Traction Engines and Threshing Machines
American Engines in Australia
Andrew Gibb, RMB 2175, Wangaratta, Victoria
3678, Australia; e-mail: email@example.com, writes in from
Australia this month:
My father’s interest in steam engines here in Australia (he
sent a letter recently to IMA [see the May/June 2002 issue, page
28, for Robin Gibb’s article on steam trucks in Australia
-Editor] after having a great time in America last year) has passed
on to me. I am particularly keen on American-built engine that
worked in Australia and I have been researching this topic for
several years now.
Buffalo-Pitts engines were imported here in great numbers
between 1905-1910, especially the smaller engines, and many still
exist. This resulted in the then dominant English manufacturers
producing more lightly built engines in an attempt to compete with
the Buffalos in the Australian market. This was unsuccessful,
however, and the Buffalo engines continued to be popular up until
about 1910, when the numbers stopped suddenly.
Frick engines were the next most popular make, with at least 23
traction engines used in the state of Tasmania alone. As with
English engine sales around Australia, a good agent could shift
many engines of one particular make, even though there were other
engines of similar qualities about. Thus, Buffalo-Pitts and Frick
had good agents.
Other makes of engines that came here in smaller numbers, some
not even now existing, were: Avery, C. Aultman, Birdsall, Buffalo
Springfield, Case, Dederick Co., Farquhar, Gaar-Scott, Huber,
Iroquois, O.S. Kelly, Maybrick, Peerless, Sawyer & Massey, and
The Maybrick is a rare machine, as I haven’t been able to
find any reference to this make in American publications. The
Tasmanian boiler records list the engine as being made in Ontario,
Canada, a traction engine with tandem, compound cylinders and made
in 1901. There were also three Dederick portable engines listed in
the records, however these might only have been portable boilers.
David Beck’s lengthy research on the Tasmanian boiler records
has aided my research greatly, and if any IMA readers have any
further information on these two companies I would be most
My particular line of research at the moment is the only known
Avery traction engine to have worked in Australia. The first
reference to this engine is in the Victorian boiler records in 1913
when it was tested in near new condition. Some of the details were:
boiler barrel 6’9′ long x 3′ diameter x
3/8‘ plate; firebox 5’1’ long x
2’7-‘ wide x 3’5′ tall, with 1′ stays at 4’
x 4-‘ spacing; tubes 58 x 2-; dome 18′ x 20′; double
butt-strap boiler with 3/4’ rivets; test pressure 210 lbs. per
square inch, working pressure 135 lbs. per square inch. The engine
then turns up in the Tasmanian boiler records in 1924, having been
imported second hand from Victoria by the Preolenna Coal Co.
‘These records go on to list the engine as a 2-cylinder
under-type with 7′ x 10’ cylinders. Photographs one and two
show the engine being assembled at the remote Preolenna rail siding
after dismantling for transport. It appears to be quite an
operation! The third photograph shows the now re-assembled engine
in some sort of difficulty and requiring the assistance of a
The history of the engine working in both Victoria and Tasmania
is very sketchy. However, it is known to have ended its days as a
stationary winding engine, jacked off the ground and cable wrapped
around the wheels like cable drums. 1 am not sure whether this was
hauling coal skips or logs for saw milling. The Avery was,
unfortunately, scrapped at this site.
My question to IMA readers is: Was this a 30 HP or a 40 HP
engine? The rear wheels were 6’8′ diameter by 26′ wide.
I am sure those Avery nuts out there must be able to tell from the
photographs and dimensions given in the boiler records. What is the
difference between all of the under-mounted Averys, from the 18 HP
up to the 40 HP? From my reading in Australia I haven’t been
able to find much technical detail on Avery engines.
I would be pleased to hear from anyone who may be able to help
with these Avery questions. I am also most willing to communicate
with any Americans who are interested in American engines that
worked in Australia or who may have further information to add.
The final photograph I have sent in is of a Sellers Self-Acting
3/4′ injector that I picked up at a swap meet recently. It is a
‘Class M’ and has the serial number 144241 stamped on it.
It is missing a few parts and I was hoping an IMA reader might be
able to describe what parts I need to make to have it operating
I will end my long-winded letter here, but I would like to add
how I enjoy the magazine very much and it is the contributions by
the readers that make it such an interesting publication.
Avery, Gaar-Scott or Robinson?
Randy Schwerin, 3040 160th St., Sumner, IA 50674 writes
I wanted to comment a little more on the Creed ‘Avery’
engine in the March/April IMA. In my earlier writings I alluded
that I felt the engine in question was indeed a Gaar-Scott, and I
think anyone familiar with the great Tiger line would agree that it
surely has numerous Gaar-Scott traits. However, there is one
glaring problem with that idea – the square head tank.
First I thought, ‘Heck, any self-respecting steam engineer
of the 1910 era with the help of a good blacksmith could knock up a
tank and install the same.’ But there again, this idea
didn’t quite seem to add up. The tank and its fixtures on the
engine in question just looked a little too factory. Then the other
day, I was sorting through various assortments of reprint catalogs,
old engine magazines, etc., and found what I was searching for – a
reprint of a late Robinson threshing machine catalog. Aha! One of
the catalog’s cuts shows their side-mounted engines equipped
with this very round cornered, square tank (including the braces
that ran back to the steam dome) along with all the other traits
previously mentioned. Also pictured is the scalloped-edged canopy
top including the cupola addition over the firebox platform
This brings up an interesting point and question: Was there a
connection, business or otherwise, between Robinson and Gaar-Scott?
I question this because of the fact that both companies were
located in Richmond, Ind. And also because the engines from both
companies looked very similar. I wonder if Robinson may have
purchased castings from Gaar-Scott or possibly had some agreement
to use their patterns, etc. Some thoughts to ponder. I was pleased
to read Lyle ‘Reeves’ Hoffmaster’s identification of
the Robinson engine. Pretty hard to get anything past Lyle! Perhaps
we could prevail upon Lyle to write a little something on the
history of the Gaar-Scott and Robinson companies and whether there
really was any connection between them. I feel he would be good
source for this information.
Incidentally, 1 own a 25 HP rear-mount Gaar-Scott, one of the
last built prior to the Rumely buyout, or as some of us would say
‘conglomeration.’ Thanks again for a great magazine.
Thoughts on Fusible Plugs
I am writing the balance of this with the benefit of the
May/June IMA in front of me. I found the article by Mr. Babcock to
be interesting, and it raises more questions that, I feel, should
be responded to.
The article is basically built around the question that if the
boiler of the 110 Case was critically low on water prior to its
rupture, then why didn’t its fusible plug melt out? I think
there are some basic reasons why this could have taken place, and
I’ll try to explain my viewpoint on how this could be possible.
Now I am sure some readers will say, ‘Just more
speculation,’ and unfortunately a lot of what is left to go on
regarding all this can only be speculation.
First, let’s look at the position of the soft-plug in the
boiler in question. It’s in the very rear of the crown sheet.
This was a Case trait, and of course up for discussion as to
whether or not this was the proper place. I would have to say that
a good share of engine companies placed their plugs in the front
portion of the crown sheet. Why? Because the heat is much more
intense in the front as opposed to the rear.
To illustrate this, use the drawing of the Case boiler on page
8, Figure #1 in the May/June 2002 issue. Draw an imaginary fire in
the firebox in the drawing and then consider the engine draft
pulling the heat and flames forward and through the tubes. It can
be understood then that the rear portion of the crown sheet would
be exposed to little or no flame, and not nearly as much heat as
opposed to the front portion. Therefore, unless the engine is
parked and in a position where the front end is lower than the
rear, this could be considered the poorer of the two choices as far
as placement of the plug.
This leads to another issue that Mr. Babcock brings up, the fact
that in the Case 110’s trip to the fairgrounds that day it
traveled on a stretch of road with a downhill grade. There again he
questions why the plug didn’t melt out at this point. The
reason being, I feel quite simply, that the engine was kept moving.
The water in a traction engine boiler that is traveling at
operating speed is constantly working back and forth, and in doing
so has a cooling effect on the crown sheet. Additionally, remember
that the road the engine made its final trip on was hard surfaced,
which would have shaken the boiler severely and agitated the water
to a greater degree.
Let me point out that this scenario is entirely different than
the one I described in the last issue, where boiler water washing
up over an over-heated crown sheet can actually cause an
I feel there is an underlying issue here that needs to be
mentioned regarding the fusible plug. I think it should be noted
that the fusible plug in general should not be relied upon. We
should know that we have good viable plugs in our boilers, but to
put too much confidence in them I think may give a false sense of
security and is poor operating practice.
A Response, and More on Reeves Engines
Gary Yaeger, 1120 Leisha Lane, Kalispell, MT 59901
(e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org), writes again:
Mr. Aldrich. If you are going to quote me, please do it with
some accuracy. You totally changed the meaning of my statement
regarding Mr. Payton. You stated that I said of Mr. Payton that,
‘He had another agenda – namely, shutting down engines with
weak boilers.’ In fact, I said, ‘…namely, shutting down
engines he feels have weak boilers.’ There is a vast
difference. I have heard he favors nothing under 0.325-inch in
thickness – many engines never had that in places from the factory,
and I will bet that the ogee corners in most Case water legs never
had that as an original thickness.
Mr. Aldrich was also upset with my statement, ‘… it
can’t be done.’ I would invite him to join forces with Mr.
Payton and show me one case where a crown sheet has blown down with
water on the crown sheet
I would also like him to examine my statement regarding,
‘… a good engineer, with a marginal boiler, versus a marginal
engineer with a brand new Canadian Special butt-strap boiler.’
I agree with him that neither of these are ideal circumstances, and
I don’t advocate either. But, if I had to steer an engine for
either of these engineers, I would pick the one with the good
Were you asking me if it were not ‘possible’ that the
stay-bolt holes were oval due to the stay bolts pulling out of the
crown sheet? Because if so, my answer is no. Only red hot metal
will blow out oval.
Yaeger Photo #5: Early Reeves 32 HP cross-compound owned by
Banks & Featherly of Dillon, Mont., pulling a 12-bottom Reeves
steam lift plow.
Mr. Payton made a statement at a public meeting just days before
the Medina incident: ‘If one of these things (traction engines)
ever blows up in public, they will all be ‘setting in the
hedgerow.” We don’t have hedgerow in Montana, but it
doesn’t sound like a very nice place to me. Tell me why engines
are being offered for sale in Pennsylvania – just to get them out
of Mr. Payton’s jurisdiction? Why does Mr. Payton now (since
last July) have to have department approval to lower pressure on
traction engines in his jurisdiction? Have you considered moving
your engine(s) across the state line to Pennsylvania for
I didn’t realize my safety record was the one in question. I
have never so much as melted a fusible plug. I have run engines at
quite a few different shows. I have never been asked to refrain
from operating the engine I was engineering. In the engine I am
operating, you will always find one-quarter to one-half glass of
water; plus water in the tanks, and steam enough to run the
injector or pump. And, the engines and engineer are inspected by
the state of Montana.