Best Steam Traction Engine and Best Harvester

Best steam traction engine and combined harvester star at California show

| June 2000

  • The harvester during renovation, about a year ago
    The harvester during renovation, about a year ago. In 1907, the "Century" harvester/steamer package, complete with a 110 hp traction engine, harvester and water wagon, sold for $8,300. As a point of comparison, gasoline sold then for about 3 cents a gallon.
  • Detail of lettering on the renovated harvester
    Detail of lettering on the renovated harvester.
    Photo by Lorry Dunning
  • The second oldest Best engine known
    The harvester has a 38-inch cylinder, 54-inch separator shoe, and a 25-foot header. The harvester is 22 feet wide, 19 feet tall, and 38 feet long. It's currently powered by a four-cylinder gas engine; the second oldest Best engine known of. It's serial number 55; built in 1912.
    Photo by Lorry Dunning
  • The Best weighs 11 tons
    1906 Best Steam Traction Engine's wheels are eight feet in diameter, and five feet wide. The Best weighs 11 tons.
  • Disassembly is the first step
    The first step in restoring the harvester? Disassembly, then sandblasting with walnut shells.
  • A crew of volunteers at work on the header
    A crew of volunteers at work on the header.
    Photo by Lorry Dunning

  • The harvester during renovation, about a year ago
  • Detail of lettering on the renovated harvester
  • The second oldest Best engine known
  • The Best weighs 11 tons
  • Disassembly is the first step
  • A crew of volunteers at work on the header

Two giants will heave open a window to the past this June. The two – a 1906 Best Steam Traction Engine, pulling a 1907 Best Steam Combined Harvester – will be put through their paces in a California wheat field.

Organizers of the Bygone Farming Days Show, or the Best Show, (Held each summer in Woodland, Calif.) plan to illustrate the complete cycle of food production.

"We hope to take the grain they harvest, run it through the grist mill, make flour, use that to make bread-sticks, and bake them in a pueblo oven," says Lorry Dunning, historical consultant for the Golden State Farm Education Center. "And we may even churn butter for the bread. A lot of people just don't know where their food and fiber comes from."

An admirable undertaking, to be sure. But even the aroma of baking bread will offer little distraction for those watching the two giants lumber back to life. Just two Best steam traction engines with agricultural wheels are known of; the other one is not operational. And the '07 Best Harvester? No others – in any condition – are known of.



The Best Harvester is a relic from an era long since passed. But as recently as the late 1950s, it was a working part of a California farm operation.

McClellan Lovelace, who farmed in the Tulare Lake Basin, was the original owner of the harvester. Detailed records have been hard to come by, but Dunning believes Lovelace purchased the harvester about 1907, and continued using it until 1958.