Mike Hand Books

Ontario Industrial Histories

Category: industrial (page 2 of 2)

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

A Case Showcased

Driving along number three highway to the lake each weekend, just east of Sheddon, I found myself looking each time at the old thirties era steel wheeled Case tractor, complete with two furrow trailing plow showcased on a small artificial hillock. Perched on the driver’s seat, the old farmer in his faded coveralls had his arm held high in greeting to each passing motorist. It was a welcome treat to see this unusual display of a well-used piece of farm equipment that obviously held an esteemed place in the memory of its owner.

Case tractor with farmer

Case tractor with farmer

Later in the summer, the farmer’s wife joined him on the hillock greeting the passer by, along with their dog, a great creation of straw. It was only natural that when we reached the approach to Halloween, their heads would be replaced with brightly coloured pumpkins.

Wife and dog added

Wife and dog added

It was a wonderful visual break to the car trip to see how the usually routine siting of an old farm tractor at the farm entrance was made out of the ordinary with a little imagination and artistic work.

Follow old tractor discussions at Canadian Antique Tractor Forum

Brantford’s Heritage Disappearing

Over the last few years, the remaining factories of Brantford’s great industrial past are being demolished one by one and with them go physical ties to the memories of thousands of the city’s workers of yesteryear. Just prior to the turn of the millennium, the “brownfields” between Greenwich and Mohawk Streets still contained the factories of the once mighty Cockshutt Plow Company, the huge rambling foundries of the Massey Ferguson owned Verity Company, and the triangular shaped complex of buildings that was once the home of the Brantford Coach and Body Company (formerly Adams Wagon Company).

Adams Wagon plant

Adams Wagon plant

The first to disappear was the Adams Wagon factory which went under the hammer of Kieswetter demolition in 1998. The razing of the Cockshutt factory followed in stages a few years later as the various buildings comprising the west side of the complex were emptied of miscellaneous tenants who had occupied them since the closing of the Cockshutt Company (White Equipment Company at that time). The final section to be demolished was the multi storey office building after several years of decay and attempts to keep it as an industrial museum.

Remaining Cockshutt office and time office before fire

Remaining Cockshutt office and time office before fire

A final delay to keep the front section of the office building was thwarted when a questionable fire resulted in mandatory demolition of the remainder for safety reasons. Valuable historic voices did score a small victory when the front door portico of the head office building and the architectural gem of the Time Office were retained for possible future use for industrial heritage purposes. Still remaining at the east end of the former factory complex is the building that once housed World War two bomber fuselage production and subsequently, the Cockshutt combine harvester assembly line, along with a couple of machine and press shops still used for warehousing.


Verity plant complex

The final section of the brownfields across the railroad tracks to the north housed the huge foundry complex of the Verity Company. From these factories, first built in 1899, came hundreds of thousands of plows and millions of castings and parts for the Massey Ferguson factories. With the bankruptcy of Massey Combines came the closing of the Verity works in 1988. Unused since then except for some storage purposes, decay and vandalism wreaked havoc with the buildings so that many were in a severely sad and hazardous condition prior to the current 2014 demolition.

Only the future can tell what will rise on these huge now open properties to generate memories for the next generation of Brantford citizens.

Read more about these companies in my book  A City’s Industrial Heritage

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”.

Into the light

An old Waterous boiler was in the news recently during the renovation of an old apartment building that in earlier years had been an Eaton store, at 90, Colborne St. E. in Brantford. The boiler was part of the old heating system in the cavernous basement.

Waterous boiler door

Boiler door before removal

The building was rebuilt in 1915 after being gutted in a fire and the boiler was installed sometime later. The name cast into the boiler door shows “Waterous Limited”, indicating it was made some time after 1926, the year when the company name was changed from “Waterous Engine Works” to “Waterous Limited”.

The new owners retained the old doors from the boiler, cleaned and repainted them. They now adorn the foyer of the renovated building in recognition of this venerable old company that is an integral part of Brantford’s industrial legacy.

Waterous boiler door after restoration

Boiler door mounted in foyer after restoration

You can read more about the Waterous company in my book “Iron, Steam and Wood”.

Spotted in the Wild: 1885 Adams Wagon

On a recent visit to the Waterloo Regional Museum, I had the pleasure of being escorted around the museum’s storage warehouse, an area one could spend hours investigating. What did I see – an Adams wagon with its original paint job and logo – somewhat faded. When I checked the serial number, and went back to my records, I found that it was made around 1885 in the Paris factory, some fifteen years before they moved to a new factory in Brantford.

1885 Adams Wagon

This is the oldest Adams wagon that I have seen, or have knowledge of. And it was in completely undamaged condition. Look forward to when the museum sees fit to put in in a display in the public part of the museum.

I talk more about Adams wagon in my book “From Wagon to Trailer


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