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Technology Through Time

The Steam Traction Engine: The Solution

Ploughing with steam engine, Pincher Creek area, AlbertaPulling large engine gang plows through tough ground with all the accompanying jolting and jarring was hard work. Plowing engines, therefore, had to be designed to withstand the stresses caused by heavy traction work. The boilers on plowing engines had extra reinforcing, namely double or triple rows of riveting at joins. Butt-strap riveting, where a strip of metal was riveted over the joining of the plates, gave extra strength. On most threshing engines, the axles were mounted directly on the boiler. This arrangement was unsuitable for plowing engines because it put a great deal of strain on the boiler when plowing. Instead, plowing engines had extra plates or reinforcements, and special mounting brackets for the axles and the engine. Heavier gearing was also needed to avoid breakage under heavy loads. The plowman could purchase extensions for the wheel rims to keep the engine from sinking in soft ground.

The steam traction engine reached the zenith of its technological development and popularity in the early years of the twentieth century. In 1890, over 3,000 engines were manufactured in the United States: ten years later, over 30 companies were producing 5,000 annually. The J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company built more than twice as many of these behemoths as did any other firm. Between 1876 and 1924 when Case ended production of its steam traction engines, it had sold 35,737 for use on American and Canadian farms.

The Case 110 horsepower model, valued at $3,000 in 1915, symbolized the mammoth machines responsible for speeding the land breaking in Alberta. These machines could simultaneously pull gang plows, packers, seed drills and harrows, covering a strip nine metres wide at up to six kilometres per hour. This could cover 40 hectares a day. With horses, this would have taken 50 teams! However, breaking about 10 hectares a day became the norm.

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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