HTN 109 - Information on Old Fowler Steam Engine Uncovered

Sandstone Heritage Trust - News

12th June 2006

Recently a scrap of an old newspaper was discovered in Robertson, with a picture of a Steam Engine at the top:


The caption reads: This "Dinosaur Plough", also known as a steam plough, was bought in 1925, together with two steam tractors, in order to build Driekop Dam, which was in those days the biggest dam in the Northwest (of the Cape Province, South Africa). The plough now stands on the farm Brandkop, of Mr Pieter Louw in the district of Nieuwoudville. (Read report below.)

Torn partly through was this scrap:
All that can be made out is the title, which reads: "Dinosaur Plough's 'Family' now sought all over. From Our Correspondent." Then: "A lonely "Dinosaur", or steam plough which was bought in 1925 to build an earth dam wall is now looking for its brothers and sisters...... more of these ploughs exist in this country...... Pieter Louw, on whose farm Brandkop...... the plough and two steam tractors..... earth wall of 1.6 km..... on the farm Drie..... owners realised that....." etc.

Enough to whet the appetite, and also enough to realise the reporter didn't know what he was looking at, or at least that the photograph was wrong for the article.

Intrigued, I passed this on to Arthur Wilding of Groot Drakenstein, near Paarl in the Western Cape, who knows more about steam road and agricultural engines than anybody in the country. Luckily the top of the page was intact, showing that the article had appeared in Die Burger on 19th January, 1989. Arthur started by visiting Die Burger's website and quickly found the article:
Dinosourusploeg se 'familie' nou oral gesoek

Van Ons Korrespondent

NIEUWOUDTVILLE. - 'n Seldsame ``dinosourus-'' of stoomploeg wat in 1925 aangekoop is om 'n grondwal vir 'n dam hier te bou, soek nou na sy broers en susters, indien daar nog van dié ploeë in die land bestaan. Volgens mnr. Pieter Louw, op wie se plaas Brandkop die oudstryder staan, is die ploeg en twee stoomtrekkers in 1925 aangekoop om 'n grondwal van 1,6 km - toentertyd die grootste in die Noordweste - op die plaas Driekopdam te bou, nadat die destydse eienaars besef het dat hulle nie met net perde en muile die werk gedaan gaan kry nie. Die ploeg onderskei hom van ander ploeë in dié opsig dat hy twee ysterwiele met 'n deursnit van twee meter het. Hy kan nie deur 'n trekker gesleep word nie en is ontwerp om deur twee stoommasjiene, wat weerskante van 'n land staan, met 'n staalkabel en katrol heen en weer gesleep te word - vandaar die naam stoomploeg. Hierdie ploeg van mnr. Louw is net gebruik om grond los te maak om die damwal te bou. Aanvanklik was ses mense nodig om die ploegwerk met dié lywige masjien te doen. 'n Ingenieur moes bystaan, sowel as 'n seun om steenkool aan te dra, twee om die ploeg te beheer, een om die windas te beheer en een om die kabel met 'n koevoet by die windas in posisie te hou. In die lig van hierdie ``dinosourusploeg'' se geskiedenis het mnr. Louw hom bereid verklaar om dié gedenkwaardige ploeg te skenk vir die landboumuseum wat hier beoog word.
landbou masjinerie

The full translation, which also shows that 'Our Correspondent' wasn't too sure of his facts, reads like this:
"Nieuwoudtville. A lonely 'dinosaur' or steam plough which was bought in 1925 to build an earth dam wall here, is now looking for its brothers and sisters, if in fact other ploughs like this still exist in this country.

"According to Mr Pieter Louw, on whose farm Brandkop the old warrior stands, the two steam tractors were bought in 1925 to build an earth dam wall of 1.6km in length, at that time the biggest in the North-West, on the farm Driekopdam, after the owners at the time realised that they would never get the work done with only horses and mules. The plough is different from other ploughs in that it has two steel wheels of two metres in diameter. It cannot be towed by a tractor, and is designed to be drawn backwards and forwards by a steel cable and winch by two steam engines, positioned on either side of the land, hence the name steam plough. This plough belonging to Mr Louw was only used to break up the ground to build the dam wall.

"Originally, six men were needed to do the ploughing with this massive machine. An Engineer had to be in attendance, as well as a boy to carry coal, two to control the plough, one to control the winding drum and one to keep the cable in position on the drum with a crow-bar.
"In the light of this 'dinosaur plough's' history, Mr Louw declared himself willing to donate this memorable plough to the Agricultural Museum envisaged here."

So what had the correspondent got wrong?

Clearly this is no plough, but a steam engine equipped with a winch or winding drum.
The distinctive shape of the roof supports makes it a Fowler. So where was the plough itself?

What about the team he describes?

Certainly there would need to be a person or people on each engine, one called an 'engineer', and 'a boy' carrying on coal for each, although it is doubtful whether he could keep up if the source was anything more than a wagon of coal drawn up close! But there would not be anybody necessary to feed the wire on to the drum, as this is done automatically by an oscillating fairlead. And yes, one or two on the plough itself to guide its progress across the land. The two metres diameter on the plough might be a slight exaggeration.

By the 2nd of February, the story was getting clearer, as Arthur also found this entry on the website:

BY FOTO VERSKYN MEV. ANNELINE LOUW van die plaas Brandkop by Nieuwoudtville staan hier by 'n ``Dinosourus''-stoomploeg met ysterwiele van ongeveer 2 m. hoog. Dié ploeë was te swaar om deur trekkers getrek te word en moes met behulp van katrolle van stoommasjiene heen-en-weer oor 'n land getrek word. By 'n onlangse berig oor dié ploeg is per abuis 'n foto van 'n stoomtrekker geplaas. Daar word steeds na 'n boetie of sussie vir dié ploeg gesoek.

"In the photo, Mrs Anneline Louw of the farm Brandkop at Nieuwoudville is seen standing next to a 'Dinosaur' steam plough with wheels of approximately 2 metres in diameter. These ploughs were too heavy to be drawn by tractors, and had to be towed backwards and forwards across a land by means of winches on steam engines. In a recent article about this plough, a photo of a steam tractor was placed in error. The search is still on for a brother and sister for this plough."

Here again, Arthur could assist with photos from his collection:

This is an anti-balance plough, which might also have been made by Fowlers of Leeds, standing on the farm Brandkop. Arthur's Hyundai serves as a comparison for size.

What about the Steam Engine in the picture? On the 17th February, this letter appeared in Die Burger:
Ou stoomtrekker dalk enigste in die land

GERRIT SWANEPOEL, Direkteur: Worcester-Plaasmuseum, Posbus 557, Worcester, skryf: Die outydse trekker waarvan 'n foto in Die Burger van 19 Januarie verskyn het in plaas van 'n foto van 'n stoomploeg, is 'n Fowler-stoomtrekker in besit van die Boland-Plaasmuseum. Die trekker is goedgunstig aan die museum geskenk deur die broers Rabie van die plaas Brandvlei in die distrik Worcester. Hy is in 1920 deur hul oupa, mnr. Dirk de Vos Rabie, uit Brittanje ingevoer. In 1983 het die Vervoerdienste se werkwinkel in Soutrivier die trekker só vir die museum herstel dat hy vandag in 'n perfek werkende toestand is. Sover bekend, is die trekker in die Boland-Plaasmuseum se besit die enigste wat in die land behoue gebly het. Die museum verneem graag indien daar wel nog soortgelyke trekkers bestaan. (Die foto van die regte stoomploeg, wat op die plaas Brandkop by Nieuwoudtville staan, is op 2 Februarie in Die Burger geplaas. - Red. D.B.)

Briewe Trekkers Museums Oudhede

Translation: "Old steam tractor possibly only one in the country"
"Gerrit Swanepoel, Director: Worcester Farm Museum, PO Box 557, Worcester, writes: The old fashioned tractor of which a photo was shown in Die Burger of 19th January instead of being a steam plough, is a Fowler steam tractor in the posession of the Boland Agricultural Museum. The tractor was kindly donated to the museum by the Rabie brothers, of the farm Brandvlei in the Worcester District. It was imported from England in 1920 by their grandfather, Mr Dirk de Vos Rabie. In 1983, the staff of the South African Transport Services workshop in Salt River restored this tractor for the museum so that today it is in perfect working condition. As far as is known, the tractor in the Boland Agricultural Museum's posession is the only one preserved in the country. The Museun would be pleased to find out if other similar tractors exist. (The photo of the correct steam plough which is on the farm Brandkop in Nieuwoudtville appeaded in Die Burger on 2nd February. Ed. Die Burger)"

So the dates don't link up, nor do the original owners, nor the purposes for which the steam engines were bought. Where are the original engines which belong to the anti-balance plough?

Arthur can't help here, but he can with the engine at what is now called Kleinplasie Museum:
The photo is of Kleinplasie's Fowler Double Drum Winding or Artillery engine No 15677 ( the number on SAR plate is wrong )

So this is not a true 'Ploughing Engine'. Arthur goes on to say:

The derelict engine in Die Burger is Isobella. Isobella is the name given by SAR Workshops and should ideally be removed.

The correct name as told to me in 1979 by Dirk De Vos Rabie, the original owner, is: "OU ENGELAND".
This was the name used for all the years on the farm.

This engine featured during the 10th anniversary show of the West Cape Tractor and Engine Club, at Kleinplasie Showgrounds adjacent to the museum, on 8th to 10th August 2002.
During the show we demonstrated the use of the winding drum, and the oscillating fairlead described above. I took these photos:
We were winding in Arthur's own 1921 Aveling & Porter Steam Traction Engine with its brakes applied. This was no problem for the Fowler. The roller-equipped fairlead moves upwards and downwards and pays the wire onto the drum without outside interference.
This shows the erroneous SAP plate.
(Phew!) Regards Andy