Haney, B. C. CANADA
Steam plowing in Canada and the United States was always of the
direct traction type with plows anywhere from 4 bottoms up to 14
inch bottoms, and the biggest engine plow is owned by the Western
Development Museum in Saskatoon. This is a 20, 14 inch bottom plow
and is used with a 32115 HP compound Reeves steam tractor.
In Europe all steam plowing was done by the cable system; that
is, two steam plow engines with winding drum under the boiler, one
engine on one end of the field and the other engine on the opposite
end. The plow is known as a balance plow or turn wrest. It looks
like a big carpenter’s square sitting on the ground with one
end up in the air. The end that sits on the ground has the mould
boards plowing to the right, and the end up in the air has the
mould-board plowing the furrow to the left, so when one end is up
the other is down plowing. All the furrows lay one way. They start
at one end of the field and finish at the other. There are no open
One engine pulls the plow across the field, while the other
engine moves up the width of the plow. Then the driver fires up and
takes in water, and the other pulls the plow back and forth, at a
speed of about four miles per hour.
A system like this takes four men to operate it; two engine
drivers, a plowman that sits on the plow and steers it, and a coal
and water tender man, as these engines burn coal.
Where these outfits are used in Argentina or other parts of the
world, they burn straw.
These cable steam plows cost about $10,000; that is, for two 14
nominal HP engines, one 8 furrow plow and a cultivator, water cart,
and living van. This was in 1912. During World War I, they cost
over $20,000. They were made from 1848 to about 1938 and a few of
these outfits are still working in England.
The steam engine came to the farm as a portable first, and
believe it or not, was used for cable plowing about 1832.
John Fowler of Leeds, England, was one of the pioneers of cable
steam plows. He first used a portable steam engine which sat in one
corner of the field and was belted to a two drum winch. The steel
cable passed around the field through self moving anchors and then
to the balance plow, which in those days, was 4 to 6, 10 inch
bottom plows. The engine carried a steam pressure of 50 p. s. i.
This outfit took five men to operate it; one engine driver, one
plowman, two anchor men, and one coal and water tender man. The
trouble was moving from one field to the other, as horses had to be
used to move each piece separately.
By 1848 Fowler had a traction engine to operate the two drum
winch and by 1850, he had the double engine system. Fowler was the
largest and best maker of cable plow outfits and his engines were
known throughout the world.
About the portable engine plowing Zimmerman in Germany had a
better one. The portable steam engine was belted to a direct
current electric generator which supplied electric power to a motor
mounted on the plow.
The other makers of cable plows in England were J. and H.
McLaren, Leeds; Aveling and Porter, Rochester; Savage and Company,
Kings Lyn. One of the early engines was the Yarrow, which had two
drums under the boiler. W. Savory and Son of Gloucester had a
two-engine outfit about 1861. It was rather odd in its design. It
had a two-cylinder vertical engine mounted in front of the boiler,
the winding drum was a 6 ft. diameter shell revolving on three
pairs of wheels in brackets around the boiler shell.
In Germany one of the best was the Wolf, made in Magdeburg. It
had 170 brake HP. Another firm in that country was the Rhinemetal
Company. The largest plow engine ever made was in Germany by the J.
Kemna of Breslau. This was a Compound, 310 HP, in 1905. 0. S. Kelly
Company, Springfield, Ohio made a set of steam cable plow engines.
Societe de Machene of France made a few sets, some were made in
Poland, but I don’t know their names.
All these cable plow engines were more or less of the same
design, most of them were cross compound and all were rear-mounted
with center crank. Most of them had no governors. The speed was
regulated by the throttle leve rand all had Stevenson link reverse
gears. They carried 150 to 175 p. s. i. boiler pressure, had twin
Ramsbottom safety valves mounted between the cylinders. The winding
drum hung under the boiler and carried 600 to 1,000 yards of
inch or up to 1 inch of steel cable. They all had two injectors, a
two-speed road gear, and the drum was operated by a jaw clutch on
the left side of the boiler and all had left hand flywheels.
When they were not plowing or cultivating in the winter, they
were used for threshing, wood sawing, or clover hauling in full
working order with full water and coal. They weighed 20 to 25