American Steam Wagon

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A view inside the Morgan Motor Company, Worcester, Mass., date unknown.
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Morgan steam wagons on parade, presumably someplace in Worcester, Mass., date unknown.

Never heard of the Morgan Motor Company? Don’t feel bad,
because until these photos came to our attention, neither had
we.

Walter Jones, an antique engine enthusiast from Northboro,
Mass., has had these photos in his possession for almost 20 years,
but in that time has yet to uncover any information about these
steam wagons. His detective work has borne some fruit, however.

Heald Machine Tool Company

Walter has learned the Morgan Motor Company was part of Heald
Machine Tool Company, Worcester, Mass. James N. Heald, a third
generation blacksmith, took over the reins of the family company in
the late 1800s, and in 1903 he moved the company from its roots in
Heald Village, Mass., to Worcester. An interest in engines appears
to have driven Heald’s work, evidenced by his 1905 invention of
a rotary grinder for machining piston rings, followed by
development of an internal grinder for machining cylinder bores
that paved the way for mass production of engines. Heald’s
machine tool contributions landed him a spot in the Machine Tool
Hall of Fame at the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt.

With that kind of background, you’d think it would be easy
to find information on Heald’s foray into steam, but so far
that’s not been the case. Calls to the Worcester Historical
Society have yielded no further information, and discussions with
East Coast steamers have, similarly, brought no new
information.

Judging from what can be seen, the Morgan Motor Company,
Worcester, Mass., was actively engaged in the construction of
steam-powered wagons in the early part of the 20th century. No
dates of any kind appear on the photos, but the dress of the
workers suggests these pictures were taken sometime in the late
teens. The Morgan evidently used a flash boiler system as commonly
found on steam-powered automobiles of the period. Much smaller than
traditional locomotive boilers, flash boilers operated at pressures
up to 750 psi, and were so named because of their ability to reach
operating temperatures quickly, often within one minute of firing.
The engines themselves are not visible, but assuming the wagons
followed contemporary steam car practice it’s a good bet they
were two-cylinder compound engines.

It’s interesting to speculate about these photos, and the
Morgan Motor Company. Note, for instance, that the picture on the
preceding page shows five wagons at various stages of completion,
one boiler unit on a moveable cart on the floor and one evidently
complete wagon wearing the company name on its front. Now compare
that to the picture above showing six operating wagons, and one
could justifiably speculate the company made seven complete units,
and possibly no more.

Whatever the case, these photos present a compelling insight
into early steam-powered vehicles, and an interesting mystery, to
boot. If anyone out there knows more, we’d like to hear from
them.

Richard Backus is editor of Steam Traction.
Contact staeam engine enthusiast Walter Jones at: 44 School St.,
Northboro, MA 01532, or e-mail: gretwall@gis.net.

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