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(Draft Article)

Steam Tractors were the forerunner to the modern Diesel Engined tractor. The first steam tractors were built by blacksmiths as an adoption of the Portable Steam Engine, used to drive stationary machinery, and towed about by a team of horses.

Early Steam Tractors were used to drive stationary machinery, like threshers and rolling mills.

Early ploughing engines worked in pairs and pulled a large multi furrowed balance plough between them, by a long winch cable, with a machine stood at each side of a field. This was due to the weight of the machines being so high that they would bog down in the field if they tried to drive up and down.

Similar methods were used to dredge the lakes at the large Estates, using 2 Engines and winches to pull a dredger box or blade through the lake to haul out the sludge.


Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729) invented the steam pump England. The first practical engine was built in 1712. Nicholas Cugnot (1725-1804) a French army engineer built a steam Artillery carriage in 1769, that is considered the first such machine designed for transportation. Oliver Evans a Welsh inventor who emigrated to America, Built a

Wiki article (to be merged into a UK article as America bias)

This article refers to the steam-powered agricultural tractor; for other types of steam tractor, see: Traction engine

A steam tractor is a vehicle powered by a steam engine which is used for pulling.

In North America, the term steam tractor usually refers to a type of agricultural tractor powered by a steam engine, used extensively in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

In Great Britain, the term steam tractor is more usually applied to the smallest models of traction engine - typically those weighing seven tons or less - used for hauling small loads on public roads. Although known as light steam tractors, these engines are generally just smaller versions of the 'road locomotive'.

This article concentrates on the steam-powered agricultural vehicles intended for the direct-pulling of ploughs and other implements (as opposed to cable-hauling).

Development (Great Britain)

Owing to differences in soil conditions, the development of steam-powered agricultural machines differed considerably on either side of the Atlantic.

In Great Britain, a number of traction engine builders attempted to produce a design of agricultural engine that could pull a plough directly, in place of a team of horses. However, the heavier and wetter soils found in Britain meant that these designs were not successful — being less economical to use than the team of horses they were intended to replace! These engines were also known as "steam tractors". Instead, farmers resorted to cable-hauled ploughing using ploughing engines.

A distinctive example of a British-designed (agricultural) steam tractor is the Garrett Suffolk Punch, a 1917 design intended to compete directly with internal combustion-powered alternatives.

Development (North America)

George White and Sons engine from Canada, In UK at Cromford Steam Rally 2008

Case 65 hp engine No. 10941 of 1902 at Cromford steam fair 2008

The first steam tractors that were designed specifically for agricultural uses were portable engines built on skids or on wheels and transported to the work area using horses. Later models used the power of the steam engine itself to power a drive train to move the machine and were first known as "traction drive" engines which eventually was shortened to "tractor". These drive mechanisms were one of three types: chain, shaft, and open pinion. The open pinion became the most popular design due to its strength. Later improvements included power steering, differentials, compounded engines, and butt-strap boiler design.

The steam engine was gradually phased out by the mid-1920s as the less expensive, lighter, and faster-starting internal combustion (kerosene, petrol or distillate) tractors fully emerged after World War I.



These engines were used extensively in rural North America to aid in threshing, in which the owner/operator of a threshing machine or threshing rig would travel from farmstead to farmstead threshing grain. Oats were a common item to be threshed, but wheat and other grains were common as well. On a "threshing day", all the neighbours would gather at that day's farmstead to complete a massive job in one day through cooperation. The women and older girls were in charge of cooking the noon meal and bringing water to the men. The children had various jobs based upon their age and sex. These jobs included driving the bundle racks, pitching bundles into the threshing machine, supplying water for the steam engine, hauling away the freshly threshed grain and scooping it into the granary. Steam traction engines were often too expensive for a single farmer to purchase, so "threshing rings" were often formed. In a threshing ring, multiple farmers pooled their resources to purchase a steam engine. They also chose one person among them to go to a steam school, to learn how to run the engine properly. There were also threshing contractors, who owned their own engine and thresher, and went to different farms, hiring themselves out to thresh grain.


The immense pulling power of steam tractors allowed them to be used for ploughing as well. Certain steam tractors were better suited for ploughing than others, with the large Minneapolis Threshing machine Co., J.I. Case, Reeves and Advance-Rumely engines being prime examples. Some of the largest steam tractors, such as the 150-horsepower Case, were capable of pulling 30 or more plough bottoms, while most were powerful enough to pull between 6 and 20. Differing soil conditions highly affected the ploughing abilities of these tractors.


See: List of traction engine and steam tractor manufacturers

Manufactures & Models

Avery Undermount at The Henry Ford




United Kingdom

How They work

Preservation Groups

  • National Traction Engine Trust (NTET)

Steam Museums

  • Whats on Guide to Events
  • Amberley working museum, Arundel West susssex.

See Also

Festivals and museums


Wikipedia for base article, expanded for UK preservation & tractor relavence

External links

Smallwikipedialogo.png This page uses some content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Steam tractors. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Tractor & Construction Plant Wiki, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons by Attribution License and/or GNU Free Documentation License. Please check page history for when the original article was copied to Wikia