Early road trains consisted of traction engines pulling multiple wagons. The first identified road trains operated into South Australia’s Flinders Ranges from the Port Augusta area in the mid-19th century. They displaced bullock teams for the carriage of minerals to port and were, in turn, superseded by railways.
During the Crimean War, a traction engine was used to pull multiple open trucks. By 1898 steam traction engine trains with up to four wagons were employed in military manoeuvres in England.
In 1900, John Fowler & Co. provided armoured road trains for use by the British Armed Forces in the Second Boer War. Lord Kitchener stated that he had around 45 steam road trains at his disposal.
A road train devised by Captain Charles Renard of the French Engineering Corps was displayed at the 1903 Paris Salon. After his death, Daimler, which had acquired the rights, attempted to market it in the United Kingdom. Four of these vehicles were successfully delivered to Queensland, Australia, before the company ceased production upon the start of World War I.
In the 1930s/40s, the government of Australia operated an AEC Roadtrain to transport freight and supplies into the Northern Territory, replacing the Afghan camel trains that had been trekking through the deserts since the late 19th century. This truck pulled two or three 6 m (19 ft 8 in) Dyson four-axle self-tracking trailers. At 130 hp (97 kW), the AEC was grossly underpowered by today’s standards, and drivers and offsiders (a partner or assistant) routinely froze in winter and sweltered in summer due to the truck’s open cab design and the position of the engine radiator, with its 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) cooling fan, behind the seats.