Wood Sisters

Leonard Chesteen "Chess" Wood

Leonard Chesteen Wood about 2 years old

Leonard Chesteen Wood about 2 years old, 1879

Leonard Chesteen Wood was born on January 3, 1877S500 in Corning, Adams County, Iowa where his father, Samuel Francis Wood, was probably working on “breaking prairie” ground for farmers in the area. Leonard’s mother, Effie Mae Hoblit, had married Samuel on December 21, 1875 in Atlantic, Cass County, Iowa. They may have lived in Kansas for about a year after Leonard was born and then moved to Alden, Iowa County, Iowa where Samuel was raised on the Grandison Wood farm. Leonard Chesteen Wood, who was frequently called Chess, was the oldest of 10 children by Samuel and Effie. His middle name comes from his great uncle, David Chesteen Wood who died in Vicksburg, Mississippi during the Civil War as a member of Company C, 12th Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteers. Chess grew up in Alden and his education probably included only going through the 6th grade.

According to the Alden school attendance record for the spring of 1887 , Leonard was 10 years old, which would have put him in the equivalent of 4th grade in this one room school. He was called “Chessie” at this time.

1887 Alden, Iowa school attendance

Chess was very creative and highly motivated to pursue his interests and dreams. He received his first patent (No. 616,387) on Dec 20, 1898 (filed June 2, 1898) for a “Wagon Loading Device” when he was 21 years old. It was designed for scraping and loading dirt onto a wagon to help with road building.

1898 LC Wood Patent
Chess' first patent

He followed up with improvements and received another patent (No. 656,074) on August 14, 1900. Over a 33 year span Chess had a total of 8 patents awarded to him.

Description Patent No. Issue Date
Wagon Loading Device 616,387 Dec. 20, 1898
Wagon (improved) Loading Device 656,074 Aug. 14, 1900
Fertilizer-Distributer (10% inventor) 12,997 (Reissued) July 27, 1909
Excavating Machine 987,660 Mar. 21, 1911
Improved Excavating Machine 1,004,549 Sept 26. 1911
Clutch Mechanism 1,248,773 Dec. 4, 1917
Belly Band Connection 1,454,306 May 8, 1923
Road Grader 1,834,195 Dec. 1, 1931

LC Wood Patents
Chess Wood's 8 patents

Wood's Rapid Dirt Loader Company

Chess started his first company in late 1899 and by November of 1900 the Wood's Rapid Dirt Loader Company was incorporated with several local people being the principle owners. They subsequently began building a new manufacturing shop in Alden, Iowa.

LC Wood Dirt Loader LC Wood Dirt Loader

Wood's Rapid Dirt Loader Business Poster Wood's Rapid Dirt Loader Business Poster
Wood's Rapid Dirt Loader Business Poster

LC Wood 1st Manufacturing Shop
Wood's Rapid Dirt Loader Company's first shop built 1901 in Alden, Iowa

Wood Manufacturing Company's new shop built in 1904

Wood Manufacturing Company's new shop built 1904 in Alden, Iowa

Chess and his company completed several road jobs in Iowa during 1902 and 1903. On January 30, 1903 Chess returned from an extensive trip through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Most likely Chess met Thomas Waddell on this trip and reached agreement to manufacture his manure spreader design (invented by Thomas Waddell and Clarence Goodell in 1903). In April of 1904 Chess began construction of a second manufacturing shop to replace the original and by August of that year the company made their first shipment by rail of manure spreaders to Montana.

By early 1905 the company was recapitalized and named Wood Manufacturing Company to primarily build the manure spreaders. Chess and C.C. Clark, also of Alden, provided improvements to Waddell’s design in 1905-6 and the original 1904 patent was ultimately reissued in 1909.

In 1969 Leonard Wood, Chess' oldest son, was travelling out West and came upon the Sod Buster Museum located on U.S. Highway 87, west of Moccasin, Windham County, Montana. He saw from the highway what appeared to be an old manure spreader outside the main building, and upon closer inspection he confirmed it was one of Chess' spreaders. He found "LC Wood Co." stamped on the bottom of one of the frame rails.

L C Wood Manure Spreader L C Wood Manure Spreader
L C Wood Manure Spreader about 1905

L C Wood Manure Spreader L C Wood Manure Spreader
L C Wood Manure Spreader located at Sod Buster Museum, Windham County, Montana (1969)

Small Steam Engine
Will Taylor's small steam engine

The second half of 1905 found Chess and several others of his company (including his uncle Arthur) frequently accompanying spreader deliveries to Montana and South Dakota to help with their setup and demonstration.

Chess quickly recognized the opportunity to develop a beefed up model of the four wheeled manure spreader design to become an affective dirt scraper / loader wagon for road building and canal building. By June 1905 Chess and Will Taylor had taken on several road grading contracts around Alden to demonstrate the four wheeled scraper’s capabilities. By Oct 1905 Will Taylor had his "new traction engine" and he and Chess were using 9 of the four wheeled scrapers on a railroad grading job north of Iowa Falls, Iowa. The scraper was pulled by the steam engine and 3 horse teams would take the scraper dirt loads to the dumping site. The new scraper / loader became the lead product to be manufactured by Wood’s Mfg Co.

By Dec 1905 Chess, Arthur (Chess’ uncle), and Will Taylor had taken on a contract for construction of a mile and half section of an irrigation canal near Ft. Laramie, Wyoming known as the Ft. Laramie Canal and the Interstate Canal funded by the Federal Government. Today these canals continue to distribute North Platte River waters to farms in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. Most likely Chess and his partners were subcontractors to Robinson & Maney Co. based in Saint Louis, Missouri.S510

By Feb 1906 the first group (about 20 men) of the canal builders left Alden via railroad with the “engine and several carloads of horses and wheel scrapers”. The engine was used “as a ‘snatch’ to load the scrapers”. LC’s two uncles, Arthur and Albert, and his sister, Susie, were part of the construction crew. Susie had “charge of the boarding and hospital departments”.

Chess and scrappers near Ft. Laramie Wyoming
Chess and canal builders with scrapers near Ft. Laramie, Wyoming

When Chess returned to Alden by July, he had made improvements to his four wheeled scraper design and prior to December the principle owners of the Wood Loader Co. sold the manufacturing rights to Maney Mfg. Co. of East St. Louis, Illinois. Maney then decided to move the “Wood Loader Co. now the Maney Mfg. Co. to the St. Louis area”. Chess was very unhappy with this development and as a result, in subsequent incorporations of Chess’ businesses, he never allowed anyone else to gain control of his company.

Four Wheel Scrapper
Four Wheel Scraper manufactured by Maney Mfg Co.

Maney Mfg Scrapper Advertisement
Maney Mfg. Co. Scraper AdvertisementS520

During 1907 Chess and a number of former Wood Mfg employees from Alden worked for the Maney Mfg. Co. in East St. Louis, Missouri and helped ship an order of scrapers down the Mississippi to Louisiana for building levees. Also Chess and his uncles contracted with the government to build a reservoir in Springer, New Mexico using the small engine and scrapers. They were busy with this endeavor through 1907 and into mid 1908.

Springer, NM Reservoir Springer, NM Reservoir
Springer, New Mexico Reservoir about 1908

Springer, NM Reservoir
Springer, New Mexico Reservoir project

It appears that they used both the four-wheeled scrapers as well as two-wheeled versions that had a smaller capacity.

Four-Wheeled Scrapers
Four-Wheeled Scrapers
Two-Wheeled Scrapers
Two-Wheeled Scrapers

Springer, NM Reservoir project
Building the reservoir in Springer, New Mexico using four wheeled scrapers and the Small Steam Engine

Following their contract in New Mexico, Chess and his crew worked on the Adobe Creek Reservoir near Lamar, Colorado probably during 1908 into 1909. Chess would frequently travel back and forth between the contract sites and East St. Louis and Alden.

Adobe Creek Reservoir Adobe Creek Reservoir
Small Steam Engine (Will Taylor on the right)

Will Taylor's engine and crew
Will Taylor’s Small Steam Engine with work crew in Springer, NM or Lamar, CO
Jim Huston to the left of Will (at the controls)

Project Crew
Reservoir project crew near Lamar, CO

Project Crew closeup
Chess Wood left of lady ringing dinner bell and Will Taylor left of Chess
Not sure who the man in the upper right is. Are these ladies his wife and two daughters?

Adobe Creek Reservoir
Adobe Creek Reservoir construction
Adobe Creek Reservoir
Will Taylor’s steam engine pulling four wheeled scrapers
Adobe Creek Reservoir
Steam engine fired up
Chess' uncle and siblings
Chess' uncles and siblings
Chess' uncle and siblings
L to R: unknown, Jim Huston, Will Taylor (?), Guy Wood, Susie Wood, Chess Wood, unkown, Albert Wood (?), Arthur Wood

Sometime in 1909 Chess became very dissatisfied with his working relationship with Maney Mfg Co. and decided he needed a change in his life and was determined to look for a new career in Alaska. He made it as far as Seattle where his uncles and sister convinced him to return to Alden and continue his business there and in East St. Louis.

L.C. Wood Company (Road Building)

Upon his return to Alden and while continuing to work in East St. Louis, Chess decided to develop a road building company. So on April 18, 1910, Chess filed for a patent on his Excavating Machine and received patent No. 987,660 on March 21, 1911. He had built a ½ scale working model of this excavator as part of the patent filing process and soon produced a full sized unit. Everyone called this the “Big Machine”, and BIG it was!

Chess's Excavator & Dirt Loader Model
Chess Wood's Excavator and Dirt Loader Model
Big Excavator & Dirt Loader
Chess Wood's Big Machine (Excavator and Dirt Loader)

Chess also procured a number of dump wagons to transport the dirt away from the excavator. He wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the bearings on the axles and wheels so he installed Timken roller bearings on all the wheels. Just another example of his focus on details and quality workmanship.

Dump Wagon
Chess' modified dump wagon for hauling dirt loads created by the Big Machine

This massive excavator was incredibly large and quite heavy, and would require a much stronger steam engine than Will Taylor’s to pull it on road construction sites. So Chess designed a new steam engine and had his shop build it using a Geiser boiler mounted on approximately 24 foot long frame with about 9 foot diameter rear wheels. Mervel Wood, his son, remembers seeing the deep pit in front of the large drill press where the wheel rims were dropped into, so they could drill the holes for the studs that are mounted on the rims.

These pictures show the early stage of completion of the steam engine and early testing of both the excavator and the engine. The steam engine does not have its top cover mounted yet.

Early stage of Big Steam Engine
Early completion stage of the Big Steam Engine, about 1914

Early testing of Excavator and Steam Engine
Testing and tryouts of the Steam Engine and Excavator

After successfully testing and modifying the excavator and steam engine combination, Chess had the roof installed on the steam engine and they were ready for putting both to use on road construction projects.

Completed Big Steam Engine

Completed Big Steam Engine
Finished Big Steam Engine ready for road construction projects

Leonard William Wood (Chess’ oldest son) wrote in his notes that “there was a sprocket on the crankshaft that turned the sprocket in front of the large wheel. The shaft went across to pinion on drum gear. There was also a clutch and pinion inside of the flywheel to drive the tractor, operated by the engineer. The steam engine included a Emerson Brantingham boiler [Geiser] and engine 2 cylinder ZZ. All of the rest he built as he had to have larger wheels and frame for clearance for cable drum and gearing.”

Geiser Boiler ZZ Engine
Geiser Boiler and ZZ Two Cylinder Engine

Leonard's notes continued: “I lived all summer on road job and steered the engine when 10-11 years old. A portion of the coal bin was for the steering cable drum clutch operation. One leather faced cone on end of crankshaft operated by lever moved cones to drive chain forward or backward to screw. Power steering: small lever on center of drum engaged small clutch to engage large drum clutch. A 1 ¼ “ thick cable was used. There were small chains from the center of the large wheels that dragged the large bar from behind the wheel in the forward direction. When the cable drum was engaged, the wheels rocked back on this bar which was fastened with a big chain to the frame. When running backwards these bars had to be hooked up to a catch under the frame.”

One of the first road construction projects was the County Road (now called D20) from Alden to Williams, Iowa in the summer of 1915.

Excavator 1915
Excavator / Loader on 1915 job site: County Road D20, Alden to Williams, Iowa

Steam Engine and Excavator
Review and inspection by local and state officials

Chess with officials
Chess (4th from left) with what appears to be state / local highway officials

More to come!


S500 Wood Family Bible

S510 Forestry and Irrigation, Volume 11, by American Forestry Association, National Irrigation Association, 1905, p. 252. “The Secretary of the Interior has awarded contracts to the lowest bidders for construction of the Interstate Canal, North Platte project, Nebraska, as follows: Robinson & Maney, St. Louis, Divisions 1, 2, 6, 9, and 10”.

S520 Engineering News, Volume 63, January – June 1910, The Engineering News Publishing Company, New York, p. 592