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A Look Back: Lightning Rods and the Heary Bros.

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By Jolene Hawkins

It’s the time of the year where we get thunderstorms, winds, rain and, of course, lightning! It was during a thunderstorm in 1752 when Ben Franklin discovered that lighting was actually electricity.  That discovery paved the way for the development of the first lighting rod called  “Franklin Rod.”

Now, what does that have to do with anything?  Well in 1895, Ira Moore, who was a traveling salesman, stopped off at the Hamburg Hotel and tempted the bartender with a chance to augment his income by selling lighting arrestors.  Here we are six generations later and the Heary Brothers Company is still producing lighting protection devices.

How does a lightning rod work?  In plain English, a lightning rod or lightning conductor is an iron rod that is used to make lighting strike it, rather than strike something else. It’s part of a lightning protection system.  Such a system is made of many rods.  These rods are usually placed at high points of buildings and structures.  In addition, paths are made, so the electricity can be taken from the rooftop to the ground.

So who has these devices locally? Buffalo General Hospital and the Erie Community College downtown campus are equipped with the preventor systems, along with St Aloysius Recreation Hall in Springville, and then there are larger customers such as the Citicorp skyscraper in New York City, the dome which houses Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose airplane in Long Beach, Calif. and the United States Mint Building in Philadelphia, Pa., even the Statue of Liberty! And we cannot forget the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Occidental Office Building in Niagara Falls and the Helmsley Palace Hotel in New York City.   

Around here, lightning would strike barns, along with the large tall houses that we have in our area.  The Heary Bros. have a catalog that shows page after page of light rods, connectors, and anything you might want to get, making sure that each structure is protected from a strike of lighting, that could set a barn on fire, causing loss of the hay, equipment that was stored inside and livestock.  Inside your house, the television and electronics have a chance of being shorted out.                                             There are cold bolts of lighting that merely destroy and hot bots of lighting that are so named because they encounter resistance that causes fires.

Lightning, of course, is an event of nature.  It is the giant spark that uses a negatively charged storm cloud with the positively charged Earth.

As I read the old local newspapers, I found that week after week, a barn was struck by lightning and burned to the ground, or it would spread to the other sheds or even a house. You did not have to go out into the country because in Springville there were barns all through out the town itself.   

Cattle, or even people, were struck in the fields. In 1901, the Village of Springville was purchasing 10 pairs of lightning arresters.  This was before there were fancy fire trucks and tankers, so fires were usually put out by a group of people forming a fire brigade and passing the buckets of water from person to person to be thrown on the fire.

By 1915, you could read in the local newspapers where different people like George Neudeck and Frank Zerfas were installing lightning pads on their barns. Through all of the changes and fires that were caused by lightning strikes, Heary Bros have been here in our area, on Moore Road, making and shipping, installing and maintaining all forms of rods, Faraday cage systems or preventor systems.

Next time when you sit on the back porch and watch as there is lightning, remember lightning rods and the Heary Bros., just another local hometown family that has done well— we are sure glad to have them around!

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