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Engineering Students Check Out a Steam Powered Tractor


SteamEngineHave you ever heard of Hero’s Engine?  If not, you are not alone.  Hero was a Greek inventor from 2000 years ago who pioneered a method of converting the steam from boiling water into mechanical motion.  Hero’s Engine was a remarkably simple device that transformed the way scientists and engineers looked at water.

Fast forward 1900 years into the height of the industrial revolution.  Throughout the world, farmers were growing crops such as hay, wheat, and other grains.  Prior to the industrial revolution, these crops were harvested using considerable amounts of manual labor as well as “horse power” (using the power of horses).  On both sides of the Atlantic, engineers in Britain and the United States were inventing technologies that could use the principles of Hero’s Engine to relieve the toil and suffering often imposed on the farmers at that time.  The invention of the steam-powered tractor helped bring an end to these difficult times and “horse power” was replaced by horsepower, a term used to measure the amount of power being generated by a steam engine.

On Tuesday May 10th, 2016, several Miller School students traveled just a short distance down Miller School Road to see firsthand a working steam-powered tractor that was built in the early 1900’s.  This particular model was manufactured by Case, an American company that was one of the early front-runners on building steam-powered tractors.  The owner of this particular tractor, and our host for the afternoon, was Mr. Charlie Black.  Mr. Black works for New Virginia Tractor in Ivy and was thrilled to have so many students to entertain.  His first comment when 14 of us (6 boys and 8 girls) stepped off the bus was “Wow, that’s great that you have so many girls interested in engineering!” (Yes it is!).

Over the next couple of hours, Mr. Black gave us an excellent history of steam engines and how they were used on tractors to create mechanical motion.  He then gave us a real-live demonstration of his 10-ton steam-powered tractor in action.  The steam whistle roared long and loud as students took their turns blowing the whistle and driving the tractor (at its top speed of less than 5 MPH).  Even though we were only there for less than two hours, Mr. Black also reminded us that hundreds of gallons of water does not immediately boil.  Several hours earlier, Mr. Black began building and stoking his coal burning fire while the embers slowly brought the water up to just the right temperature.

Mr. Black could not have been a more welcoming host and we are so very fortunate to have him as a part of our Miller School community.  Having the opportunity to see a steam-powered tractor only a few miles away is part of what makes Miller School so perfectly located to embrace Samuel Miller’s Vision of “Minds, Hands and Heart”.

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