Where Is the Oldest Traction Engine

R.D. #1, Box 149A , Ellwood City, Pennsylvania , 16117

The idea for this article came from a long distance off. Sweden
to be exact. A man there named Tore Blom owns a couple locally
built rare traction engines by Munktells, a predecessor of the firm
that builds Volvo cars today. A color photo of the larger one was
used on the cover of Iron Men Album several years ago. A lavender
colored paint job on the jacket insulating the boiler was its most
obvious and perhaps memorable characteristic. Some of you probably
will recall it for that reason. Most will not know that virtually
the same photo was used on the British magazine, Steaming, at about
the same time. Also the engine was shipped to England to appear at
several shows that summer, 1987 or 1988, I think. Funds to
underwrite that truly international project were gathered in
England from several groups and individuals and the company which
builds Volvo helped too. I believe it was an anniversary of some
sort for them and they ‘needed some extra advertising
splash’. At any rate Mr. Blom and several English enthusiasts
have become fast friends and travel back and forth a good deal. It
may seem like a lot of travel but is not likely as far as our trip
to Waterloo, Iowa last summer. Anyhow Tore Blom sent a letter to
the Editor of Steaming and it is quoted in the Winter issue which I
received recently. In it he questions where the oldest traction
engine in operating condition resides. He also suggested it may be
a Tuxford ‘road locomotive’ engine of English manufacture
circa 1861, at the Hagfors railway museum in Sweden.

Tuxford’s built engines in Boston, England and there are
some nine portables listed in the Traction Engine Register
published by England’s Southern Counties group, but no
tractions. By the tone of parts of his letter as quoted, I expect
Tore was needling the sometimes stuffy British a bit while at the
same time seriously suggesting a research and some articles on
existing ‘ancient engines’. They definitely feel they have
a corner on steam engines and that none built elsewhere are up to
their standard. Sometimes they even seem to consider foreign
engines nearly worthless.

Well the idea worked although a long way off. I got to work and
dug through some of my materials and books and tried to find out
where the most ancient operating engines are in this country. As
has been mentioned before a time or two, traction engines seem to
have developed in the 1870’s and come into their own in the
decades from 1880 to 1910. After that they were in decline and were
virtually gone by 1925 or shortly after. But we are not looking now
at that aspect except as the limiting factor for our search. Since
no register of engines exists for North America, I mainly used
Norbeck’s Steam Traction Engines in the USA and Canada for my
research. I realize that it was just a listing of makes and was not
in any sense concerned with age of engines. It is however, the most
recent major collection of photos of engines. The oldest engine I
find mentioned there is a C & G Cooper engine in the Museum of
the successors, Cooper-Bessemer. It is reportedly a model from
1873. Several companies of course, take themselves out of the
running by getting into the game a bit late. Certainly dates 1900
and after are out of the running. Also not surprisingly Ford’s
Museum in Dearborn has some oldies and theirs would be in running
order as I presume the Cooper is. Their 1888 Birdsall and similar
aged Wood, Tabor and Morse are not only old but extremely rare four
wheel drive machines. Other one of a kind survivors include the
Greencastle and Blumentritt, both favorites of mine. The
Blumentritt was built in 1878 and Norbeck says rebuilt in 1952.
Does anyone know if it is still running or able to be steamed? It
was in Iowa then. I have seen the Greencastle in steam and probably
could have run it a few yards if I had not been too timid to ask.
It hails from 1885. Other old companies that could have engines in
the running are Heilman, Frick, Case, Garr-Scott, Huber, and D.
June. I saw a D. June portable in running order at the Au Glaize
Village Museum in Defiance, Ohio and understood from Marvin
McGeorge and others that the late Gilbert Enders of West Lodi, Ohio
had a traction engine. Does anyone know if it is in a museum
somewhere? Norbeck says no tractions are known. Westinghouse was
another old time company and the late Morgan Hill and Ford’s
Museum seem to have a tie with 1885 models. C. Aultman of Canton,
Ohio was very early too. How old is the Monitor at Pawnee? My
friend, Jim Malz’s, 14 HP Huber is listed by Norbeck as 1886
which makes it a very early Huber. Are there any older running? The
Canadian, George White Company, seems to go back to the early days
of 1880 or before. What are the oldest engines in the western
museums up there? Portables as usual tend to predate traction
engines and the British Register lists one as 1840 but in
‘derelict’ condition and of unknown manufacture. Perhaps
further investigation will shed some light or it. The oldest
Tuxford portable is listed as 1855 while a Humphries is listed as
1850, Fowler plowing engines as 1869 and 1870 (are the;,
traction?), and at 1862 a Barrows & Stewart portable and an
Aveling and Porter traction.

Charles Burrell and Sons Limited seems to have a special niche
with some 27 engines listed as pre-1900, all traction, plowing and
showmens engines which would be self propelled. I expect the
British may have us there at least. The Register does not say
whether the engines listed are running or ‘derelict’ so
that could be a problem depending on the requirements for Tore
Blom’s honors.

I’m getting a bit long again but since that is nothing new
for me. I’ll mention in closing one of my favorite railroad
pieces, the venerable locomotive, John Bull. First run on the
Camden and Amboy Railroad September 15, 1831 it was in regular
service until 1866 which is a very good record though not the
longest for railroad engines. After that it was out for the 1876
Centennial celebrations, a rail show in 1883 and the Columbian
Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. B. & O. used it as a feature
exhibit in a Centennial of their own in 1927 and she had the honor
of being copied in a full scale replica by the PRR in 1940. For the
150th year anniversary in 1981 the staff of the Smithsonian took
her out on some scenic track age and ran her under her own steam
once more. They said she did right well and that makes her the
oldest of her kind still running. Some people have all the luck
with that kind of toys to play with. By the way, the replica is at
the Pennsylvania RR Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, across the
road from the station of the ‘Railroad to Paradise’ and is
steamed regularly. I saw it back in to the building there a couple
of years ago. Being over 50 it is somewhat of an antique in its own
right.

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