Celebrating Steam Traction Engine Heritage

Restoration of a 1909 Lang & Button traction engine launched a new focus for a New York steam club.


| May 2015



Lang & Button steam traction engine

The restored Lang & Button. The engine has two 35-gallon water tanks. The boiler draws water through steam injection from the bottom tank; the top tank is used to fill the bottom tank on the platform.

Photo by Leslie C. McManus

When the New York Steam Engine Assn. Inc. got the opportunity to buy the steam engine that’s featured in the club’s logo, it was a no-brainer. The engine had been present at the club’s first show, in 1960, and it was a rare New York-built piece, the only Lang & Button known to exist.

Enthusiasm built quickly for restoration of the engine, which had not been run since 1976. More quickly than anyone thought possible, donations topped the $50,000 mark. “We got a lot of publicity,” says Rick Finley, association vice president. “There were a lot of people interested in that engine.”

But no one predicted the momentum the project would generate. Paint on the freshly restored Lang & Button was barely dry in August 2014, when the club took on a new project: restoration of an A.W. Stevens engine built before 1900. “The Lang & Button really got the ball rolling,” Rick says. “Restoration of these historic engines turned out to be something the club really wants to pursue.”

The Stevens engine was offered as part of a 2014 auction. The club authorized expenditure of up to $12,500 toward purchase, but as bids blew past that figure, club members and others stepped up to the plate with on-the-spot donations. When the final gavel fell, the club owned the engine, which sold for more than $29,000. Since then, the club has raised $74,500 in donations to underwrite restoration. “It’s amazing to me,” Rick marvels. “I would never have believed that possible six months ago.”

Designed for belt work

The Lang & Button was manufactured in 1909 in Ithaca, New York, about 60 miles from Canandaigua. The 12 hp traction engine was designed primarily for belt work. “You could steer and drive it,” Rick says, “and it would do some light pulling, but no plowing or heavy drawbar work.”

No definitive records exist, but the club believes the engine was used in a Pennsylvania sawmill. Certainly it was the appropriate size for that application, and Rick says the wear found on the engine is consistent with sawmill work.