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Steam-powered TractorIf you’ve ever wandered around The Cajun Village, you may have noticed a barn in the back next to Oliphant Images that is stocked with antique tractors. One of those tractors is particularly ancient. It is an old steam-powered traction tractor, built and used in the late 19th century. As I’ve written in the past, the Roberts have an affinity for saving and preserving the rich local farming heritage of the River Parishes, which is the main reason why the steam-powered tractor and its younger brethren are on display in the barn.

You’ll notice in the pictures that the steam-powered tractor looks quite different than the tractors we are used to nowadays; in fact, it resembles the steam engine on a train more than it does a tractor. That is mainly due to the fact that technology and machinery had not developed enough to adapt the various designs of machines to their specific task. Around 1850, the first traction engines were developed and were widely adopted for agricultural use. Where soil conditions permitted (as in the United States), steam tractors were used to direct-haul plows. 

The first steam tractors that were designed specifically for agricultural uses were portable engines built on skids or on wheels and transported to the work area using horses. Later models used the power of the steam engine itself to power a drive train to move the machine and were first known as “traction drive” engines which eventually was shortened to “tractor”. These drive mechanisms were one of three types: chain, shaft, and open pinion. The open pinion became the most popular design due to its strength. Later improvements included power steering, differentials, compounded engines, and butt-strap boiler design.

The steam engine was gradually phased out by the mid-1920s as the less expensive, lighter, and faster-starting internal combustion (kerosene, petrol or distillate) tractors fully emerged after World War I. These engines were used extensively in rural North America to aid in threshing, in which the owner/operator of a threshing machine or threshing rig would travel from farmstead to farmstead threshing grain. The immense pulling power of steam tractors allowed them to be used for ploughing as well.

So next time you visit The Cajun Village, don’t forget to wander around back and check out the old tractor barn. It is truly a unique setting!