Steam Traction on the Road

Published on
March 15, 2019
Review Author(s)
Other Publication Information
200 pages, Hardcover, 6.5 x 9.5 inches, Color and B&W photos and illustrations.
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site

Steam Traction on the Road is a historical description of the development of steam power and the engineers and manufacturers that created steam vehicles. The book includes a nice description of the people that designed steam vehicles in addition to the steam engines themselves. The book’s focus is on steam engines in England, but also includes some mentions of steam vehicles in America and other countries.

The Author

Anthony Burton has been a professional writer and broadcaster for over forty years, during which time he has largely concentrated on the history of industry and transport. His books include The Canal Builders, recently reprinted in its fifth edition, and The Railway Builders. He has written a biography of the great steam pioneer Richard Trevithick and is currently writing the story of railway engineer Joseph Locke. He has worked as writer and presenter on a number of TV programmes for all main channels, including documentaries on the National Railway Museum, the Great Western Railway, the locomotive trials at Rainhill and the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

Steam Traction on the Road is organized in chronological chapters describing the development of steam engines and the people that built the vehicles:

Chapter One, Beginnings

Description of the initial development of stationary steam engines by describing the first steam road locomotive or steam road carriage in 1801 by Richard Trevithick.

Chapter Two, The Steam Omnibus

Provides a chronology of steam engine carriages used to carry large numbers of passengers through cities. Alternative traction systems were investigated before settling on the driven wheel. Early examples describe omnibus vehicles built by Walter Hancock and Goldsworthy Gurney. Strong opposition to steam carriages imposed rules and other restrictions that began to force the move to vehicles running on rails.

Chapter Three, Down on the Farm

Describes early agricultural uses of steam engines, primarily cable driven plow systems both in England, Canada, and America in the mid to late 1800s. An illustration of a cable driven plow and narrative of how the plow crews worked is provided.

Chapter Five, The Steam Roller

The need to build improved roads in the latter half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century led to the development of steamrollers. Steam engines driving rollers compacted roads, first the macadam type stone roads and then later tar roads. Serval different types of steam rollers both in England, France, and America are illustrated and described.

Chapter Six, Road Haulage

In the early 1900s steam engines were providing power for heavy hauling in industries such as forestry, mining, and shipbuilding. This chapter describes technical improvements to the engines and the improvement of rubber tires for use on heavy hauling vehicles. Several examples are given of work processes with the steam engines, like the hauling of large logs in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

Chapter Seven, The Fun of the Fair

In the late 1800s steam engines were used at fairs and circuses to generate electricity for lighting, operate machinery to erect rides, and to drive the rides themselves. These showman’s engines were often elaborately decorated and became attractions themselves.

Chapter Eight, Horseless Carriages for Gentleman

While legislation limited development of commercial steam vehicles, wealthy patrons and other individuals ordered them for their own use. Several examples of these lightweight steam carriages are presented and discussed. These lightweight carriages were developed in the late 1800s but had a limited development as they could not attract sufficiently large numbers of customers.

Chapter Nine, The Steam Car Comes of Age

This chapter describes the transition in the late 19th to early 20th centuries from the external combustion steam engines to internal combustion engines. Various fuel sources are described for the steam engines. The chapter also includes a good description of the development of the Stanley Steamer and its operating characteristics. Other cars discussed included those manufactured by White and Doble. The book also details the development of the steam powered bicycle and includes examples by Michaux-Perreaux and Roper. Both the steam car and steam bicycle were short lived and had a relatively small impact on transportation.

Chapter Ten, The Steam Wagon

Unlike the steam car and steam bike, the steam wagon, or road locomotive, was financially successful. The book describes these steam wagons as large roadworthy vehicles that could carry large loads, and includes examples from Leyland, Thorneycroft, Coulthard, Mann, and Foden. Other manufacturers such as Fowler continued development of the steam wagon in the early part of the 20th century. The Sentinel company was most successful, producing steam wagons for the British military in World Wars 1 and 2, and continuing to produce steam wagons into the 1950s. German companies Henschel and HANOMAG built a variety of steam trucks during the interwar years. Each of these companies and the vehicles they developed are described in fairly good detail.

Chapter 11 The End of the Road

This chapter describes the transition from the steam powered engine to the internal combustion engine, first in the agricultural traction engines, and then on the steam wagons. The internal combustion engined Model T Ford spurred the demise of the steam powered car as it was much simpler and less expensive. Gas and diesel trucks had advantages that caused a rapid movement away from steam, including pneumatic tires and the need for only one fuel tank, as opposed to two tanks for fuel and water in steam vehicles. The book describes how steam engines were used for entertainment in rallies and races after they became functionally outdated.


  • Locomotive Acts - Describes legislation passed by the British Parliament to limit steam engine use.
  • Select bibliography
  • Steam on Road photo credits
  • Index


Steam Traction on the Road reads easily and is a nice description of the development of steam powered vehicles and the people that designed and built them. The focus is on the English steam industry and includes clear photos and illustrations of the many vehicle examples. General history and steam buffs will enjoy the book, and modelers might find inspiration in the photos of steam vehicles.

Thanks to Pen & Sword for publishing the book and to Casemate for providing the review sample to IPMS.


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