A Surviving 16 HP Wood Steam Traction 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.