Story by Jeff Merritt, photos by Peter Fellman, reprinted
with permission from the Norwalk Reflector, Norwalk, Ohio
A tribute to the bygone days of farming is ready to be
Ted Smith is putting the finishing touches on an 1899 steam
engine tractor that has recently been fixed up and will make its
debut at the Berlin Heights Basket Festival this weekend (August
The engine, built by the Advance Thresher Company, of Battle
Creek, Michigan, is also a fitting project for the Smith family,
which has lived and worked with the machines for more than 100
‘I grew up around them ever since I was a little
shaver,’ said Smith’s father, Lloyd Sr., as his son bolted
tractor tire treads onto the engine’s antique iron wheels
Wednesday. The treads will make the grueling five-mile drive to
Berlin Heights on Saturday a little smoother.
Lloyd Smith and his brother, Lyle, grew up using similar
steam-driven tractors to thresh wheat on their farm in the 1930s.
Years later, the pair used to take a giant 1923 engine which Lyle
owned to fairs and other agricultural shows.
About 25 years ago, Lloyd Smith bought and restored the Advance
Thresher model. Although it would run, the boiler needed work and
the tractor was never safe enough to drive, his son said.
The family lost interest in the old behemoth until last year,
when they asked an engineer to come down and repair the boiler. And
now that it’s fixed, the Smiths are eager to let people see
The seven-ton tractor stands 7 feet wide by about 18 feet long,
and is made of wrought iron and cast iron, said Ted Smith, who runs
T&T Tire in Collins.
The steam engine is powered by a wood or coal fire which burns
in a small chamber at the back of the tractor, Smith explained. The
fire heats a series of 40 long metal tubes that are immersed in
Once the tubes are hot enough, the water becomes steam and the
engine comes alive.
Old steam engines have been likened to oxen, Smith said, because
farmers could run them using what they could grow themselves. The
fire could be stoked with wood, and the engine could be lubricated
with oil made from beef fat.
The engine is the turn-of-the-century equivalent to the modern
tractor, but Smith said the machine was used for many other duties
as well. Using a large flywheel on its side, it served as a
stationary power unit for threshing wheat and crushing rocks. It
could also be used to grade roads and move buildings, he said.
Steam engines as old as the 1899 model are rare now because many
were melted down for scrap metal during World War II, Smith said.
He said there were only a couple of engines older than theirs when
they showed it off at the National Threshers Association convention
in Wauseon last month.
‘Well, we got a lot of good comments,’ Lloyd Smith
With a top speed of less than three miles an hour, the smallest
trip on the tractor is an adventure, and Smith said he will leave
his shop in Collins at 7 a.m., Saturday to make it to Berlin
Heights in time to show off the machine before the 1:30 p.m.
Smith is also fixing up an antique trailer of sorts which the
engine might have pulled behind it to carry extra water and fuel;
he said the machine can go through 60 gallons of water in anywhere
from nine to 90 minutes, depending on the work load.
An old threshing machine will also join the engine Saturday,
creating a complete farming outfit the likes of which might have
been seen in a field in the late 19th century. Smith said he will
bring along some wheat to the Basket Festival to show how the
engine can be used to run the thresher.
The antique ensemble will also appear at the Erie and Huron
County Fairs and at a show in Wellington later in the summer.
Ted Smith’s address is P.O. Box 680,Norwalk, OH