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The A.B. Farquhar Co., shown circa 1880, manufactured a wide variety of farm equipment in its early days and contributed to the war effort for World War I and World War II. The manufacturing plant in downtown York was demolished by 1970. Former Farquhar emloyees are gathering Saturday for a reunion in West Manchester Township. (York County Heritage Trust)
According to those with longer memories than mine, the site on which The York Dispatch sits in downtown York used to be the location of the A.B. Farquhar manufacturing plant.

I know that only because Jackson Township farmer Robert Rauhauser, 72, a collector of historical items with a York connection, especially all things having to do with the Farquhar company, tells me it is so.

A typical York countian, Rauhauser apparently hasn't thrown much away during his 50-year-plus farming career. "I kept anything about York or York County," he admitted. And that includes his collection of A.B. Farquhar signs, monthly shop magazines and an assortment of Farquhar tools and machines.

Which comes in sort of handy since he's the guest speaker at the 16th reunion of former employees of the A.B. Farquhar Co., which will meet Saturday at Hoss's Steak and Sea House, 2175 White St., in West Manchester Township, from noon to 3 p.m.

Rauhauser will arrive around 11 a.m., he said, and set up a table with examples of his collection of A.B. Farquhar memorabilia for viewing by the former workers.

"I'm bringing my entire set of shop magazines from 1947," Rauhauser said. "People love paging through them to see if they recognize faces of people they used to work with."

But that doesn't include A.B. Farquhar. No one in this group had ever met him.

The self-made millionaire industrialist, one of the most controversial members of the York community from the
Civil War years through the mid- '20s, and at the same time one of its movers and shakers, is long deceased. He lived from Sept. 28, 1838, to March 5, 1925.

The Farquhar company was turned over to A.B.'s son, Francis Farquhar, upon A.B.'s death.

Born in Sandy Springs, Md., Arthur Briggs Farquhar moved to York at age 18, and with the help of a family acquaintance -- inventor John Elgar, who is known as the builder of the first iron steamboat, which he called the "Codorus" -- began serving an apprenticeship with W.W. Dingee and Co., manufacturer of farm equipment and heavy machinery in York.

By age 20, A.B. had learned enough and saved enough money to purchase an interest in the W.W. Dingee and Co. In no time at all, Farquhar became recognized as an important force in York County industry.

But just before the start of the Civil War, the Dingee factory burned down. The partnership was dissolved, and Farquhar went into business for himself. The new name for the company was the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works, which by 1884 was the most important industry in York County, according to historical accounts.

Among the products manufactured in Farquhar factories of that day were all manner of farm equipment -- threshers, cotton gins, potato cultivators, planters, sulky plows and tractors -- and the Ajax and Pennsylvania steam engines.

By 1917, on the brink of going to war with Germany, the company's contribution to the war effort was mostly hydraulic powder presses, boilers, sterilizers and machine tools.

But by World War II, the company produced smokeless powder presses, decontaminating units, material handling conveyors, and 81 mm mortars and mounts.

The A.B. Farquhar Co. was sold to the Oliver Corp. in 1952, which gradually phased out all operations at the York facility. By 1970, the downtown landmark, which had become an eyesore, was demolished.

Ruth Ann Pentz worked as a stenographer for two years and a bookkeeper for four years at A.B. Farquhar Co. between 1942 and 1948. She estimates there are only 50 or 60 former Farquhar employees still living.

So each year, she organizes two reunions of those former employees -- one the last Saturday in April and another the last Saturday in October.

"We're all old people," she laughed, "the youngest of which is around 77 or 78. One woman, 92, lives north of State College, Pa., and she still comes down to the reunions."

It's a chance, Pentz said, "for us to see each other, to rehash old times."

About 45 former Farquhar employees attend the reunions, she said.

"I started the reunions as an excuse to get all of us together," Pentz said. "After all, we had worked, played and cried together at the Farquhar factory, especially during the war years. It was a very difficult time for us, the women especially since not many men were around. We would have done anything for one another back then. We didn't know how to say the word 'no' to each other."

Saturday, at noon, is one more chance to gather as a group, Pentz said.

"We all look forward to it, I can tell you that."

And Rauhauser, a student of agricultural history, gets a kick out of it, too.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.