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Home > History of Development > Technology Through Time > Soil and Agriculture > Breaking Land > Traction Problem

Technology Through Time

The Steam Traction Engine: The Problem

Two people are dwarfed by a steam traction engine on a farm near Cereal in 1914. This is an Avery undermounted engine so no stress from the engine (bottom) is put on the engine (top).Steam traction engines of greater size were needed to provide the draft power required by big gang plows. There were many problems associated with steam power in the public's mind, however. The history of steam on the railways had created a mythology of disaster and calamity, replete with exploding boilers and grieving widows. Fires caused by sparks escaping from the smokestack and the damage to roads and bridges caused by the transportation of these heavy machines over inadequate local and municipal roads or bridges also caused widespread concern. But initially, the steam traction engine was the only source of motive power available. The first steam plowing in the Canadian West took place near Regina in 1883, and the concept simply moved west with settlement.

This new application of an old power source brought additional problems to light. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, steam traction engines were being used extensively for powering threshing machines in the central and eastern provinces. They were not, however, used for land breaking as that had occurred there several decades previously. Steam traction engine manufacturers soon discovered plowing put tremendous strains on the machinery that threshing did not. They quickly found out that the engines intended for plowing had to be heavier, stronger and more solidly constructed than those used for threshing.

Kenneth Tingley. Steel and Steam: Aspects of Breaking Land in Alberta. n.p.: Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum Society and Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historic Sites and Archives Service, 1992. With permission from
Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum.



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