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The Gearhead’s Guide to Tractor Traction Engines

We want to teach you all about little-known tractor traction engines.

And as a quick aside --- we are here to help you purchase a new tractor, parts, and implements

when the time is right.

Let’s get to the details.

Introduction to Tractor Traction Engines

The first powered farm implements in the early 19th century were portable engines.

These were steam engines on wheels that could be used to drive mechanical farm machinery by way of a flexible belt.

Richard Trevithick designed the first “semi-portable” stationary steam engine for agricultural use. It was known as a "barn engine" in 1812. This engine was used to drive a corn threshing machine. The truly portable engine was invented in 1893 by William Tuxford of Boston, Lincolnshire who started manufacture of an engine built around a locomotive-style boiler with horizontal smoke tubes.

A large flywheel was mounted on the crankshaft, and a stout leather belt was used to transfer the drive to the equipment being driven.

In the 1850s, John Fowler used a Clayton & Shuttleworth portable engine to drive apparatus in the first public demonstrations of the application of cable haulage to cultivation.

Self-propelled Engines

In parallel with the early portable engine development --- many engineers attempted to make them self-propelled – the forerunners of the traction engine.

In most cases this was achieved by fitting a sprocket on the end of the crankshaft and running a chain from this to a larger sprocket on the rear axle.

These experiments met with mixed success. The first proper traction engine, in the form recognizable today, was developed in 1859 when British engineer Thomas Aveling modified a Clayton & Shuttleworth portable engine, which had to be hauled from job to job by horses, into a self-propelled one.

The alteration was made by fitting a long driving chain between the crankshaft and the rear axle.

Traction Engines

The first half of the 1860s was a period of great experimentation.

By the end of the decade --- the standard form of the traction engine had evolved and would change little over the next sixty years.

It was widely adopted for agricultural use.

The first tractors were steam-powered plowing engines. They were used in pairs --- placed on either side of a field to haul a plow back and forth between them using a wire cable.

In Britain, Mann's and Garrett developed steam tractors for direct plowing --- but the heavy, wet soil of England meant that these designs were less economical than a team of horses. In the United States, where soil conditions permitted, steam tractors were used to direct-haul plows.

Steam-powered agricultural engines remained in use well into the 20th century until reliable internal combustion engines had been developed.

Hopefully, this brief article has helped you better understand traction engines.

If you need any further help or have any questions about traction engines, tractors, implements, or anything else equipment-related, please contact your dealer, local mechanic, or call us at 602-734-9944. Please ask about our current new and used tractor supply.

If you are looking for old, vintage, classic, or new tractor parts, send us a part request.

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