By 1903 the gasoline engine was already recognized for its obvious benefits
An ad from the April 1903 issue of The American Thresher man for a Thompson-Lewis engine highlights the growing application of gas engines as agricultural beasts of burden.
When E. W. Loganecker penned this article for the April 1903 issue of The American Thresherman, the true potential of gas engines in agricultural applications was just beginning to be recognized. Outside of traditional beasts of burden, steam had been the farmer's best option for power. But portable and traction steam engines were generally large, expensive units, and they were traditionally hired out by their owners to farm cooperatives or individual farmers for threshing and plowing duties. Of obvious utility on a large scale, they weren't particularly suited to small farm operations. Enter the gas engine.
That the development of the gas engine fundamentally altered how work was done on the farm is beyond question. A relatively inexpensive, efficient source of power, it freed the small farmer from reliance on outside sources, and in so doing forever changed the face of American agriculture. - Editor
Many persons needing power and, in fact, many power users of today do not understand the advantages of the gasoline engine. This is perhaps due in a great measure to the fact that they have had no opportunity to study its merits. It is the purpose of this article to point out some of them, referring more particularly to its use as a farm power.
We might well begin by saying that a gasoline engine is one-manpower. That is, it is a power that one man all alone can operate to good advantage and do the work of two or three men with other kinds of power. If grinding feed, he starts his engine, then attends to feeding the grinder and sacking the ground product. The engine supplies the power and takes care of itself for a full half day at a time. The man who saws wood with a gasoline engine does not attend to the engine. He "keeps still and saws wood." He can work at it just as hard as he wants to. The engine is giving him plenty of power all of the time. If he doesn't move pretty lively, he is letting a lot of power go to waste.
Shredding or cutting fodder is most advantageously done with a gasoline engine. I have in mind a farmer and his son who shredded and husked sixty acres of heavy corn last fall, using a gasoline engine for power. It was done with practically one hauling of the product. The engine and shredder were set in position with the blower chute run into the fodder bin, and a wagon with a large box set under the corn elevator. A load of fodder, unhusked, was brought from the field, the engine started and the farmer fed the bundles into the shredder as they were pitched to him from a load by his son. As soon as the load was run through, the engine was stopped and at the same time all fuel expense stopped, until the next load was brought in. In this way they cribbed about one hundred fifty bushels of corn per day and did it quite economically. They used about eight gallons of gasoline per day at ten cents per gallon, a fraction over a half cent per bushel. They employed no outside labor. They cribbed their corn and put the shredded fodder into the bin ready to feed at an actual money expense of a little over a half cent per bushel, or eighty cents per day. This performance stamps the gasoline engine as even better than a one-man-power.
With comparatively little care of the right kind and at the proper time, the gasoline engine will run many a day from morning till night with practically no attention from anyone. In driving pumping machinery, that needs no special attendant, it can be set to work after being oiled and properly adjusted, and left for hours without the care of an attendant.
Farm labor is getting to be a troublesome question and the time is here when the farmer must look up ways and means to do his work alone. The gasoline engine is the medium through which the problem may be solved. It will take the place of all your hired men without a "cuss" word or a "kick." But listen! I think I hear a reader say, "You can't plow, harrow, roll, plant, sow, reap, haul grain and other products with a gasoline engine, and consequently how are we to get along without the hired man?"
Let me tell you, brother! It will not be long until you will be doing all this with a gasoline engine. Then the hired-man-problem will be solved. The advance guard is already in sight in the shape of a mowing machine propelled by a gasoline motor. Those of you who attended or read about the great automobile show at Chicago in February can but conclude that such a gorgeous array of traveling gasoline motor cars as was exhibited there means the development of motor wagons suitable to every kind of moving or locomotive work.
With a gasoline motor wagon, such as I have in mind, the farmer alone in the seat may pilot a veritable train of farm implements through his fields coupled to his motor wagon or farm locomotive, if you please; - the gang plow to the wagon, the harrow to the gang, the roller to the harrow, and the drill to the roller, doing the entire series in one swath.
Think of the independence with such an outfit. This is not only possible but altogether probable in the near future. No need of the hired man then; no place for him on the farm. What will he do? He will move to the city and help build gasoline engines, motor wagons, and farm implements to take his old place on the farm; he will raise a family and buy the farmer's products to live on.
These latter are yet prospective advantages of the gasoline engine. That they will be real ones before many years, we have no doubt. But the convenience and economy of the many gasoline engines now in use for power on the farm and, in fact, everywhere that power is needed, have never been equaled in any other style of engine or prime mover.
The steam engine is not now, nor never has been, considered a suitable power for the farm. Therefore the farmer has had to depend on tread power or wind power, either of which is very limited in capacity, convenience and reliability. The windmill is entirely dependent on the wind and consequently very uncertain.
The gasoline engine is deservedly catching the eye of everyone who needs and is using power, because it is ready for work at all times. You needn't spend an hour of your valuable time getting up steam or getting it ready to run. You needn't wait to fill the boiler if the water has been drained off. Start the engine to work and then fill the tank. If you stop the gas engine for an hour or two, all expense stops immediately; it is not necessary to keep up steam for another run. The engine will be there ready and waiting to start whenever you are ready.
Now light your pipes and think this over and begin to get in line. We expect to have more to tell you about this wonderfully convenient little power that is silently but surely winning its way into the very hearts of the best and most progressive people in our broad land.
This article originally appeared in the April 1903 issue of The American Thresherman. Special thanks to Dusty Ericson for supplying us with the original issue.