S.W. Wood Engine Co.: Tracing the History of Company’s Rare 16 HP Steamer
Owner’s interest in Wood steam traction engine persists after he restores one
Steve Davis’ 1914 16 HP New Model 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 rural 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 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 name “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 pocketbook 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.)
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