Log Hauling in California in the 1880s

Searching for Clues to English Engines in the Woods of California


| May/June 2003



Portable engine

Two trailers with some big timber on board seem to have been all in a day's work for 10 HP Aveling & Porter steam engine 2146 of 1886.

Photo courtesy Department of Special Collections, University of California Library Davis

As a result of seeing an advertisement for the book Steam Power on California Roads and Farms (1858-1911) in Iron-Men Album, I purchased a copy. The author is Jack Alexander, Gilroy, Calif., and my particular interest in the book was that I knew a venerable Aveling & Porter 6 HP steam traction engine, number 916 of 1873, still existed in California. It had been found in the woods near Red Bluff, Calif., by Lloyd Burr in the mid- to late 1950s and subsequently renovated.

I was also aware that it was presently located in the Arthur Bright collection near Le Grand, Calif., and that in this important collection it was accompanied by a very early and delightful little Brown & May portable steam engine (for which no number has been established) a relatively recent import that at one time was one of the large number of engines that were owned by the late Chris Lambert at Horsmonden in Kent, England.

An inspection of this engine at Le Grand by David and Paul Viewing (custodians of the 'Iron Dinosaur' -the remains of the circa 1865 tram engine that came out of a Staffordshire mine) revealed it to have a 'Z' type of base to the firebox i.e., no foundation ring, and this appeared to be original, not a result of being re-boxed in America. The remains of a boiler of the fifth-wheel steer engine identified on a remote Welsh mountain top near Blaenau Festiniog also has a firebox of this nature. These two obviously connected facts perhaps serve to illustrate that our current knowledge of the construction of some of the early traction engines is very scant, and we should not assume they were all constructed as we see them today.

As I awaited the arrival of Jack Alexander's book, I hoped he might have found out something more about this remarkable Californian Aveling & Porter survivor or that his book might even contain details of other English products, particularly Fowler plowing engines, that were known to have made their way to the West Coast of America in the early years of the last century. The Spreckles Sugar Co. of Salinas, Calif., for example, bought eight sets between 1907 and 1917, including a pair of 25 HP Z7S (super-heated) types.

Upon receiving the book I quickly looked over the chapter headings. I was disappointed, however, for although the 1873 Aveling & Porter merited its own chapter in the book, there was nothing new about it for me. What was the subject of a later chapter, however, was something quite inspiring and wholly unexpected.

The Aveling & Porter steam engine
What I found were two photos taken more than 10 years later of an Aveling & Porter steam engine in a form I had never seen before. With a huge, tapered and very non-original chimney complete with spark arrester together with an American-style locomotive headlight on the front of the smoke stack the engine looked more like a railway locomotive than a road steam engine. In one picture the engine was shown with its crew hauling logs, and the other showed the engine hauling huge timbers on two rough trailers over a trestle-style bridge in California lumber country. From other research I have carried out on Aveling engines, I recognized this engine as a big one - at least 10 HP.