Zac McDorrMy father used to take me to the Owls Head Transportation Museum for car shows, car auctions, or just to see the collection of antique cars and planes.

One of the oddest displays was something that looked like a steam locomotive with tank treads underneath and a small wooden outhouse stuck on the front. This was a Lombard Steam Log Hauler, loaned to the museum by Harry Crooker, of Brunswick. Of the 83 steam Lombards built, only six still exist, and only three of those are in running condition.

The hauler was patented by Alvin Lombard, of Waterville, in 1901. He was already an expert lumberjack and “shingle butcher” by the age of 12. Despite humble beginnings, he would go on to become a millionaire inventor.

Lombard’s first invention was for a governor that could control the speed of machinery powered by a water wheel, regardless of how fast the wheel was turning. He also invented a machine to remove bark from logs, a machine that separated wood knots from sawdust, and other lumber-related devices.

His greatest invention, however, was the one that made the Lombard Steam Hauler possible: The “infinite tread” that still powers tractors, tanks, snowmobiles, and other machines today.

Before the Lombard, logs were hauled out of the woods by horse teams, who were often killed by out-of-control loads. While it saved the horses, the Lombard Hauler was dangerous for the four-man crew that operated it.

The steermen, in particular, sat in front, exposed to extreme cold. Sparks from the boiler often lit their clothes on fire. The wooden housings added to protect them made it difficult to jump free when the inevitable crash happened. By 1914, Lombard was building gasoline-powered haulers.

Restoration of Lombard No. 38 was completed in 2014 by engineering students at the University of Maine. The job took 30 years and 7,000 work hours to complete.