BIG BEST STEAMERS

#Picture 01

Content Tools

4244 Torres Avenue Fremont, California 94536

After seeing the picture of the Best steamer in Jean, Nevada, shown in the March/April issue of IMA, I thought the readers might be interested in other Best engines which are in the California area.

A completely restored operating Best steamer, number 185, built in 1902, is owned by the Oakland (California) Museum. This old steamer was acquired from Shasta County and, through the efforts of dozens of volunteers and hundreds of hours of work, it was completely and authentically restored to its original condition. The Oakland Museum has now placed this big steamer at the Arden-wood historical farm in Fremont, where it can be seen.

The museum loaned the big Best for the annual Bull Whackers Jubilee, held in September of 1985. According to an article in the Fremont Argus, the Jubilee is an exhibition of logging and forestry history which attempts to show the importance of the logging industry to the history of California and how the industry progressed.

Some interesting notes from another story tell us that this Best tractor stands 18 feet tall to the top of the smoke stack. The wheels of solid iron stand eight feet tall and have spokes as thick as a fat man's thumb. At peak output the steam engine could generate 110 horsepower and roll the machine along at a full 3.5 miles per hour. The smokestack is so big and fat that the driver who sat at the rear of the machine on a platform atop the firebox, couldn't see around it. So the driver would steer by keeping his eye on a wooden arrow erected high over the single front wheel; when the arrow pointed left, say, the driver would know that that's where he was going.

The arrangements for steering are rather primitive engineering. The unique single front wheel is welded to and 'floats' in the middle of a second wheel that is parallel to the ground. To turn the wheel the driver would turn the wheel up by the stack which would activate a set of gears below and in front of him, but behind the front wheel, which would wind a chain around a shaft. The chain, being attached to the front of the iron wheel parallel to the ground, would turn that wheel which, in turn, would turn the wheel on the ground.

Up in the Mother Lode country of California, at Angels Camp, there is another Best steamer on display that looks just like this restored machine, but it is not in operating condition. That engine is pictured here. And in Death Valley, there is a skeleton Best steamer much like the one pictured in Iron-Men Album last year. In the museum there are pictures of this big steamer hauling a whole string of big heavy borax wagons.

According to the Argus article, 'old number 185 is the only fully restored Best steam tractor of this size, and one of perhaps a dozen left. And it's the only one that can be seen in operation by the public.'