A panel of formally-dressed engineers, reviewing intricately-detailed salesman’s samples … was that really the way farm equipment was designed and inspected a century ago? Probably not. Most advertising of the era, including this 1907 magazine advertisement for Case equipment, tended to embellish reality.
The reality was that operation of a steam traction engine was hot, dirty and hard work. In spite of the flaws of steam engines (and there were plenty: Steamers were not energy efficient, could take up to two hours to reach operating pressure, were dangerous, belched clouds of noxious smoke, and because of their great mass, often crashed through the floors of rural bridges), there was a time when they were the only game in town.
Case was a long-time leader in manufacture of steam traction engines and threshing machines. In 1904, the company was the first to produce an all-steel thresher. The same basic design of that model continued in use until 1953, when Case ended production of threshing machines.
Just five years after this advertisement appeared, manufacturers like Case surveyed the end of an era. Though steamers were commonly used into the 1930s, by 1912 the tide had turned. In a 1912 competition, notes Randy Leffingwell in The Illustrated History of the American Farm Tractor, ‘of 28 tractors entered, only four were steamers and even the best of these, a J.I. Case 36 hp model, was outperformed by a Rumely Type E two-cylinder and an Aultman & Taylor 30-60.’