CAMDEN — In April it was reported Preble Shawnee junior Wyatt Downard placed in the top four students in Ohio for the Agricultural Proficiency Award in Agricultural Mechanics Design and Fabrication. Downard’s success did not stop there. Not only did Downard earn the top spot in the state, he is now in the top four of the nation.
Downard, now a senior, built a complete quarter scale, fully functional steam engine with the help of his grandfather Steve Countryman.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Downard of winning state and reaching nationals. He never dreamed his project would go on to be recognized at the national level. “I had no idea it would go this far because this is something that is not very common; it’s something you don’t see every day.”
Each state is able to submit one project to the national competition — Downard is one of up to 50 potential entries in the category.
For Downard the project started when he was a freshman when he and his grandfather purchased two engines and completely rebuilt one.
With the help of Dupps Company in Germantown, who supplied Downard with his supplies, and Paul Ward who provided dimensions from his own full scale engine, Downard was able to develop a blueprint for the engine.
After 16 months and up to 1,500 hours of rebuilding nearly the entire engine — which is now fully functional and runs on steam, burning wood and coal — Downard has been recognized at the highest level of agricultural proficiency for mechanical design.
Being recognized at the highest level meant Downard had to take on even more work, as he and Preble Shawnee FFA teacher Carmen Kennel had to create a time log book of the work performed. Downard tracked nearly everything he did on the project hour by hour as he and Kennel worked to meet national requirements.
Those requirements resulted in Downard producing a 32-page report explaining the work done on the engine and displaying his full understanding of how the project was completed. He says he has now reached over 2,000 hours of time he has put toward it since he started it as a freshman.
Downard expects the questions at the national level to be difficult compared to those at the state level, with a more focused approach requiring him to go into a more in-depth explanation of his project.
Placing in the nation has already begun to pay off in his pursuit of a degree in mechanical engineering, as he has received letters of interest from some of the top engineering schools in and around the state.
Trine, formally known as Tri-State, Liberty and Ohio Northern has contacted Downard, with Ohio Northern expressing interest in him suiting up for their football team. He currently plays for Middletown Christian.
According to Downard, one school said if he were to earn the top spot in the nation he would receive a full-ride scholarship for Mechanical Engineering. The degree would allow him to build larger, state certified boilers for power plants, local mechanical shops and other commercial use.
Downard will travel to Louisville on Wednesday, Oct. 28, and stay until Saturday, Oct. 31 for the national awards, where he will find out if he wins.
One student from each category will win a trip to Costa Rica. Downard says winning the trip would be a good enough award for him. The $1,000 top prize isn’t a bad option either for the young student who is preparing for life in college.
Currently Downard is building a half-scale engine in his spare time, something he says is similar but offers unique challenges as materials are more difficult to come by.
Reach Austin Schmidt at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @aschmidt_RH.