Providing farmers with quality equipment based on simple design and innovative engineering has long been a tradition synonymous with the Versatile name. In fact, that is exactly how the company got its start. Peter Pakosh, one of the two founders, first used that principle to design a revolutionary new grain auger in the basement of his Toronto home in 1946.
At the time he was working as a draftsman for Massey-Harris, and had ambitions of becoming a machinery designer. He built the auger on his own time to impress his boss and prove he had what it took to design equipment. But when Pakosh presented the concept to Harris executives, it was flatly rejected. That was a stunning rebuke, considering that the auger was simpler and more efficient than any alternative and could be sold much more cheaply.
Undaunted, Pakosh decided to build 10 augers on his own and sell them to Prairie farmers directly. Having grown up on a farm in Manitoba, he still had family and friends there and was no stranger to the needs of farmers in the region. That no doubt helped him market his first 10 units. They were so successful and sold so quickly that he decided to build another 50. To get enough money to buy that much steel wasn’t easy for Pakosh and his family, however. To help get things started, his wife gave up the money she was saving to buy a new coat.
Those augers sold too. Prairie farmers clearly appreciated Pakosh’s “versatile” design. His brother-in-law, Roy Robinson, joined with him in a full-fledged manufacturing venture to mass produce the auger. In 1947 they founded the Hydraulic Engineering Company.
But before the new company moved into its first facility in Toronto, Robinson’s basement was also pressed into service as a workshop for the development of a prototype field sprayer. Again, the design was all about simplicity and efficiency; something Prairie farmers have always appreciated.
With the addition of a harrow bar late in 1947, the term “versatile,” which had been used to describe the young company’s equipment, now became its brand name. “Versatile” was indeed the best way to describe these popular implements.
By 1952 the company had moved west to be where demand for its products was strong. A manufacturing plant built in the Winnipeg suburb of Fort Garry is still home to Versatile today.
The founding principle–that equipment should be simply designed, cost-efficient and easy to repair–remained the foundation on which all future Versatile machinery would be built.
Using that concept, the model 103 swather introduced in 1954 became a milestone in harvesting technology. It used a simple mechanical drive system and, unlike its competition, could be controlled with an ordinary steering wheel rather than brake levers. That made it much easier to operate. It was also much cheaper to buy. Versatile, then a small Manitoba company, found itself a leader in farm equipment design. Even the very large well-financed manufacturers found Versatile a hard act to follow.
In 1963 the Hydraulic Engineering Company officially changed its name to Versatile.
But the 1960s would be an important decade for the company for another reason. In 1966 the first Versatile tractors rolled off the assembly line. Despite an earlier feasibility study that declared farmers would have no interest in a four-wheel-drive tractor, the company forged ahead with production of about 100 units. Pakosh and Robinson were convinced the design would meet a need among Prairie farmers.
Other four-wheel-drive tractors at the time were large, expensive and cumbersome. For that reason, none enjoyed popularity with farmers. So very few were built. Versatile, however, had another vision for four-wheel-drive design. Once again, simplicity and efficiency were the goals, and the resulting tractor was groundbreaking. Not surprisingly, the first year’s production sold out quickly and the Versatile tractor legacy was born.
Over the decades Versatile has refined that original design and remained a leader in four-wheel-drive technology. Red and yellow Versatile tractors have become a fixture on the Canadian and American Prairies.
Next, Versatile stunned the farm machinery market with the model 150 bi-directional tractor in 1977. Once again the company had revolutionized the tractor market with an intelligent and functional concept that exactly met producers’ needs.
Now, ever-increasing horsepower in field tractors is a goal for most manufacturers. But Versatile pioneered the very-high-horsepower concept with its giant, the 470-horsepower model 1150, decades ago. The design was never matched by any other manufacturer in its time.
Versatile’s current flagship model, the 535, was the first to break the 500-horsepower barrier and at the same time give farmers exactly what they were looking for in a large field tractor. Before the 535 and the other two models in the HHT (high-horsepower tractor) line made it to field trials, engineers and designers went directly to farmers to find out what features they valued most in a tractor. (See page 36).
It’s clear that Peter Pakosh’s founding principles have remained a strong and guiding force for today’s tractor engineers at Versatile. Simplicity, dependability and efficiency are still built into tractors and other equipment rolling off the line at the same Fort Garry factory that started it all, back in 1966. That legacy is hard to duplicate.