book review

Discovering Traction Engines books

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The old saying that good things come in small packages still holds true.

We have been reading five booklets from Shires Publication Ltd., a British publishing firm.

Two were written by Harold Bonnett, one of which is entitled 'Farming With Steam' and the other 'Discovering Traction Engines.'

Two are the work of John Vince. These deal with 'Vintage Farm Machines', and 'Old Farm Tools.'

The fifth booklet is by T. E. Crowley and is called 'Beam Engines.'

'Discovering Traction Engines' tells of the origin of the engine, its historical background, and the challenges of preservation. There are chapters on the general purpose engine, the steam roller, the showman's engine, and the steam plow engine. It also discusses the light steam tractor and the road locomotive.

Of real interest to the expert or engineer is a chapter on the mechanical features of a traction engine, such as the boiler, the gears, the springs, and the brakes.

The booklet lists traction engine clubs, and museums and other collections. There are 16 pages of illustrations.

In 'Farming With Steam 'Bonnett explains the role of the steam engine in agriculture from the pumping engines which drained the Fenland swamps in the early 1800s, to the plow and threshing machines of the 20th century.

Bonnett tells of James Watt's improvement of the beam engines and how this helped change England's soggy Fenland into good farm land. He relates Fowler's pioneer work with the steam plow and describes some of the work of early steam threshermen. Bonnett has a first-hand knowledge of his subject, having helped to thresh back in 1922 and 1923. He includes a chapter on boiler explosions and one on country fairs and village feasts.

Bonnett packs a lot of information into a few pages. He has a way of explaining things which should appeal to both steam 'amateurs' and experts.

'Farming With Steam' is full of photographs and captions which capture the flavor of the days of steam down on the farm.

The introduction to 'Vintage Farm Machines' describes the work as a 'short pictorial guide' to technical masterpieces of Victorian and Edwardian engineering. The booklet shows machines used for hoeing, sowing, haymaking, digging, plowing, and harvesting.

Author, John Vince, has written many books and is a recognized authority on British country life. His 'Old Farm Tools' pictures and describes hand tools which farmers used before the advent of machine power. Some of these ingenious tools remained in use in some places long after the age of mechanization began, mostly because of economic reasons but also because they were, in fact, well adapted to their particular use.

Some of the tools illustrated are a dock lifter, a drainage spade, an eel spear, and a wooden spade for digging clay.

T. E. Crowley informs us about the development and use of 'Beam Engines.' He tells how Thomas Newcomen's genius helped make the Industrial Revolution possible and the vital role played by the beam engine in business development. If you are interested in the history of the beam engine this booklet affords an opportunity to learn, as author Crowley shares some of his experience and knowledge. The book contains pictures of surviving beam engines.

In all five of these booklets from Shires Publications the illustrations are integral parts of the material and are not just thrown in for window dressing.