A Real Steam Booster

| May/June 1989

Threshing with help of steam engine

(The following is a letter which appeared in the May-June 1932 issue of American Thresherman and Farm Equipment. It was sent to us by W. E. Neal, 613 8th Ave., Charles City, IA 50616 who suggested we reprint it. Possibly the author is still alive and will respond!)

The letter which appeared in a recent issue of American Thresher-man and Farm Equipment entitled 'Can Steam Come Back?' is not entirely in accord with my ideas upon the subject of whether or not the steam engine can come back into a profitable position in agricultural production again.

For me, it most emphatically can and will return to contribute a major part in the profitable and may I say, pleasurable execution of the farming enterprise. Since I understand how well it fits into my farm management program, I can see no good reason why it could not just as well be employed by many other farmers as profitably, for saving labor, speeding agricultural production with a minimum of expense as compared to the now-popular and much-lauded gas tractor.

I am of three generations of steam engineers. The steam traction engine has been a prominent factor in my environment; an important contributor in the economy of my father's ranches and those of my grandfather's out here on these rolling Palouse hills, ever since the bunch grass was first turned under and flax and timothy were the principal crops grown. We have all been steam engineers, as well as horsemen; for the old steamer and the horse have been necessary here.

The engine singing in steaming syllables, its shrill chiming whistle, and the mighty response of the steam throttle take hold on a man with a thrill and satisfaction that no mere piece of automotive equipment can possibly give. I have worked with both under practical field conditions for a considerable number of years, and feel that I may be qualified to speak. I am 26 years of age and in my senior year at the State Agricultural College. I shall return to take up farming as my life work upon graduating.

With the advent of the gas tractor, manufacturers saw the opportunity to greatly increase sales simply because the gas tractor requires the attention of only one man to operate it, and that operator does not have to have as much training and skill to operate a tractor as does the steam engineer. Therefore, virtually every farm was a potential market for one or more tractors, whereas only one farm in one or two dozen would probably ever own a steam engine under its old state of development with its complement of water 'buck' and steam, fireman, and steersman (for traction work). Certainly, manufacturers would naturally push so great a potential market to the limit! Manufacturers and farmers must have been convinced that the steam engine of 15 or 20 years ago had reached its highest possible development and efficiency, for it was quickly dropped and attention was turned entirely to the gas tractor as the solution of the farm power problem.