Mike Hand Books

Ontario Industrial Histories

Category: Canada

Small to Large Engines

 

In 1847, after working in a wagon shop in Woodbridge for a couple of years, young English immigrant, John Abell was keen to have his own business. After building his own shop from logs, making his own lathe and tools, he then made himself a steam engine for power and was in business. With an inventive mind, he built a ditching machine for the local farmers and soon was building steam engines for sale.

Early Abell steam engine

In keeping with his thinking, his first steam engines for sale were an unusual design. The cylinder and piston were built inside the boiler, with the crankshaft and flywheel above the boiler. His rationale? With the cylinder inside the boiler, all the parts could expand at the same rate maintaining the tolerances for better operation. Admittedly, it was not a big engine, but he advanced from there and within twenty years had over 100 employees making threshers and reapers as well.

Abell Toronto plant 1903

After unsuccessfully fighting with the local railroad for better access and service for shipping of his products, he closed his factory after forty years in Woodbridge and moved the complete business to Toronto. Here, Abell built a huge new factory and was soon shipping threshers and steam traction engines all over Canada.

Abell plowing engine

His plowing engine was one of the largest in production in North America, and true to form, was a little different to his competitors. The two front wheels were mounted close together on a turntable, with a worm gear drive to steer. It proved much easier to steer than other traction engines.

From small engines to huge engines, John Abell always maintained his independent thinking.

Southworks

southworks

Southworks factory 1910

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Southworks factory store outlet mall in Cambridge, Ontario. These fine old stone buildings stand out among many in the old part of Cambridge, formerly known as Galt, around the banks of the Grand River which flows majestically through the city. On the north side of the buildings, an old steel press mounted on a raised concrete platform provides some insight into the history of these buildings.

The Goldie McCulloch Company founded their business in 1859 and operated on this site for 120 years, the factory closing in 1980. From these buildings emerged huge steam engines, boilers and power plants, woodworking machinery, safes and vaults, water turbines and gasoline engines. As the company grew, the additions were always built with stone to maintain uniform appearance, including the square building between the factory and the river used mainly as a storage warehouse. As a result, we have today the wonderful old buildings forming the outlet mall. When they ran out of space for expansion, a new factory, the Northworks, was built on Hespeler Road. However this factory, now Babcock and Wilcox, was a more modern construction and did not have the timeless appearance of the Southworks.

Inside, as you walk through some of the stores in the south building, the remains of old lineshafts and pulleys can be seen at the roof level.

Lineshaft still visible above

The many machine tools used in the factory to make the engine parts were driven by belts running from these shafts which obtained their power from huge steam engines in each building. In between the two main buildings are the remains of the power house where the steam for the engines and for heating the factory was generated.

Southworks foundry 1900

The west half of this building housed the foundry, where the workers spent their days on a sand covered floor building the moulds into which the molten iron would be poured to cast the engine parts.

Today, it is difficult for the visitor to imagine the buildings as a noisy thriving manufacturing operation with over 200 workers toiling under conditions that would be considered less than acceptable in the modern world.

Change continues. Unfortunately, today’s retailing environment has made it difficult to stay profitable and the Southworks Mall, falling victim, was closed mid 2017. It is now in process of being transformed into housing units and I suspect the remaining line-shafts will fall victim also to this change.

 

 

Steam Plowing Engines

 

Canadian Plowing Engines

As the far western part of Canada began to be settled by immigrant farmers, the task of opening up the land to arable condition was a huge challenge. The smallest property sold for this purpose consisted of a quarter section, about one half mile square, approximately 160 acres. The hard ground, matted with roots from centuries old grass covering it, was particularly difficult to plow. The opening of the western prairies around the turn of the century coincided with the growth of the steam engine for use in pulling plows.

steam engine plow

Engine gang plow

In the 1900 to 1910 period, the steam traction engine manufacturers started building huge engines with maximum weight for traction. Plow manufacturers like Cockshutt Plow Co. of Brantford developed large plows to take advantage of this extra power to more quickly open up the land for agriculture. The tremendous pulling load imposed by these huge plows, turning as many as twelve furrows, soon caused structural failures in some engines and most of the manufacturers undertook specialised reinforcing for this purpose.

Steam engines

Robert Bell plowing engine

The Robert Bell Company of Seaforth, Ontario encountered boiler leaks in its engines from these loads and subsequently added an independent steel frame running from the front axle to the rear, and  containing the countershaft, gear shaft and rear axle mountings to relieve the boiler of all gear strain. No one bothered about the extra weight which was considered a bonus for added traction.

steam engines

Waterloo engine pulling gang plow

Other major engine manufacturers such as Sawyer Massey, Waterloo, George White and Abell, heavily reinforced the rear drive wheel mounting, increased the size of the drive gears, and increased the size of the drive wheel spokes. Some moved to twin cylinder compound engines, with rated horse power from 32 to 40 hp., to handle the plowing, when the 20 hp. size engine had to date been more than adequate for all other purposes. Extra large water tanks were usually fitted to ensure that long days could be worked.

Abell engine plowing

Abell built one of the largest engines, weighing some 24 tons, and equipped it with worm gear operated front steering wheels mounted close together to make it easier to steer, and giving it a “row crop” look (although that term was still in the future).

Despite all of this development work, the steam plowing engine enjoyed only a short career as the gasoline engine tractor was introduced in the first decade of the 1900’s. Its relative ease of operation and ability to start up quickly, as compared to a steam engine that took up to several hours after lighting the fire to get the steam up to pressure, soon proved a desireable factor for the operators. By around 1920, the big steam plowing engine had had its day, especially as the once turned over prairie no longer required such large power units for subsequent plowings, and as the gasoline tractor became more efficient and less costly, it quickly rendered the steam engine obsolete.

See also my book Steam Engines and Threshers

 

Beatty Water Bowl

 

As a kid growing up on a farm in England in the early 1940’s, one of our chores before leaving for school each morning was to fill a 100 gallon tank with water using a hand pump that drew water from a well. You know how many pumps that took?

My father would then carry water in pails to the milk cows stalled in the milk shed. Cows drink a lot of water and each required several pails during a day.

In 1943, a deep well was drilled outside between the house and the milk shed, giving us a fast flowing source of good water. The well indeed supplied water at such a pressure that from a hose, it could shoot it over the house! Complaints from nearby farmers that it was running their wells short resulted in father capping the well with a tap, solving the problem and avoiding wastage. The water was instead piped as needed to the house and other buildings on the farm.

One day shortly after this, a man arrived and installed “drinking bowls” at each stall in the milking shed. Our daily chore of pumping water was suddenly eliminated. Yeah! The bowls were, to a boy’s eyes, a marvellous invention. The cow merely had to put its muzzle into the bowl to drink its fill. The pressure of its nose pushed back a flap that operated a tap allowing water, piped from the well to the shed, to enter the bowl, stopping when the animal removed its nose from the bowl.

beatty

Beatty water bowl

The name cast into the bowl was one that I had never heard of- BEATTY. Many years later I was to become familiar with this company which was in Fergus, Canada, a world away from a small farm in Eastern England. In Fergus, Beatty was a huge company making everything you needed on a farm, later becoming one of the pioneers and major manufacturers of washing machines. Drinking bowls was one of the more successful items that it exported.

beatty

Beatty Fergus plant

Read more about the Beatty Company in my book Where Did They Go.

Early self propelled grader

 

The early pioneer equipment manufacturers were never short of ideas to incorporate into their products. Take, for example, this early 1920’s road grader made by the Sawyer Massey Company of Hamilton.

Prior to this, graders were primarily pulled by horses, or later by steam rollers, an arrangement that was not only cumbersome but limited in its capability. How to make one with its own power was their problem, unable to develop their own power unit, transmission and drive axle.

sawyer massey

Sawyer Massey grader with Fordson tractor power unit

What evolved was quite original and effective, and although the concept was only used for some ten years in production, it enabled them to take grader development to the next stage. A standard farm tractor, whose development had reached the stage where they were no longer huge gasoline engine conversions of a steam traction engine, was built into the rear portion of the grader. With the rear wheels and drive axle left in place to power the grader, the front axle of the tractor was removed and replaced with a supporting bracket.

Initially, a Fordson tractor was used, as shown above, and later a McCormick Deering tractor, a product of the International Harvester Company took its place.

sawyer massey, IHC

Sawyer Massey grader with McCormick Deering power unit

Bingo, a first for Ontario, a self-propelled grader

For more, see my book Steam Engines and Threshers

Leonard steam engine spotlighted

On a recent visit to Edmonton, we took a detour to the small town of Wetaskiwin where I was able to fulfil my long desire to see the Reynolds Alberta museum. The huge pieces of steam equipment lining the drive into the museum were almost worth the visit.

But on entering the modern museum building, I was fascinated to see a huge horizontal engine spotlighted in the glassed in entrance. Polished like new, its steel parts glistening, the huge flywheel turned over slowly as an electric motor cycled the engines piston and elaborate valve gear.

The surprise, on studying the placard inside the building more closely, was to find that the engine was made in London, Ontario by the E. Leonard & Sons Company. The surprise part was that I was unaware that the company had made steam engines of this size, equalling those made in Galt by the Goldie McCulloch Company. It was a great entrance installation, and was matched by the exhibits of machinery and equipment inside.

Leonard engine

Leonard engine in Wetaskiwin museum entrance

Read the history of the Leonard Company in my book “Steam Engines and Threshers”.

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