Wright Family Influenced Kelly-Springfield Steamrollers and Other Models

The Wright family, who emigrated from England, made key changes to steamroller


| Winter 2008



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In front of the Cooke Locomotive factory in Paterson, N.J., is one of the prototype William C. Oastler steamrollers produced in 1899. These machines featured steam-jacketed cylinders and specially patented drawbars and spring scrapers. While the roller featured does not show a water tank beneath the boiler, Oastler rollers could be equipped with such tanks by special order. This view is taken from the Oastler Steam Road Roller catalog of that year.

Photo courtesy Derek Rayner

In the following article, regular contributor Robert Rhode and Raymond Drake relate the tale of Englishman Thomas Wright and his sons, Edward T. and Frederick W., all of who were to have some considerable influence on various aspects of steamrollers in both the United States and Britain.

Having made recent contact with Virginia D’Antonio and Tom Wright, two of Thomas Wright’s great grandchildren, we have received considerable amount of family information, records and photos.

According to these materials, Thomas Wright was born in Lincolnshire, England, in 1838 and by the early 1860s was employed as an engineer. Thomas’ eldest son, Edward, was born in 1865. By 1870, Thomas was working for Taskers at Andover, Lincolnshire. In 1873, he moved on yet again and was a manager at the Aveling & Porter works in Rochester, Kent, and Edward later became an apprentice engineer there as well.

Virginia and Tom have both said family tradition indicates Thomas invented the split conical front roller – used by Aveling in 1871 – although this has not yet been confirmed from research within the United Kingdom.

In February 1889, Edward immigrated to Harrisburg, Pa., where he was joined by his fiancé that summer. The couple later married in Harrisburg where steamrollers were first built. Coincidentally, Edward also worked as a draughtsman. It seems likely he was employed by the Harrisburg Car Co., given his background in the steamroller industry.

In July of that same year, Thomas also emigrated from Rochester, with a daughter and three sons. Between 1890 and 1891, the extended Wright family moved to Springfield, Ohio, and while Virginia and Tom are unsure about Thomas’ employment at that time, they are well aware of what Edward was doing – he had gained employment with the firm of O.S. Kelly Co. and was designing steamrollers.