As a youth, growing up on Haverling Street in Bath had many advantages. One was the close proximity to Henry Kleckler's machine shop. To most boys of my time his shop was like a magnet, to watch all of the line shafts and machines going and things being converted from plain steel and aluminum to finished aircraft parts fascinated us. Henry's shop was never a thing of order but he and his men knew where everything was when it was needed. Henry might open a drawer with over fifty wrenches scattered about—he would remove 2 or 3 and among them would be just the one he needed. Henry did not seem to mind the neighborhood kids hanging about until they started to get in the way—then he would give you a nickel to go get a bottle of pop or a candy bar—just to clear you out of his work space.
One example of his love and understanding of kids happened every year in August. Henry's lot was very deep and went all the way back to the Steuben County Fairgrounds. The fair had a six-foot-high, vertical-board fence on the boundary line to keep people out. You could climb this fence but when you were only 7 or 8 years old it was a challenge. Henry must have seen us in our efforts to scale this wall. So on the second day of the fair Henry pointed out one particular board that was attached to a neighboring fence board by a pair of spring-loaded hinges. If your width was no wider than 12 inches you had it made—free admission, right by the sheep pens.
I would like to change course for a bit and relate a story about other ways to go to the fair without paying admission.
In the late 1930's and early 1940's the state police would assign a trooper to the fair. That trooper had to find his own room for the week. For at least 2 years my parents had a spare room and rented it to a trooper named Gus Nelson. As I would find out many years later he was called "Blizzard Gus" by his fellow officers. But that is another story. When Gus stayed at our house I had the honor of entering the fair grounds in a state police car. Gus would spend part of his day with me in tow and upon checking the various side shows etc., his remark to the ticket taker was "The kid's with me." I sure felt like a big wheel.
Over the years there were many stories told by and about Henry that would give you an idea about his character.
One story that Henry told on himself was about a new-fangled thing called a refrigerator. In the early 30's you could rent a refrigerator. It had an attachment that you put quarters in to make it run. A collector would come around about every four weeks to empty out the coin box. He seemed a bit bewildered that there were so few coins in the rusty box. This continued for several years until Henry could afford to buy his own refrigerator. At that time he confessed to the collector what he had done. Being a machinist he had made a mold with blanks the same size as quarters. He filled the mold with water and placed it in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator. Henry made his own quarters. Of course they melted causing the money box to rust. Only the week before the collector came would he use real money. Henry, being the honest man that he was, made out a check to the collector, in the amount that he thought would cover the liquid quarters he had used over the years.
Another story that is hearsay from my parents about Henry had to do with Glenn Curtiss's early business practices and the purchase of the Curtiss Airplane and Motor Company by the Willys Company after the first World War. Many times in the early years of business Glenn Curtiss was short of cash to pay his employees and he would substitute some stock in his company to make up for the deficiency. As a result of this Henry accumulated many shares. When the Willys takeover came, Henry received a large windfall of cash. Rumor has it that to share his sudden wealth he purchased Pierce-Arrow automobiles for many of his relatives. You can believe it or not.
To relate another story about Henry that happened about 1940, I will start with a man named Eugene Husting, a Glenn Curtiss disciple, who came to Hammondsport in 1965 to do research on the Curtiss Travel Car. He had a copy of the patent papers with him. The car was very modern looking, similar in appearance to today's Airstream trailers, but it had an engine compartment and a steering wheel. It was an early RV. Mr. Husting was trying to find out what happened to this prototype vehicle. I told him that I could probably take him to within 100 feet of it.
Now I will start the part of my story that took place in 1940.
Remember I told you that many of the neighborhood kids would "hang out" at Henry's shop. Well, the Curtiss/Kleckler traveling home was parked beside the shop and as kids are always on the snoopy side we just had to look inside this strange looking craft. As I recall, it became our favorite place to hide out and try cigarettes. As time went by we somewhat mistreated this vehicle and then, as with all good things, Henry caught us one day. We expected the worst but to our surprise, Henry said we could do whatever we wanted to as he was going to take the traveling home out to the town dump on East Washington Street, and push it in. He needed room to expand his shop.
Everyone in our town and perhaps many surrounding towns could easily recognize Henry Kleckler's car. It was the only car in Steuben County with acetylene and oxygen welding tanks nestled by each front fender. I am sure that the hoses, guages and welding rods were in his car, for he was ever ready to do a repair job for many of the local farmers. It was his often remark when offered a high-paying job with the Curtiss factory in Buffalo, "What would the local farmers do without me to fix their machines?"
The last time that I saw Henry was sometime in the late 50s. I needed a bushing for a pulley—the hole was one and one half inches in the pulley and the shaft of my motor was only three-quarters of an inch in diameter. So I took my problem to the only man in town that I thought could solve my dilemma. Without much conversation Henry "chucked up" a piece of steel and without even measuring turned a bushing for my pulley. It did not fit—Henry examined it and found a small burr on one side which he soon filed off. His only remark was that he did not think that his eyes "were scattering that bad." He charged me all of $2.00—that was Henry!
© 2000, Richard G. Sherer
Henry Kleckler was born in 1882. He began working for Glenn Curtiss on January 2, 1907. Together with Curtiss and Charles Kirkham he designed the early Curtiss engines. The OX5 Club of America recognized Henry Kleckler as the designer of the OX5 engine that powered the Curtiss Jennys.