Lewis Reed Photos: Steam-Powered Engines
Looking back at photography from the past is a fascinating experience for me. Since I started this blog, I have had the opportunity to look through my grandfather’s extensive collection of photographs from locations all across the country. The majority of his photos are more than 100 years old and, unfortunately, are lacking labels and/or dates, which requires quite a bit of research and a little photo detective work on my part. Adding up the clues can help solve the mystery, date, and help identify the images. Google sometimes surprises me with its capabilities.
The below previously unpublished photos (dated 1909) from Lewis Reed’s album are what appears to be some of the early machines that helped build America. Steam traction engines, or steam rollers and road locomotives as they were sometimes called, were the predecessor to today’s modern farm tractor. They could plow, they could haul, and you could put a big belt on the fly wheel and drive a saw mill; whatever you wanted to do. They were also used as a transportable power source. The engines would normally run on coal, wood, or even straw, or whatever would build a fire. The photos shown here were dated 1909.
As a Michigan farm boy, Henry Ford recorded his first sight of a traction engine: “I remember that engine as though I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than horse drawn that I had ever seen. It was intended to drive threshing machines and power sawmills and was simply a portable engine and a boiler mounted on wheels.” It was the steam traction engine that inspired Ford to design and manufacture automobiles.
A portable engine is a type of self-contained steam engine and boiler combination that may be moved from site to site. Although bearing a strong family resemblance, in both appearance and (stationary) operation, the portable engine is not classed as a traction engine as it is not self-propelled.
Steam Road Roller: This take-off of the steam traction engine was designed specifically for road building and flattening ground mimicking today’s modern rollers used for compacting road surfaces. A single, heavy roller replaced the front wheels and axle and a smoother rear wheels replaced larger wheels without strakes. (strake – name for the diagonal strips cast into or riveted onto the wheel rims to provide traction on unmade ground).
Photos cannot convey the raw power of a steam tractor: the way its pistons, valves, gears, and wheels are locked in constant motion. You really have to see this machinery in action.
Watch video of a 1916 Case steam engine tractor power a sawmill.