The following story is reprinted from the October 30, 1858
issue of Rural New Yorker.
published in Rochester, New York.
When chronicling some of the experiments made with Steam Plows in England, we expressed the opinion that, 'no land in the world is better adapted to steam plowing than the boundless prairies of the West. In ten years from now, scores of Steam Plows may be engaged in turning over these rich soils.' Breaking up the prairie is a serious and costly work for the new settler. It can be done with no ordinary team which he can keep, therefore he is compelled to employ those who have proper teams and plows, and make this their business. The price paid for this work is generally about three dollars per acre, so that the new settler on the prairie who breaks up one hundred acres, has to invest $300 for plowing, although himself and boys may stand idly by and look on. Then fencing on the prairie is costly, as is building, and he will need a 'smart pile' of cash to get a good start. We have seen the crops of the farmer destroyed for want of fences and barns, his cattle unsheltered from the terrible winds that sweep unobstructed over the boundless prairies, and when we inquired the cause of this, learned that the unexpectedly large outlay for building a cottage and breaking up, had exhausted the means that was designed to build barns and fences. Any invention that will lessen the cost of breaking up and fencing, will be of incalculable benefit to the Prairie States. It is for this reason that we have anxiously looked for and desired the success of the Steam Plow.
The Executive Board of the Agricultural Society of Illinois seems to have taken the same view of the matter, and accordingly offered 'a premium of five thousand dollars for the best steam engine suitable for plowing and other work, the practicability to be decided by the Board.' In view of the encouragement thus offered, Mr. J. W. Fawkes, of Lancaster, Pa., exhibited and worked a Steam Plow at the late State Fair at Centralia, an engraving of which we give from Emery's Journal. We copy our description of the machine and its operation from the Chicago Press and other journals, all of which are loud in its praise.
The engraving shows the general features of the engine and plows, and can hardly be misunderstood. The large or propelling wheel in the center is barrel-shaped, which facilitates turning corners very much; it is about six feet long, and five feet in diameter, thus presenting a great amount of surface to the ground in traveling; the forward wheels are of about the same diameter and one foot surface, and are the guiding wheels, being moved by the operator by a screw gear. The plows are hung in a frame at the rear of the engine each one independent of the other, and drawn by separate rods attached to rear of the engine. In order to keep the plows close to their work in uneven or irregular surfaces, strong coiled springs are placed on the suspending rods. With the ropes and pulleys, the whole gang of plows are instantly raised from the ground and let down again.
It draws six plows, cutting a foot each, attached in a frame, and so regulated by spiral springs that they yield to any extraordinary obstruction. As there was no stubble field near, it was concluded to make trial on the unbroken prairie. This was now baked so bad by drought, that the prairie-breaking plows would not run in it, and the trial of sod plows was abandoned in consequence. Notwithstanding this fact, the inventor was so confident of success, that he gave the order to put the plows to work in this almost impervious soil. After a little delay in regulating to this brick-like surface, the engine moved forward, when six furrows were turned side by side, in the most workmanlike manner. The excitement of the crowd was beyond control, and their shouts and wild huzzas echoed far over the prairie, as there beneath the smiling Autumn sun, lay the first furrow turned by steam on the broad prairies of the mighty West.
The goal was won. Steam had conquered the face of nature, and the Steam Plow had become a fact; it was working over the rich, rolling prairies of 'Egypt,' and turning up its wealth of nutritious elements for the growth of the cereal and pomonal products self-moving, and containing a power unequaled to turn up the lower strata of soil, so rich in potash, in phosphates, in silica and other essential elements of vegetable growth. The long line of matchless furrows parted the crowd, and lay between the moving masses like a line of silver wove in the gray setting of the prairie. Amid the excitement the inventor remained calm; it was enough for him to hear the glad shouts of victory which rent the air for this he had toiled for this his hands had become hardened, and his face made swarthy over the glowing iron, out of which he forged the muscles of his iron steed of the prairies.
Mr. Fawkes and others were called out by the crowd, and made brief speeches. Mr. Coleman, a member of the Board, spoke of the success of the Steam Plow now witnessed, as marking a new era in the world's progress, and declared that the great enterprise of Fawkes, may be placed side by side with the steam engine, the steamboat, the locomotive, the cotton gin, and the telegraph. The engine again moved forward, when the plows turned up the loose mud drift of Egypt, laying six furrows side-by-side, with the most perfect ease and in the most workmanlike manner. The consumption of fuel and water was very moderate. That the engine is a complete success, there can be no doubt, and all that is now wanting, is to demonstrate that, taking the whole expense into consideration, it is cheaper than horse-power. If this is answered in the affirmative, it will produce the greatest revolution in agricultural progress that we have yet seen; it will take another wrinkle from the brow of labor, and give to the toiling millions lighter tasks to perform.
The inventor, in a recent note, says: 'I know the good people of the West are in want of my invention, as much as the people of the Old and New World were in want of Fulton's invention. The time has come when animal power is not sufficient to perform the great work required by this class. Therefore, gentlemen, if God spares my life, it is my intention to devote my time and limited means to the speedy perfection of steam engines adapted to the cultivation of the wide extended prairies.'