Eaton Was Home of Steam Engine Works Company

Wood-Eaton house

Wood-Eaton house as it looked when the Eatons lived there.

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Sent to us by Jeff C. Forward, Crow Hill Road, Box 130a Bouckville, New York 13310 Reprinted with permission from author and the Mid-York Weekly, Clinton, New York.

The Wood, Taber, and Morse Steam Engine Works, has been of great interest to my husband, Rob, and me since shortly after we moved to Eaton in 1983. We moved into the Allen N. Wood home, which was built in 1878 at a cost of $3,700. The average home at that time cost $1,800. We wanted to find out everything we could about the Wood family and their business, which was very prosperous in the second half of the 19th Century.

We had a very interesting experience in meeting the great granddaughter of Allen N. Wood. While away on business in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Rob was engaged in conversation with a person who had attended Morrisville College. When another person caught his description of our house in Eaton, she came rushing over to him. As it turned out after a little discussion, she was indeed the great granddaughter of the man who had our house built. Needless to say, we were very excited about this. The great granddaughter lives in Sauquoit and has given us a lot of information on the family as well as the Steam Engine Works. Herewith is a short summary of the history we have learned.

Allen N. Wood originally was in business with his uncle Enos Wood. They made and repaired machinery for cotton and woolen factories. They first started in 1830 when Allen was 21 years old. The business relocated to Pierceville and in 1848 moved back to Eaton. In 1852, they began to manufacture portable steam engines, which became Allen Wood's specialty for the rest of his life. The business moved to Utica in 1857, but early in 1859, Allen sold his interest and returned to Eaton.

He went into partnership with Walter Morse, business manager, and Loyal Clark Taber, engineer. Wood was a machinist, but from this point on became the marketer and traveled all over the country. The Wood, Taber & Morse Steam Engine Works only made stationary engines for running machinery at first. Later, they added the portable steam engines, which were pulled by horses. In 1880, the business began developing the first four-wheel drive traction engine which was the model that made them famous.

A January 12, 1885 excerpt from the Democrats Union reported that the business tested their new traction engine on the streets and up the hill. Just to be sure it passed the test, they stopped it halfway up the hill and then started it again. It started up with ease and passed the test.

In a September 23, 1885 article, the Rubicon (its official name) traction engine was billed as one of the most attractive exhibits at the annual Industrial Exposition in Toronto. The engine also won the gold medal at the Provincial Show in London. There is only one Rubicon traction known to exist and it resides in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, for the world to see.

The Steam Engine Works employed 50 men, some of whom worked there for 20 years. The men were able to produce three engines a week, which sold for $800 each.

Ironically, the production of the portable steam and traction engines led to the Hamlet of Eaton's demise. The steam engines made it possible for industrial plants to move away from sources of water power. In the 1880s, Eaton was a mill town which relied on the water source. After these engines were produced, it was no longer necessary to be near water and the businesses that were in Eaton could move to the larger cities closer to their major customers.

In 1890, both Allen W. Wood and Loyal C. Taber passed away. Walter Morse elected to not keep the production of engines going. He did keep a parts supply shop open for a time.

Note: M. E. Messere ('Back Street Mary'), Eaton's Historian says steam engines sold for between $150 to $1,200 or more$800 would be an average. She also doubts that Eaton Engine works closed and re-openedit was probably open continually as the Utica Works started and became Wood and Mann, but records are scarce.