War Restores Prestige to Tiny Chester Harness Shop
Astride a wooden harness holder that somewhat resembles a bicycle, Fred Vollmer, veteran harness maker of Chester, and one of the few plyers of the fast-disapearing trade, stitches a heavy piece of work-horse harness in his small shop. Mr. Vollmer says that certain items are hard to get, the special linen thread in particular. But business is improving, and the shop is well supplied.-Photo by Conklin.
CHESTER-For more than sixty-five years farmers for miles around have beaten a path to the door of the Vollmer harness shop. Today they still come, in increasing numbers, as a nation at war turns from the mechanized machines to the tireless horse. And so, a business that has seen its lean years, has oft-times dwindled to near extinction, now regains its prestige. In the confines of his tiny shop, among the many historic relics of the past, Fred Vollmer, for forty years a mender and maker of harness, still plys his trade, a nearly lost art. Few of these leather tooling shops now remain. A visit to the small shop is inspiration. There, in the midst of piles of worn harness, between rows of shiny new oil-smelling horse gear, the touch of the modern is felt but the mind reflects on days long past. One can vision booted toilers of the soil plodding in to pass a few moments around the pot-bellied stove. One needs to but look around the store to reminisce.
First Community Telephone Strung the length of the store is a tiny copper wire which the propietor points out as the first community telephone. In March, 1876, he will tell you, Alexander Graham invented the telephone and two years later the Vollmer family had one installed from its shop to their home. That is it. It was installed at that time for $3.50. One can still converse over it the length of the shop. There are many other relics. A set of sleigh bells reputedly used on a sleigh driven by George Washington who stayed at the noted Yelverton Inn across the street from the shop, are on display. The bells weigh half a pound each. An old clock hangs on the wall, still ticking away as it has for 150 years, its wooden works still meshIng perfectly. From a cabinet drawer Mr. Vollmer will produce the tanned hide of a two-headed calf which was purchased from an oldtime tanner in New Milford twentyfive years ago.
Walked 5 Miles to Work Mr. Vollmer's father came to this country when Chancellor Bismarck of Germany took over Hanover. His father, along with the King of Hanover, fled to Switzerland and later settled in Newark, N. J. After working in a harness factory there for a while he came to Goshen, going from there to Florida, where he was employed in the same business. On June twenty-fifth, 1875, Mr. Vollmer purchased the Chester business from Theodore Weiting. For some time previous to moving his family to Chester, the elder Vollmer walked the five miles each way from Florida to Chester to his business. The son joined his father in the business shortly after 1900 after having attended school in Chester and having graduated from Ramsdell Business School in Middletown. The elder Mr. Vollmer died about twelve year's ago, and his son took over the business, aided at times by his brother, Albert, who for the past thirty years has been engaged in piano tuning. During his life as a harness maker, Mr. Vollmer has been a member of Walton Engine & Hose Company, the Presbyterian Church and the old Chester band. He has served for more than a decade as village treasurer, and still retains that job, attending the duties during slack periods and evenings. The Vollmer establishment undertakes nearly any kind of leather work in addition to the harness making, and virtually any time the owner can be found engaged in stitching a torn piece of leather, mending a frayed golf bag, renewing convertible touring car tops, or any of a hundred odd jobs. Another brother, Edward, residing at ninety-eight Academy avenue, Middletown, is outstanding in Orange County musical circles, having played with many of the leading bands during the past twentyfive years, beside teaching music and leading other bands.
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