Woodbury Steam Engine Restoration Project

An iron wheel in a hedgerow behind the Cumming Nature center in Honeoye, New York turns out to be a Woodbury steam engine

| November/December 1988

President, 'Old Iron Crank Yankers', R.D. #2, Holcomb, New York 14469

Approximately one year ago, Jim Havens, who was to eventually become a member of our organization, 'The Old Iron Crank Yankers', mentioned in a casual telephone conversation that he had seen an engine. He wasn't sure whether it was steam or gas but said it was quite 'large' and mentioned the specific location on Gulick Road in the town of Honeoye, New York.

I tucked this information in the back recesses of my questionable memory and decided at some point it might be worth looking into. The group of people associated with our organization are always on constant lookout for old iron, farm machinery, tractors or anything that could be construed as such, from hedgerow shadows, a profile of an iron wheel, a rusty hood, radiator, partially buried flywheel and so forth. You all are aware of this scenario.

It was in the Spring of 1986 that a few of us concluded that we had an obligation to our organizational charter and decided to locate the engine once more. One Saturday morning off we went on an expedition. We traveled south to Honeoye Lake and took Gulick Road which runs north and south paralleling the lake and along one of the many ridges so common to the New York Finger Lakes area. After we had been on the road for about 30 minutes, we pulled off to the side and there sat the engine, unidentified at this point, about 30 yards off the road and under the protective branches of a walnut tree. It was covered with canvas and the property on which it rested was that belonging to the Cumming Nature Center of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. We asked permission to look at the engine. This was granted. All of us have experience with various types of internal combustion engines but this particular piece resembled nothing we had seen. After removing the covering we discovered a single cylinder, horizontal steam engine with a bronze plaque stating that this was a Woodbury Steam Engine and manufactured in Rochester, New York with an initial patent date of 1877. Further investigation into the markings on the engine showed that this was engine number 809 and the bore and stroke of 8' x 12'. The engine was obviously designed for stationary work but somewhere along time someone had mounted the unit on a beautiful set of trucks with wooden spoked wheels. We spent about a half hour discussing the various attributes of the engine and decided, at some point, that we should investigate the potential of borrowing it from the Rochester Museum and Science Center and putting it into working order for exhibition purposes. Pictures were taken of the unit as well as the bronze plaque so we could do some research on its origin and manufacturer.

The subject was dropped for the summer of 1986. The club had to prepare for various shows in upstate New York and much time was spent converting an old school bus into a flatbed for hauling various pieces of iron as well as fine tuning our tractor engines and one-lungers and, in general, preparing our displays for what was to become a very wet, muddy and sometimes very unpleasant summer.

It was not until the Fall of 1986 that I finally decided to investigate the Woodbury engine and called Ralph Campbell at the Cumming Nature Center. He was very receptive to the fact that someone had an interest in restoring the old Woodbury engine so I developed a program of restoration in conjunction with members of our organization. This program was sent to Dan Barber, Deputy Director for Collections at The Rochester Museum and Science Center. Through various correspondence and phone calls with Mr. Barber we arrived at a mutual agreement for a restoration program. We then waited for an opportune day that would bring men, weather, equipment, trucks and trailers together to start the loading operation. We had estimated the weight of the engine at approximately 5 tons so we prepared accordingly with the necessary paraphernalia.