When Abner D. Baker founded the A.D. Baker Co., Swanton, Ohio, in 1901 (company catalogs said 1900, perhaps to give the company a longer lineage), the era of steam was at its height. Steam traction engines ruled the agricultural landscape, and Baker, who is said to have had no more than a standard education, quickly built his company into one of the most highly regarded manufacturers of steam traction engines in the United States.
During its heyday, Baker built numerous steam traction engines, most famously the 19-65, 21-75 and 23-90 HP Baker Uniflow engines, all of which employed the famous Baker valve gear, which was also used extensively on steam-powered railroad engines.
The engines found in this article’s image gallery – a contractors engine and a road roller – were featured in the company’s 1927 catalog, along with Baker’s developing line of gas-powered tractors. The future, Baker knew, wasn’t with steam, but still the company didn’t seem eager to abandon its roots by dropping steam engines altogether. The road roller, which carried a 19-65 HP rating, is especially interesting, as few have survived.
All Baker engines at this time used compensating and intermediate gears with same-length hubs. In practical terms this meant the gears could be swapped when wear became obvious, giving the gears a new contact face. Ingenious but simple, this type of engineering was a hallmark of Baker engines.
Other features on the road roller included concaved wheels, with the rear rollers overlapping the front by 4 inches on each side and a crown of 1-1/2 inches over the width of the rollers. Baker claimed this made their road roller easier to steer on crowned roads, and of course it also meant a Baker road roller would pack a crown into any new surface it was preparing.
According to Robert T. Rhode and Judge Raymond L. Drake in Classic American Steam Rollers, Baker built 157 10-ton road rollers between 1909 and 1927. The best year was 1916, with 33 produced, while none were produced between 1920 and 1925, and only two were made in 1926, and again in 1927.
This was the last annual catalog to feature the Baker road roller, and a few years later, in 1929, Baker steam engines appeared in the Baker catalog for the last time.
Baker continued in business manufacturing gas tractors, threshers and other farm equipment until World War II, after which the company quietly closed its doors.