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Photo taken by Jack C. Norbeck at the Williams Grove Historical Steam Engine Association show, Mechanicsburg, Pa.
2 / 5
15 HP Russell compound, owned by Howard Miller of Liberty Center, Ohio;
3 / 5
20 HP Keck Gonnerman, serial #1568, owned by Sam Myers of West Milton, Ohio;
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16 HP A.D. Baker #130, owned by Casey Besecker of Arcanum, Ohio;
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21-75 A.D. Baker, #17784, owned by the Davidson family of Gordon, Ohio.

117 Ruch St., Coplay, Pennsylvania 18037.

This article was taken from The Encyclopedia of American Steam
Traction Engines.

At left, a Frick built in 1926, 60 HP, owned by Dean Deibert of
Gratz, Pa., pulling a four disk IH plow. At right, a 90 HP A. D.
Baker built in 1928, pulling a five bottom Oliver plow, owner
Samuel Kolva Sr., Elizabethville, Pa.

In 1858, J. W. Fawkes of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, took
his steam plow to Illinois and won most of the big prizes being
offered at that time for a successful steam plow. The next year Mr.
Fawkes went back to Illinois with a new model. He went over to
Moline, Illinois, bought eight John Deere plows, then bolted them
together to use with his steam traction plow for his winning
demonstration in Chicago, against Mr. Waters of Detroit and Mr. Van
Doren of Chicago in the famous U. S. Agricultural Society contest
in 1859.

That same year, President Lincoln was invited to the Wisconsin
State Fair to make the main address. He talked about the steam
plow, what he thought it should be like, and the results to
American agriculture that would follow its development. He said,
‘The successful application of steam-power to farm work is a
desideratum especially a steam plow. It is not enough that a
machine operated by steam will really plow. To be successful, it
must, all things considered, plow better than can be done by animal
power. It must do all the work well, and cheaper, or more rapidly,
so as to get through more perfectly in season; or in some way
afford an advantage over plowing with animals, else it is no

In 1860, an Illinois farm paper reported what it called,
‘the first actual success in steam plowing in America.’ The
steam plow ran 23 minutes, stopped six minutes for wood, ran 13
minutes, stopped eight minutes for water, ran one minute. It plowed
2.63 acres in 72 minutes, using six of a gang of 13 plows. The crew
consisted of a man and team to supply fuel and water, a fireman,
two to manage the plows, and one of the inventors.

Philander H. Standish’s first steam plow was completed at
Martinez, California, in 1867, and was subsequently patented in the
United States, England, France and Russia. Standish and his steam
plow won awards at the Mechanics’ Industrial Fair in San
Francisco in 1868 and 1869. He tested and experimented on various
terrains and soils, attracting the attention of O. C. Coffin, a
miller of Contra Costa County, California. The latter agreed to
finance the building of a second plow in Boston, with Charles F.
Coffin, a Boston businessman, to serve as general agent. The
partnership of Coffin and Standish was consummated in February,

In accordance with his agreement with the Coffins, Standish went
to Boston to engineer and supervise the building of a steam plow
similar to the California model. Upon completion of the project,
the machine was shipped to New Orleans early in 1871, where it was
tested on a nearby tract of cotton and cane land. The plantation
owner, General Davidson, was apparently favorably impressed; he
supposedly asked Standish to build a special plow for his Poydras
Plantation. Fate dealt cruelly with the career of Standish at this
point; the General was killed in a railway accident before
arrangements had been completed for the new plow. Further
complications and discouragements caused Standish to interrupt his
work on the steam plow in 1872 and to move to Missouri, where he
perfected a chain-making machine and entered that new business at
Jefferson City, Missouri. Although he continued to test his steam
plow from time to time, and never surrendered his dreams, he was
unable to conclude the work successfully.

Although there were many attempts at steam plowing and some
partial successes during those years, with 13 patents granted in
1871 alone, 1876 is generally considered the birth date of the
steam traction engine in the U.S.A. The steam traction engine
replaced the steam plow.

The advent of the steam traction engine started the use of the
tractor plows, early in the present century. The multiple engine
gangs large, heavy plows intended for use with steam traction
engines were among the first types produced. These plows, ranging
in size from six to fourteen bottoms, met with farmer approval and
broke many a section of western prairie. It is obvious, of course,
to anyone who follows the trend in farm machinery, that the large
steam traction engine with the multiple gang must, in time, make
way for the more easily adaptable smaller outfit. The large steam
traction engine had one field purpose only it would draw the
multiple engine plow. With this type of power, custom plowing was
the rule.

In England they used two cable plowing steam traction engines
and the cable plow would travel safely at four miles per hour
plowing through good soil. Cable plowing in North America was not
used because of the hills. In the western part of North America,
cable plowing was not adapted to the large grain fields of the
West. The length of the furrow was usually measured in half-miles
rather than in rods, and the English plows with their short strings
of cable were grossly inadequate. By 1870, there were 3,000 steam
cable plowing outfits in operation in England and only four
operations in the United States. A Southern planter, Henry E.
Lawrence, used one of these plowing outfits on his 1,000-acre sugar
estate near New Orleans.

John J. Holp, 7543 Delisle-Fourman Rd., Arcanum, Ohio 45304 sent
these pictures of several engines at the Darke County Steam
Threshers Association Inc. Show at Greenville, Ohio.

The general use of cable-type steam ploughs was widespread in
Germany around the 1890s, and they were still being used for
reclaiming peat land in the 1970s.

The Peerless 1893 steam plowing outfit was guaranteed to be able
to plow as much soil in the same time, to an equal depth, as could
be done with six three-horse teams, provided the soil was firm
enough to carry the engine, free from stumps and rocks, not too
wet, and having no grades over one foot rise in ten and good fuel
and water were provided.

The 1912 John Deere steam traction engine plow was made with 4,
6, 8, 10, 12, or 14 bottoms. Each lever lifted two bottoms. It was
furnished complete with hitch chains ready for the engine. Among
the more prominent and exclusive features were the two-bottom lift,
screw clevises and quick detachable shares.

It wasn’t until later, when smaller, cheaper and more
adaptable engines were developed, that individual farmers would be
able to obtain their own tractors and do their own plowing.

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