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A Horseless Carriage Mystery and an Enormous Steam-Powered Tractor

We haven’t featured a horseless carriage mystery automobile in quite some time, and today’s lead image fits the bill perfectly. The touring car by an unknown maker has front doors and acetylene headlamps, which appear date it to the 1911 to ’12 period. Being a mid-sized car it is likely that it was powered by a 30 to 40 h.p four-cylinder engine.

The photo was taken at a parade at the Swiss-Italian Celebration, in San Luis Obispo, California. A number of Swiss-Italians farmers settled in the area at the time and operated dairy farms.

We admit that the photo (below) of a steam tractor is not in very good condition, but have included here because it is interesting and quite substantial. The notation on the picture states: Steam Plough Ranch No. 3, King City (California.) Note the somewhat unusual steam condenser constructed of coiled tubing hanging under the middle of the boiler. Can anyone identify the maker of this impressive machine?

Please share with us what you find of interest in the photos courtesy of the Michael J. Semas Collection.

31 responses to “A Horseless Carriage Mystery and an Enormous Steam-Powered Tractor

  1. That’s not a condenser under the tractor. It’s a cable winch used to pull the plow (seen just in front) across the field. 2 tractors were used to pull it back and forth. This is definitely a British built tractor.

  2. I am guessing a 4 cylinder Fiat, maybe a Tipo 54 with the windshield removed for the parade. 1912 would be the last year for carbide lamps, but it could also be a 1913 with aftermarket carbide lamps fitted, as many preferred them over the electric versions.

  3. The Parade Car appears to be a circa 1911-1913 Pierce Arrow but is somewhat obscured by the decorations. How ever I’ll let the Early Car experts weigh in on this one.

  4. The parade car definitely reminds me of an Overland or the era. I’m unable to look and compare photos right now, but hopefully someone else can better i.d. the car.

  5. Just above the word plough on the photo can be seen the multi-furrow reversible plough that the engine is pulling. I saw a similar set up being demonstrated at The Great Dorset Steam Fair in 2016.

  6. With regard to the steam ploughing engine there will of course be another one the same at the other end of the paddock – to pull the plough back the other way.

  7. Seen at the front of the tractor and off to the right of the tractor, is the plow that is drawn back and forth between two tractors. The plow was a tilting affair that could plow either direction without turning it around.

  8. The parade car in the lovely town of SLO is at the intersection of Monterey St and Osos St. City Hall is to the right. The building in the background is still there.

    • direct ploughing with steam led to soil compaction: the power to weight ratio of steam tractors is poor .There were many attempts at steam cultivation including what amounted to 30 ton rotovators.A quick google will probably keep you boggled for an hour or two’

  9. Quite a challenge this one! The car appears to be a 1913 Apperson model 4-45 touring car. It was the only model I could find fitting all details like door shape and double striping op body top line, short filler tube, spring horn shape and rectangular rear spring end cover. It seems to be rather rare , because I have only few images of that specific model. One was in the annual overview of the Automobile Trade Journal of that year, and besides I have a not very good catalogue scan. All other details seem to fit, though a good catalogue scan would be helpful. Of course the 1913 models normally were available already during autumn 1912.

  10. Magnifying the first photo to 300% shows the radiator badge, but I have not found a good match. The front hub cap also shows some detail under magnification, but I can’t clearly make out what is there. Can you post better images of these details for us?

    I believe that the first photo shows a parade being held in honor of Swiss independence. The festivities celebrate the beginning of Switzerland by the creation of the Federal Charter, bringing into existence the confederation of three Swiss cantons, in 1291. Additional cantons were brought into the confederation over many centuries. Today there are 26 Swiss cantons with the last, Jura, added in 1979. Technically, the exact date of the signing of the Federal Charter is not known, but it was in early August 1291. Although first celebrated in 1891, it took a federal popular initiative in 1993 before August 1st became the official date set for Swiss National Day. The date has been a Swiss National Holiday since 1994.

    I think there is a very strong possibility the date is September 19, 1912. If so, the ladies in the back seat of the car are likely Miss Clara Steiner as the Goddess of Liberty (Columbia), Miss Beatrice Bambetta as Helvetia (the female national personification of Switzerland), and Miss Monighetti representing the city of Bern (the Swiss capital). The three woman were in the lead car of the parade.

    Part of what the Honorable Warren M. John stated in his address to the people that day was the following. “Today in our spirit of rejoicing and happiness, we acclaim the nation of Helvetia as a republic, the fatherhood of liberty. Your flag and our flag. Our flag and your flag are today cherished banners of the same cause – a government of all the people. Centuries ago Switzerland declared ‘one for all and all for one,’ and America followed with a declaration of the same character – ‘In Union There is Strength.'”

    Since 1911 Switzerland has used “CH” as their international vehicle registration code. These letters stand for “Confœderatio Helvetica,” the Swiss Confederation. Since Switzerland has four official languages (German, French, Italian, Romansh), the Latin “Helvetia,” or a variation of it, is often used to refer to the country. This word is still used to refer to Switzerland on their postage stamps.

  11. I think the comment that the car is an Apperson is correct. A 1912 Apperson Jackrabbit touring photo matches perfectly. I retract my previous guess.

  12. By the way, the car behind the Apperson is a ca 1912 Oldsmobile. Features are the square-segmented radiator core, the crank handle support and the shape of the front axle.

  13. The history lessons on this site really put the autos of their days in context. Thank you to everybody for the discoveries.

    Apperson was an Kokomo, Indiana based company. It is included in the Cars of Indiana Gallery at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, which is a spectacular place.

    • Some firms, Stutz comes to mind, kept RHD into the 20s. I believe Stutz switched in 1923.
      And no, Stutz wasn’t German…being from the exotic city of Indianapolis.

        • Pierce switched in ’21 and Stutz did in ’22 (though both continued to build RHD cars for export) and old Henry is said to be why.

          His Model T debuted in 1908 with LHD!

          So a pair of relevant articles to read:

          hemmings blog/article/sporting-sensation-1920-stutz-series-h/

          hemmings blog/article/1908-1927-ford-model-t/

          • The story I’ve heard is that it was from the Conestoga wagons, which were driven by a (walking) driver on the left hand side of the wagon because that was the side the brake handle was on. Other styles of wagon followed along if they were used in the same areas because nobody wanted to go against the flow of traffic of a wagon with 6 tons of freight. So, America’s heavy road freight was LHD drive starting in 1717.

      • Yep, agree Mark , it is an 15 0r 18hp Fowler built by John Fowler & Co of Leeds UK. They made the double pairs from the 1880’s until the 1920’s. Very impressive machines to watch in action pulling up to 8 bladed , reversible ploughs across large fields with the two men sitting on the plough guiding it. Plenty of videos on U tube especially from Dorset Steam Fair, which takes place each August on a 630 acre site.

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