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SLIDER: 1897 De Dion-Bouton Steam Tractor and Charabanc

Late in 1896 the Race Committee of the Automobile Club de France issued general regulations for an international contest for heavy vehicles to be held on July 1, 1897 somewhere in the neighbourhood of Paris, with two classes: omnibuses and delivery wagons.  Our Slider picture, taken from the very first issue of “Les Sports Modernes”, dated June 1898, shows one of the contestants: a De Dion-Bouton tractor and charabanc – or “char à bancs”.

In 1893, the De Dion, Bouton et Trépardoux company introduced steam tractors designed to tow carriages for passengers or freight (sometimes called “steam drags”).  These used an innovative axle design which would become known as the De Dion tube.  Trépardoux, a staunch supporter of steam, resigned in 1894 as the company turned to internal combustion vehicles.  Steam cars and tractors remained in production more or less unchanged for ten years more.

This tractor and omnibus trailer swept the board in the six trials that made up the 1897 competition, with the lowest Cost Per Kilometre with one-third load, two-thirds load, and full load for both the “Travellers with 400 kg. of luggage” and “Travellers without luggage” categories.

History does not relate whether the gentleman on the tricycle was an official observer, or simply a late arrival trying to catch up with and board the bus.

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