The Spirit of the Machine

A 1903 American-Abell that Helped Break the Canadian Prairie

| July/August 2002

The Reynolds-Alberta Museum's 1903 American Abell, serial number 1165, built by the American-Abell Engine and Thresher Co., Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Rated as an 18-50, this single-cylinder engine has a bore and stroke of 8- inches by 12 inches and uses an inverted Woolf reverse gear. Note the smoke box door, which carries a depiction of Saint George the dragon slayer. This is possibly the only engine that survives with this door intact.

This spring, not really paying attention to what I was doing, I accidentally ran the wing of my cultivator into the grass along the edge of the field I was working. There was an old roll of barbed wire in there and it got wrapped around the wheel. By the time I noticed, it had wrapped around the wheel about a hundred times and was just a tangled mess. Getting off the tractor, I was mad as heck and wondered just who was the stupid so-and-so who had left that wire where I could snag it.

I soon realized it was going to take awhile to untangle this mess, and as my temper cooled I noticed there were three huge rocks on the edge of the field where I had hooked that wire. I breathed a sigh of relief I hadn't hit one of those rocks, or I'd have wrecked my cultivator for sure.

Sitting there untangling the wire and looking at those rocks, I recalled a conversation I overheard when I was a kid. I remember my grandfather, my dad and my uncles talking about how my great-grandfather used blasting powder and his steam engine to pull rocks and stumps off the land he homesteaded.

The steam engine they were talking about is the same 1903 American-Abell that is in our museum warehouse. I started wondering what kind of equipment the fellow who had moved those rocks had used, and I figured he had probably used a tractor similar to what my great grandfather had.

Working here at the Reynolds-Alberta