Mystery Engine Comes Alive at the Coolspring Power Museum

Mystery engine restored after years of neglect.


| December/January 2015



Clark the mystery engine

Clark the mystery engine sits in the shop waiting to come alive again.

Photo by Paul Harvey

This is the story of a little engine named Clark: his history and his rebirth. At least, we are told that his name is Clark: No one has ever seen one like him nor has any record of his birth.

Clark was donated to the Coolspring Power Museum many years ago by the late Ralph (Sonny) Wilson of Allegany, New York. Sonny told us the engine was built by Clark Brothers Co. of nearby Belmont, New York, in about 1900. Originally purchased by neighbor Vernon Fields, the engine was used to power a buzz saw to cut fire wood for a maple syrup sugar shack. Later abandoned in a ditch, the engine was found by Sonny laying west of Five Mile Road near Allegany. Clark had a magneto and gasoline mixer attached, apparently not original. Using these, Sonny got him operational for local displays.

Clark Brothers Co. history

In 1976, for the Olean (New York) Bicentennial, Dresser-Rand, the Clark Brothers Co. successor, adopted Clark. He received a quick paint job of blue and silver, the new firm’s colors, and a modern Clark nameplate. After the event, they returned Clark to his owner and several years later Sonny donated the engine to the museum. Clark sat proudly on display in the museum’s Expo Building for several years, but with so many other projects, the museum tucked him away in safe storage, where he lived, forgotten and in seclusion, for many years. Then, in November 2013 Sonny’s son, Keith, inquired about Clark and his life at the museum.

Spurred on by the inquiry, we looked at Clark and, finding him amazingly interesting, got him out of storage and into our heated shop to do a winter rebirth. We were pleased to find that Clark had very pleasant lines and a most unusual mechanism. The castings were well done but other parts were very crudely made. There was no name anywhere on the engine other than the 1976 nameplate, and there were no casting numbers. The engine being unlike anything else the Clark Brothers ever built made us wonder if Clark could have been a prototype and the only one in existence. We will probably never know.

Going back in history more than 100 years, we find two brothers from Belmont, New York, William Pendleton Clark and Charles Ethan Clark, becoming interested in manufacturing. At that time, the Belmont area had large farms and huge stands of timber, so they concentrated on products needed to manage these resources. Soon, they found a great demand for steam engines and sawmill equipment and rapidly rose to be one of the major makers of these items in the country. They built huge band saws and Corliss-style steam engines in the 2,000 HP range.

Soon, the vast stands of timber were exhausted and the sawmill trade declined. But a new industry was now in its infancy and rapidly increasing; oil and gas production and transportation. So a new chapter opened for the Clark Brothers. William Clark, always the promoter, looked into the future of the firm while his brother Charles, now living in Wellsville, New York, teamed with William Henry Norton in 1907, to found the firm of Clark and Norton. Charles did not leave Clark Brothers Co., but remained vice president while building a competing firm in Wellsville.