Here's Sort Of What It Would Look Like If Steam Trains Didn't Need Rails

You ever think deep thoughts, like wise scholar Jack Handey once did, and wonder what old steam trains would look like if they could be liberated from their rails? No? Just me? Weird. Anyways, here’s a bunch of really old steam tractors driving around the countryside.

They look a lot like old steam locomotives, to me, and that’s because in a way, they are old steam locomotives. Just not the type of train you may remember from Back to the Future Part III, the second-best of all the Back to the Futures. Many of what you see here are actually more like road locomotives, which are a bit of a cross between a train, a tractor, and a White Steamer. They date all the way back to 1801, as my esteemed colleague Jason Torchinsky noted when he made the case that really, trains and cars are both automobiles:

In 1801, Richard Trevithick built a working “road locomotive” — a car — and called it the “Puffing Devil.” It ran, carrying passengers up Camborne Hill. There’s even a song about the event. The Puffing Devil was lost to carelessness soon after the ride, but he built another automobile in 1802, and a more advanced model called the London Steam Carriage in 1803. The London Steam Carriage is likely the first purpose-built motor vehicles designed specifically to transport people ever.


So, on the one hand, I understand why you can’t have modern trucks powered by steam. It’s uneconomical, it’s bad for the environment, a whole bunch of reasons. But did we ever have to stop painting them like that?

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