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Manufacturers Index - Joseph W. Fawkes
Last Modified: Jul 16 2014 9:50PM by joelr4
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Manufactured the first Steam Plow in the U. S. in 1858.

Information Sources

  • American Steam Engine Builders: 1800-1900 by Kenneth L. Cope, 2006, page 87
  • From a 1859 issue of Wisconsin Farmer,V11 page 410


          The undersigned, a committee of machinists appointed to test practically the plowing engines which might compete for an award offered by your society, and called upon subsequently to reply to certain inquiries, respectfully report:

          That there was but one offered for trial, which came within the provisions of the resolution. This was invented and patented by Joseph W. Fawkes of Pennsylvania.

          To form a complete conception of this steam plow, let the committee recall the appearance of a small sized tender of a locomotive engine; let about half the forward portion of the sides and tank be removed. We now have something, which resembles the body of Fawkes’ machine. In the middle of the forward portion of the platform stands an upright boiler, which is about six feet and one-half high, and four feet in diameter, the fire-box and dash-pit being of course below the level of the platform, and the fire-door opening forward. The boiler contains two hundred twenty-eight and one-half inch tubes, which computed together with the fire-box gives three hundred and seventy-five feet of re surface. Steam may be got up in fifteen minutes, although twice that time is usually necessary. The fuel may either be bituminous coal or wood. The cylinders are horizontal, nine inches in diameter and fifteen-inch stroke, and are placed one on each side of the boiler. The pistons communicate motion, not to the side wheels but to a drum or roller, six feet in diameter and six feet long, which, as the sides of the platform overhang its end, is comparatively out of sight. The drum is placed about midway between the front and back of the machine; before it depends the fire-box, and over and behind it is the tank; so that, when the boiler and tank are full, they nearly counterbalance each other on the axles of the driving drum.

          This drum is composed of two iron heads, or “spiders," and an intermediate one; to these, thick narrow planks, out like staves, and fitting closely, are bolted, and form the periphery. The adhesion is, therefore, produced by a surface of wood six feet long, which never becomes polished, and the bearing of which is always across the grain. There is no slipping; the machine is started and stopped instantly; and, except when propelling itself a considerable distance on turnpike and paved roads, the wear and tear is slight. This substitution of the driving roller or the ordinary side-wheels, wonderfully increases traction, and prevents sloughing in wet or yielding soil; while moderate irregularities of surface scarcely affect the onward march of the plow. Another great advantage is gained by the gearing 0f the drum. Instead of being attached directly to a crank on the axle of the drum, each connecting rod communicates motion to a pinion, which turns easily, but without shake on the axle just mentioned. The pinion interlocks with a cogwheel, which by a pinion on its axes imparts motion to the cog w eel bolted to the drum. The whole being so proportioned that six strokes of the piston cause one revolution of the drum.

          Increase of power and of control over the movements of the engine are thus secured.

          The front of the fire-box is a short tapering bow of sheet iron, which serves as a seat for the fireman and a receptacle for fuel. The bow is supported by a body-bolt on a truck composed of two iron guide wheels three and one feet in diameter, and fifteen inches broad. The truck moves freely like the front wheels of a chaise, and is controlled by a steering wheel in charge of the engineer, so that the machine is turned as rapidly and as short as a farm wagon. The engine is of thirty-horse power. The entire length of the machine is about eighteen feet; its weight, with water and fuel, ten tons; and cost, including "donkey” engine and pump, about $4,050. By this pump water may be drawn from a well or creek, an the tank filled, or water forced from the tank to the boiler. The tank holds three barrels, sufficient for three hours running.—

          The plows, eight in number, are attached to one frame, which is suspended by chains passing over grooved pulleys in two beams, projecting from the seat to the engine. These chains communicate to the windlass in charge of the fireman in front, by which the gang of plows may be raised or lowered at pleasure, and the frame of the plows is drawn by other chains which are attached to the under side of the frame of the engine.

          In answer to several questions propounded by your Board touching the capacity and practicability of the engine for farm purposes, we find upon trial and examination, as follows:

    First—The weight ten tons, as reported by Mr. Fawkes.

    Second—The fuel consumed in one hour was one hundred and seventy pounds, or two bushels and ten pounds of inferior coal, with one eighth part of a cord of wood, evaporating about one hundred and fifty gallons of water, plowing one acre in twelve minutes (which includes turning.)

    The wood used was mostly of limbs, and considerably decayed, and would have been rejected by steamboats.

    Third—The amount of traction on different grades of land would be a matter difficult to determine, with the facilities in the hands of the committee. We had the engine run up the various grades of the fair grounds, passing into a gully, with the plows swung in the rear, which struck on one bank as the main roller was rising the other, which overpowered the engine; but upon detaching the plows, the machine moved out without the least difficulty. Upon measurement, the grade was found to be one foot vertical to four set on the horizontal line. Steam, by the indicator, was marked at only 62°—100°being his ordinary pressure.

    Fourth—The friction produced by the pressure against the shoulders of the axles, instead of being fair on the journals (which are of less size) may possibly make a slight waste of power in running across inclined plains. The wear and tear would be the some as with any other steam engine used for locomotion.

    The engine can be safely run across an inclined plane of thirty degrees, because of its great breadth of base (six feet)—the principal part of the boiler, the heavy fire-box, and a great portion of the machinery, being below the center.

    Fifth—We have previously stated that an acre could be plowed in twelve minutes; but an examination of the following computations will demonstrate its actual performance. A strip of land two hundred and forty yards long and twenty feet wide, was plowed in four minutes; and the headlands of fifty feet were crossed, one in twenty-seven seconds, the other in thirty—the plows being elevated and lowered to and from the ground in time.

    Sixth—No steam engine in existence should be entrusted to inexperienced persons.

    This one is as simple as any one we ever examined, is strong and substantial. It is a locomotive high-pressure engine in construction, arranged for reversing at will and was repeatedly advanced and reversed a few inches at a time with perfect ease, and in a few seconds. The skill requisite to man the machine could be acquired in a month, by any intelligent American farmer; and your committee, in view of the certainty of the employment of steam for farming purposes, w0uld strongly recommend that the farmers of Illinois should give especial attention, in the education of their sons, to the principles of mechanics, and the practical management of steam engines.

    Seventh—The fuel furnished b the society to your committee was of such inferior quality as to hardly enable us to demonstrate fairly the steam-generating capability of the boiler, but by referring to the amount of its fire surface (three hundred and seventy-five square feet) it will be seen, by practical men, that, with the advantage of an exhaust to create artificial draught, it is fully competent, with ordinary fuel, to generate continuously abundant steam for its work. In weight of coal and wood on board, and of passengers, it carried, throughout the experiment, as much as would represent the weight of an entire day’s supply of fuel. it would carry water for a three hours run.

    Eighth—As a stationary engine, her power was tested at Power Hall, where, after jacking up her rear end so that the main drum turned clear of the ground, by applying the power direct to the drum of the roller, one hundred and twenty revolutions of it were obtained per minute. By passing the belt of a fifty foot line of shafting over the drum, the engine propelled one eight horse thresher, and one corn and cob mill at work at the rate of twenty-five bushels an hour, two small iron corn mills grinding six bushels each per hour, one wood molding machine, one re-sawing circular saw two feet in diameter, and a smut machine of high speed; all simultaneously, and with only ten pounds of steam. From experience with circular saws, we estimate it as capable of running two of the largest size at one time.— It is perfectly competent to go into the timber, haul logs where the ordinary log wagons would be employed, and in one hour he jacked up and furnish power to those of large size.

    Ninth—The fire-box being within fourteen inches of the ground, the machine can run without injury through water twelve inches deep; it was run by us over ground where by hand pressure a lath was forced down fifteen inches, and on examination we were of the impression that the compaction of the surface by the machine was not over one inch. Horses crossing the slough sank to their fetlocks, but, as with the engine the actual surface at all times pressing upon the ground is six square feet, the ability to sustain weight is much greater than with the wagon and team, where the weight rests on narrow bases. The four wagon wheels present a surface width of seven inches in all, but the engine with its drum and guiding wheels present a surface of one hundred and two inches. The weight of the engine is ten tone, that of a we on load of grain one and a half tune, or something more than one-sixth as much; but the engine, with a drum six feet in diameter, gives a much greater proportional contact wit the ground, and its road is proportionally less liable to miring in sloughs.

    Tenth—The difference of power between running the engine on hard road and common prairie, would e great, but that between running on ordinary ground and ground so soft that the drum would sink in for several inches, we have no means of knowing. It is evident, however, from the explanations in the preceding answer, that ground in such condition that a drum six feet in diameter and six feet long would move to that depth, would he entirely unfit to plow, and could not be even crossed by horses.

    Having thus in detail answered the interrogations put to us by the executive committee, We desire to make some general remarks with reference to the practicability of employing steam for plowing and other farm purposes.— The experiments with Fawkes’ steam plow engine have demonstrated to our satisfaction that it is practicable, that, in a few years, a large portion of the labor now formed by animal power on the farm will be superseded by steam, especially in prairie countries, and on well improved farms, where there are but few stones and other obstructions.

    The engine here exhibited is intended only for large operations, being capable of breaking from twenty-five to forty acres per day; but we see no reason why the size might not be reduced considerably (saving one-fourth) and still successfully compete wit animal owner. A skilled engineer, sent to witness this trial by the largest machinist in Ohio, has reported favorably to his employer, and a contract has already been made by him with Mr. Fawkes to build a small engine for his farm of three hundred acres.

    We estimate the cost of plowing by it from the following very liberal data:

    One ton of coal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. $5.00
    One cord of wood . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . , . . . . . . . . . . . . .. $8.00
    labor of three men-engineer, fireman and assistant . . . . . . . . . .$4.00
    Ordinary wear and tear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. $2.00
    Interest, 10 per cent on $4000 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1.12
    Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$16.12

          With the most liberal allowance for hauling water and coal one mile, for stoppages and turnings, the machine should plow twenty five acres per day. At present contract prices of $2.50 per acre for prairie breaking, this would cost $62.40, while by the above estimate it is seen that Fawkes plows for sixty-four and one-fourth cents per acre.

          Your committee regrets that accidents to the other competitors, before reaching the ground, should have prevented a test of the comparative merits of the several plans already adopted, and about to be presented to the public.— The interest manifested in the progress of this trial, not only by the visitors upon the show-grounds, but by the public at large will no doubt stimulate other agricultural bodies to follow the example so nobly set by the Illinois State Agricultural Society, and thus ample opportunity will be afforded for their competition.

          Your committee, in view of the result of their experiments, unanimously recommend that the First Prize of three thousand dollars be awarded to Joseph W. Fawkes of Christiana, Lancaster County, Pa., for his steam plow.

    All of which is respectfully submitted.
    Isaac A. Hegges, Cincinnati
    P. W. Gates, Chicago
    A. A. Latta, Cincinnati