The Age of Steam Powered Plowing In Northern GERMANY

A steam powered locomotive

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42a D-2 Hamburg 20 Federal Republic of Germany

Now on display in the Cloppenburg Farm Village Museum in Lower Saxony near Bremen, this majestic steam locomotive represents the age of steam powered plowing in northern Germany. This particular steam locomotive was in operation for almost 40 years. It weighs 21 tons and used 160 kilos of coal an hour to produce steam from 1100 liters of water a day.

Initial efforts to adapt steam locomotives to plowing had failed until John Fowler, an Englishman, developed the two machine system which was exhibited at the 1862 London World's Fair. This system required that two steam locomotives be placed parallel to each other and up to 600 meters apart. A steel cable to which the plow was attached, ran between them. The plow was pulled back and forth between the two locomotives at a speed of up to .02 meters per second or about 700 meters per hour depending on the prevailing land conditions and depth requirements of the job at hand.

The steam powered plowing system was introduced in Germany in 1868 by the German engineer and collaborator of Fowler, Max Eyth. Private ownership of these massive steam locomotives was prohibitively expensive, consequently service companies provided the machines and crews on a contract basis. By 1907, 415 of these companies were in operation in Germany. In northern Germany steam powered plowing was primarily used in sugar beet cultivation in the Hildesheim - Braunschweig area.

Dampfseilpflug-Lokomotive, a steam powered locomotive was part of a pair used in northern Germany in steam powered plowing.

The introduction and success of the smaller oil and finally diesel powered tractors eventually made steam powered plowing of beet fields impractical and for the most part the system became obsolete even before. the outbreak of World War II.

The beginning of the post war years brought about renewed interest in the potential of these mammoth steam locomotives to create new farm lands. Agriculture had once again become important as Germany sought to rebuild its war ravaged economy. Since the 'new' Germany was now only a little over half the size of the 'old' Germany, and since most of the agricultural areas were now in the east, methods for creating new farm land, as well as for increasing the quality of existing farm land, were of primary importance.

At the time, large areas of northern Germany still consisted of heath, moor and bog lands. Most of the work of turning heaths and moors into farm land had to be done by hand until the introduction of steam powered plowing for this otherwise slow, tedious and hard work proved particularly successful in not only creating more arable land but also in improving the quality of the topsoil produced. The use of these massive locomotives enabled peat areas to be plowed up to a depth of 1.20 meters (4 feet) which produced a rich topsoil consisting of the optimum mixture of peat to sand of 2:1.

Eventually however, Germany was faced with another problem partly as a result of the success of the steam powered plowing system a surplus in farm production. By the 1960's, the steam powered locomotives used for plowing were finally retired from active service after a long and successful history in northern Germany.