50 HP Buffalo Pitts Steam Engine

A 50 HP Buffalo Pitts Steam Engine Survives in Australia


| November/December 2004



50 HP Road Locomotive

Andrew Gibb's circa-1910 Buffalo Pitts 50 HP Road Locomotive.

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.

WORKING HISTORY

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.