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.
One of Gorcyca’s patents.
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.
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.
- Oweno Road home of Fitzwilliam Sargent.
- Sargent’s first invention
- F.W. Sargent Building
Photos from Fitzwilliam Sargent Greene, `A Tribute to the Life of Fitzwilliam Sargent” (Mahwah Museum Library, 2013.17.072)
Howard S. Avery at American Brakeshoe
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.
Diagram of Welding ____
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.
For a 2015 gallery talk I profiled the following inventors. Click on the links for a short history of each:
A little bit about methodology. All of these inventors hold U.S. Patents on their inventions. I knew from my past research and work in our archives about some of them, so I was able to use Google Scholar (a website that I love) to locate their patents. Put their name, Mahwah and the word patent into the search and up pops reference to their patents and you can download a copy. Edward Gorcyca was unknown to me but his name came up in a search of Brakeshoe Patents Mahwah. Another longtime resident of Cragmere, Rosser Wilson, also came up with a lot of patents at Brakeshoe. Audrey Artusio and Mary Ellen Pryde were very helpful with Robert Armstrong Smith and John Edwards loaned me valuable material about his uncle, Charles Ellis. We have displayed some of his original patents, American and foreign at the gallery talk.
A little background about the patent system. Patents are authorized by Article I, Section 8, clause 8 of the United States Constitution which grants Congress the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” So under the system that Congress has established, an inventor submits an application to the U.S. Patent Office, an application. This application describes the invention, includes drawings when needed, and sets up the claims that the inventor is making. The claims portion is very important because the inventor gets exclusive rights only in the things he has actually claimed. Once the application has been filed, it is examined by the patent office before the actual patent is issued. The examiner has to determine whether the invention is “novel” and “nonobvious.” To determine whether an invention is “novel” a search is made of all previous patents to see that the new invention does not the same claims that were made before by someone else. The examiner also looks at whether the claims are so obvious that they are already in the public domain. Once the patent office determines to issue a patent it is good for 17 years. But it is subject to challenge by other inventors who can claim infringement of their existing patents. Just because someone has a patent on something doesn’t mean the product is ever made or becomes commercially viable. The filed patents are used by other inventors to improve upon the prior art.
All of the inventors that we will discuss today owned patents. The usual practice is that a patentee is an individual that gets the patent in his own name and then assigns it to the employer for whom he was working when the inventive work was done.
Patent for light polarizer
One of Gorcyca’s patents.
Theodore Havermeyer’s Sugar Mold Carriage patent
Henry O. Havemeyer’s License plate design
Henry O. Havemeyer Jr.’s patent design
If you know of additional information about any of these inventors, or know of other inventors from Mahwah, please comment below.
Here is a small sampling of the historical materials on the American Brake Shoe Foundry in Mahwah, NJ.
The images in these galleries are the copyrighted property of the Mahwah Museum Society, Inc. and may be used only in accordance with the Museum’s Image Use Policy.
This article, by Charles Anderson, was first published in the “Old Station Timetable,” in February 1982.
Richard Snow is on the tax rolls of Woburn, Mass. in 1645. A record of his will is recorded 1676, and he died in 1677. It is believed he arrived in the Colonies in 1935 as a young man on the sailing ship, Enterprise. He is the progenitor of a vast family network that is scattered across the country, as far as Texas and California. A great number of the early family members were born and lived around Colrain, Mass. In 184), Asaph Snow was born, he enlisted at the age of 18 and fought through several campaigns during the Civil War. After the war, he stayed in the south working as a United States claims agent. While stationed at Camp Dennison in Ohio during his training, he married Teresa McKinney and they lived in Tazewell, Tenn. where he was the postmaster. He died on his farm nearby in 1899.
His son, Elmer John Snow, was born in Tazewell in 1869. He came to Hillburn, N.Y. in 1884 to work for the Ramapo Iron Works owned by a relative, William Wait Snow (1828-1910). This firm manufactured car wheels and other railroad devices. Mr. Snow also bound the first Webster Dictionary! Naturally, Elmer John Snow met W.W. Snow’s daughter, Clara Amanda, and married her in 1892. The iron works later became the Ramapo Wheel and Foundry Company.
W.W. Snow had been trained in the foundry business since boyhood, working for various employers in Massachusetts. With financial backing, he started his own business near the Hudson River and later bought land from the Suffern family in Hillburn. This included a mill, 20 houses and a store, and that is how the town of Hillburn started.
The Worthington Pump Company employed Elmer John in 1899 to put up a large pumping station in Hawaii. Returning to the mainland, he again joined his father-in-law serving as superintendent in charge of design and construction for a new brake shoe factory -now known as Abex – and part of Illinois Central. As director and a member of the board, he had a great deal to do with the growth and prosperity of the business. The Snow houses in Hillburn were destroyed when the N.Y. Thruway was built.
Mrs. Peter D. Ash (Oliver Snow) lived in a house off Miller Road, now in the Oak Hill Estates in Mahwah, N.J. Of her sons, Peter is living near Mt. Snow in Vermont and, Charles lives in Litchfield, Conn. A home on Olney Road, once occupied by Elmer Snow, is still in the family. Mr. Howard D. MacPherson, whose late wife was Mildred Snow. lives there now. She was a great-granddaughter of W.W. Snow.
The Snow family recognized the poverty and deprived conditions under which the mountain people lived years ago. They were forefront in starting a school on the mountain, a one room building with a huge fireplace. A nurse, Miss Mack lived in a comfortable house not far from the school. She provided medical help to the neglected families. Her expenses were paid by the family.
Although the Snow family is no longer prominent in local affairs as “Snow”, the line is carried on under other family names. These include MacPherson, Bristow and Vilmar, just to name three of them. Another great-granddaughter, Mrs. Dorothy Snow Vilmar, lives in her uncle’s house (Homer H. Snow) on Mahwah Road. Her sister, Eugenia Snow Averill, lives in Willbraham. Mass. Her brother’s (Douglas Snow 1934-73) children live in the New Paltz, N.Y. area. How many more area residents can trace their heritage back to William Wait Snow?
This article, by Dick Greene, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in Fall 1987.
Blandina Bayard, Mahwah’s first recorded non-Indian settler, the Hoppers, and the Dutch and English farmers that followed, had a very local market for their harvested crops, livestock and dairy products. After satisfying their family’s need for sustenance, residual products were traded or bartered with other settlers or at local trading and general stores. Erskine’s “Belgrove Store”, near the original Lutheran church on Moffat Road, did a brisk business with local farmers.
Farm products were hard to transport over rutted, muddy roads, and markets were often over a day away. Settlements along the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers had the advantage of water transport, but the scenic Ramapo offered inadequate depth for anything larger than a canoe.
The coming of the NEW YORK AND ERIE RAILWAY to New Antrim (Suffern) and “Ramapo (Iron) Works” gave a new method of transport to New York City via the railroad’s boat dock and steamship line at Piermont on the Hudson River, south of Nyack. Local farmers began to expand their production for shipment of cash crops over the tracks of the new Iron Horse.
The young PATERSON AND HUDSON RIVER RAILROAD commissioned George Allen as its chief engineer and surveyor with. the task of charting and building a railroad line from the company’s terminus in bustling Paterson to the New York State line in the Mahwah section of the then Hohokus Township, just one mile short of a connection with the NY&E (ERIE) at Suffern’s Tavern in New Antrim. Service began in 1848, connecting Mahwah with Jersey City over the tracks of several railroads.
The New York State Charter of the NY&E prohibited its leaving the boundary of the Empire State. An exception was made along the Delaware River west of Port Jervis where terrain mandated use of the opposite bank, but no station-stops were allowed. The NY&E terminals were at Piermont- on the Hudson, and Dunkirk- on Lake Erie, where the line connected with steamboats which provided regularly scheduled shipping of freight and passengers.
These water connections allowed great flexibility of distribution up and down the Hudson River, over the Great Lakes and throughout the extensive barge canal system which the railroads were to doom to oblivion. Dependence upon water routes slowed travel to a point of placing the NY&E at a competitive disadvantage when parallel railroad lines were constructed by the PENNSYLVANIA RR and Vanderbilt’s amalgamation of small upstate lines into his NEW YORK AND HARLEM RIVER RR, to form the gigantic NEW YORK CENTRAL SYSTEM.
Passengers traveling east or west soon earned that connections by stage coach could be made between Mahwah and Suffern’s that could cut several hours off the longer boat ride on the Hudson.
Giving in to public pressure, the New York Legislature approved a mile-long line to connect “Suffern’s Tavern” to “Mahwah” — THE UNION RAILROAD COMPANY. By 1852, the NY&E had reduced traffic to Piermont to but one train each day, and the passenger steamboat was abandoned. Mahwah was now on the main line of a major railroad system connecting New York with Buffalo, then Chicago and the west.
September 10, 1852, saw the inception of the ERIE Lease of the PATERSON AND HUDSON RIVER RAILROAD (P&H) and its wholly owned subsidiary, the PATERSON AND RAMAPO RAILROAD (P&R). Things were not easy, as the ERIE had heretofore steadfastly clung to its broad gauge of 6′-0″ (the distance measured between the rail heads) while other roads, including the P&H (which had already converted from their original 4′-0″ gauge) and the P&R, utilized the accepted standard of 4′ 8-1/2″ — the width established by the Romans a millennium before as the gauge for all the carts used by their Legions, in order that they could follow in each others ruts.
A third rail was laid alongside the P&R tracks to accommodate the wider ERIE engines and rolling stock, while the acquired P&R and P&H cars and those of other railroads using “standard gauge” would use the original rails. The three rails remained from 1878 to 1881, when the conversion of the ERIE to “standard” was completed.
In 1854, the first “through train” from Jersey City to Buffalo steamed up P&H Chief Engineer George Allen’s track route without so much as a toot for Mahwah. Mahwah had no regularly scheduled “station stop” for passengers on the newly reorganized ERIE RAILWAY COMPANY timetables until 1874 — three years after the station was built, which obviously only handled traffic as a “flag stop” the train stopped when the stationmaster hung out a flag indicating a revenue pickup of either passengers or freight.
Local shipments of farm produce were handled at “Ramsey’s” and “Suffern’s” on the ERIE, with some Valley farmers finding it easier to go to Oakland and Fardale farmers to “Campgaw” on the NEW JERSEY MIDLAND RAILROAD. This line was incorporated in 1866 by the Wortendykes of Midland Park and promoted by Rodman Price of “Hazelwood on the Ramapo” (see accompanying article, this issue).
When an enterprising ERIE conductor from Goshen began bringing fresh milk to Jersey City in the baggage car to be sold across the River by a ferry boat captain, the milk industry all along the ERIE grew to tremendous proportions within a matter of years. The milk sold in New York had been “local” milk from tethered cows fed slops and washed fermented grain from breweries. The taste was reported as being “like drinking bad, white beer”. Fresh Jersey and Orange County (NY) milk tank cars were familiar sights on ERIE passenger trains into the mid-1950s.
The famous Sheffield Farms had their beginnings in Mahwah on Route 202 at what is now the Devonshire School. The Darling and Havermeyer farms delivered daily loads of milk to the depot in Mahwah, built in 1871 (now the Museum at 1871 Old Station Lane, across from Winter’s pond).
It wasn’t only outgoing shipments that improved life in Mahwah; but coal, lumber, kerosene, and goods from all over the country were brought right to, the front door of the Township at Winter’s Coalyard and Store, where the present Post Office now stands.
At the other end of the Valley, railroading was flouNew York and Orishing, also. New Jersey residents subscribed $100,000 to have the NJ MIDLAND pass through Hackensack which was accomplished in 1972. Within one year, interconnected trackage went as far as Ellenville, NY.
In 1880, the NJMRR combined with the NEW YORK & OSWEGO MIDLAND RR to provide owned-trackage to the north, into the rich blackdirt farmlands of Sussex (NJ) and Orange (NY) Counties. In 1881, the name was changed as a reelection of more grandiose plans, to the NEW YORK, SUSQUEHANNA AND WESTERN RR. The trains never went to New York, ending at Edgewater and Jersey City; nor did the trackage ever reach the waters of the Susquehanna River, much less anything western.
The Scranton area (Gravel Place) became the western extent of the NYS8.W tracks as coal from the mines of northeastern Pennsylvania quickly became the mainstay of the line’s revenue, but milk and fresh produce from New Jersey and Orange County dominated the fast trains that sped the goods to New York markets. The siding at Campgaw received produce in cars that were connected to passing milk trains and fast freights headed for interchange at Jersey City.
The NYS&W passed through many economic cycles over the years, being operated by the ERIE from 1898 onward, until spun off in the 1940s when coal and Jersey produce traffic waned. This began a downhill slide to near oblivion for the NYS&W, only to be revived in the past few years by its new owner, the DELAWARE & OTSWEGO RR, of Cooperstown, NY — those masters of operation of the short line. Container trains are now running the restored roadbed on a regular basis. “Peddler” freights deliver freight cars to a few industries along the line, but no longer are farm produce and dairy products loaded from the valley of the Ramapo.
It was the railroad that brought prosperity and improved standards of living to Mahwah’s farmers; and, eventually, it brought the commuter and the developer who bought up the farms, built homes and transformed the rural landscape of the 1880s into a suburb by 1950. ABEX, long Mahwah’s major industrial complex, was originally the “Ramapo Wheel and Iron Works”, building railway equipment parts. It later became “The American Brake Shoe Company”.
The single-track P&R line of George Allen (for whom Allendale is named) grew to the 4 track mainline of the “high and wide ERIE” by the turn of the century.
The ERIE, like most of the great iron roads of the east, fell into hard times at the hands of government regulation, taxation, union strife, and competition from highway trucking and airlines. The CONSOLIDATED RAIL SYSTEM — “ConRail” — has preserved most of the routes in New Jersey of the ERIE, the P&R and P&H, as its main line. Modern equipment, electronic signaling, long-welded rail, and renewed emphasis on speedy, efficient service has given the railroad industry new life. Renovation of trackage through Mahwah has been underway for three years. NEW JERSEY TRANSIT — RAIL OPERATIONS now operates the passenger service from Port Jervis through Suffern and Mahwah to Hoboken, and continues the tradition of the commuter that started over 100 years ago.
Those scenic farms in summer and the lonesome wail of the steam whistle on a still, cold night are now gone, but they will remain a wonderful memory and integral part of the history of Mahwah.
This article, by Jane Vilmar, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in February 1981.
Ralph Frederick of Mahwah, who was 91 years young on November 15th of last year, started to work for The American Brake Shoe & Foundry Co. back in 1903, a year after the firm began operation in the township.
His job was to tag freight for the railroad on the shipping platform. He was promoted to shipping clerk by the late James A. Davidson, and later became production manager – a job he retained until his retirement December 1, 1954 a total of 50 years with the same company!
When asked what his wages w.re back in those early days, he said, “we got $3.75 a week, worked six days a week, 12 hours a day -and I have some pay envelopes to prove it. In fact, when I received a raise to $6.00 a week, I thought I was richl”
He was born in Suffern, N. Y. in a house along Hemion Road. He attended Airmont School (2 classrooms divided by a partition), and it was after that he went to work at The American Brake Shoe -walking through all kinds of weather, hardly missing a day of work in all those years.
Ralph moved to Mahwah in 1932. He is married to the former Bessie Mabie. Asked what he did now that he is retired, he explained that his lawn and garden keep him active. The couple celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary last November.
Early History of Abex
The foundry built in 1902 was started by William Wait Snow who produced the car wheel, brake shoe and other railroad devices. He was assisted by R.J. Davidson, superintendent; F.W. Sargent, chief engineer; H. Winger, purchasing agent, and G.C. Ames, comptroller. There were about 100 employees in 1903, mostly from Mahwah, Ramsey, Suffern and Tallman. Those living east of the railroad walked dirt roads and crossed the Mahwah River on a wooden plank bridge, under the railroad tracks and through the swamps on a wooden foot bridge. Those who commuted by horse/ and wagon or carriage were fortunate enough to stable their horses for the day in a big stable on the right side of the present gate house at the entrance of the plant on Route 202.
About 1904, there were five double houses located where the research lab is today. Outside the homes were oval shaped brick ovens used by women to bake bread.
Between 1905 and 1910,-there were two additions on the south end of the foundry. Everything came in by rail and out” the same way. John Rafferty was. the engineer of locomotive #242 that handled the yard freight. Old #242 was retired to the plant in Canada.
In ‘1908 when Ho-Ho-Kus Township (now Mahwah) was formed, A.L. Clark (his family ran a grocery store in Tallman, N.Y.) was the first township clerk. It was also the year the Mahwah Building & Loan Association was formed at the urging of Clark and officers of The American Brake Shoe Company.
(Formerly The American Brake Shoe and Foundry Co.)
The Abex iron foundry began operations in 1902 in the township casting brake shoes for railroad cars. The group of far-sighted men who built the foundry and started what was to become a successful business venture was headed by William Wait Snow, R.J. Davidson and Otis H. Cutler. In that same year, the Mahwah plant was joined with four other brake shoe foundries to form The American Brake Shoe & Foundry Co.
During the past 79 years, the Company has expanded its operations and diversified its products until today Abex operates 62 plants around the world. Today the Mahwah complex employs between 600 and 700 people of which 350 work in the iron foundry.
On its 33.5 acre tract bounded by N. Railroad Avenue, Rt. 202 and Conrail tracks, are located in addition to the iron foundry, the Corporation’s Research Center, the Railroad products headquarters and Engineering Depts., and the Corporate facilities Engineering Dept. Abex became a subsidiary of the parent company, Illinois Central Industries, in 1968.
The local foundry is the oldest operating plant in the Abex Corp. It is a member of the Abex cast Products Group producing castings of gray iron and ductile iron for most branches of industry, including G. E., Caterpillar Tractor Co., and US Steel co. Railroad and railroad car builders buy roller bearing adapters also produced in the foundry.
Many of the Abex manufacturing processes and new products were developed in Mahwah’s Research center. Several manufacturing processes developed by the center are licensed to companies throughout the world.
The most recent addition to the Abex Research center is the Engineering Test center which houses several large computerized dynamometer testing machines used in research and development of improved railroad car wheels, brake shoes and auto brake linings
The Railroad Products Group with headquarters and engineering offices in the local complex operates 15 plants. They manufacture railroad equipment for industry.
The newest and largest steel wheel plant in the-world opened last year near Johnstown, Pa. Designed and built under directions of Abex Facilities Group in Mahwah, it produces car wheels of a new and improved design using manufacturing techniques developed in a joint effort by-research, engineering and facilities personnel right here in Mahwah.