Our 1898 Vintage Boomer Boschert Apple Cider Press
In 1898 in Syracuse, New York, in the Boomer & Boschert factory in a time when everything was still made by hand, dozens of men worked to hand-cut, hand-carve, hand-cast and meticulously machine iron parts to construct a massive apple cider press. When assembled, the main body of the press measured 13’ x 9.’ It was carefully packed in crates and loaded on a wagon, and drawn by horses to a small town in the midwest, where it was set up as a water-powered press in a mill building by a river. There it remained in continuous operation for over 100 years.
Then something happened. The owner of the mill either retired or passed away and the press was abandoned, the building sold, and sold again. The building’s newest owner refurbished the building into a suite of offices. Too massive to move, the press was left in the corner of the building’s newly renovated wood-paneled, carpeted boardroom, as a showpiece of American History gone by.
Meanwhile, in the year 2001 Erick Taylor and his new bride Patty set out to start a small agricultural business. They’d already purchased their first pair of Devon cows, but wanted to do more than just raise cows. While visiting an old cider mill, the owners were helpful and forthright in explaining what it would take to make a successful business like theirs… because cider could be purchased in any supermarket in the Fall, they would need to make a cider mill where people could actually come and see the process of the cider being made, taste the fresh squeezed cider, and watch the ingenious vintage equipment at work…they would need to find an antique Boomer & Boschert apple cider press.
The challenge was that these types of vintage presses long went out of use, there were less than a handful left in the entire country, and those that remained were already set up as cider mills, usually owned by the same family for multiple generations and no one was willing to part with such a precious vintage machine.
Undaunted, Erick began his search anyway. He searched the Internet, every time he traveled to a new part of the country for work he’d seek out historians, old farmers and old-timers to pick their brains… did they know of such a press? For years and years he would track down leads to find dead ends… the press had been sold and no one knew what happened to it, or the press had been dismantled and not all of the parts could be found.
Then one snowy winter day in January 2015 searching the Internet, Erick spotted what looked like the corner of an antique Boomer & Boschert press in a photo of a newly renovated mill building in the Midwest. He knew instantly that it wasn’t one of the known presses in operation, and the search was on again. Weeks and weeks of research, phone calls, digging through history, and searching real estate and land records ensued. Finally, Erick was able to track down the owner of the mill building. He confirmed the old press was still in the building which was about to be sold again, and in the owner’s opinion, that it was more of a conversation piece, a piece of nostalgia, rather than a working press, but yes, he had actually saved most of the other parts to the press… the giant flywheels and gears that were essential to it’s operation, they were in a storage shed out back. Erick’s hopes soared.
The owner agreed to sell the press, provided Erick could remove it from its location without doing any damage to the building. The owner had built an elegant boardroom around the press, enclosing the space, walls paneled in cedar, floors carpeted, a granite fireplace at one end and a custom-made cherry conference table right next to the press. The only way to get the press out was over the clean carpet and out a narrow 32” wide door. The press made of iron and wood hadn’t been taken apart in over 100 years, and serious questions remained about whether the massive iron components could even be moved after sitting that long. The heavy iron and wood pieces all had to be disassembled before they could be moved out of the building through the narrow door and then carefully packed onto the trailer for the long journey home.
On a cold snowy day in late January, 2015, Erick and a team of friends set out with a truck, a large trailer and tools to see if they could bring home the centerpiece of a business that had been in planning for well over a decade.
The five-man team spent two days in single digit temperatures carefully evaluating, numbering and disassembling the press. They laid out tarps, padded the doorframe, and carefully moved the cherry table furniture of the way. They managed to coax off bolts that had been tightened for over 100 years, locate missing parts from the shed out back, and painstakingly label each part. They grunted and groaned as they struggled to lift and separate heavy parts, and carry them onto an overloaded truck and trailer for a ride through snow and ice on the way home.
Arriving in Woodstock, CT with a load of grease-laden old iron and half-rotting wood Erick’s eyes glowed with joy… and the project of rebuilding would begin.
Erick treated the press with all the reverence and respect that a 117 year old piece of well-loved and well-used antique would deserve… instead of slapping the old machine back together, he thoughtfully went about recreating the original look and feel of what the press would have appeared when first manufactured back in 1898… freshly sawn timbers from a 120+ year-old tree, massive in stature and girth with their oiled natural wood grain seated against clean black iron gears and pins. He imagined the first owners delight in unpacking crates with all the parts of the cider mill after they had traveled in horse-drawn carts all the way from Syracuse, NY.
First, Erick decided he would need to replace most of the wooden parts on the press, but where to find a clear piece of white oak that large for the press beams? After consulting several specialty wood dealers, who kindly shook their heads no, nothing quite like that could be found, Erick headed to the frozen woods with his chainsaw.
From his time spent in the woods pursuing his other passions, hunting and foraging for wild mushrooms, Erick knew of a tree that just might be big enough. The tree was a 120 year-old white oak that stood 90 feet tall, and was 38 inches in diameter at the base. He cautiously felled the tree, cut it into log lengths, loaded it on the trailer, then off he went to a saw mill to have the logs cut to be the massive beams that make up the press portion of the cider mill as well as the bridge that supports the turning table and the A-Frame that supports the apple grater and conveyor.
Working in a barely heated garage in February, Erick carefully reconstructed the press pieces out of a tree that was older than the press itself, measuring, cutting, sanding, chiseling, and drilling holes in exact locations on the new pieces.
His wife Patty and a team of relatives and friends pitched in to help carefully strip off layers of thick green paint that had been layered on the press over the last 117 years. They used wire brushes to remove grease, rust and chips of paint from metal parts and machinery. They oiled gears and cast parts, and repainted portions of the press with apple-red oil paint.
Then the reassembly began. In our icy cold barn the same team of family and friends sorted out the carefully refurbished pieces. One by one, they were refitted, rejoined and fastened together again into a massive piece of working history. Patty recalls the day when their two teenage nephews stood atop the reassembled press after Erick had just finished reassembled the gears and flywheel… a moment of truth… as they maddeningly turned the gears by hand, everyone laughing and whooping with joy and relief as the massive gears turned easily and the heavy press beams were raised into the air with the boys standing on top!
After the victory of the main press being fully assembled, Erick turned his attention to countless other challenges… making custom belts to turn the gears, refurbishing the apple grater and having a new stainless steel box constructed to house it in to meet the current health regulations. Realizing the apple elevator (conveyor belt) that came with the press was far too short to make it the distance required in its new location, the generous owners and men from DG Marshall in Webster manufactured a new one.
When parts broke, or belts flew off their gears, or missing pieces had to be recreated, our now family friend, Ernie the machinist came over for Sunday breakfast and helped solve the problems. When gears were discovered to be cracked, they were carefully boxed and shipped to an Amish blacksmith forge in Pennsylvania to be recast. When the new sheet metal pieces didn’t line up right, Tim from DG Marshall patiently made extra visits to make sure everything was fitted perfectly. Erick had to find and assemble a collection of used equipment, an apple brusher-washer, roller inspection table, and bulk tank to complete all the pieces of equipment needed to make cider.
But wait, there’s more… Just after the press parts were unloaded from the ice-covered trailer into the Taylors garage in late January, Patty called the state to find out what was required to get a license to make cider. The Taylors invited Ellen to come and see what they had intended for the cider press and to share the vision that they had of making cider in their beautiful timber framed barn. Ellen’s first visit generated a long list of items that would have to be completed in order to meet current regulations. Other cider makers could have their apple washing and moving equipment outside because they were grandfathered, but the Taylors would have to meet the new health codes, everything inside, everything ‘smooth and washable.’ Patty pondered, ‘how can you grandfather public health’?
Determined to meet the codes and get the license, the Taylor’s turned their attention toward readying the barn at the same time they continued rebuilding and refurbishing the press. Every crack in every beam and board had to be caulked and filled. Cracks in the floor were filled, cracks around windows were filled and the entire interior of the barn was sealed. The rear shed roof area of the barn was closed in by what Patty affectionately called the geriatric building team, her 74-year old father Pete and a family friend Bill (whose younger age will remain unpublished).
Erick’s best friend from boyhood, Stephen, not only helped disassemble, move and reassemble the press, but he built a service counter and storage cabinet from wood Erick cut off the land, so the Taylor’s could get a food handling permit to make apple cider donuts. He also constructed an ingenious door within the barns big rolling doors to make the space impervious to insects while still enabling customers to enter the structure and view the vintage machine at work. Ellen, the state inspector came by periodically to monitor the progress and guide the Taylor’s through the arduous process of ensuring everything would be up to the current health codes standards.
Nine months later, in mid-September 2015, this labor of love resulted in a completely restored, fully operational antique cider press and Ellen smiled as she conducted her final inspection, granting the Taylor’s the licenses to make apple cider and cider donuts.
We Share Our Heartfelt Thanks To ALL The People Who Helped Make This Possible:
John, Tim & the men at DG Marshall & Webster Sheet Metal in Webster, MA
Ron Clark, FSA
Matthew & Patrick Critz
Kayla at the Vanilla Bean
Matt Lapp and Son