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Peterson’s Traction Straw-Burning Engine

Peterson Straw-Burning engine

N. C. Peterson and Sons were a manufacturer of steam engines located in Sarnia, Ontario. N.C. Peterson began his working life as a blacksmith in Smiths Falls, Ontario and relocated to Sarnia in 1857. Mr. Peterson added a foundry to his blacksmith shop then a machine shop and boiler shop. His two sons joined him in the business which then became known as N. C. Peterson and Sons. By 1884, they were producing portable steam engines. Traction engines soon followed. N. C. Peterson and Sons produced both wood burning steam engines and straw burning steam engines.

The straw burning steam engines used a return flue type boiler where the hot combustion gases from the burning fuel follow a U-shaped path through the boiler. The combustion gases first flow through a large tube to the front of the boiler and then flow back, or return, through small flues to the rear of the boiler where they then escape upwards through the smoke stack. The large tube and smaller flues are both surrounded by water which absorbs heat from the gases so turning the water to steam.


Straw was a very popular fuel for steam engines when they were used to power threshing machines. Straw was readily available from threshing and cost the farmer nothing. Using straw to fuel a plowing engine was not feasible.

This engine is little more than a portable steam engine fitted with traction and steering gear so it can move on its own power. Note that there is no drawbar so it could not even pull a threshing machine from one location to another. Horses would have to do this while the engine moved on its own power.

In 1901, N. C. Peterson decided to retire and the sons decided to locate westward as steam engine sales were booming in Western Canada with the opening of the Prairies. The Sarnia shop was closed down with the equipment being shipped to Winnipeg along with 8 unsold steam engines. The sons established the Peterson Foundry and Machine Works in Winnipeg where they soon were given all the foundry business they could handle as the city was rapidly expanding. When they were able to consider building steam engines again, it was apparent that the day of the steam engine was rapidly ending so no Peterson engines were ever built in Winnipeg.

The Peterson engine in the Manitoba Agricultural Museum collection was one of the eight shipped west in 1901. It remained in its shipping crate in the Peterson Foundry until it came to the Museum in 1965.

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