Steaming into the Future

An ungainly monster, the steam traction engine helped turn the buffalo’s pasture into America’s breadbasket

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The Smithsonian's Huber didn't find a buyer until 1930, and judging by its condition, saw only light work, probably powering a drivebelt at a sawmill. Many steam engines made in the 1920s were fitted with broad wheels for building roads, which is how the word "steamroller" entered the language. Huber built its last steam traction engine, a steamroller, in 1927.

The romance of steam traction engines still hasn't quite died, however. Hundreds of the old behemoths have been restored and maintained by the usual legion of hobbyists, who hold national conclaves and demonstrations where the machines are lovingly fired up again to lumber and majestically snort their way around. At such events, it is still advisable to leave your horse at home.

By Diotima Booraem


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