Wright Influence

Steamrollers Paved the Way to America

| December 2008

  • RhodeDrakeRoller.jpg
    Opposite page: 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.)
  • OSKellyTripleCylinder.jpg
    Left: A rare find! This is only the fourth-known image of the extremely unusual O.S. Kelly triple-cylinder road locomotive. Other extant photos show these machines equipped with a horizontal drum for cable-plowing, beneath the boiler. Of all the U.S. engine manufacturers, only Kelly produced such a cable-plowing device. This shows the engine was used purely for hauling, without the drum mechanism. Interestingly, Frederick W. Wright is seen standing at the left of the platform of this engine, which is said to be hauling rock during construction of the Panama Canal. (Photo courtesy the Wright family.)
  • WrightFamilyMembers.jpg
    Wright family members (from left): Edward T., Frederick W. and patriarch Thomas Wright. This circa 1903 photo depicts an Oastler model roller (right) and its successor, a Monarch “King of the Road” steamroller (barely visible to the left). (Photo courtesy Wright family.)
  • Exampleofsmall5tontandemRlr.jpg
    An example of the small 5-ton tandem steamroller produced by Kelly-Springfield Road Roller Co. in 1913, in use in the tree-lined avenue of Hirschengraben (literally “Deer-ditch”) Berne, Switzerland, in 1915. (Photo courtesy Swiss Steam Roller Club Archive.)
  • OastlerSteamRoller.jpg
    Above: The patented spring-loaded scrapers and drawbar plus footstep can be seen in this rear view of an Oastler steamroller. Additionally, this machine is equipped with steel picks fitted in the rear rolls. Note the manstand appears very British in its origin. (Photo courtesy Derek Rayner.)
  • OastlerSteamRoller-1.jpg
    Right: This scene, taken in front of the Groton, N.Y., plant of Monarch Road Roller Co., shows Thomas Wright demonstrating two Oastler rollers for his son, Edward. (Photo courtesy Wright family.)
  • LongeneckerbuiltSteamRoller.jpg
    A very recently discovered illustration of a Longenecker-built steamroller which shows the English-type bunker on what is essentially an American-style roller. (Photo courtesy Wright family.)

  • RhodeDrakeRoller.jpg
  • OSKellyTripleCylinder.jpg
  • WrightFamilyMembers.jpg
  • Exampleofsmall5tontandemRlr.jpg
  • OastlerSteamRoller.jpg
  • OastlerSteamRoller-1.jpg
  • LongeneckerbuiltSteamRoller.jpg

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.