mr. and Mrs. Avery wanted to vote, but were reluctant to go out. So I drove them to the polls. They were 2 of the 69 votes that provided the margin of victory.
Mrs. Avery died in 1985 at age 80 and Howard died in 1996 at age 90. He has given the Museum 25 boxes of materials about his life and interests in Mahwah. He also gave a large collection of his technical papers to Virginia Tech. That collection, incidentally, contains some folders with personal papers, particularly about scouting.
Images from the American Brakeshoe Collection, Mahwah Museum.
“I lived in Mahwah in the ’70s and my father was a metallurgical scientist at a research lab in nearby Sterling Forest, NY. One day, probably in 1976 or so, Les Paul showed up at the reception desk of the research lab asking if he could speak to a metals expert. This was rather unusual, but my dad was the metallurgist who eventually came out to help. Les and my dad started talking and my dad found that Les had a lot of interesting questions about a metal alloy that he wanted to use for a new guitar pickup he was designing — the alloy needed to have certain properties for the pickup to work as Les wanted, but he didn’t know which alloys could work. My dad listened and provided some advice, and Les went on his way. But Les came back to the research lab a few more times over the next few weeks to follow up, and my dad graciously continued to provide his expertise.
At some point, my dad mentioned this at the dinner table, and mentioned that the guy’s name was “Les Paul.” I should explain that my father knew nothing of contemporary music, unless it was contemporary in the 1700 or 1800’s. So when I heard at age 13 that it was the great Les Paul, I said, “Dad, do you have any idea who you’re talking to??” To which he replied, “Yeah, some guy who just wants to pick my brain.” I proceeded to explain who Les Paul was and why he was important, but it went completely past him.
Now here’s where the story gets interesting: A year or two later our next door neighbor, Mr. Morrison, had a health issue and found himself in the hospital in Ridgewood. He was in pre-surgery and was coincidentally sharing a room with Les Paul. For this part, I don’t fully know what happened and can only repeat what I was told, but the story goes that Les Paul and Mr. Morrison started talking and discovered that they both lived in Mahwah. That broke the ice, so they were able to go a bit past being just polite “roomies”. As they talked more and got to know each other, Les eventually told Mr. Morrison that the surgery he was about to undergo was extremely risky (I believe his condition was heart-related), and the doctors in Ridgewood were predicting only a 50% chance of success. Mr. Morrison apparently convinced Les to get a second opinion. As a result, Les called off the surgery, found an expert in Cleveland, and learned that he had been misdiagnosed. So Les was eventually fine, didn’t have risky surgery, and was forever grateful to my next door neighbor for his potentially life-saving advice.
After that, Les started coming by our neighborhood in Scotch Hills fairly often to visit Mr. Morrison. One day, he pulled up to the curb in his big white Cadillac, saw my father working in the yard, and recognized him from the research lab a couple years back. Until that moment, neither knew that the other also lived in Mahwah. Les was still playing with different metal alloys for his new pickup design, so he made the most of this rather unlikely coincidence — when he visited Mr. Morrison on weekend afternoons, often he would also stop by our driveway to “pick my dad’s brain” a little more. I would sometimes listen in on the conversations, although I can’t say I understood much of what they were saying most of the time. But Les would often acknowledge me and try to include me in the conversation. At one point, Les Paul invited my father and our family to his house — he wanted to show us his studio! But unfortunately I wasn’t listening in on that conversation, so I was not aware of the invitation — or my father’s “no thank you” — until several years later. To this day I bring this up with my father, but it’s water under the bridge, so all I can do is look at the floor and shake my head.
But I’m pleased to report that my father now fully appreciates the greatness of the man to whom he contributed his metallurgical expertise. I don’t know if any great guitar innovations resulted from their conversations, but at least I can say that I “knew” the great Les Paul, if only briefly.
It sure would have been awesome to have seen that studio, though….”