When Abner D. Baker entered the steam traction business in 1901, he entered an industry with history and a long line of innovations. The greats of the age of steaming (Case, C. Aultman, Geiser and Russell, to name but a few) were established names with a steady clientele for their products.
In 1901, steam was still king, and advances in steam technology had reaped benefits employed by engine builders around the country. Compound cylinders, improved traction differential gear designs and general improvements in metallurgy meant better, faster and more powerful steam traction engines for plowing and threshing duties. Baker, who supposedly never received more than a standard education, obviously had an engineer's mind, and his innovations in steam had lasting impact.
While in his early 20s, Baker left his family's farm outside of Swanton, Ohio, traveling to Akron, Ohio, then Erie, Pa., and finally Detroit, Mich., working as a machinist for other companies. He eventually returned to his Ohio roots, setting up his own shop where he worked on agricultural equipment. At some point in all this he became interested in steam and steam traction engines, building, according to at least one source, five traction engines for clients. The formation of the A.D. Baker Co., Swanton, Ohio, was the final culmination of his interests.
The Improved Baker Uniflow.A 1918 ad for the Baker Uniflow cylinder. Facing page: A 1919 ad for the Baker Superheater.
By means of valve shown in the cut, we produce an engine of low compression and late release, regardless of point of cut-off, which enables us to get more expansive force out of the steam, resulting in great economy in fuel and water consumption.
Smoke box door on a Baker photographed by charles Harthy at the Darke County Steam Threshers show in Greenville, Ohio. July 1987.
Turning his attention to increased efficiency, Baker developed a number of ingenious designs, all of which he employed in his engines. The famous 'Baker Valve Gear,' which Baker introduced around 1910, was successfully developed for use on steam powered locomotives. Baker boasted in a 1916 ad that the Baker valve gear 'will be found in use on more than 100 railroads. It will be found on the largest passenger engine in the world ...' The Baker valve gear's greatest asset was its ability to open the ports fully and quickly after only minimal travel of the piston, and its variable cutoff allowed for further, efficient use of the steam.
Around 1916 Baker developed and employed his famous 'Uniflow' cylinder, a design that allowed the steam to flow into and out of the cylinder in one direction while at the same time ensuring pressure release late in the stroke for full utilization of the steam. Interestingly, Baker simultaneously produced a standard 'counterflow' engine in which the steam entered and exited at the same end of the cylinder.
By at least 1918 the Baker Super heater was available, which, in conjunction with the Baker Uniflow cylinder, was said by Baker to reduce fuel consumption by at least 20 percent thanks to its superior use of available heat and steam.
Baker did not confine his activities to steam engines, however, turning out a successful line of separators and related farming equipment and, eventually, gasoline powered tractors. Baker steam engines sold well into the 1920s, but as steam waned and gasoline tractors became more popular, the company turned its resources toward what was obviously the future in agricultural tractors. But before putting steam to rest in 1925, Baker produced two models that, in some measure, bridged the gap between traditional steam tractors and gasoline tractors. These units, using either a cross-compound or tandem-compound engine, had self-feeding boilers with operating pressures as high as 600 psi.
A Wonderful Invention
Many Threshermen write us asking if we will furnish them with a Baker Superheater for another make of engine. We do not do this. It is a Baker feature and a big one.
The Superheater, placed in the smoke box, consists of a vertical semi-steel header, into which tubes are inserted. Steam enters through pipe A, which leads from the steam dome and passes to the front section of the header. It then passes back through the -inch pipes and forward through the 1-inch pipes into the back section of the header. Thence it passes through pipe B to the steam chest. During this travel the steam is superheated from 115 degrees to 185 degrees Fahr., depending upon the load the engine is pulling. At average threshing, with reverse hooked up well towards center, the degree of superheat is about 135. This superheat means a saving in both fuel and water of 16 to 21%.
By taking the moisture out of the steam it is necessary to generate about 20% less than without the superheater. X his means less water and less coal, making it easier on the boiler.
The Baker uniflow with superheater will overcome your 'pulling over' troubles.
'How do you clean the flues?' will be your first query. The combustion is so good that very little soot accumulates in the flues. Several of our customers say they clean them twice in a season, but we recommend cleaning them once a week. Clean part of them from smoke box end and the rest through fire door. It is a labor saver one cleaning instead of six a week.
We guarantee that your engine, old or new, if not a Baker, is using at least 20% more fuel and water than a uniflow with superheater. And say, Mr. Thresherman, we can 'make good.'
Richard Backus is editor of Steam Traction. Contact him at: 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265, or e-mail: email@example.com