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The 1908 Hornsby Chain Track Tractor

The film above is quite interesting, as it shows an gasoline-powered-chain-drive automobile chassis (possibly a Panhard), used as the power plant for a tracked tractor. German captions where used in the film, as it was an advertisement to try to sell the vehicles in Germany. After bit of investigation it was found to be a Hornsby Chain Track Tractor.

An interesting article (below), was found in the British Motor Traction magazine, Feb. 22, 1908, issue, covering what appears to be the same gasoline-powered machine shown in the film. If any readers can identify the chain-drive automobile used to power this machine, please send us a comment.


Hornsby tractors were built at Grantham, in Lincolnshire, England by Richard Hornsby & Sons. It appears that the firm first built steam-powered units, which were then followed by oil-fired machines, one of these units was a Hornsby chain track tractor that was delivered to the British War Office on May 5, 1910. It was later converted to gasoline in 1911.

Hornsby patented the concept in 1904, but little commercial interest followed other than one machine being sold, which ended up in Canada to haul coal. Much of this Hornsby Chain Track Tractor has survived. Several appear to have been sold to the British military, but interest in the machines faded. Hornsby sold the patents to the Holt Manufacturing Company of America in 1911. Holt later merged with C.L. Best and became The Caterpillar Tractor Company. Photo below of a steam-powered machine courtesy of Hornsby Steam Crawler.

16 responses to “The 1908 Hornsby Chain Track Tractor

  1. The remains of the Hornsby Mammoth is on Northern Vancouver Island. AFAIK, there was only one ever made like it. They attempted to use it to haul coal in a road train configuration, but it was not a success, too much ground pressure. The story I heard is that it was loaded on a sailing ship, sometime in the 20s, whether the ship ran aground, or they somehow unloaded it on the beach, the boiler was scavenged by a logging outfit. The undercarraige sat on the beach for years, until local historians near Pt.McNeill, BC dragged it off the beach and put it in a shed. About 10 yrs ago, a Vancouver based steam enthusiast attempted to begin a restoration, but “ran out of steam” for lack of a better term, and the Mammoth was returned to McNeill. It had oil lubricated track pins, way back then, something that in recent years is a new improvement to modern crawlers.

  2. In the Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung of May 10th, 1908 (P.40-41) a report appeared on this vehicle too (with photographs from the Automotor Journal). However, nowhere is mentioned on which this vehicle was based. You mention Panhard, but is there any clue for this? If I look at the radiator, I see a resemblance with a 1903 Rochet & Schneider, which by the way had a (though not very successful) London branch from 1904 to 1907.

    • Ariejan… No clues but the radiator shape reminded me of both the French Panhard and Rochet & Schneider.

      Looking back @ the Wiki article linked in the text on Richard Hornsby & Sons, it is listed as ” A lightweight version of the tracks was also fitted to a Rochet-Schneider motor car.”

      It appears that you maybe correct and maybe we should look at the Rochet & Schneider. Somewhere I recall this machine was refered to as a 35 h.p. so that maybe another clue.

      I would think the the distinctive front frame horns would lead to a positive I.D.

    • I thought it was supposed to be a Benz?
      The differentially steered tracked vehicle was in response to an army competition to pull heavy guns across wet fields. The film I think, was the very first industrial film advert. Made in eight languages and shown in cinemas. The competition stared in 1897. It was displayed to the army periodically and by 1908 was unofficially named caterpillar by the army.
      The army couldn’t quite make up its mind between horses or this invention and a the patents were sold to John Holt in 1913, who also registered the name Caterpillar. In1914 they were made under licence for the British army

  3. If you mean by the front horns the spring hangers, yes, these are rather distinctive. R&S never used this configuration with shackles on the front side. The only car I can find on which it was used, was the equally unusual Wilson-Pilcher. Possibly the modification was necessary for the Hornsby vehicle.
    Rochet & Schneider did produce 35ch engined cars from 1905 onwards. Perhaps the Hornsby tractor was built up from R&S bits and pieces?

      • A Wiki article about Walter Gordon Wilson stated the following:

        Interested in powered flight he collaborated with Percy Sinclair Pilcher and the Hon Adrian Verney-Cave later Lord Braye to attempt to make an aero-engine from 1898. After the prototype was designed but before it was built Pilcher was killed in an 1899 gliding accident. The shock ended Wilson’s plans and he switched to building the Wilson–Pilcher motor car which used epicyclic gears. After marrying in 1904 he joined Armstrong-Whitworth to design their car.

        Later on in the wWiki article states: With the outbreak of the First World War, Wilson rejoined the navy and the Royal Naval Armoured Car Division, which protected the Royal Naval Air Service in France. When the Admiralty began investigating armoured fighting vehicles under the Landships Committee in 1915 20 Squadron was assigned to it and Wilson was placed in charge[3] of the experiments. Wilson worked with the agricultural engineer William Tritton resulting in the first British tank called “Little Willie”. At Wilson’s suggestion the tracks were extended right round the vehicle. This second design first called Wilson, then the Centipede then “Big Willie” and finally “Mother” became the prototype for the Mark I tank.

        Perhaps he was indeed involved with the Hornsby car powered tank and as you sugest it maybe a Wilson-Pilcher ?? His later involvement with the British tank may have been from his earlier tank experience??

        Link to Wiki article:

  4. Apparently there was a lot going on during these years in the development of army tractors. I can’t figure out if there was any connection between Wilson and Hornsby, but in most cases all systems were patented. So in my opinion there must have been some kind of connection, but I don’t know in what way.

  5. Looking at the track pattern of the Hornsby, it is interesting to note that it took until the Renault FT-17 to have a similar design, whereas the first British tanks had the track running all around the body.

  6. The car is a Rochet-Schneider. Not a Panhard, Wilson-Pilcher, or anything else. Wilson had no connection at all with Hornsby’s. The Hornsby tractors ran on paraffin (kerosene), not gasoline. The all-round track designed by Wilson was a deliberate replacement for the tracks on the predecessor, “Little Willie,” which were similar to those on the Renault FT (not FT-17). They increased the trench-crossing capacity; the FT’s was much inferior. Please do not rely on Wikipedia for confirmation of anything. It includes many articles about early tank development and related topics, but most of them are riddled with mistakes. Although some people who know what they’re talking about are working hard to correct the many errors, misconceptions, and garbled versions of the actual facts, it is still highly unreliable and likely to remain so for some time. It’s fundamentally flawed and no substitute for proper research.

    • Thanks for clearing up a few points about this machine.

      While we did quote what was on Wikipedia it was only listed as what was written there, we do and in this case did not confirm that anything found there was true as we all know it is not correct all time. Trying to research machinery from a foreign county can be close to impossible at times and it may be the only source if info available.

      That is why we open our posts to comments from those who known more about the subject matter than we could hope to find after days of research.

  7. I’d just like to know where the closet one is for me to show my dad. We are big tractor nuts my brother and sister also. Any info would be appreciated thanks. I live in Ohio in the USA.

  8. Hi

    The Bovington Tank museum in the UK could be a good place to find an example. A postcard is available.

    I am writing a book on the history of Grantham and am currently researching the tread. It is very frustrating that the first WW1 tanks are frequently described as having been produced in Lincoln, which is true but the tread, which made the tank viable was invented in Grantham 25 miles away. It is also possible to see one of the first tanks at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Lincoln. Both in the UK. You can view details online.

    • I think you might find quite a good account in the Ruston and Hornsby book?
      One hundred years of good company ?
      The patents, including drawings can be found on line

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