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12 HP Lansing Steam Engine From 1898: A Steamer With Four-Wheel Drive

Chain and sprocket got wheels rolling

| July/August 2006

  • Lansing_4WD-Norbeck
    The Lansing Iron and Engine Works, of Lansing, Mich., created this 12 HP steam engine from 1898 that attempted to harness the power of four-wheel drive.
    Photograph courtesy of Jack Norbeck, author of the Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines
  • Lansing-4-wheel-drive
    The 12 HP Lansing steam engine used a chain to drive a large sprocket turning in a carrier bolted to the bottom of the boiler.  
    Photograph courtesy of Jack Norbeck, author of the Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines

  • Lansing_4WD-Norbeck
  • Lansing-4-wheel-drive

The potential advantages of four-wheel drive didn’t escape the notice of early steam traction engine manufacturers.

Lansing Iron & Engine Works, Lansing, Mich., used a chain to drive a large sprocket turning in a carrier bolted to the bottom of the boiler. The axle keyed into the sprocket, and also used the sprocket as its pivot point. However, with no front differential, one wheel would drag in a turn.

This 12 HP, 1898 Lansing, the only known example, once belonged to Iron-Men Album founder, Rev. Elmer Ritzman, who kept it on display in his “Korn Krib,” a museum he maintained at his home in Enola, Pa.

Lansing started making traction engines about 1883, but in 1898 the company shut its doors. It’s unknown how many engines Lansing built, as no company records have survived.





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