The Magazine of Maine
Since 1872-The Saco Company
The Firm a Wooden Water Pump Created
By: Anne Molloy
Whenever John Furber rattled into a rutted country farmyard with his pump-maker1s tools in the back of his wagon, he received an enthusiastic welcome.He not only brought news of the outside world, like an itinerant late 18 th Century preacher, peddler or artist of his time; he brought a labor-saving device then considered well-nigh miraculous - a wooden water pump.
As he traveled throughout the countryside, word of his presence spread from house to house and his list of waiting customers grew.Furber, who fashioned his pumps from hollowed-out lengths of tree trunks, preferably free of large knots, remained with each family several days until he was satisfied his pump worked perfectly.
John Furber, a native of New Hampshire, taught his trade to his son Joseph, who in turn passed on his skill and trade secrets to his son, John.In time they ceased to be itinerant pump-makers.In 1872, John1s sons, Frank O. and Oscar Furber, founded a pump-making company in Saco, Maine, known as Furber Brothers, the parent firm of what is today the Saco Manufacturing Company, a wood products firm now celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Furber Brothers described themselves as 3Manufacturers of Pine and Cucumber Wood Pumps with Furber1s Patent Handle.2After a time, Oscar moved to Massachusetts and Frank later took his two sons, Charles and Harry, into business with him.These three incorporated in 1909 as the Saco Manufacturing Company, with Frank as president.
Frank also bought a mill in Stony Creek, Tennessee, where the milled wood, chiefly sycamore and magnolia [cucumber wood], which he shipped to Saco.The company operated its shop in a small building that was an annex of the old Littlefield Mill, then moved to the corner of Lincoln and Spring Streets in Saco, the site of the present company.
Over the years the Furbers constantly improved their pumps.Sales spread throughout New England and followed homesteaders west.The Furbers. knowing first-hand a harsh winter climate, employed a simple though ingenious 3frost free2 device that allowed air to circulate inside their pumps, thus keeping ice from forming.These pumps also featured working cylinders, lined with German porcelain, and a patented metal handle bracket that prevented the pump from splitting by any side pull of the handle.Because the body of the Furber pump above the well platform was made of wood, it did not become heated under a hot sun, unlike all-metal pumps, and when water gushed out, it was as cool as the source from which it was drawn.
These pumps were handsome as well as useful.Wooden parts of all models, some of which were topped with acorn-shaped finials, were given three coats of dark red paint and one coat of coach varnish.They were stenciled with curlicue designs and the company1s name and place of manufacture in bright yellow letters.A typical price for pumps was $2.50, unbelievable by today1s standards.
Although the Furbers sold between 4000 and 5000 pumps a year, they were too energetic and ingenious to be content with making pumps alone and tried their hand at a variety of articles, including lobster trap bows, skis, rustic birdhouses, wooden spreaders for sprinkling sand on electric car tracks, and jackscrews for moving buildings.They also manufactured wooden lamp post and hitching posts, the latter handsomely fashioned of bored chestnut and surmounted with black cast iron horses1 heads.
Because Frank Furber had developed a method for boring a round hole in a long log, the turn of the century found him producing wooden house columns that did not have to be joinedtogether in sections.Today the firm is one of the few in the country that makes house columns.
In 1917 Frank Furber took out a patent on a broach bit that could bore a square hole through solid pieces of round wood for making rolls used by manufacturers of sandpaper, waxpaper and other coated papers.So successful have been these rolls that they are shipped to nearly every state in the union.
In 1938 Harry Furber, one of Frank1s sons, became president of the firm, and his daughter, Dorothy, its treasurer.Miss Furber recalls vividly that her father was so devoted to the business that he hated to be away for any length of time, and often was on hand to accept a load of logs or 3bolts2 at any hour rather than turn a lumberman away.Sometimes, Miss Furber recalls, she and her father would receive a load and scale it as late as 10 o1clock at night.
Harry Furber sold his firm in 1955 to Peter Hellige, who reincorporated it as the Saco Manufacturing Co., Inc.Three years ago, Richard W. and Carlton E. Morse, whose family had operated an electrical specialty shop in Boston, bought the Saco Company and combined their old business with it.Carlton now manages the electrical shop in a new plant which makes lamp sockets and connective plugs as well as custom fittings for, marine use.His brother, Richard, manages the shop office located in the old Saco mill building across the street.The old woodworking shop, founded by the Furbers, is run by Ernest Labbe Jr. of Norway.Wooden lamp posts, bored for electrical wiring, are a Saco specialty and represent a compatible meshing of two businesses, one working in wood and the other in electrical items.
Manufacture of wooden spools or rolls continues as a major part of the company1s output.The firm1s only competitor turns out laminated rolls - a process the Saco company employs only when the roll is exceptionally large in diameter.The rolls are capped on the ends with metal protectors, and the company has such faith in their durability that it offers free replacements for any that are damaged, but as yet never has had to make good on its offer.
Like the Furbers, the Morses continue to supply custom-built house columns.They produce both Tuscan and Doric pillars or duplicate other styles from architects1 drawings.Although the hollowed-out column manufactured by Furber was lighter than a solid column and also reduced the possibility of checking or splitting, most columns the firm turns out today are 3built up2 -that is, formed of long, wedge-shaped pieces of wood glued together around a hollow core.
The offices of the Saco Manufacturing Company are still the friendly places that they were during the Furber days when visitors liked to linger.Although the Morse brothers worked originally in metal, both have adapted readily to the use of wood.Richard Morse has succumbed so completely to the fascination of woodworking that he devotes his spare time to it, carving totem poles or cigar store Indians, and making lamps decorated with carved marine motifs.
The Maine skill of turning timber into desirable products, which began when John Furber fashioned his first wooden water pump, is being kept alive today at the Saco
The article also contains four photo1s
1. Frank O. Furber standing beside his 3Frost-free Cucumber wood pump.2
2. An 1890 photo taken at a parade, showing the horse and wagon the Furbers went about the countryside demonstrating and selling their pumps from. The wagon also contains two gentlemen possibly Furbers, decked out in their Sunday best clothing of the period.
3. A later photo of a worker loading a log onto a turning machine for cutting
4. A modern day1photo of a worker putting metal end caps on industrial rolls which have square holes.