In July 2003, Hesse Galleries of Otego, N.Y., auctioned off a small portable steam engine made by S.W. Wood & Son of Clyde, N.Y. It is a Size B, 6 HP, 5-inch-by-8-inch bore and stroke. It is very small, having a boiler shell of only 22 inches. This is a really cute-sized engine small enough that it would fit in the back of a pickup truck.
On auction day the steam fraternity was out in force, with many of us congregating in the rear of the auction room. As the auction drew near, the usual questions arose: 'How much do you think it will bring?' 'How much are you willing to bid?' 'The state will never inspect it, you know.'
The engine was in remarkable condition, even retaining a lot of its original paint, which is most unusual. The assembled steam fans were perplexed as to how this engine could have been in the area all these years, and yet not one of us had ever heard of it. It turns out it had been placed in a garage in Colliersville, N.Y., in 1938, not seeing the light of day again until this past July. One local collector who has been involved in the hobby over 40 years lived only 2 miles away, never dreaming of its existence.
Jackie Hesse of Hesse Galleries says the engine was used as a power unit by the Westville Cheese factory in Westford, N.Y., and spent its operating life there. The late owner of the engine worked for the cheese company and acquired the engine (along with the barn it was housed in) when the engine was retired.
As the bidding heated up, our dreams started to evaporate, and not one of the local collectors ever had a chance to buy the engine. Rumor has it that the successful phone bidder bought the engine for a museum with sufficient funds to have a new boiler built, which is the only way the engine could ever be operated here in New York, as the original boiler lacked papers and was a single-unit lap seam.
We hope the new owner will keep us informed of the engine's future through SteamTraction.com.
Contact steam enthusiast Steve Davis at: 654 Route 20, West Winfield, NY 13491.