Steam Traction Magazine Keeps Focus on Engines, Even as Landscape Changes

Letting Off Steam: A letter from the editor

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Sixty years ago, Rev. Elmer Ritzman launched The Farm Album, the precursor to Steam Traction. Ritzman, who uniquely combined the qualities of a dyed-in-the-wool steam man with those of the ministry, wasn’t just looking back at lost glory days; he was looking forward, because he knew there were many good days still to come.

Along with a small, but celebrated, group of ardent steamers like Arthur S. Young, “Steam Engine” Joe Rynda, Titus Brubaker, LeRoy Blaker and Chris Busch, Ritzman was in the thick of what was then a renaissance of interest in agricultural steam.

In 1946, the timeline to the working days of steam was short. World War II was a fresh wound, and before the war, steam had still been a fact of life on many farms. But after the war, the agricultural landscape was changing, and quickly.

Gas-powered tractors were the order of the day, and modern combines did the work of several machines. The old days of the harvest, of steam engines belching smoke into the sky as wheat was fed into the thresher, had drawn to a close.

Ritzman, and people like him, was determined to make sure the old ways and the culture of steam were kept alive.

Steam and threshing reunions were popping up literally overnight, and in 1950 The Farm Album, a quarterly, became The Iron-Men Album and started printing six times a year. That schedule has been followed for 56 years.

Now, as we prepare for the 61st year of publication, it’s time to reexamine the landscape as we work forward.

Steam traction engines and threshing are as popular as ever at farm shows and reunions, but there’s no denying it’s getting harder to play with our engines. As the costs of insuring, transporting and maintaining engines continue to climb, the pool of people who can bear the cost of ownership is getting smaller.

We face similar difficulties with Steam Traction. With rising paper costs (almost 30 percent in the last few years) and postage increases, it’s become increasingly difficult to deliver Steam Traction six times a year. Beginning with the next issue, we’ve decided to consolidate and deliver four larger issues every year.

Yes, it means fewer issues of your favorite steam magazine, but we’re committed to keeping the past and present of steam alive, and we’ll be redoubling our efforts to make sure that each and every issue contains the kind of stories you’ve come to expect in Steam Traction. And we’re looking forward to delivering on that expectation for years to come.

The good days, as Ritzman knew, are still to come.