A Rusty Wreck

Very rare and early engine

Content Tools

R.D. #2, Box 842 West Winfield, New York 13491

I just recently acquired a very rare and early engine, as shown in picture #1. It is a small portable made by the Oneida Iron Works of Oneida, New York. Judging by the style and method of manufacture, I would guess that it was probably built around 1885.

It was found near Rome, New York, about 25 years ago by the late Charley Pierce of Deansboro, New York. The engine was in terrible shape even then. I purchased the engine this March (1988) along with a large Case portable. As you can see in picture #2, the little Oneida is dwarfed by the big Case on the lowboy with it.

Although the boiler is the worst mess I have ever seen, I believe I can weld and patch enough to safely hold 15 pounds pressure. This, hopefully, would be enough to turn the engine over enough for show purposes.

Retrieving the engine on a raw March day was quite an ordeal when wind, snow, and low temperatures teamed up against us. After sawing and chopping trees, brush, and vines my nephew Pablo and I still had to chop up about 12 inches of solidly frozen mud which firmly gripped all four wheels where it had set all these years. Then we had to draw it out backwards using a chain come-along to a point where we could hitch on with a bulldozer to pull it to the lowboy.

Now home in the workshop, restoration is already under way. About 200 hours have been spent so far with no end in sight. A summary of major repairs needed are as follows: smokebox door broken, smokebox ring broken, smokestack completely missing, smokebox itself all gone except the riveted section, flue sheet gone up to the third row of flues, as shown in picture #3, front of barrel rusted through, rear castings smashed from being hit with a bulldozer years ago, and on and on.

On the bright side, as of this writing, the engine is all freed up and seems to be very good and the rear castings I have all welded back together.

Picture #4 shows the rear of the boiler with the early open-back water bottom type of construction. In the wheelbarrow is a pile of ashes and broken, twisted grates which have been in the firebox probably fifty years, at least. While shoveling this heap out of the boiler I put the shovel through the boiler twice! Anyone care to drop by for a little welding practice?

The construction methods used in this boiler explain why a lot of these early boilers blew up. For instance, there are no through stays or braces of any type used anywhere. Also, stay bolts are used on the top and sides of the firebox, but on the bottom, not a one! Maybe they figured the pressure was all on top! An interesting feature on the side of the boiler is a large cast iron box which looks like a tool box. It is, however, used to fill the boiler using pails. It acts as a large funnel and is connected to the boiler at the bottom by an angle valve. A lot of the early engines had cast iron steam domes. This one has an iron dome with a crowned casting for the top.

For a view of the engine as it probably appeared when new refer to page 34 of Jack Norbeck's excellent book, Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines. The engine is captioned as an Empire, but is actually an Oneida. This is most likely a case where Empire was an agent for Oneida engines. This, I believe, was a common business practice back in that period of time. As an example, I have seen many cast iron stoves made by Peckhams of Utica with a wide variety of different names cast on them and they are otherwise all identical. This practice probably applied to other goods as well.

Hopefully a future issue will contain a report on the success of the Oneida's rebirth. Anyone with any information or suggestions please feel free to write: Steve Davis, R.D. #2, Box 842 West Winfield, New York 13s491, or call 315-822-5835.