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Winners and losers: The Brandon light tractor plowing demonstrations of 1916

Canadian manufacturers always struggled to maintain relevance with their smaller market

There’s little doubt the 1916 Brandon light tractor plowing demonstrations were important in their day and perhaps nothing underlines this than the fact it’s taken three instalments to fully examine them.

Sawyer Massey (SM) entered its 16-32 tractor. It was a major Canadian manufacturer of steam engines, threshing machines and other implements and got into the manufacture of gas tractors in 1910. The 16-32 originally used an engine of SM’s own, however, it later used a Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company engine in the same frame, calling the result a 17-34. Sawyer Massey used a variety of engines in its tractors from outside manufacturers such as Erd, Minneapolis, Waukesha and Climax. The use of outside suppliers of engines demonstrates a problem Canadian manufacturers faced at the time. The Canadian tractor market was not large enough to justify an individual manufacturer maintaining the research, design, testing and manufacturing capacity to produce its own engines.

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The Case Company, in addition to the Case 10-20, also brought a 12-25 to the demonstrations. Case introduced the 12-25 in 1913. The tractor featured a two-cylinder opposed engine operating at 600 r.p.m., a two-shoe friction clutch, sliding gear transmission with two forward speeds, a bull gear and pinion final drive with a floating one-piece rear axle. The cooling system featured a circulation pump, fan and radiator. The Case 12-25 was a cutting-edge design for 1913.

The Avery Company brought three tractors to the 1916 demonstrations, the 12-25, the 18-36 and the 25-50. Avery is notable for being the first tractor manufacturer to offer replacement cylinder sleeves for its engines when it began to do so in 1916. Avery tractors in 1916 all featured a very distinctive circular vertical radiator design. It was made up of a large number of tubes arranged in concentric circles connected to bottom and top tanks which were also circular. The top tank had a very large open tube in the centre of the tank. Immediately above this tube was a stack into which the engine exhaust was vented. As the hot gases escaped upwards they created a draft through the large tube which then sucked air through the tubes cooling the engine water.

The Avery 12-25 featured a two-cylinder horizontal opposed engine with 6.5-inch bore and 7.0-inch stroke cylinders. The transmission featured two forward speeds and one speed in reverse.

The 18-36 was brand new in the Avery lineup in 1916 and featured a four-cylinder, horizontal opposed cylinder engine with 5.5-inch bore and 6.0-inch stroke cylinders. The transmission featured two forward speeds and one speed in reverse. The 18-36 was the only tractor of the first 58 tractors tested at Nebraska to have no repairs or adjustments during the testing schedule.

The Avery 25-50 also used a four-cylinder, horizontal opposed cylinder engine with 6.5-inch bore by 8.0-inch stroke cylinders. The transmission featured two forward speeds and one speed in reverse.

Marshall and Sons brought a 16-35 tractor to the demonstrations. Marshall and Sons was a British manufacturer founded in 1842 and began operations by manufacturing agricultural machinery and steam engines. Later the company moved into industrial machinery powered with steam. In 1900 the company began to experiment with internal combustion engines and by 1908 was selling the “Colonial” line of tractors. The 16-35 was a two-cylinder tractor featuring a transmission with one speed forward and one speed in reverse. The tractor was also fitted with a Bosch ignition system. With this system when one was starting the engine, a small hand wheel at the back of the tractor was used to rotate the engine to stop dead centre on No. 1 cylinder. The cylinders were then primed with gas through the cylinder petcocks and then a button was pushed which energized the No. 1 cylinder spark plug which then, hopefully, ignited the gas and caused the engine to rotate. At that point the other cylinder should fire, spin the engine more rapidly and the engine begins to operate. The ignition system needed to be in top shape and deliver a very hot spark to the plugs for this method of starting to work. Amazingly the Colonial tractors did not, apparently, feature any method to hand start the engine and if the Bosch system was not capable of starting, then the engine had to be belted to another engine for starting or pull started. But one needed another tractor to start the Marshall; a huge drawback in the pioneer era.

Looking through the Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s collection, one can determine the relative success of the tractors at the 1916 Brandon demonstrations. Case and Sawyer Massey appear to have achieved some success whereas Marshall did not. The collection holds a Case 12-25. The history of this tractor is known and was donated by W. Longstaffe of Cardale. Apparently the tractor was nicknamed “The Hercules” during its time working fields in the Cardale area. With such a nickname the tractor must have been a known performer.

While the museum does not hold a Sawyer Massey 16-32 it does hold a Sawyer Massey 11-22 which is generally similar to the 16-32 but fitted with an Erd engine. Erd was a marine engine builder but did supply engines to Sawyer Massey. The museum also holds a Sawyer Massey 25-45 which was quite a bit larger than the 16-32.

The museum also holds an Avery 25-50, however, this tractor is fitted with an automotive-type radiator and not the circular type. Avery by the 1920s had moved to the automotive-type radiator. This tractor was recently repaired with new drive gears on the rear wheels. It appears a common fault of Avery tractors was the breaking of these gears and on this tractor the gears had failed. New gears had to be cut, which was done in Winnipeg using machinery even older than the tractor.

No Marshall and Sons 16-35 tractors appear to have survived anywhere in the world. Only five Colonial tractors have survived in total and three of these tractors are in Canada including the Model F at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum. The five that survive are the larger tractors with four-cylinder engines. Sawyer Massey apparently handled Marshall and Sons tractors in Western Canada for some period of time. But even with a sales organization in place in Western Canada, Marshall and Sons tractors do not appear to have been big sellers. They may have been pricey to buy and farmers also may have been leery about the starting system.

About the author


Alex Campbell is a dedicated volunteer and Member of the Interpretation Committee at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum.



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