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Steam Traction Engine

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Agricultural Equipment
Forestry Equipment
Steam Traction Engine
Steam traction engines, or steam rollers and road locomotives as they were sometimes called, were the predecessor to today’s modern farm tractor. Steam traction engines were heavy, cumbersome, wheeled steam engines used in the mid-1800s by farmers to haul heavy loads and plow fields. They were also used as a transportable power source. They evolved directly from rudimentary stationary steam engines invented in the latter part of the 18th century.[1] Steam traction engines were powerful enough to pull up to 40 plows but not really practical and were quickly replaced by smaller tractors built with internal steam combustion engines.[2] Today, the steam traction engine is no longer used on a commercial basis. However, as an agricultural artifact, many models remain in good working order as a result of a number of societies around the world devoted to the historical preservation of the steam traction engine.

Contents

[edit] History

The evolution of the steam traction engine can be traced back to developments in the steam engine. The most significant developments in both steam engine technology and the invention of steam traction engines began in Europe around the 1860s. In the 1870s steam traction engines made their way to America where early agricultural manufacturers such as Case in Racine, Wisconsin started producing steam traction engines at a rate of one per hour by 1913.[3]

[edit] Thomas Savery and the Steam Engine

The invention of a crude steam engine patented by Thomas Savery in 1698 started a chain reaction of events that precipitated the development of the steam traction engine. Savery was a military engineer who had been dealing with the problem of trying to pump excess water out from coal mines. The engine featured a closed vessel filled with water into which pressurized steam was introduced. The steam drove water upwards out of the mine through a shaft. Cold water was sprinkled and condensed the steam generating a vaccum-like suction that pushed more water out of the mine via a bottom valve. Later on, Savery would contribute to the invention of an atmospheric steam engine.[4]

[edit] Thomas Newcomen and the Atmospheric Steam Engine

Thomas Newcomen was an English blacksmith who invented the atmospheric steam engine. His steam engine was a far improvement from that of Thomas Avery because it relied on the force of atmospheric pressure and pumped steam into a cylinder. Inside the cylinder, the cold water condensed the steam, creating a vacuum. This led to atmospheric pressure operating a piston that moved in a downward stroke motion. The primary difference of Newcomen’s steam engine as opposed to Savery’s was pressure intensity was not limited by steam pressure.[5]

[edit] James Watt and the Steam Engine

Other sources credit the actual invention of the steam engine to a man named James Watts in 1769.[6] Watts simply expounded upon the idea of Newcomen’s earlier steam engine when he had to make repairs on it working as a mechanical engineer at the Universtiy of Glasgow in Scotland. The primary difference, an idea he patented, was a separate condenser connected to a cylinder by a valve.[7] His steam engine design would set the precedent for all future steam engines and essentially brought forth the age of industrialization. Interestingly enough, so significant was his invention of a workable steam engine that a unit of power known as a “Watt” has been named after him.[8]

[edit] Early Steam Powered Vehicles

The incorporation of stationary steam engines into something mobile can’t be directly attributed to just one person. It is documented however that a French military engineer by the name of Nicolas Cugnot made substantial inroads towards steam powered road vehicles when he developed a self-propelled three-wheeled army vehicle in 1769 that hauled artillery and could transport up to four people. The engine had a speed of two miles (3.2 km) per hour and ran only for 15 minutes. A second engine demonstrated in the streets before the French public crashed and put a stop to any further engine developments for Cugnot.[9]

[edit] Richard Trevithick and the High-pressure Steam Engine

Richard Trevithick was the son of a Cornish mine captain and spent his childhood years around coal mines. By the age of 19, he was employed as a consulting engineer. Starting in 1797, he started designing models of smaller cylinder, high-pressure steam engines, bypassing Watts earlier idea of a separate condenser to expel steam. In his models, the steam escaped straight from the cylinder thereby producing more power.[10]

Eventually this development led Trevithick to build the first steam road locomotive in 1801 in the U.K. but its actual lifespan was short-lived when it burnt out. A second road machine followed in 1803 until Trevithick turned his attention to railways.[11] However, many of his inventions never became commercially viable and he died in debt.[12]

[edit] Introduction of the Traction Engine in the U.K.

Robert Ransomes of Ipswich, England built upon the work of Trevithick and introduced the first steam powered traction engine in 1841 and a year later began producing them commercially.[13]

Other sources cite Thomas Aveling, a Kentish farmer, as being the “father of the traction engine.” Aveling was dissatisfied with portable steam engines that were used to power farm machinery. These portable steam engines had to be moved from site to site by a team of horses. He went about developing a self-moving steam engine and eventually began to manufacture his engines all over the world by 1862 when he entered into a partnership with Richard Thomas Porter to form Aveling & Porter.[14] Other builders of steam traction engines by the late 1870s included Burrell, Clayton, Fowler, and Garrett.[15]

[edit] Steam Traction Engines in the U.S.

Around 1849 the first steam traction engines to appear in the U.S. were portable models pulled by horses. One of the first portable steam engines was called the Forty Niner built by A.L. Archanbault in Philadelphia. The engine was offered in four, 10, and 30 horsepower sizes. [16]

The next logical step in steam traction engine development was the conversion of a portable steam engine into a self-propelled stream traction engine. The first one in the U.S. was invented by Obed Hussey in 1855 and was specifically invented for plowing.[17] In response to the advances of steam power to carry out farm work done by horses, Abraham Lincoln commented in 1859, “It is not enough that a machine operated by steam will really plow. To be successful, it must, all things considered, plow better than can be done by animal power.” [18]

By the 1870s many started buying self-propelled steam engines. Inventors had made huge strides in devising a suitable gearing for the rear wheels and also a chain or belt drive from the engine flywheel to a countershaft of the gearing to provide self-propulsion. In the 1880s a clutch and gear train between the engine and rear wheels was introduced. Some manufacturers lamented that the steering gears on some of these early steam traction engines were not entirely reliable and cautioned operators not to drive them on public roads.[19]

By 1900 steam traction engines were being used for farming and logging. Over thirty companies in the U.S. were manufacturing about 5,000 large steam traction engines and most models were a substantial improvement over earlier models. The gearing shafts and other wearing parts were now much tougher to withstand the wear and tear imposed upon them by pulling large threshers and plowing.[20]

One of the most successful commercial manufacturers of steam traction engines in the U.S. was the J.I. Case Co. based in Racine, Wisconsin. As an agricultural pioneer in the development of farm equipment, Case Co. was producing steam traction engines with horsepower ranging from six to 150 as well as road rollers, portable steam farm engines, skid engines, and boilers.[21]

[edit] Features/How it Works

The first steam traction engines used a chain drive. However, it was more typical for larger gears to be used to transfer the drive from the crankshaft to the rear axle.

Engine close-up
Two different approaches were taken in the construction of steam traction engines. The first was to use the boiler as the central structure and then attach all the other parts such as the engine, drive gears, steering gear, and main truck to it. The other approach was to provide a separate framework on to which the boiler was mounted and the rest of the parts attached.

In earlier models, the engine was usually top-mounted, placed on the boiler and the boiler, then mounted on the truck. In road locomotives, it was common to mount the engine under the boiler. In some models, engines were also side mounted or rear mounted.

To preserve the engine from damage, heavy shocks and jars or heavy coil springs were placed between the boiler and the front and rear axles. Springs in the steering gear also assisted the front wheels from breaking when an obstruction was hit.

Power of steam traction engines was transmitted to the traction wheels by a simple train of spur gears made of cast iron. Most machines had two large powered wheels at the back and two smaller wheels positioned at the front for steering. These wheels were often made of steel and some manufacturers even experimented with a form of caterpillar track. A collar on the front wheels helped to prevent slippage. The drive wheels had steel tires, either round or flat spokes and a cast-iron hub.

The first traction engines were geared only to travel at speeds of two to three miles (3.2 to 4.8 km) an hour on the road. Later engines were modified with two forward speeds—one slow and one fast.

Steam traction engines were very heavy and often weighed 45,000 pounds (20,412 kg) and, when operating, generated steam pressure of 150 to 200 pounds per square inch (1,034 to 1,379 kPa).[22]

[edit] Types

The steam traction engine can be classified according to six different types as characterized by use.

[edit] Portable

The portable steam traction engine was the very first type of engine of its kind to be used on British farms. As the name suggests, the steam engine was portable but only because the engine needed to be pulled by a team of horses. Primarily used to steer threshing equipment and operate sawmills, portable traction engine remained in wide use even into the 20th century.[23]

[edit] Agricultural

These steam traction engines dominated farms in the countryside and were used as mobile power plants to accomplish general farm tasks including threshing and tree pulling. Steam traction engines used mostly for agricultural would have probably been too expensive for farmers to purchase outright meaning they were usually operated by a contractor how would tour from farm to farm. The operation of steam traction engines for agricultural purposes came to a stop in the 1930s with a preference for petroleum paraffin tractors. However, a few still remained in use up until the 1950s.

[edit] Plowing

Steam traction engines used in plowing were used in a set and were connected to a cable spanning the field and attached to each engine on a winding drum with a plow joined in the middle that would be pulled up and down the field. One engine would be specifically designed to pull on its right side and the other engine on its left side therefore becoming known as left side and right side engines. The largest of all steam traction engines, these engines weighed on about 22 tons and plowed on average 30 acres (12 ha) a day.[24]

[edit] Road Locomotives

Road locomotives were used for heavy haulage of up to 120 tons on public highways. Larger sized than normal traction engines, road locomotives were fitted with a three-speed gearing and sprung on both the front and rear axles. In addition, road locomotives were modified with an extra water tank fitted under the machine’s boiler so that greater distances could be achieved between water stops. Additional uses were generating power for rides and for lighting.[25]

[edit] Steam Tractor

Steam tractors were designed as smaller road locomotives with an engine less than five tons in weight and were used for road haulage and in forestry.[26]

[edit] Steam Road Rollers

This take-off of the steam traction engine was designed specifically for roadbuilding and flattening ground mimicking today’s modern rollers used for compacting road surfaces. A single, heavy roller replaced the front wheels and axle and a smoother rear wheels replaced larger wheels without strakes.[27]

[edit] References

  1. Traction Engine History. About.com. 2008-09-28.
  2. Steam Traction Engine. World Book Online. 2008-09-28.
  3. Article. Proquest. 2008-09-28.
  4. Article. Proquest. 2008-09-28.
  5. Blast Steam Engine. About.com. 2008-09-28.
  6. Steam Engine. Antique Farming. 2008-09-28.
  7. Blast Steam Engine. About.com. 2008-09-28.
  8. Blast Steam Engine. About.com. 2008-09-28.
  9. Car Steam Engine. About.com. 2008-09-28.
  10. Understanding the Industrial Revolution. Cotton Times. 2008-09-28.
  11. Understanding the Industrial Revolution. Cotton Times. 2008-09-28.
  12. http://www.steam-up.co.uk/traction_engine_history.htm
  13. From Waterloo to the World. Promotex Online. 2008-09-28.
  14. Aveling Porter. Tractors Wikia. 208-09-28.
  15. Steam Traction Engine History. Steam-Up. 2008-09-28.
  16. Norbeck, Jack, AmericanEncyclopedia of Steam Traction Engines. Crestline Pub. Co.: 1984. 28
  17. Norbeck, Jack, AmericanEncyclopedia of Steam Traction Engines. Crestline Pub. Co.: 1984. 28
  18. Norbeck, Jack, AmericanEncyclopedia of Steam Traction Engines. Crestline Pub. Co.: 1984. 28
  19. Norbeck, Jack, AmericanEncyclopedia of Steam Traction Engines. Crestline Pub. Co.: 1984. 28
  20. Norbeck, Jack, AmericanEncyclopedia of Steam Traction Engines. Crestline Pub. Co.: 1984. 28
  21. Norbeck, Jack, AmericanEncyclopedia of Steam Traction Engines. Crestline Pub. Co.: 1984. 91
  22. Norbeck, Jack, AmericanEncyclopedia of Steam Traction Engines. Crestline Pub. Co.: 1984. 52
  23. Traction Engine History. Steam-up. 2008-09-28.
  24. Traction Engine History. Steam-up. 2008-09-28.
  25. Traction Engine History. Steam-up. 2008-09-28.
  26. Traction Engine History. Steam-up. 2008-09-28.
  27. Traction Engine History. Steam-up. 2008-09-28.