Traction Engines

The development of the traction engine actually started with the develoment of Clayton 6NHP Portable 2 the so called portable engines. A portable actually is nothing more than a boiler on wheels with a steamengine on top of it. These portables were used p.e. for powering of threshing machines. They were towed by horses. The boiler of a portable was more or less the same as the boiler of a train-locomotive. The engine mostly was small, something like 4 Nhp.

Very first example of a self moving portableIt was somewhere 1860 that the steamengine was adapted to drive the wheels of  the portable. Moving it by horses was no longer needed. The movement was ancillary, the main purpose of the portable engine still was to drive other machines. It was only later that the main purpose of the engine shifted to traction and the driving of other machines became ancillary.

Together with this traction engine the steamroller was developed. In 1860 the roads still were mainly dirt roads, not exactly suitable for a heavy machine like a traction engine. So the steamroller built the roads and the traction engine used it. Actually the steamroller was in fact a traction engine with rollers instead of wheels.First type of traction engine

Many types and brands were built, especially in England. For these engines there was a large market in the Commonwealth. The USA built their own and some brands were built on the continent.

Well know brands are Fowler, Burrell, McLaren, Sentinel and many others. The last engines were built in the 1920's and today still many survive.

John Fowler Traction EngineThe first traction engine had their engine at the back and the flywheel in front. The steering was done from a special platform in front of the engine.Later models had their steering at the back and the engine was moved to the back too. The control of the engine got easier and with less people.

The developement of traction engines was restricted by the much hated 'Red Flag Act' of 1865 which restricted the speed of traction engines to 4 miles and insisted that any engine was accompanied by three men, of which one with a red flag in front of the engine. The act was mainly to support the horsecoaches. But since there was no serious competitor to the traction engine the act was taken for granted.

 Types of traction engines are

  • the typical Traction engine
  • the Steamtractor
  • the Roadlocomotive
  • the Ploughing engine
  • the Roller
  • the Showman
  • the Steamlorry

Most traction engines were simple and unefficient engines with many details of outdated design. The manufacturers did not really improve and at the end the engines were still heavy, slow and expensive. The steamlorry was much more advanced, but when this lorry arrived the internal combustion lorries had already taken over the market.

The traction engine needed two man to drive it, it had to carry a boiler, water and coal, it took quite a time before steam was raised, the engine could take only little load and was slow. The internal combustion engines were in the advantage on all these points, so after 1920 no more traction engines were built.

Nowadays many engines are owned by hobbyists, restoring and maintaining them in running conditions. They are represented by The National Traction Engine Trust.