Steam Engine Compensating Gears

The Rough & Tumble

W.J. Eshleman

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722 East End Ave., Lancaster, Pa. 17602.

As to who invented the first differential used by automobiles, I am unable to state, however, as to the steam traction engine, the use of which preceded the automobile, it appears that here in Lancaster County we have two Pennsylvania Germans whose names should appear with the early inventors.

In the automobile the differential is in the center of the rear axle. In the steam engine it is in the one rear wheel and is termed 'compensating gears'. The two men of this story worked on this project in different parts of the county and it is doubtful if either one knew of the other.

The first man we refer to is Eli Yost (1845-1904) who lived north of New Holland, Pa. He was an early thresherman and operated a cider mill which was powered by a 25 H.P. Springfield gasoline engine.

Mr. Elias Beiler of Leola, Pa., is a local historian and grandson of Reuben Z. Stoltzfus (1878-1962) who was a well-known thresherman and stone quarry operator. In his career he owned six different steam engines, and at one time had two threshing rigs on the road during the season. He was the first thresherman in the area to power his stationary baler from the shaft of the thresher cylinder. Since here in the East most threshing was done in the barn, this power arrangement became a necessity.

I cite the above to give credibility to the story he told his grandson, Elias Beiler, who now tells the following concerning Eli Yost. It appears that Eli Yost owned an early steam engine, which we assume was a traction, but without any compensating gears. (Perhaps only one rear wheel drove, with a chain.) Yost designed a compensating mechanism which he wanted to have made to install on his engine. Since in Lancaster the Best Engine and Foundry was building stationary steam engines, Yost called there and showed his plan to either Frank or Abe Landis, who were the top designers at Best. He was turned down cold, but his mind was unchanged and he apparently contacted someone in New York City. Eli Yost again contacted the Landis' and so insistent on having his compensating design built, that he said if Landis would not make it, he was prepared to take the next train for New York where he could have it built. When Landis saw that Yost was stubbornly serious, he agreed to build it. Eli Yost took it home and installed it on his engine and we understand it worked. He never received any money for what might have made him a wealthy man, and here the story of Eli Yost ends.

Elias Beiler and the writer called on Stanley Moore, who is 81 years of age and a second generation blacksmith. He says he remembers Eli Yost coming to his father's blacksmith shop, and we can assume that some work on this pioneer invention may have been done at the blacksmith shop of Jacob Moore (the father of Stanley).

Soon both Frank and Abe Landis left Lancaster and went sixty-five miles over the mountains of Pennsylvania to Waynesboro, where they developed and built the Peerless steam engine for Peter Geiser (who had tired of selling Frick engines with his threshers).

As to whether the Landis' used the Eli Yost design on the Peerless steam engine we are unable to say, but we can certainly surmise that it would have been possible. In any event, it would appear that there could have been for improvement, since another Pennsylvania German in the southern end of Lancaster County perfected the idea and made a model, but it was never used.

Enos M. Hostetter (1862-1929) lived north of Quarryville, Pa., and he designed and perfected a differential, which he planned to patent and sell to the Geiser Mfg. Company in Waynesboro, Pa. However, Mr. Hostetter was never able to profit from his dream. It so happened that he was a staunch member of the Old Order of River Brethren Church (President Dwight Eisenhower's ancestors were members of this church) and when it became known that he had perfected his model and was ready to patent it, the church fathers being very conservative, frowned on the idea; and advised Brother Hostetter to remain aloof from the new fangled industrial revolution, even though it applied to agriculture, which was then sweeping the country.

As an obedient member of his church, he set aside the model of his steam engine differential and remained behind his plow, and spent the rest of his days as a successful farmer on his farm at New Providence, Pa.

The writer being familiar with this latter story, went to the auction or sale of his son Roy Hostetter about twenty years ago. The differential model was there, and when the auctioneer held it up he said, 'If you name it and a price, you can have it.' No one could guess what it was. I purchased it very reasonably and named it, after I had bought, to the surprise of everyone. It will be on display in the museum of the Rough & Tumble Engineers Historical Association, at Kinzer, Pa., and you all can see it at the Old Thresherman's Reunion next August.

The above stories are as true as the memories of those who lived during the times stated, but we believe they are reasonably accurate since they fit in with some former research.