Taking a Brief look at Steam Traction Engines

Slow & Cumbersome

but Traction Engines

were a major advancement


The Traction Engine: Precursor to the Modern Agricultural Tractor
By: Dave Cole

The traction engine is probably one of the first major mechanical
equipments developed. They were infinitely useful to old time
farmers and other heavy workers and could be used for many
different things. For instance, you could use your traction
engine to plow ground, move heavy loads, run your sawmill right
on location, or provide power to any chosen spot. The main
purpose of the traction engine was to pull heavy loads behind it
and until this engine was invented most people made do with draft
horses and plows.

Traction engines are large, heavy, robust and powerful. The
drawback is that they are slow and harder to maneuver than
gasoline powered tractors. They look very similar to railroad
locomotives and sometimes are dubbed road locomotives for that

                        Case Traction Engine


In the late 19th century traction engines revolutionized the way
farms operated and at the time someone who owned a traction
engine would go around from farm to farm and for a fee help the
residents by plowing, pulling or providing power to whatever
needed doing.

When the gasoline powered tractor came into popular use in the
early twentieth century the traction engine declined. In some
place in the UK they were still used until the mid twentieth
century. Nowadays only a few examples can be found in museums in
various countries but in most cases those examples are still in
kept in working order.

Traction engines have a hard time going over soft ground or heavy
ground, so in most cases the traction engine would power belts to
load or to drag equipment from one end of a field to another. And
under some conditions they used cables to actually plough the
land. The traction engine's lack of ability to move well over
less than optimum ground is what led to the invention of the
steam tractor, with its large rear wheels for strong, steady

When the combustion engine was developed most steam powered
vehicles were replaced with machines that were driven by the
combustion engine. So the traction engine, steam tractor and many
other pieces of equipment can usually only be found in museums
today, although they still do their jobs well when they get the

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