Jack Norbeck traveled more than 50,000 miles getting information for his Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines.
For eight years he devoted his free time to this project, visiting 45 shows ranging from Ontario in the north to Florida in the south to Iowa in the west.
The result was worth the effort.
The book is a pictorial history of North America steam traction engines, the 320 pages containing more than 1,200 photographs. Every known American and Canadian engine builder is detailed and illustrated.
Of real value to steam engine enthusiasts is a 14-page directory of shows held throughout the United States and Canada, effective 1975. Also included are addresses to which to write for information about shows in Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand.
Norbeck lists steam engine manufacturers from A to Z, with a short history of each firm and pictures of engines they have built. There are thumbnail sketches of the founders of some firms. If you ever wondered how a particular business began and managed to survive, or not, this book is a good source of information.
He also develops a chronological evolution of U.S. steam traction engines from 1849 to 1907.
In addition to data about engines there are short, interesting sections on threshers, balers, saw mills, plows, test equipment, calliopes, water wagons and line-ups.
The author sets the beginning of the agricultural revolution in the middle of the 19th century when new types of machines were developed for use with horses to replace hand labor on the farm. From this he goes into a discussion of different types of horses. He gives short histories of various breeds; the Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire, and Suffolk. And did you know that one of the earliest sponsors of the mule in the United States was George Washington, who also left no direct descendants?
Jack Norbeck's background makes him well qualified for a book of this kind. His grandfather left what is today a thriving dairy farm in Pennsylvania. He visited farm shows with his uncles and became intrigued by steam engines.
He belongs to the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association of Kinzers, Pennsylvania and the Williams Grove Historical Steam Engine Association of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
Norbeck has been in contact with steam engine owners, museum curators, farm editors, agricultural professors, manufacturers and auctioneers and is steeped in the lore of the steam traction engine.
He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut where he majored in Dairy Manufacturing. He has also worked as a dispensing optician.
In his introduction the author states that his purpose is to present 'a collection of North American steam traction engines that are operational today plus information about the makes with no examples in existence today.'
He accomplished his purpose and more.
The book bears the stamp of diligent research and is obviously a labor of love. The illustrations alone are worth the price.
It would be nice if Norbeck had another book in his system.