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B2265 Fowler steam ploughing engine, No. 5933, 18 nhp, full size, metal / timber, made by John Fowler & Co, Steam Plough Works, Leeds, England, 1889. Click to enlarge.

Fowler 18 nhp steam ploughing engine

This steam ploughing engine is an example of the world's first successful method of powered cultivation, developed by John Fowler of Leeds, England in 1863. This involved ploughing with two traction engines, each with a drum carrying cable suspended beneath its boiler. Located on either side of a field, the engines took turns to drag the cable, to which a special balance plough was attached.

Traction engines were developed by the early 1860s, but they were too heavy to pull ploughs directly …


Object No.


Object Statement

Fowler steam ploughing engine, No. 5933, 18 nhp, full size, metal / timber, made by John Fowler & Co, Steam Plough Works, Leeds, England, 1889

Physical Description

Fowler steam ploughing engine, No. 5933, 18 nhp, full size, metal / timber, made by John Fowler & Co, Steam Plough Works, Leeds, England, 1889, used by Sir Samuel McCaughey at Yanco, NSW, Australia until 1912 and NSW Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission, at Leeton, NSW, Australia, until 1930s

The appearance of the ploughing engine closely resembles the general purpose traction engine but is much larger in scale and features a massive two speed cable drum suspended from the underside of the boiler between the firebox and front axle. It carries a high carbon steel cable 450 yards (411.5 m) in length and three quarters of an inch (19 mm) in diameter neatly coiled on the drum. The strands of wire are laid in the same direction both individually and in groups. This is known as Lang's right hand lay and was renowned for its ability to withstand the severe abrasion casued by dragging over the ground. The drum is driven via bevel gears on the near side of the crankshaft by the flywheel engaging with a similar gear mounted at the top of a vertical shaft. A dog clutch operated by a lever at the driver's platform engages the shaft as required.

The ploughing engine is a single cylinder 18 nominal horsepower type with a riveted steel locomotive-type boiler containing 34 fire tubes and a wood-burning firebox. Fittings include water gauge, shut off cocks, pressure gauge, safety valves, blower, injector, clack and blow down valves, mud holes and manhole inspection door. The single cylinder is lagged and clad with metal. The drain cock is controlled from the footplate. There are crosshead guides, and Stephenson's link gear drives a piston valve. As these engines weighed about 23 tonnes and had to work on soft ground, they were fitted with very wide wheels to spread the load. The whistle mounted on top of the regulator chest was essential for signalling the distant engine across the field, which was also fitted with a cable drum; the cable stretched across the field between the engines and carried a plough back and forth; the engines advanced down the sides of the field so the plough could cover all the ground. In this way, the heavy engines only compacted soil at the sides of the field.

The engine also features worm and roller chain steering, a canopy over the driving platform, and a metal basket attached to the rear of the engine for carrying timber (instead of a coal tender). The livery is black with red, yellow and brown fine lining.


Builder: John Fowler & Co., Leeds, England
Date: 1889
Type: single cylinder
Engine No: 5933
Horse power: 18 nominal horse power (13.4 kW)
Cylinder bore: 12 inches (304 mm)
Cylinder stroke: 14 inches (356 mm)
Front wheel diameter: 5 feet (1.5 m)
Speeds: 4 miles per hour (6.4 km/h) and 6 miles per hour (9.7 km/h)
Fire grate area: 11 square feet (1 sq. m.)
Boiler pressure: 120 pounds per square inch (826.8 kPa)
Fuel: wood
Water capacity: 318 gallons (1446 litres)


The maker's plate reads 'JOHN FOWLER & Co / (LEEDS) LIMo / STEAM PLOUGH WORKS / LEEDS.'



4100 mm


3150 mm


22000 kg


Credit Line

Purchased 1977

Acquisition Date

9 August 1977

Cite this Object


Fowler 18 nhp steam ploughing engine 2023, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 23 March 2023, <>


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