Circa-1927 Bryan Harvester Co. Steam Tractor
The Bryan steam-powered tractor operated at three to four times greater pressure than did steam traction engines
Circa-1927 Bryan Harvester Co. steam tractor. The Bryan operates at 600 psi – three to four times greater psi than traditional steam traction engines.
When a spectator at a recent thresher reunion discovered how much steam pressure the Bryan steam tractor produced per square inch, he ran away from it.
Peter Mandt, of Wahpeton, N.D., who restored the circa-1927 model of the unusual steam tractor, chuckles as he recalls the man saying, “I’m not going to stand next to that thing.”
But perhaps that man had good reason: The Bryan operates at 600 psi while other steam traction engines ran at a maximum one-quarter to one-third of that pressure. For example, a 1906 Minneapolis return-flue compound engine ran at 125 maximum psi, a 1912 19-65 hp Port Huron steam traction engine ran at 185 psi, and a 1907 14 hp Russell compound steam traction engine was government tested to 225 psi, according to Jack Norbeck in Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines.
“The early ones had one row of rivets in the barrel of the boiler and carried from 80 to 100 pounds pressure,” Norbeck writes. “Around 1915, when most manufacturers diverted to double butt strap boilers, the pressure was increased to 150 pounds. Some carried 180. This increased the power tremendously.”
Nothing is written about why George A. Bryan built a steam tractor with such high psi pressure, but some reasons are obvious: More pressure meant more operating power (the Bryan was rated to pull – optimistically – four 14-inch plows), and Bryan was thinking of using steam for more than tractors.
George A. Bryan’s brain child
The Bryan steam tractor was the brain child of George A. Bryan of New Mexico, who dreamed of building steam engines while growing up at the turn of the century. He started at the very bottom, literally and figuratively, wiping off railroad locomotives for the Santa Fe railroad. He moved up to fireman, engineer, locomotive inspector and, finally, chief inspector.
“He became enthusiastic about the use of steam power,” says Bryan Steam from the Peru (Ind.) Public Library, “and believed that the superheated system of steam locomotive engines could be condensed into a small, lightweight power plant that would be suitable to operate lightweight farm tractors, automobiles and other motive power-type applications.”
To that end, he spent two years developing the concept and, in about 1913, installed a steam boiler in an automobile.
“After driving the car over the mountains and through the deserts of New Mexico – over 10,000 miles,” says Bryan Steam, “he organized the Bryan Harvester Co. in 1916, with his father, Oscar Bryan, as a partner.”
Despite having built a successful steam automobile, the Bryans felt their opportunity lay in building a steam tractor, so New Mexico was deemed not the best location for a Bryan plant.
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