Famous Travelers: Edison, Ford, Firestone

Vagabonds Remembered for Work, but Loved Nature

By Francis Champ Zumbrun

Note: This is the seventh in a series of articles covering a time in the summer of 1921 when Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone camped for two weeks in western Maryland. This article finds the Vagabonds, a term the wealthy captains of industry called themselves when they camped together at “Camp Harding” (along Licking Creek, about six miles east of Hancock, in Washington County) where they stayed from July 21 to July 27, and at present day Swallow Falls State Park, from July 27 to July 31. Question to consider (the answer is at the end of the article): Beside the Vagabonds, what other famous people thought western Maryland was a premier place to vacation?

“I want to give the employees a Sunday [off] when everybody else has it. No man can work for more than six days a week and keep it up. We have an eight hour day and a six-day week…and as a result, the men are more careful and more interested [at work].” - Henry Ford

Henry Ford made this comment at the Muddy Creek campsite to reporters inquiring about the Detroit Toledo Ironton Railroad, purchased by Ford in 1920, explaining why he reduced railroad freight rates, boosted wages of workmen, and shutdown railroad operations on Sunday.

Several interesting stories survive that involve Henry Ford’s encounters with Garrett County citizens concerning old sawmill steam boilers he saw during the week he camped at Muddy Creek Falls.

Carl Lohr, first resident warden at Potomac State ForestCarl Lohr, well remembered as the first resident warden at Potomac State Forest, experienced a chance encounter with the Vagabonds while he was attempting to repair a broken axle on his father’s Model T Ford. On July 27, while traveling to their Muddy Creek Falls campsite, the Vagabonds veered off from Oakland to Deer Park where they ate a late lunch. Here, Henry Ford spotted an old sawmill steam boiler.

For a closer look, they drove up a winding narrow road that led to Lohr’s house. Two men got out of the car. A man with a straw hat took out a writing pad and began immediately drawing a sketch of the boiler.

Lohr walked up to the men and asked them who they were and what they were doing. The man in the straw hat identified himself as Henry Ford; the older person identified himself as Thomas Edison. Ford told Lohr: “I wanted to look at the boiler because I have never seen anything like it before and especially because it was something old. I have found there is much more to be learned from an old thing than from a new one. You see, an old thing has been tried and has found to be of service. A new thing is still an experiment and you can’t learn as much from it.”

Lohr, extremely frustrated from trying for a week to repair without success his father’s Model T Ford, said to Ford: “Since you made this car over here that runs backward instead of forward…perhaps you could tell me about it.”

Lohr explained to Ford that he had replaced the right rear axle that connected to the differential assembly after he nearly wrecked his father’s car due to a brake failure; and that everytime Lohr pushed in the low gear and high gear clutch, the rear wheels turned backward instead of forward, and when he pushed in the reverse wheel clutch, the wheels spun forward instead of backward.

Ford responded: “Son, you have installed the ‘ring gear’ on the wrong side of the pinion gear which causes the wheel to go backward instead of forward when you push in the low gear clutch pedal.”

Carl Lohr, first resident warden at Potomac State ForestLohr, who in later years moved to LaVale, would tell this story and conclude it this way: “…and so I was able to fix the car properly, and I became a factory trained mechanic overnight from this bit of expert advice from Henry Ford.”

In another account, apparently just before or after his encounter with Carl Lohr, Ford’s Lincoln got stuck in the mud. Horses from a nearby farm had to pull him out. A young boy, not knowing it was Ford, said: “Mister, you have the wrong kind of car. My father drives a Ford and it never gets stuck in the mud.”

Ford was so delighted with the boy’s comment that he took the name and address of his father, and soon thereafter, a brand new Ford was delivered to the boy’s house.

Ford ended up buying two saw mill boilers during his visit at Muddy Creek Falls. The historical accounts do not make it clear if it was same boiler he saw at Deer Park when he talked to Carl Lohr. But it is known that he bought two sawmill boilers from Newton Reams, who lived near Sang Run Road. The tale behind this business transaction between Ford and Reams reveals good-old fashioned Garrett County ingenuity.

Reams learned of Ford’s interest in his boiler and went to visit Ford at his campsite. The transaction went something like this: Reams asked Ford, “You’re not joking, you really want to buy my boiler?” Ford responded that it was true.

“O.K., I’ll sell it to you for 100 dollars,” replied Reams.

Newton Reams and his wife in their country storeFord immediately gave Reams two fifty dollar bills. As Ford inspected the engine, he explained to Reams how he could get it to run more efficiently. As he looked closer, he noticed a part was missing. Ford asked Reams if he could find a part to replace the missing one.

Reams told Ford that he probably could get one from a nearby sawmill. The sawmill operator later told Reams he wouldn’t sell him the part, but he would sell the whole boiler to him for 75 dollars.

Reams soon thereafter contacted Ford and told him he had to buy the whole boiler if he wanted the part. Ford asked Reams: “How much?” Reams inflated the price to 150 dollars. Ford immediately gave Reams three 50 dollar bills. Reams took the two boilers to Oakland and shipped them by train to Dearborn, Michigan. Today, both saw mill steam boilers are stored at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.

Answer to question: There are many celebrities who believe Western Maryland is a great place to vacation including Albert Einstein, world famous scientist who secretly vacationed at Deep Creek Lake for two weeks in September, 1946. He later said that this vacation was “one of the most restful and zestful vacations.” He stated that “here you can get nearer to God.” Also, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Dr. Benjamin Spock, the baby doctor, and his friend and companion Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the first safe polio vaccine, vacationed at Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland.

Photographs of Carl Lohr provided by Offut Johnson
Newton Reams and his wife in their country store

Retired Maryland State Forester Francis Champ Zumbrun, author, was the Manager of Green Ridge State Forest.

This is the seventh part of an occasional series about Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone’s travels to Western Maryland, originally published in the Cumberland Times News.

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