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
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
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.