Past and Present:

Avery traction engine

Avery traction engine being assembled at the remote Preolenna rail siding after dismantling for transport.

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Traction Engines and Threshing Machines

American Engines in Australia

Andrew Gibb, RMB 2175, Wangaratta, Victoria 3678, Australia; e-mail:, writes in from Australia this month:

My father's interest in steam engines here in Australia (he sent a letter recently to IMA [see the May/June 2002 issue, page 28, for Robin Gibb's article on steam trucks in Australia -Editor] after having a great time in America last year) has passed on to me. I am particularly keen on American-built engine that worked in Australia and I have been researching this topic for several years now.

Buffalo-Pitts engines were imported here in great numbers between 1905-1910, especially the smaller engines, and many still exist. This resulted in the then dominant English manufacturers producing more lightly built engines in an attempt to compete with the Buffalos in the Australian market. This was unsuccessful, however, and the Buffalo engines continued to be popular up until about 1910, when the numbers stopped suddenly.

Frick engines were the next most popular make, with at least 23 traction engines used in the state of Tasmania alone. As with English engine sales around Australia, a good agent could shift many engines of one particular make, even though there were other engines of similar qualities about. Thus, Buffalo-Pitts and Frick had good agents.

Other makes of engines that came here in smaller numbers, some not even now existing, were: Avery, C. Aultman, Birdsall, Buffalo Springfield, Case, Dederick Co., Farquhar, Gaar-Scott, Huber, Iroquois, O.S. Kelly, Maybrick, Peerless, Sawyer & Massey, and Waterais.

The Maybrick is a rare machine, as I haven't been able to find any reference to this make in American publications. The Tasmanian boiler records list the engine as being made in Ontario, Canada, a traction engine with tandem, compound cylinders and made in 1901. There were also three Dederick portable engines listed in the records, however these might only have been portable boilers. David Beck's lengthy research on the Tasmanian boiler records has aided my research greatly, and if any IMA readers have any further information on these two companies I would be most interested.

My particular line of research at the moment is the only known Avery traction engine to have worked in Australia. The first reference to this engine is in the Victorian boiler records in 1913 when it was tested in near new condition. Some of the details were: boiler barrel 6'9' long x 3' diameter x 3/8' plate; firebox 5'1' long x 2'7-' wide x 3'5' tall, with 1' stays at 4' x 4-' spacing; tubes 58 x 2-; dome 18' x 20'; double butt-strap boiler with 3/4' rivets; test pressure 210 lbs. per square inch, working pressure 135 lbs. per square inch. The engine then turns up in the Tasmanian boiler records in 1924, having been imported second hand from Victoria by the Preolenna Coal Co.

'These records go on to list the engine as a 2-cylinder under-type with 7' x 10' cylinders. Photographs one and two show the engine being assembled at the remote Preolenna rail siding after dismantling for transport. It appears to be quite an operation! The third photograph shows the now re-assembled engine in some sort of difficulty and requiring the assistance of a bullock team.

The history of the engine working in both Victoria and Tasmania is very sketchy. However, it is known to have ended its days as a stationary winding engine, jacked off the ground and cable wrapped around the wheels like cable drums. 1 am not sure whether this was hauling coal skips or logs for saw milling. The Avery was, unfortunately, scrapped at this site.

My question to IMA readers is: Was this a 30 HP or a 40 HP engine? The rear wheels were 6'8' diameter by 26' wide. I am sure those Avery nuts out there must be able to tell from the photographs and dimensions given in the boiler records. What is the difference between all of the under-mounted Averys, from the 18 HP up to the 40 HP? From my reading in Australia I haven't been able to find much technical detail on Avery engines.

I would be pleased to hear from anyone who may be able to help with these Avery questions. I am also most willing to communicate with any Americans who are interested in American engines that worked in Australia or who may have further information to add.

The final photograph I have sent in is of a Sellers Self-Acting 3/4' injector that I picked up at a swap meet recently. It is a 'Class M' and has the serial number 144241 stamped on it. It is missing a few parts and I was hoping an IMA reader might be able to describe what parts I need to make to have it operating again.

I will end my long-winded letter here, but I would like to add how I enjoy the magazine very much and it is the contributions by the readers that make it such an interesting publication.

Avery, Gaar-Scott or Robinson?
Randy Schwerin,
3040 160th St., Sumner, IA 50674 writes in again:

I wanted to comment a little more on the Creed 'Avery' engine in the March/April IMA. In my earlier writings I alluded that I felt the engine in question was indeed a Gaar-Scott, and I think anyone familiar with the great Tiger line would agree that it surely has numerous Gaar-Scott traits. However, there is one glaring problem with that idea - the square head tank.

First I thought, 'Heck, any self-respecting steam engineer of the 1910 era with the help of a good blacksmith could knock up a tank and install the same.' But there again, this idea didn't quite seem to add up. The tank and its fixtures on the engine in question just looked a little too factory. Then the other day, I was sorting through various assortments of reprint catalogs, old engine magazines, etc., and found what I was searching for - a reprint of a late Robinson threshing machine catalog. Aha! One of the catalog's cuts shows their side-mounted engines equipped with this very round cornered, square tank (including the braces that ran back to the steam dome) along with all the other traits previously mentioned. Also pictured is the scalloped-edged canopy top including the cupola addition over the firebox platform end.

This brings up an interesting point and question: Was there a connection, business or otherwise, between Robinson and Gaar-Scott? I question this because of the fact that both companies were located in Richmond, Ind. And also because the engines from both companies looked very similar. I wonder if Robinson may have purchased castings from Gaar-Scott or possibly had some agreement to use their patterns, etc. Some thoughts to ponder. I was pleased to read Lyle 'Reeves' Hoffmaster's identification of the Robinson engine. Pretty hard to get anything past Lyle! Perhaps we could prevail upon Lyle to write a little something on the history of the Gaar-Scott and Robinson companies and whether there really was any connection between them. I feel he would be good source for this information.

Incidentally, 1 own a 25 HP rear-mount Gaar-Scott, one of the last built prior to the Rumely buyout, or as some of us would say 'conglomeration.' Thanks again for a great magazine.

Thoughts on Fusible Plugs

I am writing the balance of this with the benefit of the May/June IMA in front of me. I found the article by Mr. Babcock to be interesting, and it raises more questions that, I feel, should be responded to.

The article is basically built around the question that if the boiler of the 110 Case was critically low on water prior to its rupture, then why didn't its fusible plug melt out? I think there are some basic reasons why this could have taken place, and I'll try to explain my viewpoint on how this could be possible. Now I am sure some readers will say, 'Just more speculation,' and unfortunately a lot of what is left to go on regarding all this can only be speculation.

First, let's look at the position of the soft-plug in the boiler in question. It's in the very rear of the crown sheet. This was a Case trait, and of course up for discussion as to whether or not this was the proper place. I would have to say that a good share of engine companies placed their plugs in the front portion of the crown sheet. Why? Because the heat is much more intense in the front as opposed to the rear.

To illustrate this, use the drawing of the Case boiler on page 8, Figure #1 in the May/June 2002 issue. Draw an imaginary fire in the firebox in the drawing and then consider the engine draft pulling the heat and flames forward and through the tubes. It can be understood then that the rear portion of the crown sheet would be exposed to little or no flame, and not nearly as much heat as opposed to the front portion. Therefore, unless the engine is parked and in a position where the front end is lower than the rear, this could be considered the poorer of the two choices as far as placement of the plug.

This leads to another issue that Mr. Babcock brings up, the fact that in the Case 110's trip to the fairgrounds that day it traveled on a stretch of road with a downhill grade. There again he questions why the plug didn't melt out at this point. The reason being, I feel quite simply, that the engine was kept moving. The water in a traction engine boiler that is traveling at operating speed is constantly working back and forth, and in doing so has a cooling effect on the crown sheet. Additionally, remember that the road the engine made its final trip on was hard surfaced, which would have shaken the boiler severely and agitated the water to a greater degree.

Let me point out that this scenario is entirely different than the one I described in the last issue, where boiler water washing up over an over-heated crown sheet can actually cause an explosion.

I feel there is an underlying issue here that needs to be mentioned regarding the fusible plug. I think it should be noted that the fusible plug in general should not be relied upon. We should know that we have good viable plugs in our boilers, but to put too much confidence in them I think may give a false sense of security and is poor operating practice.

A Response, and More on Reeves Engines
Gary Yaeger,
1120 Leisha Lane, Kalispell, MT 59901 (e-mail:, writes again:

Mr. Aldrich. If you are going to quote me, please do it with some accuracy. You totally changed the meaning of my statement regarding Mr. Payton. You stated that I said of Mr. Payton that, 'He had another agenda - namely, shutting down engines with weak boilers.' In fact, I said, '...namely, shutting down engines he feels have weak boilers.' There is a vast difference. I have heard he favors nothing under 0.325-inch in thickness - many engines never had that in places from the factory, and I will bet that the ogee corners in most Case water legs never had that as an original thickness.

Mr. Aldrich was also upset with my statement, '... it can't be done.' I would invite him to join forces with Mr. Payton and show me one case where a crown sheet has blown down with water on the crown sheet

I would also like him to examine my statement regarding, '... a good engineer, with a marginal boiler, versus a marginal engineer with a brand new Canadian Special butt-strap boiler.' I agree with him that neither of these are ideal circumstances, and I don't advocate either. But, if I had to steer an engine for either of these engineers, I would pick the one with the good engineer.

Were you asking me if it were not 'possible' that the stay-bolt holes were oval due to the stay bolts pulling out of the crown sheet? Because if so, my answer is no. Only red hot metal will blow out oval.

Yaeger Photo #5: Early Reeves 32 HP cross-compound owned by Banks & Featherly of Dillon, Mont., pulling a 12-bottom Reeves steam lift plow.

Mr. Payton made a statement at a public meeting just days before the Medina incident: 'If one of these things (traction engines) ever blows up in public, they will all be 'setting in the hedgerow.'' We don't have hedgerow in Montana, but it doesn't sound like a very nice place to me. Tell me why engines are being offered for sale in Pennsylvania - just to get them out of Mr. Payton's jurisdiction? Why does Mr. Payton now (since last July) have to have department approval to lower pressure on traction engines in his jurisdiction? Have you considered moving your engine(s) across the state line to Pennsylvania for safety's sake?

I didn't realize my safety record was the one in question. I have never so much as melted a fusible plug. I have run engines at quite a few different shows. I have never been asked to refrain from operating the engine I was engineering. In the engine I am operating, you will always find one-quarter to one-half glass of water; plus water in the tanks, and steam enough to run the injector or pump. And, the engines and engineer are inspected by the state of Montana.