Lombard's Log Hauler: The First Crawler Tractor

Let's Talk Rusty Iron: Sam Moore details the development and use of Alvin Lombard's log hauler, possibly the first crawler tractor ever produced.

| November 2001

  • FC_V4_I4_Nov_2001_04-2.jpg
    1907 patent drawing of the improved Lombard log hauler .
    Alvin Lombard
  • FC_V4_I4_Nov_2001_04-1.jpg
    This historic photo of a working log hauler in Wisconsin is from the collection at the Rhinelander Logging Museum in Rhineland, Wis.
    The Rhinelander Logging Museum

  • FC_V4_I4_Nov_2001_04-2.jpg
  • FC_V4_I4_Nov_2001_04-1.jpg

Benjamin Holt is generally credited with producing the first successful crawler tractor in November 1904, but several others seem to have been ahead of him.

Endless chain drives with 'feet' or pads of wood or iron were patented by at least three other men, Thomas S. Minnis of Meadville, Pa., in 1870, Robert C. Parvin of Illinois in 1873, and F.W. Baxter, whose state is not listed, in 1888.

None of these men's machines caught on, but then there was Alvin O. Lombard, who built and sold crawler tractors for logging, starting in 1901.

Alvin Orlando Lombard was born in 1856 and grew up on his father's farm near Springfield, Maine, a small town in the eastern part of the state. Mechanically inclined, young Lombard worked at lumber mills along the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers and eventually became a skilled millwright with several lumber mill-related inventions to his credit.

In 1899 or early 1900, E.J. Lawrence, a Kennebec lumberman, asked Lombard to come up with a mechanical log hauler. Lombard built a wooden model of a steam-powered machine with a horizontal boiler. The machine's front was supported on a pair of sled runners; the locomotive was equipped at the rear with a pair of endless tracks in place of large drive wheels.

Lawrence reportedly thought the design had promise, so Lombard had the Waterville Iron Works build a working prototype, and he filed for a patent. The machine, named Mary Ann, was first tried on Thanksgiving Day 1900, exactly four years before Holt tested his first crawler in California.