Traction Engine Troubles

Oh what a difference a century makes! In the 1880s, when steam
traction engines were rather new in some localities, the only way
to move them from one farm to another was under their own steam, on
the public highways.

This caused problems. Eventually, they were resolved. We found,
however, an account issued in 1888 which reflected the troubles of
the times. It appeared in the volume, ‘Agriculture of
Pennsylvania’, the official book containing reports of the
State Board of Agriculture, and several statewide
organizations.

Here is what it said, verbatim:

The introduction of steam for thrashing and the convenience of
traction engines as combining power for driving the thrasher and
for moving the machinery from farm to farm, has led to a frequent
appearance of this kind of machinery on our public roads. In most
cases it has been been found difficult to drive ordinary farm
horses past such engines. The Legislature of 1885 was presented
with a draft of an act intended to give greater security to persons
passing along our public roads, but to a certain extent it has
failed in its purpose. The second section provides ‘That in
every case when such machinery propelled by steam is being moved
upon a public road or highway it shall be the duty of the owner or
owners in charge of such machinery, upon the approach, in either
direction, of all persons traveling in vehicles or in charge of
teams, to move such machinery as far as practicable to the right or
left of the road to a position where the said approaching vehicle
or team may pass with the greatest safety, and stop the same before
such persons traveling in vehicles or in charge of teams shall have
arrived within three hundred feet of such machinery, shall assist
such passing vehicle or teams until they are safely by the danger,
and if there be any obstruction to the view of the road it shall be
the duty of the owner or owners or persons in charge of such
machinery not to approach such obstruction nearer than three
hundred feet without going to the place to see that the road is
clear, or sending some competent person for the purpose.’

At the recent meeting of the Board attention was called to cases
wherein the parties in charge of traction engines has neglected or
refused to comply with the provisions of the law above quoted, and
cases were stated in which damage had been done to carriages by
this disregard of the plain provisions of the law. The defect which
appears to need a remedy is that there is no special penalty
attached to a violation of the law. The party in charge, in many
cases, is an irresponsible person, and the theory that he can,
under common law, be held personally responsible for all damages,
does not hold good and is of no value to the damaged party.

If a disobedience of the provisions of the second section of the
law was made a misdemeanor, the difficulty would, in a great
measure, be removed, as in that case both the owner and the party
in charge would be liable for punishment.

The attention of the Board has also been called to the fact that
in several cases bridges have been broken down by traction engines
and the damage not reported so that repairs might be made to
prevent damages to teams following. It would seem that in as much
as the act of June 30, 1885, practically legalizes the passage of
traction engines along the public roads, that it necessarily
becomes obligatory upon supervisors and road commissioners to so
construct or repair all bridges as to support the additional
weight, and it is questionable whether any further legislation is
needed to protect the public in this direction. The question is,
however, one which might properly come under the consideration of
the Committee on Legislation.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment