Ploughing with steam plough engines
Here is one of the two traction engines
that were used for steam ploughing by Denmark's first sugar mill,
'Lolland', in the beet fields by Højbygård and Nøbbøllegård
In 1872, the daily Lollands-Posten published this
"Maribo. 22nd Oct. Yesterday at noon, the residents on the
western outskirts of the town witnessed the surprising sight of two
locomotives steaming along the main road towards the town from
Bandholm. On arrival, they turned out to be steam plough engines,
which the sugar beet mill 'Lolland' had ordered from England a
while back." '
One of these steam plough engines can still be seen at the
Open-Air Museum in Maribo today. The steam engine, which was made
by John Fowler and Co. in Leeds, is a 14 horsepower single-cylinder
steam engine. It was part of a pair, where two self-propelled steam
engines would run at either side of a field, pulling the plough
forwards and backwards between them (see the drawing below). Under
each steam engine, there is a winch with a rolled-up cable. The
cable leads the plough in one direction or the other, depending on
which winch is connected. The system was developed by John Fowler
during the period 1854-64.
The steam traction engine around
Steam ploughing with John Fowler's double
traction engine system. © C. & P. Design. Ltd.
The steam engine was the third steam cultivation device in
Lolland, purchased by sugar beet cultivation pioneer Erhard
Frederiksen. In 1872, he and his brother, Johan Ditlev, founded
Denmark's first sugar mill under the name 'Lolland' in Holeby. The
brothers dared not bank on sufficient beet supplies from the
neighbouring farmers. Instead, they leased the two Lolland farms
Højbygård and Nøbbøllegård in close proximity to the mill, and
established huge sugar beet fields. The Fowler steam engines were
each in use between 500 and 1,000 hours per year on the two
In 1929, the steam engine was worn out and was ceded to the
museum. The steam engine's twin had worn out back in 1925 and was
scrapped and discarded.
Lolland's early attempts at mechanising
The idea of utilising steam power in agriculture originated in
England, and experiments began as early as the end of the 18th
century. These experiments resulted in the development of the steam
plough at the end of the 19th century, which was internationally
one of the first attempts at mechanising agriculture. In Denmark,
Lolland was the only place where this new method was given a go.
Steam ploughing and grubbing - a method that, in contrast to the
breaker plough does not turn the underlying clay soil up into the
topsoil - was an efficient and labour-saving way of preparing
Lolland's stiff and heavy clay soil prior to e.g. beet cultivation.
However, steam power never really gained ground as a tractive
force. The Frederiksen brothers, who had started the sugar mill
'Lolland' in 1872, were the only ones to make it work, and they did
so with success through to the 20th century.
In order to make it worthwhile to use steam ploughing in
agriculture, three things were needed. First, it required large
sections of fields with uniform crops. At the end of the 1800s,
most farms were too small and mixed for this to be feasible.
Secondly, steam ploughing required a small, but specialised labour
force. A stoker on a steam engine needed to be knowledgeable about
machines as well as about agriculture. Towards the end of the
1800s, the agricultural labour force was still large and unskilled.
Thirdly, there was a variety of technical problems. The Frederiksen
brothers managed to resolve these because it was feasible for them
to do so, but for small farms, this was just another reason to
All of this contributed to preventing the steam engine plough
from gaining practical significance in Danish agriculture. The time
was simply not ripe yet. When the need for mechanical tractive
power arose in the course of the first half of the 20th century,
steam power was outdated - beaten by the combustion engine.