Steam Engine Compensating Gears


| September/October 1975



The Rough & Tumble

W.J. Eshleman

722 East End Ave., Lancaster, Pa. 17602.

As to who invented the first differential used by automobiles, I am unable to state, however, as to the steam traction engine, the use of which preceded the automobile, it appears that here in Lancaster County we have two Pennsylvania Germans whose names should appear with the early inventors.

In the automobile the differential is in the center of the rear axle. In the steam engine it is in the one rear wheel and is termed 'compensating gears'. The two men of this story worked on this project in different parts of the county and it is doubtful if either one knew of the other.

The first man we refer to is Eli Yost (1845-1904) who lived north of New Holland, Pa. He was an early thresherman and operated a cider mill which was powered by a 25 H.P. Springfield gasoline engine.

Mr. Elias Beiler of Leola, Pa., is a local historian and grandson of Reuben Z. Stoltzfus (1878-1962) who was a well-known thresherman and stone quarry operator. In his career he owned six different steam engines, and at one time had two threshing rigs on the road during the season. He was the first thresherman in the area to power his stationary baler from the shaft of the thresher cylinder. Since here in the East most threshing was done in the barn, this power arrangement became a necessity.

I cite the above to give credibility to the story he told his grandson, Elias Beiler, who now tells the following concerning Eli Yost. It appears that Eli Yost owned an early steam engine, which we assume was a traction, but without any compensating gears. (Perhaps only one rear wheel drove, with a chain.) Yost designed a compensating mechanism which he wanted to have made to install on his engine. Since in Lancaster the Best Engine and Foundry was building stationary steam engines, Yost called there and showed his plan to either Frank or Abe Landis, who were the top designers at Best. He was turned down cold, but his mind was unchanged and he apparently contacted someone in New York City. Eli Yost again contacted the Landis' and so insistent on having his compensating design built, that he said if Landis would not make it, he was prepared to take the next train for New York where he could have it built. When Landis saw that Yost was stubbornly serious, he agreed to build it. Eli Yost took it home and installed it on his engine and we understand it worked. He never received any money for what might have made him a wealthy man, and here the story of Eli Yost ends.