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Watertown steam engine on display at the fair

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After about 130 years, a steam traction engine manufactured by the Watertown Steam Engine Co. made it back home.

Mark W. Lakie, Syracuse, hauled the 5-ton engine to the Jefferson County Fair at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, where the antique will be until this evening.

“The building it was made at is still standing, which is amazing in itself,” said Mr. Lakie.

He said after the 15-horsepower engine was made, it somehow wound up in northern Wisconsin to power a saw mill. However, when the mill no longer needed it, the engine was abandoned.

“There it sat in the woods by Lake Superior for many, many years,” he said, before it was bought for $75 in 1954. It was brought out for parades and fairs.

After a few years, however, he said, the owner parked it in a barn for nearly 60 years. Mr. Lakie bought it in September, but did not disclose the purchase price in case he ever needs to sell it .

He did say the price was a lot more than the previous owner paid.

“Its owner was excited it would make it back to its hometown,” said Mr. Lakie. “This is the only existing Watertown traction engine.”

He and his wife, Erin R., said they have about $60,000 in restoration to do to on the steam engine to make it operational. But the work they have already put into it makes the engine look nearly new.

“Pretty much all we did was grease it and paint it,” she said.

The Lakies own four steam engines, one a 12-ton, 90-horsepower Baker. One of their Frick engines came from LeRay. Mr. Lakie said he might bring the two north country-made engines to the fair next year.

Mr. Lakie hopes exhibiting the Watertown traction engine will create support to preserve the site where the steam engine company was, on Vanduzee Street.

“I would love it if there was some local interest to save that site,” he said. “That site right there is what brought the area a lot of revenue.”

Those who miss the engine at the fair can see it on display at the Camillus Erie Canal Park steam engine exhibit.

Today is Military Appreciation Day at the fair, granting free gate admission with military identification. The day’s schedule includes a cow chip -throwing contest, a ventriloquist show, Bear Mountain Wildlife Encounter and a concert featuring North Country Idol contestants.

For more information, visit www.jeffcofair.org.

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