John Shafer (5)
Son of Maria Magdalena Kline (4) and Henry Shafer, he and Hannah Hamsher were married on January 24, 1850, and of this marriage, three children were born:
A Dansville paper, referring to his death said: The genial, kindly face of Squire John Shafer will be sadly missed from our streets. A good man went to his reward when he died. Although in his eightieth year, Mr. Shafer had been active and about among men, and it was only a short time ago that he was in town shaking hands with his friends. He was born on a farm that his father, Henry Shafer, hewed out of the primeval wilderness in the early part of the last century. Here he lived a sincere, simple life, beloved and respected by his neighbors; here his children were born and reared, to become useful citizens; here his beloved wife died in 1898, and here he passed away, leaving a record any one might envy.
Reference has already been made to the correspondence had with this respected kisnman, and to the lively and encouraging interest he at once took in the proposed family History. Having received very cordial invitations to make him and his people a visit, I went to his place in October, 1898, and spent three days with him most delightfully. I found him comfortably situated in the evening of his life, enjoying the fruits of years of industry and frugality, and the respect of everybody around him. His only daughter had then been dead thirteen years, and he was mourning the demise of his wife, who had been dead only about eight months. Recalling his tender allusions to the departed brings to mind the lines:
There is in life no blessing
His son Frank and wife were keeping house for him and farming the homesteadthe place the Franks grandparents and great-grandparents had each wrought to hew out of the primeval wildnernessto which fifty acres more had been added, making a large and valuable farm, under a state of cultivation and with improvements that indicated the use of brains as well as of busy hands. He also owned another valuable farm in Sparta, on which his eldest son, James A., then resided, and now owns.
This venerable great-grandson of Heinrich and Rosine, with whom I afterwards had an opportunity to become still better acquainted, was found to be not only a good man, with a record any one might envy, but one who was in more than one sense a remarkable and successful man, with eyes ever open to see what useful thing he could make, or where he could improve things. In a work-shop well stocked with tools, turning lathe, etc., he spent much of his time, as the work of the farm permitted. A rivulet issuing from a strong and never-failing spring on the farm, that flows through a depression in the land near the shop, he utilized by making a pond, at the overflow of which he constructed a chute, and placed an overshot wheel between five and six feet in diameter and two feet wide, which furnished him with power for various mechanical uses. The wheel he connected with the house kitchen by a line of wire so arranged as to do duty also in churning butter. A full description of his numerous mechanisms and inventions would require more space than can here be spared. Never in my travels have I met a man, who never was an apprentice, and lived all his life on a farm, who showed such aptitude for making anything that he needed on his premises. A curious automatic Tally Board, that he designed many years ago for counting sheaves in threshing, interested me very much. Every time fifty sheaves were counted the number was registered until 850 sheaves were recorded, and then the tally commenced again at figure one. If patented when made, if patentable, this might have been a source of income, as he could have made it of almost any capacity, and adapted it to various uses; but he had less ambition to obtain and sell patent-rights than he had to contrive and construct. A Lard Press that he designed forty or more years ago, which was supposed to be new and patentable, has ever since been doing good service on his farm and throughout the neighborhood. Another ingenious contrivance is a Pleating Machine for dressmaking and millinery work, that he had made for his wife, who it seems was also quite defty with the needle. She had one of the earliest Wheeler and Willson sewing machines, and for this he constructed seven different attachments, for binding skirt bottoms, working right and left, a wide and narrow hemmer, wide tape-binder, etc., which, if not at the time patentable, at least showed his wonderful fertility in expedients, and for neatness would have done credit to any worker in metal.
One invention, now forty years old, on which he was induced to take out letters patent, was a machine for dropping and covering corn, beans, and broom-corn seed. This in that era should have been to him a source of considerable revenue, but his ill luck was to deed a half interest to a man who commenced to scheme and work only for himself, and this so disgusted him that he refused to do anything or allow anything to be done with it. It was so planned that three or four of the machines could be attached to one frame, which would have made it especially desirable for western lands. His son Frank still plants his corn every spring with the first machine he made, and the same machine has planted many acres from time to time for the neighbors.
A Southern planter, a patient at the Dansville Sanitarium, one day chanced to see the seeder at work, and noting its efficiency wanted to know if Mr. Shafer could make a machine to plant cotton seed as well, saying that the machine he had did not do good work, as the seed would pack, and owing to its adhesive nature would not drop properly. Mr. Shafer said that if he had some cotton seed to experiment with he thought he perhaps could. Soon a lot of seed came, with the assurance that if he could make a perfect cotton-seed dropper a fortune was ready for him. After several experiments he had a handsome model planter ready, which he believed would do the work perfectly. He was now ready, hoping and fearing, for the final trial of the machine in the cotton fields. One morning he received word that his friend the planter had suddenly fallen ill and was taken to his home, and two weeks later came the news of his death. Inventor Shafer, as already stated, was not a patent-right financier, and no further effort was ever made to bring the machine forward. The way he bore the disappointment appears from a remark he made to a friend, If it had been a great success it might have made me proud and wicked.
No matter what Farmer Shafer wanted, he had the
tact to make it. Whether it was in the line of cabinet-making, chair-making,
plane-making, wagon making, coopering, carpentering, blacksmithing, no
matter what, it seemed all the same to him. Many years ago, when in harvesting
the raking into sheaves was done with the hand-rake, he devised and made
what he called a Buggy Rake,the wheels of which were 2 1-2 feet
high, the axles 5 1-2 feet long between the hubs, and the bent wooden
fingers 5 1-2 feet long,which also proved a useful labor-saving
machine, and for which he possibly at that time might also have obtained
letters patent, had his ambition inclined that way. Once he mentally thought
out a plan of a machine for sawing shingles. A friend who owned a saw
mill heard him explain his idea, and was so impressed that he immediately
gave him an order for a machine. In the course of a few weeks the thing
was at work making shingles, and that it was a success is attested by
the fact that it was kept at work right along for about twelve years.
Men do not become skillful mechanics and of inventive turn merely by being
taught; many who have all needed instruction never become in the
best sense skilled; but must have innate or inborn ingenuity and mechanical
aptitude. It is giving good advice to the descendants of Heinrich Gernhardt
to admonish them to study the proclivities of their children, and never
determine what they must be, until they know what talents nature
has given them, and what they are best suited to be (from Heinrich
Gernhardt and His Descendants, pp. 92-96)
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