From the Files of the Rochester Historical Society

I’m sure as you look at the picture that accompanies this article, you’re thinking, “Ok, what is that?” It looks somewhat like a cross between stilts for a one-legged man and the world’s biggest chopstick. Actually, this is a tool which is in the current exhibit at our museum at 355 County Rd. These calipers were commonly used in Rochester in the days of the many active sawmills.

            If you look at the caliper, you see that it’s comprised of a long, straight arm with two shorter ones that are perpendicular to it, and a closer look shows numbers and lines. The inner perpendicular arm has the numbers 8, 10, 12, 14 spaced along it. The longer piece has many numbers and lines on it much like a yardstick. The two perpendicular arms slide up and back on this longer piece.

            In one of the Rochester journals, Florence Snell Taylor, remembering her childhood, talked about her father, Herbert Snell. He made a living as a conductor on the trolley line, but also cut hair, was a carpenter, built houses and made calipers. His daughter, aged 7 or 8, helped by painting the numbers on the calipers before her father shellacked them.

            Rick Hall remembers finding one of these at a yard sale. It was homemade with scratched in numbers. Unsure what it was, but intrigued by it, he paid $2.00. Later, he passed it on to George Church who explained its use and who had always wanted to own one. The calipers were used out in the woods by sawmill companies. Acting much like a slide rule, they measured the amount of board feet in a tree.

            I found the calipers that are in our exhibit hanging on the wall in the front foyer of the museum. I put them out with the other tools, hoping someone would tell me what they were and their purpose and someone (Rick Hall) did. Once again, it was brought to home to me how our Rochester history doesn’t reside just in the pictures, objects and papers that we collect and protect, but also in the memories of our members and other Rochester residents.

            While the museum is not currently open on Sundays, anyone who wishes to view the current exhibit can do so by getting in touch with Connie Eshbach 508-763-4932 or Sue LaFleur  508-295-8908. We hope to see people at our next meeting on May 18 where the program Stories in the Stone will be presented by Jeff Stevens at 7:00 pm.

By Connie Eshbach

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