Plowing By Steam

By Staff
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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.’

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