For generations the Lancaster Stockyards channeled livestock from the Midwest to East Coast cities. It was the largest stockyard east of Chicago and operated from 1895 to the end of the 20th century.
With thousands of steers occupying a 25-acre site near the rail line through Lancaster, tons of manure were generated that had to be removed from the pens, usually by local farmers, to fertilize their fields.
A vintage manure wagon used at the stockyards - dating to somewhere in the mid-20th century - has been restored by Mount Joy farmer Steve Hershey, his son Phil and son-in-law Alex.
The restored vehicle is a hybrid of an early 20th-century wooden manure bed built for a horse team and re-mounted, probably by a farmer in the 1940s, on a Ford Model A chassis for work at the stockyards. It was eventually retired to a Mount Joy farm.
The restored vehicle debuted in early June during the Ford Nationals at the Carlisle Fairgrounds.
But for the marriage of Hershey’s daughter Emily to Alex Koser, the Ford Model A wagon may never have been restored. It’s a labor of love, and quite a story, really.
Koser, a Mount Joy native, married Emily Hershey, his school classmate, in 2019. Alex is a 2018 Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate with a degree in auto restoration. He not only loves Emily but also has a strong feeling about restoring vintage vehicles.
“It certainly was a marriage made in heaven,” father- in-law Steve Hershey said, “as Alex was happy to take the lead in getting the vehicle and chassis ready to hold the manure bed to complete the restoration that Phil and I had been working on off and on for several years.”
So, with Alex’s help, the vehicle - which sat for decades in a building at Bridge Valley Farm, not far from some 400,000 chickens has a new life.
The story really started in 2008 when Steve and his wife, Heidi, traded a career in dairy farming for one in poultry and acquired Bridge Valley Farm from Heidi’s father.
The farm at one time could house as many as a million laying hens in seven buildings. Bridge Valley, with nearly a half-million chickens today, is still a large operations with the hens producing 30,000 dozen eggs daily that are distributed under the R.W. Sauder brand throughout the Northeast.
So, how did the old horsepowered manure wagon find its way to the chicken farm?
“Well, all the details of the story are somewhat elusive,” Hershey said, “but we have pieced together much of it as best we can.”
When the Hersheys bought the farm, they learned the manure wagon, which had been stored in one of the barns by Heidi’s dad for a friend, came along with the sale.
Their research traced the old wooden wagon and Model A Ford frame back to the 1940s, when it was probably sold by R. M. Brubaker, a farm equipment dealer in Landisville. The wagon, when Hershey found it, was sitting on a 1928 Ford Model A chassis.
“The wagon is a grounddriven manure spreader and the mechanism (web and beater) were driven by the axle of the spreader that turned when being pulled by the horse team,” he said.
“Similar units can still be bought today and are used on Plain Sect farms, either pulled by horses or hitched to a tractor.”
Hershey and son Phil thought it would be fun to do what they described as a “farm restoration,” and to use the Model A wagon for parades and fairs.
“We thought it would be neat,” Hershey said, “and got the manure wagon back into presentable shape, but we stalled on the engine, as neither of us had much experience in Model A Ford engines that were made between 1927 and 1931.”
The manure wagon and truck sat where they put it for about a decade.
“We didn’t really have much time to, or a plan on how to, finish it,” Hershey said.
The solution to finish the restoration was closer than they realized and began to come together in 2018 when they asked Koser to take the lead.
“It was either a big coincidence or fate, but either way it was great,” Hershey said. “Alex loved the idea, and while employed at Wissler Motors in Mount Joy began to work on the engine and chassis, supplementing what he learned at PCT with online research and conversations with other Ford Model A enthusiasts.”
Emily and Alex settled into a home in Mount Joy in 2019 with a stand-alone, three-bay, all-season garage where Alex was able to rebuild the Model A engine and restore the chassis over the last 18 months as he prepared to open his own vehicle restoration business.
“It was both intensive and a labor of love, and I was fortunate to work on such a historic vehicle right out of school,” Koser said. “I networked with a number of Model A enthusiasts along the way and one of the people I worked with has brought his 1929 Model A Sport Coupe to me to work on at my new business.”
Hershey said the wagon and the Model A chassis were assembled Memorial Day weekend and the vehicle received its final tweaks before being exhibited at the Ford event in Carlisle.
“Don’t you love it when a story has a happy ending?” Hershey said as he talked over the putt-putt-putt of the Model A engine with a smiling son-in-law settled on a temporary seat behind the steering wheel.