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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

19th century heavy metal in downtown Nashua

Don Himsel

Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.


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Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.

I saw this hanging on the wall at the Nashua Historical Society awhile back. The caption under this fine photo reads:

“Nashua’s first steam powered road machine, also known as ‘Tom Sands Bicycle,’ was nicknamed after Mayor Thomas Sands (from 1893 to 1894). Mayor Sands purchased a road machine for $3,700. The road machine is in front of the County Records Building and the Odd Fellows Building. Mayor Sands wanted to make ‘necessary improvements upon highways, macadamizing certain streets and curtailing as far as possible the general expense of government.’”

It looks like an big ol’ rollerskate, doesn’t it? The old kind with metal wheels that you could strap onto your shoes. I bring up the rollerskate because former mayor Thomas Sands, according to the New Hampshire State Magazine, Vol. 28, said he’s the one who invented it, back when he was an apprentice at the Davenport Bridge and Kirk Locomotive manufacturers. The “Tom Sands Bicycle” reminds me of those skates. The old ones. Now, I didn’t wear them, but I believe my sister did when she was a little girl, ’cause, well, she’s older than me. And boy, she’s going to get me for writing that.

So Sands didn’t design this giant piece of construction equipment, but it’s associated with a pretty interesting guy who invented several machines that turned him into a successful Nashuan. Sands’ real fame didn’t come from rollerskates or the brick-making machine he invented, but from the White Mountain Ice Cream freezer.

The factory was first located in Laconia. A fire there in 1881 put him out of business and brought him to Nashua. He managed the company here until 1889.

He ran for mayor in 1892. He lost by one vote to Williams Hall. The magazine reported that he was “renominated by acclimation” and elected in the fall of the following year.

So, anyway, here’s a neat photo of an old “road machine” – a steam roller. Early roadway improvement was actually spurred on by bicyclists. The “National League for Good Roads” was established in 1892 and eventually the Department of Agriculture developed the Office of Road Inquiry in 1893.

Roads, as we all know, developed from native pathways. Foot traffic turned into rutted cart paths, and so on. The surfaces went from mud to our eventual asphalt, with a construction process including stones and gravel developed over time. The device here was used to compact the subsurface before the top wear layer was applied.

I don’t know who manufactured this particular roller. I can’t see any identifying marks on it. However, if my sister was standing with a big metal-wheeled rollerskate raised over my head, ready to bonk me about her being older than me, I’d say it was probably an Aveling and Porter, a prolific manufacturer at the time. My contact at the Historical Construction Equipment Association wasn’t available.

Regardless, I can still enjoy the old shot and dream about how smooth that road must have been for old rollerskates, not just old rollerskaters.

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).