steam power was first used in agriculture at the end of the eighteenth
century it was not until the 1840s, with steady improvements in design,
availability and price of engines, that it began to make a more general
impact on farms.
The mobile engine, either self-propelled or hauled by a horse, emerged
as the most practical type and the driving of threshing and related machinery
as the most suitable farm-based work. From the middle of the nineteenth
century, much effort and ingenuity was devoted to the challenge of applying
the steam engine to field work, especially ploughing. The most effective
system used two engines, one on either side of the field, to wind a plough
backwards and forwards between them on a cable. It worked well enough
but was only really viable for a minority of farms where the fields were
large enough to justify the expense. The heyday of steam ploughing came
at the beginning of the twentieth century but it never quite fulfilled
its early promise. Steam threshing remained a common sight until the later
1940s when the era of the combine harvester began in earnest. This left,
as shown in the photograph, lots of now redundant engines rusting in contractors'
yards, some of which were subsequently saved by collectors and museums
as steam nostalgia began to take off in the 1950s.