THE STEAM ENGINES OF NEW YORK


| July/August 1987



R.D. #2 West Winfield, New York 13491.

During the years when steam power was the driving force on the American farm, a large percentage of the portable and traction steam engine manufacturers in the United States were located in the state of New York. I have no concrete information on which to speculate why so many different engines were made in New York state as opposed to other states which had a similar blend of industry and agriculture.

Some of these engine builders such as Buffalo-Pitts and Westinghouse were made in fairly large quantities and were distributed over a large area. These remain well known to collectors and enthusiasts today. The great majority of these manufacturers however, were small-scale operations and only sold in their own particular localities. These makes are almost unknown to most collectors today. Some of these engines were produced by small town foundries which were operated only to serve local needs. They also may have lacked the facilities and financial base to produce such a costly machine.

Many of these engines were undoubtedly seen by their makers as the beginnings of a large and successful manufactory. However the only company which I have thus far discovered that made steam engines, and is still in business, is the Ames Iron works of Oswego, N.Y. This company, incidentally is still producing steam boilers, although, not the type with which we are dealing here.

In retrospect it seems to be a very large undertaking to manufacture a portable or traction steam engine. It would seem to me to be as huge a task to make one of this type engine using the tools and technology of lets say the period 1860-1880 when many of these small companies started business. Bending the thick iron sheets into useable shapes for building boilers and wheels, for instance, would require either heavy machinery or perhaps, in some cases, heavy manual labor. The large and heavy engine and gear castings would require the use of heavy, large lathes and boring mills to shape the rough castings into a precision part. If today a complete restoration of a rough and incomplete steamer seems to be a task indeed for even a well equipped shop, imagine building one!

An odd fact has emerged while compiling information on steam engines made in New York state. While a large percentage of the steam manufacturers were located in the state, a glance at a list of one cylinder gas engine manufacturers reveals that the situation is almost entirely reversed! Very few of the total were produced in this state. Also it doesn't appear that any of the steam engine makers made the switch to gas engines when the trend to gas power cut into the market for steam engines.