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The 110 Horsepower Best Steamer

English #16 & 17


           Most noticeable on the Best is the upright boiler design. The boiler provides the power for the tractor by heating water over a fire to the point where it becomes steam. The Best engines were designed to provide easy to access the firebox. The upright configuration also enabled very rapid steaming, which is another term for the production of steam, and with the water-filled boiler directly over the firebox, eliminated the very real threat of a catastrophic boiler explosion.  Most other steam traction engine manufacturers, like the tractor on display in this museum built by the Russell Company, employed a horizontal or locomotive style boiler. With a horizontal boiler, traveling down hill would cause the water to rush forward leaving the metal plate between the water and fire, also called the crown sheet, exposed to the direct heat from the firebox. If the engineer  wasn’t attentive to the situation when the engine again returned to level ground, the water would flow back over the overheated metal causing an explosion of immense proportions.


           Daniel Best  built his engines with quality materials designed to withstand the hard work and long hours demanded by California farmers.  Instead of using the boiler as part of the framework for the tractor, he used a structural steel frame to carry the boiler, engine and water supply tank.  The three-wheeled design enabled Best to perfectly balance the heavy boiler with the huge rear drive wheels to obtain remarkable traction.  With the horizontal water tank positioned to the front of the tractor and the addition of power steering provided by a small steam engine or motor, the Best  with its single front wheel was responsive and maneuverable in varied conditions.


            The size of a steam tractor is measured by the amount of horsepower it generates. Daniel Best produced a number of different-sized engines with the largest being 110 horsepower. He has the distinction of being the first to produce that sized tractor. To provide more power and be more efficient, Best  used 200 pounds per square inch  boiler steam pressure on his tractors compared to other manufacturers using only 150 pounds per square inch.  For comparison, as little as 50 pounds steam pressure per square inch has the explosive power of black powder.


          By 1900 Daniel Best was producing a steam traction engine that unsurpassed was by other manufacturers. Even at the end of the steam era, some twenty years later, the Best engine still held that honor. While the reign of the steam-powered behemoths was short lived, it led the way to more mechanized agriculture 


   Daniel Best developed mechanical improvements that enhanced functions and decreased operating costs of steam powered tractors.


           Many of the improvements associated with steam tractor engines refer to the power harnessing motor on a tractor. A steam engine consists of the cylinders, pistons, connecting rods, a crankshaft, and a steam admission valve. Best used a piston-type or spool steam admission valve, which is dependable and experienced less wear than the standard flat or “D” valves that were commonly used.


           Best adopted the steam admission valve as a standard feature in steam engines. The steam pressure was balanced so the transmission could easily switch motion from forward to backward, based on the orientation of the valve.


           The upright boiler design of the Best steam engine partially super-heated the steam for more efficient operation and was capable of using different types of fuels such as wood, straw, coal and oil, with oil being the preferred fuel.


Excerpt from 1906 catalog:

           Best steam traction engines work equally well over mountain roads, with heavy grades, as on the level, and have been in constant use in the Pacific Coast for logging, hauling lumber and ores, and steam freighting generally. Also for plowing, harrowing and pulling combined harvesters.


           Until the 1890s agriculture relied on muscle and sweat to provide power to prepare the soil and  plant and harvest the crops. Whether man or animal provided the power, all were limited by the strength and endurance of living flesh.


            Daniel Best recognized the limitations and costs of man power and animal power to California farmers. Having used stationary steam power in his factory he sought a way to make that power portable. Careful consideration was given to the choices and refinements found on the Daniel Best steam traction engine. 

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