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Hornsby Steam Crawler | Main / History


In mid 1909 Northern Light Power & Coal Co. of 21 Ironmonger Lane London EC ordered one of the latest technically advanced machines of the day.

Richard Hornsby & Sons of Grantham had recently developed the Chain Track Tractor. The new machine was to be used to haul coal 40 miles from the company's mine at Coal Creek to Dawson City, Yukon. The coal was to fire the Dawson City thermal electric plant and supply the city with domestic coal. The tractor was to be coal fired steam driven.

Hornsby had built only 5 oil engined chain tractors so this machine would be custom designed & built. No oil was available in the Klondike, however Northern Light had an abundance of coal so the tractor was built with a Foster boiler & engine to burn coal.

The following pencil sketch is where the machine and its train was conceived. This old sketch has been in the Ruston Hornsby archives for nearly 100 years. Thanks to Ray Hooley for providing it.

Prior to the tractor's arrival in the Yukon, Northern Light transported the coal by rail 12 miles to the Yukon River at 40 mile where it was loaded aboard their steamwheeler "Lightning" to be delivered 43 miles up river to Dawson City. However the river was frozen for 8 months each winter leaving a very short season to supply the plant with a years supply of coal. The tractor was to haul coal overland during the winter months.

The sketch shows 8 sleighs being pulled by the 25 ton tractor. By the time the tractor was completed it weighted 40 tons and 8 wagons weighing 5 tons empty were shipped with it instead of the sleighs. Obviously there was some change of plans during the erection of the tractor. The mathematics on the sketch are pretty optimistic to say the least. This train grossing about 170 tons is a formidable load to pull on the level let alone over the mountains.

The following 4 photos are factory originals of the machine on field trials at Grantham England in Feb/Mar 1910.

The next photo is of Mr. & Mrs. Sibley, the new owners of the machine in 1927 after its days in the Yukon were over. The location was New Westminster BC Canada docks.

The following photo shows the machine with the winter cab added to protect the crew and machinery from the extreme cold of the Klondike. Temperatures of 50, 60, and 70 below were not uncommon. It appears to be in a field near Grantham undergoing further tests. Note the rotatable grousers are attached to every 4th pad. These could be turned when the tractor encountered an icy side hill.

All of the above photos are courtesy of the Ray Hooley collection.