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September 28, 2023

Amsterdam Laundry 1947

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...near the end of the Civil War

This weekend in The Daily Gazette and Amsterdam Recorder and hear on The Historians Sunday Focus on History-Storming Fort Fisher in the Civil War by Bob Cudmore

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Tragedy at the laundry

By Bob Cudmore

A steam pipe that broke in the boiler room of an Amsterdam laundry in 1947 claimed three lives, seriously injured another man and left Donald F. Lasher of Fort Johnson with indelible memories.

Lasher was a 19-year old truck driver working for contractor Adam Haberek on the expansion of the Robison & Smith laundry on West Main Street in Amsterdam on Wednesday, October 8, 1947.  A steam line with 250 pounds of pressure ran from a separate boiler room into the existing laundry.

On the scene that morning was one of the laundry’s founders, Franklin Robison of Gloversville who had started the business with Willard Smith decades earlier. 

Lasher said that Robison asked the power shovel operator, Steve “Smitty” Kaufman, “To trim off the projections hanging from the end of the wall.  Kaufman put the shovel under the wall, raised the whole wall off the ground and settled the wall down.”  Kaufman said he couldn’t “Get anything off.”  He removed the power shovel from the site.

Lasher said, “Mr. Haberek arrived to inspect the job.  At that moment Mr. Robison noted that dirt had crumbled from under the supporting wall.  Steam was starting to leak from the flanged joint in the line outside the building.”

Realizing the line would soon break, Robison sent boiler operator William Rule into the boiler room to shut down the system.  Robison followed him.  Another worker, DeMilt Quackenbush, and Lasher trailed behind.

Lasher said, “I stood by the side door and was wiping the closed door window to see the action outside when I suddenly found myself on the floor in a steam-filled room.  When the wall fell, the pipe had broken outside.  It swung down inside with the open end three feet from the floor.  Five inches of 250 pound steam was escaping into the room.”

Lasher continued, “I realize now the good Lord was with me for before me was light.  I crawled through the door that was letting in the light.  It had blown open enough for me to get through.  I escaped without a scratch.”

Lasher ran to the back entrance.  Quackenbush, 51 from Fort Hunter, tried desperately to get out but the green swinging doors opened inward.

“An arm came crashing through the window, extended slowly and slid back into the building never to be seen again,” Lasher said. 

Lasher’s truck was nearby.  He started the truck and forced the doors open with the truck’s bumper.  He parked the truck and ran back to the side entrance.

Lasher said, “Quackenbush made it to the back of the room but not out.  Mr. Robison wandered around in the room, trying to shut off the boilers.  Like the walking dead, he came out.”  Robison, 62, died two days later.

Rule, the boiler man who lived on Division Street in Amsterdam, came out and could not speak.  Lasher’s wife Helen later told her husband that Rule’s adrenaline brought him out of the building.  He died later that day.

The boilers were turned off although steam was still escaping as screaming sirens announced the arrival of firemen.  Quackenbush was dead when firemen found him inside.  Haberek was rescued, coming out supported on either side by firemen.

Lasher said, “He had found refuge in the runoff ditches along the walls of the boiler room where he had crouched in a fetal position.  His burns were limited to whatever skin had been exposed.  He didn’t totally recover for at least a year, when he went back to work.

A coroner’s inquest ruled the deaths of Quackenbush, Robison and Rule accidental.  Lasher said, “I escaped because I saw the light to clear outside air.  Thank you, God Almighty.”

Friday, September 29, 2023-Episode 494-Highlights edition #5-Christopher Gorham with the story of FDR aide Anna Rosenberg; Gregg Ficery tracing the origin of the National Football League; Scott Shane chronicling the life of Thomas Smallwood, an African American who named the Underground Railroad and interviews from the 2015 Fort Plan Museum conference on the American Revolution.

Saturday, September 30, 2023-From the archives- Episode 472-In Unearthed Meryl Frank tells the story of her cousin Frany Winter, a celebrated Yiddish actress in Vilna in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust.  Frank spent many years researching how her cousin Frany died.

Sunday, October 1, 2023-Focus on History-Storming Fort Fisher in the Civil War 

Mohawk Valley Weather, Thursday, September 28, 2023

49 degrees in The City of Amsterdam at 5:05AM 

Patchy dense fog before 9am. Otherwise, mostly sunny, with a high near 68. Calm wind becoming east 5 to 7 mph in the afternoon.
Increasing clouds, with a low around 51. East wind 3 to 5 mph.
A slight chance of rain. Cloudy, with a high near 61. East wind around 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.
Patchy fog before 8am. Otherwise, partly sunny, with a high near 72. Light north wind.
Sunny, with a high near 77.
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Gazette Focus on History Stories

Friday, August 4, 2023- Episode 486-Bob Cudmore has Focus on History columns on soda bottlers, walking for sport, a submarine rescue, Amsterdam’s clock tower building and more.

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Friday, July 28, 2023 On the road to our 500th episode. Larry Gooley wrote the history of Adirondack serial killer Robert Garrow. Gooley was interviewed in March 2015 on Episode 49 of The Historians Podcast.

July 21, 2023

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July 14, 2023

Audrey Kupferberg

Friday, July 14, 2023-Episode 483-WAMC radio film commentator, historian and archivist Audrey Kupferberg discusses pre-Hollywood filmmaking in New York State and other topics.

July 07, 2023

American Revolution Stories

Episode 482-American Revolution Stories. Eric Schnitzer and Nina Sankovitch, spoke at last month’s Revolutionary War conference sponsored by Fort Plain Museum. Schnitzer has written the text to artist Don Troiani’s Campaign to Saratoga 1777. Sankovich discusses how the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy families of Braintree, Massachusetts fanned the flames of America’s revolution.

June 30, 2023

Chris Wimmer

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Cosby and Tom/American Revolution

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Scott Haefner/Old Fort Johnson

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June 02, 2023

Matthew Keagle

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Paul Kix

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Friday, April 28, 2023-Episode 472-In Unearthed Meryl Frank tells the story of her cousin Frany Winter, a celebrated Yiddish actress in Vilna in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. Frank spent many years researching how her cousin Frany died.

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