History of Snow Steam Pump Works

A history of the Snow Steam Pump Works of Buffalo, New York.

By Paul Harvey

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Drawing of a Worthington pump. It is said that it was in operation for 30 years.

Drawing of Henry Worthington's first direct-acting steam pump. It is said that it was in operation for 30 years.

Photo courtesy John Harvey

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In the August/September 2014 issue of Gas Engine Magazine, we brought you the story of the Coolspring Power Museum’s efforts to acquire, move and restore a 1917 600 HP Snow gas compressing engine. The 20-year project ended with the dedication and successful operation of the Snow gas engine. Below, Coolspring Power Museum founder Paul Harvey gives a thorough background on the Snow Steam Pump Works.

Wanna see the Snow at work? Go to our Old Iron Videos blog to see the 600 HP Snow start up, run and shutdown.

Our story unfolds in 1840, when a 23-year-old Henry Worthington became interested in steam boats on the Erie Canal in New York. Already a hydraulic engineer, he noticed that while 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.

In 1845, he joined William Barker and formed 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 consists 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 acts, it triggers a steam valve that then operates the other cylinder, which then acts on a valve to again operate the first cylinder. As the fluid discharge pressure equals the steam pressure, the pump simply stops; it begins again when discharge pressure lowers. There is a restored Worthington steam pump operating in the Coolspring Power 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, James H. Snow and Daniel O'Day, former employees of National Transit Co. of Oil City, Pennsylvania, formed 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. 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 20th century approaching, the days of the huge steam pumps were in decline. Soon they would give way to new technology: the internal combustion engine. Snow realized this and hired John Klein, chief engineer for National Transit Co., as his consulting engineer. Since Snow was a former National Transit employee, these two men were most likely 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 were John Klein's design. 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 Co., to be used in their Lancaster, Ohio, plant and the other two were purchased by Northwestern Ohio Natural Gas Co. 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, which can be seen in the Coolspring engine. Snow’s catalog from 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.

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. These included a 4,000 HP Type A with an integral electric generator beside the flywheel. This engine had a 42-inch bore and 60-inch stroke with a unique valve mechanism. It was guaranteed to have a 33 percent non-continuous overload capacity. The 1914 catalog included a picture of Cross Station, now known as Heath Station, in 1914. 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. 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.

Birdsill Holly was an inventor from Lockport, New York, and formed the Holly Manufacturing Co. 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 for Holly’s company was a disastrous fire as well as a loan foreclosure by Charles C. Worthington. 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 Co., which included many firms that had found themselves in financial duress. The new company included: Snow Steam Pump Works, Holly Manufacturing Co., Clayton Air Compressor Works, Blake and Knowles Steam Pump Works, Deane Team Pump Co., Laidlaw-Dunn-Gordon Co., and Power and Mining Machinery Co. This accounts for the name, "International Steam Pump Co." on the nameplate of some of the engines at Heath Station.

All production was integrated into the Snow Works at Buffalo, except the Deane Steam Pump Co., which stayed in Holyoke, Massachusetts, as "The Deane of Holyoke," and the Power and Mining Machinery Co. of Cudahy, Wisconsin. The latter then manufactured the INGECO line of horizontal engines. The International Steam Pump Co. name was finally changed to the Worthington Pump and Machinery Corp. 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. 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 igniters have been abandoned in favor of spark plug ignition. Otherwise, the engines are remarkably similar to prior models.

The Buffalo Works building of 1935 appears to be huge with many engines in various stages of completion. All these grand machines had to be assembled, test run, and 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 for the firm. 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 Co. 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.

Paul Harvey wishes to give special credit and thanks to two individuals whose untiring research made this brief work possible. It is my desire to incorporate these two works 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.