Woodbury Steam Engine Restoration Project

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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.

When we realized that we had a viable restoration project of significant proportions, we needed a place to house the unit, out of the weather, during this process. Most members’ barns were full of other projects with the exception of Jim Havens owner of Havens Machine and Engineering in West Bloomfield, New York. He had an empty bay adjacent to his machine shop so we leveled the floor by spreading 12 yards of washed pea stone in preparation for the unit and waited for the weather to break. The day came on March 14, 1987. The day dawned bright and clear with the temperature in the low thirties. Most of the snow had melted from the mild winter so we anticipated minimal problems in the shoveling category.

As we arrived at the Nature Center we saw we would have to remove some of the snow and in the process found the tongue on the trucks was not suitable for loading. This presented a slight dilemma until a member of the Center helped us push the unit onto the trailer with their Kubota equipped with a bucket. He pushed while we steered and eventually it was resting on the trailer with very little hassle. Unloading also presented no problem and soon it was in the dry bay of Jim Haven’s barn next to his machine shop (which we intend to put to good use in the completion of this project).

After breaking for lunch we decided to see if we could determine the general condition of the engine and how seriously age had taken its toll. We obtained old motor oil and kerosene and began to drench the engine in all places that may have presented a problem. At this point, the flywheel would not move so we decided to remove the head and the cover to the steam chest to further determine the condition of the interior.

At some point in time, someone had tried to so some work on the engine because there were some nuts missing and some of the hardware was mismatched. These will be corrected in the reassembly process. Much to our surprise the interior of the cylinder appeared to be in fairly good condition with the exception of some minor scoring on the cylinder walls and the little bit of rust in the steam chest had not affected the sliding valve which was still shiny and showed the marks of the ancient machining process.

The piston had come to rest so that the rod was at about a 60 degree angle so we decided to tap the piston with a small sledge hammer and a block of wood. We loosened the main bearings slightly and also the bearing cap on the valve eccentric. We liberally oiled all the moving parts (all of the oilers were missing, which we will have to replace). After a light tap, we were all surprised to find that the piston moved about 1/16” and our hopes for an early recovery rose significantly. After working and oiling some more we put a timber through the spokes of the large pulley and managed to free the entire engine. Further examination revealed the engine components to be in good condition so we belted it up to Jim Havens’ Farmall M and at a slow idle ran the unit for a few minutes to get lubrication to all moving parts.

Folks at the museum were kind enough to provide information from their archives on this particular steam engine. It was made in Rochester, New York by the Woodbury Steam Boiler Company and #809 was patented 1885/Aug. 7.

This concluded a very successful phase in our restoration project. We intend to continue the work to completion. We did have the engine at The Pageant of Steam in Canandaigua, New York in the summer of 1987 on static display. It was also presented in the parades by being towed with a 1935 Farmall F-12 driven by Margaret Kinsey of West Bloomfield, New York. Our intentions are to have the engine operational in the summer of 1988 in its new home next to the Corliss on the Canandaigua grounds.


The following paragraph about Daniel A. Woodbury was taken from page 154 of the “Rochester and the Express Post” 1895. (For the sake of brevity, portions have been included that pertain only to the steam engines.) “The fame of the Woodbury steam engine has gone around the world carrying to the most remote quarters of the globe the name of the city where its manufacture was one of the most important branches of industry. Daniel A. Woodbury, founder of the manufactory, was born at Baltimore, Windsor county, Vermont, April 12, 1827, and is a descendent of John Woodbury, who came to America from England in 1624.

“In 1851 (Daniel A. Woodbury) began the manufacture of steam engines, reducing the work to a system and devoting his attention entirely to that work. He introduced important improvements in the construction of steam engines and was one of the first to increase the speed and shorten the stroke of the piston, an innovation which has since become the universal practice. In 1891 the business in the city (Rochester, New York) was closed, the patterns, patents and good will of the company having been sold to the Stearns manufacturing company of Erie, Pennsylvania, where the engines covered by the Woodbury patents are still made under the old name.”

The following excerpts were provided by the Rochester Museum and Science Center

Mclntosh, History of Monroe County, New York. Philadelphia, 1877, p. 120.

WOODBURY, BOOTH & PRYOR, steam engine and boiler manufactory (D. A. Woodbury, James E. Booth, and Henry H. Pryor.) This business was commenced by D. A. Woodbury in the year 1851. In the following year the firm became D. A. Woodbury & Co. It was conducted by them until 1862, when it passed into the hands of Woodbury, Booth & Co., by whom the business was continued until 1875, when the present firm took control of the business.

This business has grown from a small beginning to one of the largest manufacturing establishments of the kind in the United States.

The Woodbury engine and boiler stands today without superior, and with but few equals, if any, in the world. More than fifty-one thousand horsepower engines and boilers have been manufactured since the beginning of the business.

Peck, William F., Semi-Centennial History of the City of Rochester. Syracuse, 1884.

The most extensive establishment in Rochester (New York) devoted exclusively to the building of horizontal stationary engines and boilers is that of Woodbury, Booth & Pryor, whose extensive shops, located on Mill Street, consist of a number of substantial buildings erected by the firm and perfectly adapted to their business. The most important of these are the machine shop, a three story stone structure, the stone boiler-shop, with a brick annex, the foundry, the pattern shop and the blacksmith shop. The products of the works are horizontal stationary steam engines and boilers which enjoy a high national reputation. These are made in a number of sizes, in a thoroughly workmanlike manner, of the best materials and with strict regard to true mechanical principles. These works have produced over 200,000 horse power of horizontal engines and boilers, which have been shipped to all parts of the United States, and in every instance have justified all claims made for them by the manufacturers. This house was founded in 1851 by D.A.Woodbury, and it has grown to be one of the largest concerns of the kind in the Empire state.

The individual members are D. A. Woodbury, Jas. E. Booth and Henry H. Pryor; this was the first establishment in the world devoted exclusively to the making of such work a thoroughly systematic manufacturing business. It also led in the introduction of the horizontal cylinder boiler with tubular return flues, a type of boiler that has been growing in popularity ever since they were introduced. These parties advocated from the commencement a short stroke engine with high rotative speed, features which have also had a continuous growth in the estimation and practice of engineers.

We would like to express our appreciation to the people who have made this venture possible to this point. The remaining phases of the process promises to be as exciting as the first. Many thanks go to:

Ralph Campbell, Director, Cumming Nature Center of the Rochester Museum & Science Center, Naples, New York.

Dan Barber, Deputy Director for Collections, Rochester Museum and Science Center, Rochester, New York.

Victoria Schmitt, Associate Curator of History, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, New York.

Bob and Sue Goodrich, Rochester, New York.IMA

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