1916 Compound Engine, 16 NHP. John Fowler, Leeds, England. Courtesy of R. F. Somerville, 12498-232 Street, Mapleridge, Haney, B. C. CANADA.
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 furrows.
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 tons.