FULL STEAM AHEAD

Smith bolts tractor

Smith bolts tractor tire treads onto the engine's antique iron wheels.

Content Tools

Story by Jeff Merritt, photos by Peter Fellman, reprinted with permission from the Norwalk Reflector, Norwalk, Ohio

A tribute to the bygone days of farming is ready to be unveiled.

Ted Smith is putting the finishing touches on an 1899 steam engine tractor that has recently been fixed up and will make its debut at the Berlin Heights Basket Festival this weekend (August '93).

The engine, built by the Advance Thresher Company, of Battle Creek, Michigan, is also a fitting project for the Smith family, which has lived and worked with the machines for more than 100 years.

'I grew up around them ever since I was a little shaver,' said Smith's father, Lloyd Sr., as his son bolted tractor tire treads onto the engine's antique iron wheels Wednesday. The treads will make the grueling five-mile drive to Berlin Heights on Saturday a little smoother.

Lloyd Smith and his brother, Lyle, grew up using similar steam-driven tractors to thresh wheat on their farm in the 1930s. Years later, the pair used to take a giant 1923 engine which Lyle owned to fairs and other agricultural shows.

About 25 years ago, Lloyd Smith bought and restored the Advance Thresher model. Although it would run, the boiler needed work and the tractor was never safe enough to drive, his son said.

The family lost interest in the old behemoth until last year, when they asked an engineer to come down and repair the boiler. And now that it's fixed, the Smiths are eager to let people see it.

The seven-ton tractor stands 7 feet wide by about 18 feet long, and is made of wrought iron and cast iron, said Ted Smith, who runs T&T Tire in Collins.

The steam engine is powered by a wood or coal fire which burns in a small chamber at the back of the tractor, Smith explained. The fire heats a series of 40 long metal tubes that are immersed in water.

Once the tubes are hot enough, the water becomes steam and the engine comes alive.

Old steam engines have been likened to oxen, Smith said, because farmers could run them using what they could grow themselves. The fire could be stoked with wood, and the engine could be lubricated with oil made from beef fat.

The engine is the turn-of-the-century equivalent to the modern tractor, but Smith said the machine was used for many other duties as well. Using a large flywheel on its side, it served as a stationary power unit for threshing wheat and crushing rocks. It could also be used to grade roads and move buildings, he said.

Steam engines as old as the 1899 model are rare now because many were melted down for scrap metal during World War II, Smith said. He said there were only a couple of engines older than theirs when they showed it off at the National Threshers Association convention in Wauseon last month.

'Well, we got a lot of good comments,' Lloyd Smith said.

With a top speed of less than three miles an hour, the smallest trip on the tractor is an adventure, and Smith said he will leave his shop in Collins at 7 a.m., Saturday to make it to Berlin Heights in time to show off the machine before the 1:30 p.m. parade.

Smith is also fixing up an antique trailer of sorts which the engine might have pulled behind it to carry extra water and fuel; he said the machine can go through 60 gallons of water in anywhere from nine to 90 minutes, depending on the work load.

An old threshing machine will also join the engine Saturday, creating a complete farming outfit the likes of which might have been seen in a field in the late 19th century. Smith said he will bring along some wheat to the Basket Festival to show how the engine can be used to run the thresher.

The antique ensemble will also appear at the Erie and Huron County Fairs and at a show in Wellington later in the summer.

Ted Smith's address is P.O. Box 680,Norwalk, OH 44857.