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Swan Hill techo saves tractor treasure

July 27, 2005

The Saunderson Type A tractor at the Pioneer Settlement, Swan Hill is not the kind of thing most people identify as a World Heritage treasure.

But that is just what the green and red three-wheeled 'Agricultural Motor' is among tractors. There are only two in the world and the Swan Hill Saunderson is the only one in going condition.

The other is at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, Canada.

The Pioneer Settlements master restorer, Newton Williams, says the Saunderson is the jewel in Swan Hills collection of vintage tractors.

Like the Saunderson, Newton Williams is an 'Original'. The Museum Technician comes complete with mutton-chop whiskers, tweed cap and an apostle-like dedication which drove him to put six years into the conservation of the Saunderson which now runs like brand new.

Newton not only puts it to work, but is confident that in a weight for horsepower contest the 50hp Saunderson would more than hold its own.

Newton Williams at the Saunderson wheel The 3.5 tons tractor is rated to a drawbar pull of 18 tons at 7 mph on a hard level surface.

The 1908 version Newton Williams has brought back to working life is an amazingly advanced technical design concept.

The Elstow 4-cylinder engine has an advanced ignition system with two spark plugs per cylinder. It features overhead inlet and side exhaust valves, which were reintroduced half a century later by Land Rover according to Ian M. Johnston in his book The Magic of Old Tractors.

Its three-wheeled configuration makes it near bog-proof and it drives through all wheels. It steers through the two front wheels with the back wheel driven through the balance gear of the differential shaft.

This means that the two front wheels cant slip unless the rear wheel slips. As no wheel follows the track of another the tractor is less likely to bog in soft conditions.

Newton Williams took six year to conserve the Saunderson

The design has genius in that with the track of the rear wheel between the front wheels the differential action is full on even when cornering.

This gives the Saunderson maximum hauling power full-time with the full weight of the tractor on the drive wheels. As no wheel can slip by itself the Saunderson delivers the fundamental need for real traction, grip on the ground.

The South Australian Government brought it to Australia as an economic answer to the exorbitant cost of the upkeep of teams of draught horses.

So the Saunderson made its Australian agricultural debut at Roseworthy Agricultural College in July 1908. Unfortunately it suffered a series of mechanical failures. It was 'new technology' and the misunderstood Saunderson suffered from uninformed maintenance.

Newton Williams says as he worked through its conservation he found plenty of evidence that the Saunderson needed much more mechanical understanding than it got at Roseworthy.