Mike Hand Books

Ontario Industrial Histories

Tag: Waterous

The Champion Engine

The Champion Engine

In the mid 1880’s, David June of Ohio designed what turned out to be one  of the most popular of the early threshing engines, the Champion steam engine. With a vertical boiler mounted between the two rear wheels, it was of a very simple design, although somewhat cumbersome in appearance. The centre crank engine was mounted on a vee shaped casting that extended horizontally in front of the boiler and was suspended at the crank end on the front axle swivel. The engine used a simple rotary steam valve, and the vertical boiler was renowned for much faster steaming from cold than a conventional horizontal boiler.

A prominent feature of the Waterous Champion steam engine was its spark arrester.

Section through spark arrester

This was a must for these engines, working all day driving threshers among piles of dusty straw, or driving sawmills in the sawdust laden atmosphere. It was an option installed on a very high percentage of the production. Patented by David June, he assigned the Canadian rights to the spark arrester to his nephew, Charles Waterous Jr., who collected $25 per engine built at his father’s company in Brantford, the Waterous Engine Works.

Waterous began building these engines under license, making 9 units in 1877, rising to 210 units a year by 1880. Over 2,500 of these engines were made at the Brantford factory. Many of the later engines were built as self-propelled traction engines, using a chain drive to the rear wheels.

They were sold all over Canada and their popularity

Self propelled Champion engine

generated numerous stories and anecdotes. One customer stated that he had bought the first one built by Waterous and had done 73 days threshing that year without a breakdown on account of the engine. He also claimed that he could do 30 to 50 minutes of work before other engines with horizontal boilers could get steam up!

A mailing in 1911 from the Winnipeg Telegram showed the Champion engine driving a saw in the yard of the Winnipeg penitentiary with the caption “Number 733 was sentenced on May 25, 1883 to life term by Frank J Waterous”. (Frank was manager of the Winnipeg branch of Waterous.)

Another 1903 letter stated that the customer had bought his engine in 1880 for $1,200 and over 23 years of hard work had spent only $128 in repairs in that time!

The Champion engine demonstrated the company’s excellent workmanship, and during its lifetime, established itself as a legendary machine on the Canadian farm and in the lumber business.

(See my book Iron Steam and Wood for a history of this company

Tree Harvesting

The Koehring Waterous Co. of Brantford, (formerly Waterous Engine Works. Ltd.), had been a major manufacturer of sawmill and wood processing equipment since the mid 1800’s, with such products as de-barkers, shredders and grinders for wood pulping, From the mid 1960’s, they remade the company into a manufacturer of large self-propelled wood harvesters, introducing the pulpwood forwarder, a rubber tired machine that could pick up and carry loads of eight foot logs. With the acceptance of this machine, their line of wood harvesting machinery was steadily expanded, the engineering group being headed by Canadian engineer John Kurelek.

tree felling

felling head assembly

Among the machines developed in the late 1970’s was the feller forwarder which cut down the trees using hydraulic shears. This damaged the wood around the cut off area and eventually the Forestry Engineering Research Institute asked Koehring to do some research on alternately using a saw to eliminate this butt damage. Under John’s direction, a prototype was placed in the field with positive results. Koehring improved the design, and drawing upon its one hundred plus years of Waterous’ saw making experience, finally developed the Disc Saw Felling Head that could cut through the trunk in seconds. Utilising a 55” diameter, one inch thick disc with bolted on carbide tipped saw teeth around the perimeter, hydraulically driven and mounted horizontally at the lower end of the felling head, it replaced the hydraulic shears. Rotating at 1,150 rpm, it was mounted in a rigid housing that left 90 degrees of the saw exposed, allowing it to cut up to 22” diameter trees. The head was fitted with a wrist mechanism that could tilt 15 degrees either way for cutting on sloping ground.

felling head saw

Disc saw blade

It was an instant success and requests began to come in from other original equipment manufacturers to purchase it for attachment to their own forestry equipment. After much discussion, Koehring made the decision, even though they had patent protection on major areas of the design, to allow such sales, a marketing style they had not previous undertaken. It was a momentous decision as it successfully delayed development of competing designs for some years. Within seven years, the company had shipped over one thousand of these disc saw felling heads.

tree felling

Felling head cutting tree

In 1988, the company was sold to Timberjack Machines of Woodstock, Ontario, a major manufacturer of log skidders. Three years later, Timberjack was purchased by Rauma Repola, a Finnish wood harvesting machine manufacturer. The 100 year old Brantford Waterous plant was closed, and the only product transferred to the new owner’s production was the Disc Saw Felling Head.

Today, the Disc Saw Feller is manufactured by most major wood harvesting equipment manufacturers throughout the world, a tribute to the design and engineering skills of the team at Brantford manufacturer, Koehring Waterous.

http://Iron, Steam and Wood

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

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