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FOONOTES On Steam History

Author Photo
By Gerry Lestz

We believe that steam traction engine collectors are interested
in all historic applications of steam, whether the efforts proved
successful or not.

With that in mind, we offer a few findings toward a time when we
can put them all together for an interesting volume on steam.

In London, England, we recently saw a handsomely fabricated
vehicle, metal and wood with an appropriate gauge, in an exhibit on
the Heritage of England which presented many other displays.

This one was a three-wheeled steam tricycle called ‘The
Craigievar Express’, dated 1895. It was a machine built by the
local postman, Postie Lawson, to help him get around for his
deliveries. It has modern descendants in the three-wheel motor
carriers now used by some post persons of the U. S. Postal
Service.

The tricycle, in excellent condition, is owned by the Grampian
Transport Museum in Alford, Aberdeenshire. It was on loan to the
exhibit we saw, at the British Museum. Postcards were
available.

On another aspect of transportation with steam supplying the
power, let’s turn to aviation. The world is so accustomed to
the fact that the Wright brothers depended on a gas engine, that it
may seem strange to recall that steam had been considered for
aerial flight by prior inventors.

A steam-driven monoplane with twin propellors was invented in
1842 by W. S. Henson, an Englishman. He received a patent, but so
far as is known, the machine never flew.

In 1848 John String fellow, an Englishman, flew his own
steam-driven model in an empty factory and outdoors, but apparently
he did not build a full-sized plane.

Otto Lilienthal, who made hundreds of glider flights until his
death in 1896, had built a power airplane which he never flew.

Prof. Samuel P. Langley, in whose honor Langley Field was later
named, experimented with airplanes powered by motors of compressed
air, carbonic acid gas, and steam. He made a model with a miniature
steam engine which flew a minute and a half for about a half-mile
over the Potomac at Washington, and another which flew a little
further, in 1896.

He was encouraged by government officials to build a man-sized
plane and did so, using an internal combustion engine. This failed,
as did a second, in 1903.

The Wright Brothers became expert with gliders before they made
their successful effort for powered flight. Deciding on an internal
combustion engine as appropriate, they asked makers of automobiles,
and of other gas engines, to design one for them. When they were
turned down, they went ahead and built their own. On December 17,
1903, they made their historic breakthrough at Kitty Hawk and a new
era was on its way.

Published on Jan 1, 1990

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment