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Almost Yesterday is a glimpse into the rich history of our region. Dr. Frank Nickell takes listeners on a journey to specific moments in time, such as the first radio broadcast on KFVS, the history of Farmington’s Carleton College, and the short-lived safari on a Mississippi River island. A gifted storyteller and local historian, Dr. Nickell’s wit and love for the past are combined with sounds and music that augment his narrative.On Saturday, June 7, 2008, Almost Yesterday received First Place in the "Special Programs" category at the Missouri Broadcasters Association Awards Banquet in Kansas City, Missouri.Almost Yesterday airs every Wednesday at 5:42 and 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Almost Yesterday: The Erlbacher-Gearhart "Crank In"


It seems like Almost Yesterday that a “crank-in” was held in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

The motive that brought approximately eighty “Crankers” from across the United States and Canada together on the first weekend in April of 2011 was the unveiling of the Erlbacher-
Gearhart hand-powered, knitting machine invented in the last half of the nineteenth century in Clearfield, Pennsylvania.

The Gearhart knitting machine company was used primarily to knit socks, but the machine was capable of producing over one hundred different items. A small machine, powered entirely by a hand-turned crank, “The Gearhart” was sold in every state and many different nations.

Inexpensive and long-lasting, the Gearhart significantly accelerated the knitting process, enabling a single individual to produce a finished pair of woolen socks in approximately one hour, as opposed to several days if knitted by hand. During World War I the machines were used to produce thousands of pairs of warm socks for soldiers serving overseas.

The industrial revolution of the early twentieth century resulted in mass produced textiles and the Gearhart knitting machine company ceased production in 1925 and continued to function into the twenty-first century, but parts wore out, broke, and the machines became difficult to maintain.  

The Erlbacher gear and machine company of Cape Girardeau emerged at this point. David “pee-wee” Erlbacher, a machinist of great talent, duplicated the Gearhart, and put it on display at the 2011 Cape Girardeau crank-in.

Now, for the first time in nearly a century, a reliable, inexpensive, American made, knitting machine is available for domestic use. The Erlbacher-Gearhart knitting machine will enable American knitters to “crank out” great numbers of high quality fiber products.

It seems like Almost Yesterday…

Frank Nickell is a retired history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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