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.
Take a Peek At These Every Thresher-man Should Know About
The Improved Baker Uniflow.A 1918 ad for the
Baker Uniflow cylinder. Facing page: A 1919 ad for the Baker
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
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.
The Baker Superheater
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
Richard Backus is editor of Steam Traction. Contact him
at: 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265, or e-mail: