Farm Collector

The Age of Steam Powered Plowing In Northern GERMANY

42a D-2 Hamburg 20 Federal Republic of Germany

Now on display in the Cloppenburg Farm Village Museum in Lower
Saxony near Bremen, this majestic steam locomotive represents the
age of steam powered plowing in northern Germany. This particular
steam locomotive was in operation for almost 40 years. It weighs 21
tons and used 160 kilos of coal an hour to produce steam from 1100
liters of water a day.

Initial efforts to adapt steam locomotives to plowing had failed
until John Fowler, an Englishman, developed the two machine system
which was exhibited at the 1862 London World’s Fair. This
system required that two steam locomotives be placed parallel to
each other and up to 600 meters apart. A steel cable to which the
plow was attached, ran between them. The plow was pulled back and
forth between the two locomotives at a speed of up to .02 meters
per second or about 700 meters per hour depending on the prevailing
land conditions and depth requirements of the job at hand.

The steam powered plowing system was introduced in Germany in
1868 by the German engineer and collaborator of Fowler, Max Eyth.
Private ownership of these massive steam locomotives was
prohibitively expensive, consequently service companies provided
the machines and crews on a contract basis. By 1907, 415 of these
companies were in operation in Germany. In northern Germany steam
powered plowing was primarily used in sugar beet cultivation in the
Hildesheim – Braunschweig area.

Dampfseilpflug-Lokomotive, a steam powered locomotive was part
of a pair used in northern Germany in steam powered plowing.

The introduction and success of the smaller oil and finally
diesel powered tractors eventually made steam powered plowing of
beet fields impractical and for the most part the system became
obsolete even before. the outbreak of World War II.

The beginning of the post war years brought about renewed
interest in the potential of these mammoth steam locomotives to
create new farm lands. Agriculture had once again become important
as Germany sought to rebuild its war ravaged economy. Since the
‘new’ Germany was now only a little over half the size of
the ‘old’ Germany, and since most of the agricultural areas
were now in the east, methods for creating new farm land, as well
as for increasing the quality of existing farm land, were of
primary importance.

At the time, large areas of northern Germany still consisted of
heath, moor and bog lands. Most of the work of turning heaths and
moors into farm land had to be done by hand until the introduction
of steam powered plowing for this otherwise slow, tedious and hard
work proved particularly successful in not only creating more
arable land but also in improving the quality of the topsoil
produced. The use of these massive locomotives enabled peat areas
to be plowed up to a depth of 1.20 meters (4 feet) which produced a
rich topsoil consisting of the optimum mixture of peat to sand of

Eventually however, Germany was faced with another problem
partly as a result of the success of the steam powered plowing
system a surplus in farm production. By the 1960’s, the steam
powered locomotives used for plowing were finally retired from
active service after a long and successful history in northern

  • Published on Nov 1, 1985
© Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved - Ogden Publications, Inc.