Mike Hand Books

Ontario Industrial Histories

Category: ontario

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

Early Central Heating


There are still a few octopus like monsters to be found in old house basements but by and large, the present generation have never seen one of these old gravity type hot air furnaces.

Until the late 1880’s, most houses were “heated” by means of a cast iron stove fueled by wood. One of Canada’s major stove manufacturers was the London, Ontario  company, McClary Manufacturing Ltd. Stoves were actually only one product out of hundreds produced by this company who turned out tin-ware products for every possible use in the home and workshop. Their factory grew until it occupied the whole block at York and Wellington in downtown London, employing over 700 persons by 1900.

McClary Sunshine furnace

Factory fresh McClary Sunshine furnace ready for ducts to be added

Around 1890, McClary began to build  “central air” furnaces,  a cast iron stove surrounded by a galvanised housing from which sprouted large round ducts carrying hot air to each of the rooms in the house. With no fan, air movement was by convection in which the hot air rises. Iron grills in the floor led to even larger ducts that carried the cold air, by gravity, back to the furnace which was usually installed in the basement. After a few years of slow selling builders were, by 1900, adopting this type of furnace in their new house construction and soon McClary was supplying furnaces for whole streets of houses all across the country. They were extremely inefficient by today’s standards but were a miraculous addition to the home owner of 1900.


old mcclary furnace

I can still recall in the mid 1950’s, my wife-to-be’s father doing his nightly chore on his octopus furnace before retiring to bed. He would descend to the basement and for the next five minutes the house would resonate with clanging as he dragged the ashes out, stirred and re-stoked the coal fire, to ensure that it would continue to ward off the winter cold until morning.


Read more in my book Where Did They Go.

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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