Home' Otago Southland Farmer : January 25th 2013 Contents 25.1.13 Farmer
66 BAY ROAD
PHONE 03 215 8900
A FLAT TYRE
NEW & SECONDHAND
TYRES & DUALS
REPAIR ON SITE
LOAN TYRES AVAILABLE WHILE
REPAIRS ARE UNDERTAKEN
CONTACT US NOW!! 0800 642 624
Farm vehicles & machinery
Farm vehicles & machinery
The Traction Engine: Admired collectors item
Once they were a mainstay and an invaluable tool on the
farm: today they have grown to become a rare but
much admired collector's item.
What is this valuable piece of equipment? The Traction Engine.
A traction engine is a self-propelled steam engine used to
move heavy loads on roads, plough ground or to provide
power at a chosen location. The name derives from the Latin
tractus, meaning 'drawn', since the prime function of any
traction engine was to draw a load behind it.
It has also been described as a mobile steam engine, evolving
from the stationary steam engines used during the late 18th
Traction engines tend to be large, robust and powerful, but
heavy, slow, and have poor maneuverability. Nevertheless,
they revolutionised agriculture and road haulage at a time
when the only alternative prime mover was the draught horse.
They became popular in industrialised countries from around
1850, when the first self-propelled portable steam engines for
agricultural use were developed. Production continued well
into the early part of the 20th century, when competition from
internal combustion engine--powered tractors saw them fall
out of favour, although some continued in commercial use in
the UK into the 1950s and later. All types of traction engines
have now been superseded, in commercial use. However,
several thousand examples have been preserved worldwide,
many in working order. Steam fairs are held throughout the
year in the UK, and in other countries, where visitors can
experience working traction engines at close hand.
Organise an event in New Zealand where the area's history is
celebrated, and often a welcome addition to a parade or
display is a traction engine, faithfully restored and maintained
by an enthusiast.
Traction engines were cumbersome and ill-suited to crossing
soft or heavy ground, so their agricultural use was usually
either 'in the belt' -- powering farm machinery by means of a
continuous leather belt driven by the flywheel -- or in pairs,
dragging an implement on a cable from one side of a field to
another. However, where soil conditions permitted, direct
hauling of implements ('off the drawbar') was preferred -- in
the US, this led to the divergent development of the steam
Limits of technical knowledge and manufacturing technology
meant practicable road vehicles powered by steam did not
start to appear until the early years of the 19th century.
The traction engine, in the form recognisable today,
developed partly from an experiment in 1859 when Thomas
Aveling modified a Clayton & Shuttleworth portable engine,
which had to be hauled from job to job by horses, into a self-
propelled one. The alteration was made by fitting a long
driving chain between the crankshaft and the rear axle.
Other influences were existing vehicles which were the first to
be referred to as traction engines such as the Boydell engines
manufactured by various companies and those developed for
road haulage by Bray. The first half of the 1860s was a period
of great experimentation but by the end of the decade the
standard form of the traction engine had evolved and would
change little over the next 60 years.
Until the quality of roads improved there was little demand for
faster vehicles, and engines were geared accordingly to cope
with their use on rough roads and farm tracks.
Right through to the early 20th century, manufacturers
continued to seek a solution to realise the economic benefits
of direct-pull ploughing and, particularly in North America, this
led to the American development of the steam tractor. British
companies such as Mann's and Garrett developed potentially
viable direct ploughing engines, however market conditions
were against them and they failed to gain widespread
popularity. These market conditions arose in the wake of the
First World War when there was a glut of surplus equipment
available as a result of British Government policy. Large
numbers of Fowler ploughing engines had been constructed
in order to increase the land under tillage during the war and
many new light Fordson F tractors had been imported from
Road steam disappeared through restrictions and charges that
drove up their operating costs. Through 1921, steam tractors
had demonstrated clear economic advantages over horse
power for heavy hauling and short journeys. However, petrol
lorries were starting to show better efficiency and could be
purchased cheaply as war surplus; on a busy route a 3-ton
petrol lorry could save about £100 per month compared to its
steam equivalent, in spite of restrictive speed limits, and
relatively high fuel prices and maintenance costs.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s there were tighter
restrictions on road steam haulage, including speed, smoke
and vapour limits and a 'wetted tax', where the tax due was
proportional to the size of the wetted area of the boiler; this
made steam engines less competitive against domestically
produced internal combustion engined units (although
imports were subject to taxes of up to 33%). Then an 'axle
weight tax' was introduced in 1933 in order to charge
commercial motor vehicles more for the costs of maintaining
the road system and to do away with the perception that the
free use of roads was subsidising the competitors of rail
freight. The tax was payable by all road haulers in proportion
to the axle load and was particularly restrictive on steam
propulsion, which was heavier than its petrol equivalent.
The Traction Engine can be divided
into six main groups.
The portable: This was the first type of
engine to be used on and around farms in
Britain. They were not self-propelled and
needed to be pulled by horses. These were
used to drive threshing equipment and to
operate sawmills. They were still in use well
into the 20th century.
The agricultural general purpose engine:
These engines were the most common
types to be seen around the countryside.
They were basically used as a mobile power
plant for threshing, tree pulling and general
farm duties. Though not generally owned
by the farmers themselves, contractors
operated them, touring from farm to farm.
Production ceased in the late 1930's with
continued preference of the petrol-paraffin
tractor, which was less costly to operate,
but they were still in use into the 1950's.
Road locomotives: These were designed
for heavy haulage on the public highways.
They were usually larger than the normal
traction engine and were fitted with three-
speed gearing. They were also sprung on
both front and rear axles. An extra water
tank was fitted under the boiler so that
greater distances could be travelled
between water stops. These were very
powerful traction engines capable of
pulling loads of up to 120 tons. Showmen's
engines, though highly decorated and
adorned with brass, fall into the category of
road locomotive. Apart from hauling fair
rides etc. from one venue to another, they
were also used for generating the power for
the rides and for lighting.
Steam tractors: These engines were built as
small road locomotives and were operated
by one man, provided the engine was less
than 5 tons in weight. They were used for
general road haulage and in particular by
the timber trade. The most popular steam
tractor was the Garrett 4CD.
Steam road rollers: Perhaps the best
known of all steam traction engines. They
were working into the 1960's and part of
the M1 motorway was made with the use of
steamrollers. They early rollers tended to be
very heavy; one even weighing 30 tons was
built. But it was soon discovered that
weight alone did not make the best roller.
12 or 15 tons was the most favoured. With
the introduction of Tarmac, rollers became
even lighter and some of the smaller ones
weighed as little as three tons.
Ploughing engines: The largest of all and
were used, as the name suggests, for
ploughing. They were worked as a pair or set. Though the
engines themselves didn't run along the field ploughing, a
cable spanning the field would be attached to each engine on
a winding drum with a plough joined in the middle which
would be pulled up and down the field. One engine was built
to pull on its right hand side the other on its left, so they were
referred to as right hand or left hand engines, though the
positions were the reverse when working. These engines
weighed around 22 tons each and could plough up to 30 acres
In addition to the six main groups developed from the
beginning of the 20th century, was the steam wagon or lorry.
The first of these were 'overtypes', having their engine
mounted on top of the boiler in the same way as traction
engines. These engines were chain driven. They were capable
of speeds of up to 30mph. The designs included four and six
wheelers, artics and tippers. By far the most popular builder of
'overtypes', were Foden of Cheshire. The 'undertype' wagon
that followed was made with a vertical boiler with the engine
mounted under the chassis, not unlike a modern lorry. Later
models were fitted with pneumatic tyre and could reach
speeds of 60mph.
So when you see these shining examples of our agricultural
history lumbering along the road or proudly on display at a
celebration, spare a thought for its history and the challenges
it has faced over time.
Maintaining machinery such as these is not an easy task -- so
'hats off' to those who have a passion and a dedication to
preserving this slice of our history for others to enjoy and learn
Links Archive December 14th 2012 February 8th 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page