BUFFALO PITTS DOWN UNDER
The Buffalo Pitts Co., Buffalo, N.Y., sent many traction engines and portables to Australia. Quite a few still survive, although corroded boilers prevent many from running. International Harvester Co. (IHC) was the agent for Buffalo Pitts for most of Australia from around 1904. This active agency managed to take quite a large share of the steam engine market away from the English manufacturers who at the time dominated the Australian scene. The most common Buffalo Pitts engines were the single-cylinder 10 and 13 HP and the twin-cylinder 14 HP.
When a large haulage engine was required in Australia, customers would generally purchase an English road locomotive. Compared to the standard engines, these had special features including an extra (third) speed, springing on the front and rear axle (instead of just the rear), larger wheels and extra water capacity. IHC price lists show a Buffalo Pitts 50 HP road locomotive on offer from 1911 to 1915 as competition to the English machines.
It sure was a fancy machine. And at nearly double the cost of a standard Buffalo Pitts 22 HP traction engine, it sure was expensive.
For the period 1911-1913, the road locomotive was priced at 1,425 Australian pounds while a 22 HP cost 720 Australian pounds (approximately $6,500 and $3,300 U.S., respectively). Meanwhile, a typical English road locomotive – of equivalent size, with all the trimmings needed for colonial use – was much less than the Buffalo Pitts. A top-of-the-range Marshall in 1913 would have cost around 1,300 Australian pounds ($5,900 U.S.), while a Ruston & Proctor would have been around 1,250 Australian pounds ($5,675 U.S.).
A 50 HP Buffalo Pitts road locomotive was on display at the IHC stand for the Sydney show in 1910. There is no record to suggest the 50 HP engine was a success here, and I think this is probably the only such engine to have come to Australia. There are several reasons why I think this:
- Its high price compared to the English competitors.
- Its lack of features compared to an English engine: For example, only two speeds and no springing.
- Its lack of a flywheel: This rendered belt work impossible, automatically limiting the use of the machine.
The working history of my engine is unclear at the moment -the problem is that no one alive today can remember it working. I have been told the engine sat derelict next to a road in northern New South Wales, Australia, from approximately 1930 until it was recovered for preservation in 1982.
The last use of the engine was to drive a sawmill, running the mill via an extension to the crankshaft, as there was no flywheel. It would appear the alignment of the extension was poor, as the crankshaft broke and was never repaired. An old operator of the engine at the sawmill told several people in the area he had used it for plowing in earlier times.
Over the years, and sitting out of use, many smaller parts were taken off the engine. A local Scout troop undertook a fund-raising activity of stripping valuable parts for scrap in the 1960s, and local farmers cut off spokes, steel from the rear platform, parts of the steering gear, etc., for various purposes.
By the time the engine was recovered, it had sunk 2 feet into the ground and was plowed around every year by the farmer working the land where it sat. The engine was sold to another collector around 1985, and I became the third owner of the engine in preservation when I acquired it last year.
A 26-100 HP Buffalo Pitts “Contractors’ Road Locomotive” as depicted in a circa-1910 catalog. Note the small flywheel, which seems to beg the question of why the engine has a dual horsepower rating.
The main dimensions of my engine are as follows:
- Double cylinder engine: 7-inch bore by 10-inch stroke
- Barrel identification: 32-1/2 inches
- Firebox: 31 inches high by 40 inches long by 27-1/2 inches wide
- Tubes: 64 tubes; 1-3/4 inches in diameter and 78 inches long
- Rear wheels: 78 inches diameter, 30 inches wide
- Front wheels: 46 inches diameter, 12 inches wide
- Distance between axles: 11 feet, 7 inches
- Width: 9 feet, 2 inches
Importantly, there are several features that are very different from the standard Buffalo Pitts traction engine
- There is no steam dome.
- There is no flywheel.
- It has two speeds, engaged by dog clutches
- The differential is combined in a wide, small-diameter bull gear, centrally located at the rear of the boiler above the fire door.
- The boiler is of heavy construction with English-style horn plates (extensions of the outer firebox side plates), open-bottom firebox and an inspection manhol on the side of the barrel. The rear wheels have grips for only 24 inches of the total width of 30 inches.
- The body wheels have two steering rings instead of one central ring.
Going by old company catalogs, it would appear Buffalo Pitts built several styles of two-speed road locomotives over the years. I have photocopies of two Buffalo Pitts catalogs from America with descriptions of road locomotives, but these are different than my engine in several details.
The first catalog, Locomotors Engine, shows a road locomotive similar to mine with no dome. However, it has an English-style platform (tender) and a small, narrow flywheel. It is rated at 50 HP at 200 psi operating pressure. I thank Ray Drake and Robert Rhode for passing this copy to me. I’m guessing this catalog dates from around 1904, as the testimonials included in it are for 1902-1903.
The second catalog, titled Special Hauling Machinery, has two different sizes of road locomotives on offer, as well as different road cars (wagons). These engines are the more standard rear-mount Buffalo Pitts traction engines, but have small, narrow flywheels. They are rated at 20-70 HP and 26-100 HP at 200 psi working pressure. This dual horsepower rating is rather odd, as it would be nearly impossible to power anything with a belt.
At the rear of this catalog are several pictures of Buffalo Pitts engines hauling an assortment of loads. There are a combination of standard traction engines, the catalog road locomotives and also two pictures of the type of road locomotive I have. Illustrating a catalog with a type of engine not described in that catalog is rather odd.
My guess is this catalog was printed after my engine, when a new, simpler type of engine was produced. It would be nice to know for certain what Buffalo Pitts was building at what time, as the number of changes over the years make it a little confusing.
I wish to find out as much as I can about 50 HP Buffalo Pitts road locomotives before beginning any restoration of my machine. That said, I would like to put out the call to any Steam Traction readers who have more details on the particular road locomotive that I have. A specific catalog with details of this type of engine would be a great source of assistance. Also, any clear pictures of this type of engine would go a long way in helping determine what parts may be missing and how they were arranged. The throttle valve, levers and front tanks are all missing, and I am relying on pictures to tell me how they were set up. Thank you for any assistance you may lend in helping me bring this rare machine back to working order.
Contact steam enthusiast Andrew Gibb at: 2055 Clenrowan-Myrtleford Road, Markwood, Victoria 3678, Australia; firstname.lastname@example.org