Hidden History: The steam-engine tractor in the Snake River | Local
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The tractors were picky, difficult to maneuver, and dangerous to operate. When the internal combustion engine began to replace the steam engine, agricultural machinery manufacturers quickly adopted the new technology.
In the early 1900s, small tractors that ran on fuel oil were developed for use on the farm. By the Second World War, steam engine tractors were as good as out of date.
Paxton was about 10 years old when his father John Paxton and the agricultural machinery dealer Harley Williams planned to drive a steam engine across the canyon rim.
Williams, owner of Williams Tractor, had traded the steam engine tractor for a new Case tractor.
Williams and the elder Paxton were good friends. Paxton was a skilled steam engine tractor operator – and Williams needed someone who could drive the tractor all the way to the canyon rim without going over the rim.
The year, to the younger Paxton’s best memory, was about 1938. A large group of parties gathered on the north side of the canyon, upstream of the bridge.
“It was a big advertisement for the (Williams) dealer,” said Paxton. There was a barbecue and a band played. Finally the steam engine was fired up and prepared for its final use.
The elder Paxton tied the steam whistle and let go. The tractor went over the edge and its cauldron exploded in midair. The tractor bounced off the canyon wall and then sank silently into the river.