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 February 2014

Snow Part 1: The History

By Paul Harvey

The October 2013 Engine Show of the Coolspring Power Museum witnessed the successful completion of a twenty year project with the dedication and successful operation of its 600 hp Snow gas engine.  What a magnificent event, and all the visitors were impressed!  Many long hours from a dedicated volunteer staff made this dream possible and, with the nice weather, the engine performed on schedule beautifully.  The event closed with a very satisfied feeling from the crew.

Now, as snow covers the museum outside as well as much of  the equipment, I would like to reflect on the Snow engine in this two part Flywheel article.  In the first part, the history of the company and the engine, as well as the people who made it happen, will be discussed.  Next month's article will feature the Coolspring engine and how it was saved, moved to our location, and put into operation.  Much of this material has never before been published in one work, and it is hoped that the reader will enjoy.    

Our story unfolds in 1840 when 23 year old Henry Rossiter Worthington becomes interested in steam boats on the Erie Canal.  Already a hydraulic engineer, he noticed that when the boats waited to get through the locks and the main engines were not operating, the boiler feed water pumps had to be operated by hand to keep the boilers filled.  Believing that he could solve this problem, he invented a simple reciprocating steam pump that operated automatically to keep the boilers filled to the desired pressure.  Photo 1 is a drawing of this pump and it is said that it was in operation for 30 years.  In 1845, he joined with William Barker in the firm "Worthington and Barker," located in Brooklyn, New York, to manufacture these pumps.  It is of note that Worthington pumps were used on the Union's ironclad steamship, Monitor, in the Civil War.  Henry died in 1881 and his son, Charles C. Worthington, then 27, took over the company.  He was very aggressive, expanded the business, and soon became very wealthy.

The duplex steam pump is such a wonderfully simple, yet magnificently practical, invention.  Having no rotating parts, it consisted of two steam cylinders providing the power to two pumping cylinders; with each power and pump piston mounted on a common piston rod.  When one cylinder acted, it triggered a steam valve that then operated the other cylinder which then acted on a valve to again operate the first cylinder.  As the fluid discharge pressure equaled the steam pressure, the pump simply stopped; to begin again when discharge pressure lowered.  There is a restored Worthington steam pump operating in the museum's Pump House.  Many of these steam pumps are still manufactured and in use today. The Disney steamboat Liberty Belle, in Orlando, Florida, uses two of them to keep its boilers full! 

Over the ensuing years, the steam pump business flourished as they were adapted to many uses.  Municipal water works found these pumps very dependable and they were made in huge sizes to meet the demand.  Many persons entered the steam pump business.  In 1889, we find James H. Snow and Daniel O'Day, former employees of National Transit Company of Oil City, Pennsylvania, forming the Snow Steam Pump Works in Buffalo, New York. This seemed a perfect location, with Lake Erie and the Erie Canal nearby demanding pumps for their vessels.  For their plant superintendent, they hired a gentleman from Worthington who brought many of those designs with him.  The firm prospered as seen in Photo 2 showing the new factory.  An 1892 "Oil Well Supply" catalog, Photo 3, shows the typical Snow duplex steam pump, identical to ones still used today.  In 1896, Snow built a huge high duty, vertical, triple expanding steam pump for the Indianapolis, Indiana, water company.  This huge pump had a 5 foot stroke and operated at 21 rpm, producing 775 hp and delivering 20 million gallons of water per day. 

With the dawn of the twentieth century approaching, the days of the huge steam pumps were in decline.  Soon they would give way to the new technology, the internal combustion engine.  Snow realized this and hired John Klein, Chief Engineer for National Transit Company, as his Consulting Engineer.  Since Snow was a former National Transit employee, these two men most likely were friends.  However, it does seem odd that Klein would design a new engine for his own firm's competition!  No explanation has been found for this.

So the first four engine compressor units built by the Snow Steam Pump Works in Buffalo, New York, were John Klein's design.  As shown in Photo 4, these engines had two opposed power cylinders, with a 25 inch bore and 48 inch stroke, next to two opposed compressor cylinders mounted on a common crankshaft.  The bore of the compressor was 16 inches with a 24 inch stroke.  There was a flywheel on each end of the crankshaft.  Being installed in 1899 and 1900, two engines were bought by the Central Ohio Natural Gas & Fuel Company to be used in their Lancaster, Ohio, plant and the other two were purchased by Northwestern Ohio Natural Gas Company for their Wheeler Station in Sugar Grove, Ohio.  A new era was born with the production and transportation of large quantities of natural gas and this demanded large and efficient natural gas operated compressors to facilitate transportation of the gas.

After the completion of these engines, Snow branched off into its own design of tandem cylinder engines as seen in the Coolspring engine. Their catalog of 1914 simply states that further engines were, "of their (Snow's)  own design".  The firm had wisely listened to the suggestions of the operators of the big natural gas companies throughout the United States and what their needs would be.  Snow's business prospered and they soon branched into engines for electric generation and other power purposes.  Photo 5 is an early page from the Snow records showing the diversity of size and purpose of the engines.  The catalog further states, "Careful attention has always been given to the fact that engines for gas country service cannot be built too substantial, and the metal has been well distributed over one continuous block of concrete, making the machine a solid and substantial one."  This explains the massive proportions always noted in the Snow engines.  The catalog concludes by noting that 116 engines had been placed into service by 1914.

Very early, Snow was building some of the largest gas engines known.  Photo 6 shows a 4,000 hp Type A design with an integral electric generator beside the flywheel.  This engine had a 42 inch bore and 60 inch stroke with a unique valve mechanism.  Note the size of the operator in the center of the photo!  It was guaranteed to have a 33% non-continuous overload capacity.  Photo 8 shows some other large electric generating engines at the Carnegie Steel Works in Youngstown, Ohio.  Again, note the size of the person at the foot of the stairs.  The 1914 catalog included the following picture of Cross Station, now known as Heath Station, in 1914.  Photo 7 shows this typical natural gas compressor station installation still under construction.  Many of these stations were in remote locations but near the natural gas supply.  This certainly complicated the process of transporting heavy engine parts and constructing the foundations and buildings.

The entire power end of the Snow engine, which consists of two double-acting cylinders (fires on both sides of the piston) placed in tandem (one in front of the other) operates the gas compressor located behind the crankshaft.  Snow would supply compressors from other manufacturers if specified by the buyer, but preferred to use their own as shown in Photo 9.  This compressor was also double-acting and had a power stroke from the engine for every stroke it traveled.  This design was very efficient to have the engine and compressor made into one unit.  Photo 10 shows the layout of the complete station with the interconnections of pipes joining the multiple units.

Birdsill Holly was an inventor from Lockport, New York, and formed the Holly Manufacturing Company to produce huge triple expanding vertical steam pumps similar to those of Snow and Worthington.  Fortunately, five of these pumps still exist in the Colonel Ward Pumping Station in Buffalo, New York, and can be viewed by the public on certain dates each year.  Holly died in 1894 but the final blow was a disastrous fire as well as a loan foreclosure by Charles C. Worthington that spelled the end for Holly.  The firm was then absorbed by Snow and the name changed to the Snow-Holly Steam Pump Works of Buffalo, New York, probably about 1902.

Then came the great merger.  Probably caused by the panic of 1899, Charles C. Worthington, always aggressive and wealthy, saw his opportunity to expand and formed the International Steam Pump Company that included many firms now finding themselves in financial duress. The new company included the Snow Steam Pump Works, the Holly Manufacturing Company, the Clayton Air Compressor Works, Blake and Knowles Steam Pump Works, the Deane Team Pump Company, Laidlaw-Dunn-Gordon Company, and the Power and Mining Machinery Company.  This accounts for the name, "International Steam Pump Company" on the nameplate of some of the engines at Heath Station.  All production was integrated into the Snow Works at Buffalo, New York, except the Deane Steam Pump Company, which stayed in Holyoke, Massachusetts, as "The Deane of Holyoke," and the Power and Mining Machinery Company of Cudahy, Wisconsin. The latter then manufactured the INGECO line of horizontal engines, including farm engines. The International Steam Pump Company name was finally changed to the Worthington Pump and Machinery Corporation in 1916.  It was then incorporated as a public company not solely owned by Charles Worthington. This is why Coolspring's engine, built in 1917, bears the Worthington name plate.

Following the merger, both Snow and Deane continued to flourish under the Worthington umbrella.  The Snow-Holly Works, later known as the Worthington Buffalo Works, continued to build huge tandem, double-acting gas compressing engines to fill the market's demand.  Most notable in this evolution was the placement of the intake and exhaust valves directly on the top and bottom of the cylinder, thus eliminating the side valve chest.  Photo 11 from the mid-1920s shows this improvement.  This plant actually has 16 Worthington engines of 680 hp each with a bore and stroke of 18 1/2  by 20 inches. The photo also suggests that the ignitors have been abandoned in favor of spark plug ignition.  Otherwise, the engines are remarkably similar to prior models.

Photo 12 depicts a very busy erecting floor at the Buffalo Works in 1935.  The building appears to be huge with many engines in various stages of completion.  All these grand machines had to be assembled, test run, then taken apart again to be shipped to their final locations.  Also new, circa 1935, was a smaller engine not using the tandem cylinder configuration that had been the standard of the firm.  As seen in Photo 13, this unit had twin, double-acting power cylinders and opposed compressors.  Note the outboard sideshafts that made a more space saving design.  An engine like this operates at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, Minnesota.

Gradually the demand for these huge engines declined but Worthington had kept up with the market by designing, in 1927, an angle-type integral gas engine compressor with vertical power cylinders and horizontal compressors.  The last of the Snow heritage engine compressors were 1,600 hp units of 26 inch bore and 36 inch stroke.  They were delivered in June 1951, closing the chapter of these wonderful machines forever.  Worthington continued to manufacture vertical engine compressors in Buffalo into the 1970s when production decreased to compressors and service parts.  The great Buffalo Works closed in 1987 with the combining of all firms into Dresser-Rand Company of Painted Post, New York.  However, the Snow Engine will always live on in the ones that have been saved and those in our memories.  See Photo 14.

I wish to give special credit and thanks to two individuals whose untiring research made this brief work possible.  It is my desire to incorporate this work, and the upcoming second part, into one comprehensive booklet sometime in the future.

Loree A. D. Paulson, PE:  He was the last president of Worthington Compressors in Buffalo, NY, and retired in 1993 as vice president of Dresser-Rand. 

Thomas "Mac" Sine, ME:  He is Senior Analytical Engineer with his primary function being Gas Engine Engineering.  He has completed 25 years of service with Dresser-Rand in Painted Post, NY. 

Please come to Coolspring for our June 2014 Expo and watch the Snow run.  It will be held June 19, 20, and 21, 2014.  See you then!

Worthington Steam Pump

Photo 1: Drawing of the Worthington steam pump

Snow Steam Pump Works

Photo 2: Snow Steam Pump Works of Buffalo, NY

Snow Steam Pump

Photo 3: Snow duplex steam pump

Klein-Snow Engine

Photo 4: A Klein-Snow engine compressor unit

Early Snow Records

Photo 5: A page from early Snow records

4000 hp Snow Engine

Photo 6: 4,000 hp Type A Snow engine and generator

Heath Station in 1914

Photo 7: Cross (later Heath) Station under construction ca.1914

Electric Generating Engines

Photo 8: Snow electric generating engines at the Carnegie Steel Works in Youngstown, Ohio

Snow Compressor

Photo 9: Snow compressor

Snow Compressing Plant

Photo 10: Snow compressor plant

1920's Worthington Engine

Photo 11: 1920s era Worthington engine

Buffalo Works 1935

Photo 12: Production floor at the Buffalo Works ca.1935

Worthington Engine 1935

Photo 13: Worthington engine of 1935

Snow Name Plate

Photo 14: Snow name plate


Copyright by Coolspring Power Museum