Mike Hand Books

Ontario Industrial Histories

Category: industrial (page 1 of 2)

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.

 

 

Ruston Engines

engine

Ruston horizontal engine

Like many, I love to wander around the steam shows looking over the frequent displays of venerable old Ruston and Hornsby horizontal diesel engines, many thousands of which were built and shipped to all corners of the world in the first half of the twentieth century. I ‘m always fascinated by the smoothness with which they run, and almost hypnotised when I look at the rim of the huge spinning flywheel, so accurately machined that it appears stationary.

Spinning engine flywheel

My memory inevitably takes me back to when I served an engineering apprenticeship with that manufacturer in their multiple factories in Lincoln, England back in the late 1940’s. I can still see in my mind’s eye, the huge Bullard vertical lathes on which the flywheel castings, up to 72 “ in diameter, were machined on the perimeter and then at the centre for the crank shaft mounting.
As part of my training, I worked on many of the machines used to make various engine parts. One of my early assignments was the machining of the huge piston castings for the horizontal engines in preparation for the finish grinding. The castings were so heavy – the pistons were up to fourteen inches in diameter – a hoist was needed to lift them into the lathe.

Horizontal engine pistons in machine shop

As the core of the casting mould was not always central, first operation in the lathe was to measure the variation in wall thickness and offset it in the four jaw lathe chuck so that when machined on the outside, the walls of the piston were of equal thickness all around. If the core was out one quarter of an inch, it meant that the first roughing cut on the outside could be as much as half inch deep while minimal on the other side. After machining down to within .020” of finished diameter, the piston ring grooves then had to be cut. If the centring of the piston was not done accurately enough, one could find the ring groove tool penetrating through the piston wall on one side – a sure way to bring the foreman’s wrath down on one’s head. The final operation was to machine the convex shape of the head to match a template, honing one’s skill at simultaneously moving the cutting tool in two planes to obtain the right shape.

engine

Side shaft gear cover

The engine side shaft operating the valves on the Ruston horizontal engine is driven by two to one ratio spiral helical gears on the end of the crankshaft. The gears are enclosed in a cast-iron housing, three pieces bolted together. One of my jobs for a while was to machine the end cap hole and the shaft bearing hole after the housing parts had been milled, drilled and bolted together.

As I look at the restored engines, I often wonder if I am looking at pistons or gear housings that I machined myself many years ago.

Factory Working Conditions

Over the last century, great steps forward have been made in the working conditions in factories. In the latter part of the 1800’s, safety concerns were virtually non existent with hazards like high speed belts and pulleys all over the place, no ear, hand or eye protection and poor heating in winter. In one of my books, From Wagon to Trailer, I recount an interview with a man who started work in the factory in the early 1930’s when conditions still did not seem to have improved too much. He told of a man fatally injured when his coat got caught in a line shaft driving the belt pulleys and was spun round and round until the drive could be shut off. And of the painters who worked all day over large paint tanks dipping the finished product with no fumes protection.

Working conditions

Belt driven machines

In the mid twentieth century a well-known novel writer, Thomas B Costain, wrote about a young man growing up in an industrial city in his book “Son of a Hundred Kings”. It is well accepted that the city he based it on was Brantford and the young man’s experiences when first working at a foundry, also accepted as that of the Buck Stove Company, described graphically the conditions under which they worked in the latter part of the 1800’s.

Even in the 1940’s, when I served a five year engineering apprenticeship with a large engine manufacturer, many of the working conditions encountered would be totally unacceptable today. One machine on which I worked doing finish machining on compressor crankshafts, required a constant stream of cutting oil to run on to the workpiece. At the end of the shift, the full height leather apron I had to wear would be soaked in oil to the extent that every night, it was cleaned with trichlorethylene to remove the oil before the next day’s use.

In the forge adjacent to that machine shop, so much soot covered the windows,lights and floor that it was very difficult to see what was going on until one’s eyes adjusted to the dim light. Minimal eye protection was used and hearing protection was zero.

working conditions

Forge department – 1940’s

Even in a relatively clean place, as in this 1880 factory building steam engines, most times the work area would be so crowded that it became hazardous.

working conditions

Engine assembly shop – 1880

Today, health and worker legislation is such that one could no longer find such conditions in most of the advanced nations. In contrast, one factory that I recently wrote about had some of the best working conditions that I have ever seen, and I have been through hundreds of plants in my time. The plant was fully air conditioned, most of the machinery was computer controlled, and the walls and floors one could literally eat off. No, this was not an electronics manufacturer, but a company machining metals and making special assembly machines and tools.

A big step from the “good old days”.

DCI Steel Statue

 

At the front entrance to a modern factory in New Jersey stand three statues. These are unusual in that they are made of a special steel that forms a rust colored coating that protects them with no further treatment. These were cut by a computer controlled plasma cutter with the images downloaded from photos to the computer. They depict one of the founders, recently retired Frank Fisher, a view of the truck container transfer unit, and the system equipment designer, Mike Hand.

container equipment


statues outside DCI plant

Through the 1960’s, I was involved in the early development of containerisation, first as Chief Engineer and subsequently as General Manager, of Steadman Containers Ltd. The company was a leader in Canada in manufacture of ISO containers and of container handling equipment, with systems for use in trucking and for road-rail transfer of containers.

The Trucktainer system was licensed into the USA through General American Corp. and built and sold by Truck Container Systems of New Jersey. When the owner, Carl Winston died, the company was run by his son for a few years and closed. The plant manager of that company, Frank Fisher, partnered with a young marketing graduate, Rustin Cassway and formed a new company to carry on the business in 1989 under the name Demountable Concepts Inc. headquartered in Glassboro, NJ.

DCI

Mike in Steel

This company successfully builds and markets the Trucktainer system equipment, originally designed in the early 1960’s, throughout North America and Mexico. Following the company’s twenty fifth anniversary, the president, Rustin, had these statues made and installed to honor the occasion. Visiting the plant at that time, I was present when the statue of myself was cut when I pressed the switch to start the machine.

It was one of the greatest honors of my career and life, to be recognised in this way as the “father” of their equipment and to see it still made and used internationally after 50 years.

 

For more information about this company see Demountable Concepts Inc. web page

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

Waterous Edmonton

The Winnipeg branch of the Brantford based Waterous Company opened in 1883 to market its products to the rapidly opening Western part of Canada was, by 1929, passed by the growth areas of the country. The action was now further west in the far Prairies and Alberta and it was decided to move their Western Sales operation to Edmonton. A suitable property, formerly operated by Edmonton Iron Works, was found on 96th Street. It was purchased, including machinery, for $60,000 and the Winnipeg branch was closed down and operations moved to Edmonton. Used mainly for sales and service, some manufacturing was later added.

Waterous Edmonton office 1932

Waterous Edmonton office 1932

A Western sales franchise for Allis Chalmers was added about ten years later and profits from this part of the operation helped the parent company through after the 1930’s depression. When Waterous Limited finally passed out of family control in 1947, and subsequently became part of the Koehring Company, the Edmonton and Calgary branches were sold to the Wajax Corp. by the new owners.

On a recent trip to Edmonton, I made a point to find the building, and such were the surroundings, I did not feel too comfortable climbing out of my car and walking the street to take a photo. The plant, now used for warehousing, still stands near the downtown area of Edmonton in a run down industrial area where most of the surrounding buildings have been knocked down and turned into parking lots. It is no longer a prosperous looking area although some construction of new buildings is evident.

Former Waterous Edmonton office, 2015

Former Waterous Edmonton office, 2015

Although the photographs show little change in the front of the building, the remains of over 100 years of painted on name signs applied by subsequent owners can be seen, giving the building a well used and somewhat historical appearance.

Read more about it in my book Iron, Steam and Wood

Ruston Industrial Gas Turbines

From 1947 to 1952, I served an engineering apprenticeship with Ruston & Hornsby Ltd., a major manufacturer of diesel engines. My last year was spent at the Anchor Street plant, (one of five plants the company had in Lincoln, England) where the newly formed gas turbine division was housed. There, I worked in the tool room, followed by six months in the tool design office. Spending one year as tool designer there after my apprenticeship, I then moved to Canada to work as a tool engineer at the jet engine plant of Avro. Here, the Orenda engines for the  CF100 fighter were built, and the huge Iroquois engine was being developed for the new supersonic delta wing fighter, CF105, under development at Avro’s nearby aircraft plant.
In 1946, the Ruston & Hornsby board decided that the future of industrial power would be with the use of jet engines, the first of which had been developed by Frank Whittle and his team during World War 2 and successfully applied to power an aircraft. The company recruited one of Whittle’s top engineers, Bob Fielden, to head up a new division to develop and produce an industrial gas turbine. Introducing kinematic design concepts to enable the product to withstand rapid changes in load and temperature without deformation or failure, and with a start up time goal of one minute for the engine, work was begun. When I was transferred to that plant, prototypes were already under test and tooling preparation was underway for production of the TA turbine. This engine was coupled to a 750 kw generator (approx. 1,000 hp) and was marketed for use in remote arid areas ( eg. Pipeline pumping) where a variety of basic fuels could be used.
Development was not without problems, of course, and I remember one day hearing the gas turbine engine whine, which was commonly in the background of our hearing, suddenly increase in volume and pitch. It kept climbing to everyone’s alarm until suddenly it was stopped by a large explosion. Rushing to the test pit area, we found that one of the turbines had sped out of control until the generator rotor flew apart and seized the drive shaft. The sudden stop resulted in the turbine blade rotors disintegrating, destroying the engine. It turned out that a drain in one of the burner housings had plugged and unspent fuel had accumulated and suddenly ignited, increasing the temperature and speeding up the turbine. Unable to stop it, the test engineers hurriedly ran to safety and had to watch, helplessly, the destruction of the engine. Needless to say, a design modification cured the potential for any repeat.

Current turbine plant in Lincoln

Current turbine plant in Lincoln

The TA sold successfully in substantial quantities and today, with the diesel engine production long gone, the gas turbine division is the only part of the once huge company remaining. Larger and larger turbines have been developed over the following fifty years until the largest ones now in production have a capacity for 50 MW (approx. 55,000 hp). First produced under the name Ruston Gas Turbine, the operation is now, after several changes in ownership, the gas turbine division of Siemens, a huge power generation conglomerate.
Production occupies what was formerly the main diesel engine plant in Lincoln.

Former Anchor Street plant

Former Anchor Street plant

The Anchor Street plant where it began life was razed some years ago and is now the site of a housing development.

Hard Selling in Days Gone By

In today’s “protected” world, the hard sell is severely crimped by the need to only promise what you can guarantee to deliver, under penalty of legal attack.
No such restrictions were recognised in the era of rapid mechanisation of all industries, especially farming. Manufacturers let loose their best works in the writing of advertisements for their products, reaching deeply for the most flowery adjectives in describing their products capabilities.

Noxon Grain Binder

Noxon Grain Binder

In researching for the data for my books, I frequently find examples of this in old copies of the manufacturers product manuals. One classic example of this excessive enthusiasm by the copy writer was found in the 1893 catalog of Noxon Bros., a farm equipment manufacturer based in Ingersoll, Ontario. In the introduction of their new grain binder, the description states …. “our binder which stands above the adverse criticism of the most exacting purchaser, or the most critical investigation of the expert mechanic ….. and which has ….. established a reputation which leaves little or nothing to be added to, so perfect does its record stand. ….. no machine was ever constructed in which the demands upon it are more completely met in every way than in this perfect structure of steel.”
How could one resist purchasing such a piece of machinery! Would that today’s advertising writer be as free as in those days to extoll the virtues of their product.
See more in my book Where Did They Go

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