STEAM PLOWING

60 HP & 90 HP steam engines

Photo taken by Jack C. Norbeck at the Williams Grove Historical Steam Engine Association show, Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Jack C. Norbeck

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117 Ruch St., Coplay, Pennsylvania 18037.

This article was taken from The Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines.

At left, a Frick built in 1926, 60 HP, owned by Dean Deibert of Gratz, Pa., pulling a four disk IH plow. At right, a 90 HP A. D. Baker built in 1928, pulling a five bottom Oliver plow, owner Samuel Kolva Sr., Elizabethville, Pa.

In 1858, J. W. Fawkes of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, took his steam plow to Illinois and won most of the big prizes being offered at that time for a successful steam plow. The next year Mr. Fawkes went back to Illinois with a new model. He went over to Moline, Illinois, bought eight John Deere plows, then bolted them together to use with his steam traction plow for his winning demonstration in Chicago, against Mr. Waters of Detroit and Mr. Van Doren of Chicago in the famous U. S. Agricultural Society contest in 1859.

That same year, President Lincoln was invited to the Wisconsin State Fair to make the main address. He talked about the steam plow, what he thought it should be like, and the results to American agriculture that would follow its development. He said, 'The successful application of steam-power to farm work is a desideratum especially a steam plow. It is not enough that a machine operated by steam will really plow. To be successful, it must, all things considered, plow better than can be done by animal power. It must do all the work well, and cheaper, or more rapidly, so as to get through more perfectly in season; or in some way afford an advantage over plowing with animals, else it is no success.'

In 1860, an Illinois farm paper reported what it called, 'the first actual success in steam plowing in America.' The steam plow ran 23 minutes, stopped six minutes for wood, ran 13 minutes, stopped eight minutes for water, ran one minute. It plowed 2.63 acres in 72 minutes, using six of a gang of 13 plows. The crew consisted of a man and team to supply fuel and water, a fireman, two to manage the plows, and one of the inventors.

Philander H. Standish's first steam plow was completed at Martinez, California, in 1867, and was subsequently patented in the United States, England, France and Russia. Standish and his steam plow won awards at the Mechanics' Industrial Fair in San Francisco in 1868 and 1869. He tested and experimented on various terrains and soils, attracting the attention of O. C. Coffin, a miller of Contra Costa County, California. The latter agreed to finance the building of a second plow in Boston, with Charles F. Coffin, a Boston businessman, to serve as general agent. The partnership of Coffin and Standish was consummated in February, 1870.

In accordance with his agreement with the Coffins, Standish went to Boston to engineer and supervise the building of a steam plow similar to the California model. Upon completion of the project, the machine was shipped to New Orleans early in 1871, where it was tested on a nearby tract of cotton and cane land. The plantation owner, General Davidson, was apparently favorably impressed; he supposedly asked Standish to build a special plow for his Poydras Plantation. Fate dealt cruelly with the career of Standish at this point; the General was killed in a railway accident before arrangements had been completed for the new plow. Further complications and discouragements caused Standish to interrupt his work on the steam plow in 1872 and to move to Missouri, where he perfected a chain-making machine and entered that new business at Jefferson City, Missouri. Although he continued to test his steam plow from time to time, and never surrendered his dreams, he was unable to conclude the work successfully.

Although there were many attempts at steam plowing and some partial successes during those years, with 13 patents granted in 1871 alone, 1876 is generally considered the birth date of the steam traction engine in the U.S.A. The steam traction engine replaced the steam plow.

The advent of the steam traction engine started the use of the tractor plows, early in the present century. The multiple engine gangs large, heavy plows intended for use with steam traction engines were among the first types produced. These plows, ranging in size from six to fourteen bottoms, met with farmer approval and broke many a section of western prairie. It is obvious, of course, to anyone who follows the trend in farm machinery, that the large steam traction engine with the multiple gang must, in time, make way for the more easily adaptable smaller outfit. The large steam traction engine had one field purpose only it would draw the multiple engine plow. With this type of power, custom plowing was the rule.

In England they used two cable plowing steam traction engines and the cable plow would travel safely at four miles per hour plowing through good soil. Cable plowing in North America was not used because of the hills. In the western part of North America, cable plowing was not adapted to the large grain fields of the West. The length of the furrow was usually measured in half-miles rather than in rods, and the English plows with their short strings of cable were grossly inadequate. By 1870, there were 3,000 steam cable plowing outfits in operation in England and only four operations in the United States. A Southern planter, Henry E. Lawrence, used one of these plowing outfits on his 1,000-acre sugar estate near New Orleans.

John J. Holp, 7543 Delisle-Fourman Rd., Arcanum, Ohio 45304 sent these pictures of several engines at the Darke County Steam Threshers Association Inc. Show at Greenville, Ohio.

The general use of cable-type steam ploughs was widespread in Germany around the 1890s, and they were still being used for reclaiming peat land in the 1970s.

The Peerless 1893 steam plowing outfit was guaranteed to be able to plow as much soil in the same time, to an equal depth, as could be done with six three-horse teams, provided the soil was firm enough to carry the engine, free from stumps and rocks, not too wet, and having no grades over one foot rise in ten and good fuel and water were provided.

The 1912 John Deere steam traction engine plow was made with 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, or 14 bottoms. Each lever lifted two bottoms. It was furnished complete with hitch chains ready for the engine. Among the more prominent and exclusive features were the two-bottom lift, screw clevises and quick detachable shares.

It wasn't until later, when smaller, cheaper and more adaptable engines were developed, that individual farmers would be able to obtain their own tractors and do their own plowing.