Mahwah Man Worked 50 Years for Abex

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 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.

Abex Corporation

(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.


4 Comments On “Mahwah Man Worked 50 Years for Abex”

  1. I worked for Abex Corp. as a laborer for a couple yrs. before going next door to Mn. Elect. Steel to work. I worked many jobs at the foundry. Core room( mixing core oil and sand. Then forming the sand into cores and backing them in a huge oven for use the next day. The cores that were made the night before were delivered via wheel barrel to each molder who used their squeeze press roll over machines to make the cope and drag to form the mold that would be poured down the line. On the days that I trained to be a Bull Ladle operator, I mixed the fire clay and formed a spout on the bull ladle. The large hand held control box had about 5 big buttons one to move forward another to move backward one to tilt forward one to tilt back. The full ladle of molten metal would be divided into seven smaller ladles so that the guy in to pulpit could pour the shoes as they came down the little tracks. It was an experience I talked about my whole life and my job. I was very sad when Abex Closed. Nancy Shelton(mansell)

  2. My grandfather, Alfred Valentine, my uncles, Norman Valentine and James Seidell, and one cousin, Danny Seidell all worked at various times for Abex. My grandfather’s home was on Franklin Turnpike (but no longer there)and he walked to and from work each day. I was told he spent most of his days working sand castings for brake shoes.

  3. My Father, Ronald E. Smith worked at the Brake Shoe for 41 years from 1940 to 81 with time off for service in WWII. It was his only full time job. He worked in the Pattern Shop being Foreman for about 25 years. He typically worked 5 1/2 days a week.

  4. Re: “50 years” The Brake Shoe News, a publication by the company typically listed retirements. Many, many times workers retired at 65 with 50+ years of service.

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