Ploughing Machines 2

John Smith was very much in favour of a balanced boiler, which was pivoted around a central point and could be tipped forwards or backwards via a worm gear and a handle on the back of the boiler, near the regulator. The boiler was balanced on two trunnion blocks, which were mounted on the frame. The idea was that when the vehicle travelled up or down hill, the boiler could be adjusted so that water always covered the firebox crown plate. A spirit level was supplied for the purpose. It is not known if a Smith engine ever suffered from an overheated crown plate, but many complications were introduced into the design because of this. John Smith took out a patent for two designs of balanced boiler and his rear axle clips, on August 7th, 1858. The patent number was 1799 and was titled “Agricultural steam engines and locomotive steam engine to be used on common roads”.

In July 1859 John Smith exhibited some of his products at the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s Show at Warwick. He displayed a 12 hp. traction engine which was fitted with his patent boiler and reversing straps and was priced at £420. 

The location of the Village Foundry.

He also exhibited a 12 hp. horse-steered steam plough, which came complete with a windlass and was priced at £780. A third exhibit was a windlass that was built at Coven to Fowler’s design. Sales were good and it was decided that a larger works was required. In 1860 the Village Foundry was built on the corner of Brewood Road and Lawn Lane. The Smith family already had a cottage in Lawn Lane next to the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. The new works occupied the land in-between the cottage and Brewood Road. The main building, known as the machine shop had 5 bays, at least two of which were fitted with large heavy sliding doors. Above the machine shop in the loft was the pattern shop, which was also used as a village Sunday school. Next to the machine shop was the foundry and the blacksmith’s shop. There was also a separate boiler shop near to the chapel.

In July 1860 John Smith displayed a 10 hp. steam ploughing engine at  the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s Show at Canterbury. It was fitted with a winding drum underneath the boiler, which was driven off the crankshaft by a short vertical shaft and bevel gear. The machine achieved 7 m.p.h. fully laden and 20 m.p.h. when empty. It was priced at £720.

Repairs to other makes of traction engine were also carried out at the Village Foundry. On 13th October, 1860 John Smith left the works to deliver a customer’s machine that had been in for repair. On the journey the boiler exploded and blew him through a hedge. He was scalded on his legs, but could so easily have been killed.

In 1861 John Smith went into partnership with John Birch Higgs, a local man from Brewood. Higgs eventually became Smith’s brother-in- law. In the same year they took out two joint-patents for improvements in threshing machines (patent numbers 757 and 3188). One of their machines utilising these improvements was exhibited at the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s 1861 Show at Leeds. They also displayed a 10 hp. two cylinder traction engine with a balanced boiler and iron wheels, price £395.

A Smith traction engine with a balanced boiler.

Smith and Higgs also exhibited the following year at the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s Show at Battersea. They displayed a 7 hp., single cylinder traction engine with an overtype engine and a large steam dome. Large steam domes became a standard feature of the company’s products. The 6 ft diameter driving wheels were belt driven and two speeds were available. The engine had a 4 ft diameter flywheel which ran at 150 rpm. when driving a belt.

Steam Locomotion on Common Roads. The Engineer, 4th September, 1896.

It is interesting to note that one of the first traction engines ever made was of the locomotive pattern. The two cylinders were placed beneath the smokebox, the engine working below the boiler barrel. The engine was made by Messrs. Ransomes and May, now Messrs. Ransomes, Sims, and Jefferies, Ipswich, and exhibited at the Norwich Show in 1849.

Nine years later Mr. John Smith, junior, of Coven, near Wolverhampton, patented the road locomotive that has been several times referred to by The Engineer. This engine certainly deserves a full description. The patent is dated 1858, No. 1790. Fig. 3 shows a side elevation, Fig. 4 gives an end view of the engine, while Fig. 5 illustrates the trunnion on which the boiler rested. An old engraving I have before me has the following description:

The engraving represents Smith and Higg's patent locomotive steam engine, to travel on the ordinary roads without horses. It has been practically tested for three years, and is fully appreciated by those who have been saved much horse labour. It consists of an 8-horse power locomotive steam engine, fitted with patent adjusting boiler, so constructed as to keep the water always on a level when going on hilly roads, thereby preventing priming or burning the firebox or tubes. It is also fitted with frictional straps for actuating one or both of the hind road wheels.


It will be seen from Fig. 3 that two deep side plates of wrought iron run the whole length of the engine and tender. The two cylinders, 6½in . diameter and 10in. stroke, are bolted between these plates beneath the smokebox. The crank shaft is placed as near to the saddle plate of the boiler as possible, so as to obtain long connecting rods; the bearings for the crank shaft are let into the side plates. On one end of the crank shaft a small chain pinion is keyed, which drives a largo chain wheel keyed to the axle; the ratio of the chain driving gear is 9 to 1.

The axle is fixed beneath the fire hole door, and is mounted on a pair of good springs carried by the side plates. Strong wood wheels are shown; the drivers are 6ft. diameter, having twelve spokes, connected together in the centre of their length by a wrought iron ring. The leading wheels and under carriage are made of wood. Here are the three commendable features which produce a silent running engine, wood wheels, chain driving gear, and a good arrangement of springs. I have been particularly pleased with the silent manner in which some of the old wood wheel, chain driven and light self moving engines have passed over ordinary roads at moderate speeds. Unless you happened to see the engine you would not know that a road locomotive was passing your dwelling. If a modern road locomotive engine traverses the same road, at the same speed, the noise and vibration, it must be admitted are anything but pleasant, and to many persons are a real source of irritation. I trust, however, that the coming road engines will be no more a nuisance than were the old types referred to.

Mr. Smith introduced the frictional straps, by means of which the axle would drive one or both of the main wheels; these straps were very extensively used on ploughing engines until quite recently. From Figs 3 and 4 it will be seen that the boiler is pivoted on a casting carried by the side plates. The boiler could be maintained in a horizontal position by means of a screw and hand wheel, while the engine was traversing hilly roads. It was found however, that this arrangement was not needed in practice. A large dome is adopted, from the top of which the steam is conducted to the trunnion, and from thence to the cylinder. The trunnion on the opposite side served as the feed-water supply pipe. Fig. 5 illustrates this detail. The admission of the steam is controlled by a gland cock. A flywheel is keyed to the overhanging end of the crank shaft; the engine is fitted with link motion reversing gear and a set of governors.

The steersman is provided with a seat in close proximity to the chimney and the hot smokebox, but judging by the expression on the face of the individual who occupies this responsible seat, no discomfiture is realised.

The weight of the engine and boiler are exceedingly well distributed fore and aft. A door is provided for ready access to a roomy footplate; beneath this footplate is the feed water tank. The boiler is of the raised firebox locomotive type, and the working pressure is 100 lb. per square inch.

It is stated that a counter shaft was added to one of the engines made by Mr. Smith, with spur gearing between the crank shaft and the intermediate shaft.

This engine is reported to have travelled six miles at the rate of eight miles an hour, and was eventually sent into the neighbourhood of Bristol.

The Engineer said: "This was one of the best traction engines we have ever seen." And again: "It became one of the most satisfactory traction engines we ever saw." It is also written: "Such an engine was built by the late Mr. Smith, and was perfectly successful." Considering the date when this engine was built, it is a most creditable piece of designing, and perfectly fulfilled some of the vital requirements of road locomotive engines.

The Royal Agricultural Society’s Show in Battersea Park.  The Engineer, 27th June, 1862.

Among the other self-propelling engines is one, the Bee, by Mr. Smith, of Coven, combining some good points. In several respects it is an incomplete copy of Mr. Aveling's engine. The weight is kept well upon the driving wheel, and the cylinder is placed on the top of the boiler towards the smoke box, just at the back, however, of a large steam dome. The cylinder is 8½in. in diameter, and 10in. stroke, the whole weight of the engine, empty, being about 6 tons. The steering gear is in front, and occupies but little room. The driving wheels are 6ft. in diameter, and only 8in. wide. A friction strap is placed on the back of each, and through this strap all the power is applied. The gearing is for slow and quick speeds, the geared wheels being too light for much service. The driving axle is 4½in. in diameter. This engine is employed to drive a thrashing machine, and in this are two fans drawing hot air, through a series of large and readily connected pipes, from the firebox of the engine, the object being to dry the grain in the process of thrashing. There are but two belts on the whole machine. Some practical farmers prefer this arrangement to Bruckshaw and Underhill's fan blast, now extensively adopted by implement makers.


An article from The Engineer, 10th October, 1862.

This invention, by John Smith, senior, of Coven, near Wolverhampton, has for its object improvements in drying wheat and other grain. Figs. 1 and 2 represent an arrangement for carrying out the invention; Fig. l shows a portion of a thrashing machine, in which the grain is drawn up by the exhaustive action of a fan; and Fig. 2 is a vertical section of the fan. a is the fan; b is the tube through which the heated air enters the box c, into which the grain is admitted by the spout d for the purpose of being elevated to other parts or the thrashing machine.

The corn is delivered from the spout d into the hopper e, and surrounds the lower edge of the suction tube f, which is fixed so as to leave half an inch space for the full inlet of the grain into the suction tube. The hot air rushes from the box c into the tube f along with the corn, and both are drawn into the fan at the centre, as shown in Fig. 2, and are thence delivered to other parts of the threshing machine by the spout g, Fig. 1.

It may be sometimes found convenient (when a portable steam engine is used for thrashing) to connect the tube b with the smokebox of the engine, in order to obtain a supply of heated air, but the heated air may be otherwise obtained, a separate fire being used to heat it.  There is a slide by which cold air can be admitted to the hot air pipe, so that the heat of the current of air to which the grain is exposed may be regulated as may appear necessary.


An article from The Engineer, 26th December, 1862.

This invention, by John Smith, of Coven, near Wolverhampton, has for its object improvements in thrashing machines. In a former provisional specification filed by him, and dated the 28th of February last, he described an invention consisting (in part) in artificially heating the current of air which is employed for raising the grain from the lower part of the thrashing machine to the upper.

He has since discovered that a current of artificially heated air may also be usefully applied in a threshing machine in the following manner. The current of artificially heated air may be employed in winnowing the grain as it passes over the riddles and falls from riddle to riddle; or, where the grain is raised by a mechanical elevator, in place of by a current of air, the artificially heated air may be made to pass along the elevator trunk. Or a current of artificially heated air may be made to pass through the barley hummeller, which is a horizontal or inclined passage through which the grain passes, and where it is kept in constant motion by revolving instruments, which by the friction they produce brighten the grain and in the case of barley knock off the spike.

Or the grain may be made to descend a passage or spout traversed by a current of artificially heated air, which may then, if desired, be used to separate the light from the heavier grains, as is in some cases practised, or the passage or spout may be placed horizontally, and the grain may be carried along it by a screw or other similar instrument, or the current of air may be sufficiently strong to carry the grain with it. In all cases, however, in which a current of artificially heated air is used in conjunction with thrashing machines, it has been found most advantageous to obtain the artificially heated air required by causing a fan to draw its supply of air from the smoke box or flue of the engine employed to drive the thrashing machine. In some cases the grain as it passes from one part of a thrashing machine to another is caused to pass through a passage surrounded by a steam jacket, or heated by steam pipes or cases, and the steam jackets, pipes, or cases are connected by suitable pipes with the boiler of the engine.

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