S.W. Wood Engine Co.

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Steve Davis’ 1914 16 HP New Model Wood steam traction engine.
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The back view of the Wood steam engine.
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The right side view of the Wood steam engine.

This is the short life story of “Oatie,” a
surviving engine built by, S.W. Wood Engine Co., in upstate New
York. The Wood company, located in Clyde, N.Y., in Wayne County,
was organized in 1831 and made various products under a succession
of owners. Seth Wood took control of the company in 1866. Two years
later the first of the portable steamers was built. Traction
engines steered by horse were added in 1881, and by 1882,
self-steering traction engines were produced.

During this period the Wood company did not produce any related
products such as threshers and sawmills, as did most steam engine
firms. The company concentrated their efforts on steam alone. After
1926, the company focused on repair and machine work, and operated
under various owners throughout the years until closing in 1954.
The firm operated under the names S.W. Wood, S.W. Wood & Son
and S.W. Wood Engine Co. Today, none of the factory buildings
remain.

In 1914 the firm produced a 16 HP New Model traction engine,
which differed from previous engines. One of the New Models was
purchased by Otis Deyoe (hence the nickname “Oatie”), an agent for
the Wood company, of Prattsville, Green County, N.Y., for $1,900.
Prattsville is located in the rugged Catskill Mountains of eastern
New York. It was delivered in nearby Grand Gorge, N.Y. Years ago I
had the pleasure of talking with a gentleman who, as a child, had
been allowed to stay home from school the day the engine was
delivered.

The New Model joined a skid engine and an older model 12 HP
traction engine of the same make. Soon after delivery, a heavy
snowfall collapsed many local buildings creating a large demand for
lumber. The New Model engine was put to work on a sawmill until
demand was met. I have been told this was about the only serious
work, for any duration, the engine ever performed.

In the 1920s, Otis had some family problems and activity on the
home slowed down. In his later years he became somewhat of a
hermit. His infrequent trips to town were made on a homemade
tractor. In 1955 Otis died in a tragic fire in his farmhouse.
Today, no traces remain of any of the buildings that once stood on
the site.

An auction was held to dispose of all the items remaining on the
property. The auction was attended by a local scrap dealer and his
friend Carl Wilkinson. The scrap dealer bought all his pocket-book
would allow and borrowed money from Carl to continue bidding. A
short time later, the scrap man had junked the skid engine and the
older traction engine, and came to repay the borrowed funds. Carl
considered forgiving the loan in return for the remaining traction
engine. A deal was struck and Oatie escaped the torch.

Carl was a little disappointed when he went to retrieve the
engine, as many major and minor items were missing. Somehow, he
loaded the engine on his 1-1/2-ton Chevrolet truck. The engine was
longer than the rack so he laid down heavy timbers to support the
engine’s front wheels beyond the end of the truck bed. Then Carl
crawled down the mountains, mostly in first gear, fearing the worst
most of the way. (I am familiar with this area of the mountains and
the ride must have been truly terrifying.)

Carl thought the engine would be a drawing card at his farm
equipment business about 20 miles east in Coxsackie, N.Y. His plans
to paint the engine and place it out front of the business never
materialized. The engine sat in the horse pasture until 1969. This
is the only time, of any extent, the engine sat in the weather
since it was new, but it had been saved.

This is when I entered the picture, armed with funds I received
from the sale of my Birdsall traction engine (another story in
itself). I bought the engine and had it trucked home, and not on a
ton and a half either! Then I began the repairs, replacement and
restoration process. Surely many readers with old engine affliction
can relate.

In June of 1976, armed with a new state boiler certificate,
Oatie ran again. How many years had elapsed since it was last run
is anyone’s guess, but surely a long, long time. When the engine
had been last used all the hand holes had been removed, which kept
air circulating. Coupled with being under cover many years, this
preserved the boiler very well. To this day, the stay bolts exhibit
sharp threads right to the crown sheet, an area where much wasting
sometimes occurs.

Oatie has threshed and run a sawmill at home, and appeared at
the New York Steam Engine Assn.’s Pageant of Steam in Canandaigua,
N.Y., a few times. I believe I am the only one to own and operate
Oatie – other than the original owner – since it left Clyde on a
flatcar 93 years ago.

I have attempted to locate or document other surviving S.W. Wood
engines and discovered 18 of them thus far. Sixteen are small
portables, about half of them operational. A 12 HP traction engine
survives, the only known, but unfortunately sidelined with serious
boiler problems. As it stands, Oatie is the only known 16 HP.

I would appreciate hearing from other Wood engine owners
to update the survivor’s list. If readers send their return address
I will send a copy of the roster when completed. Steve Davis, 654
Route 20, West Winfield, NY 13491; (315) 822-5835
.

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