Taps for 'BB'

B. B. Brown

B. B. Brown on an old one, 595 Avery & R.S.T. Co., Schurman Bros. in 1955, at Woodland, Washington.

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Box 214, Davis, California

We are honored to have F. Hal Higgins (the greatest living Agricultural Historian) of Davis, California, write the obituary of Mr. B. ;B. Brown for our little magazine. Mr. Higgins has known and associated with Mr. Brown a long time. This makes the obituary more factual.

This article should have appeared in our September-October issue but because of several circumstances it was not practical. Mr. Brown's life story is interesting any time. Mr. Brown was a welcome contributor to the Album.


Cancer has ended the writings of engine-historian B. B. Brown. The news will be a shock to readers of the hobby magazines who have followed 'BB's' carefully researched writings on Valves, Reverse Gear and the various brands of steam and gas engines he knew so well from living with and 'trouble-shooting' them over the past half century. To us who knew and researched with BB, the end was expected and both family and visiting friends were not sorry to see the doctor's 'six months to a year' cut to a single month.

Briefly reviewing BB's fifty years in the industry he knew from living it from boy operator of his father's threshing outfit in Missouri, one gets a better understanding of his knowledge of both farm and heavy construction equipment on the jobs as well as in catalogs:

1907, left the farm for an Aultman-Taylor job in western Canada. Then in the same position with Advance-Rumely after the latter acquired A-T. Instructor in Advance-Rumely school for dealers and owners. Left Canada for Portland, Oregon, in 1913. Married in 1914. Here he and Mrs. Brown homesteaded in Lake county. Mrs. Brown holding down the homestead as BB worked for a Ford dealer in Portland, going from homestead to job and back daily. Homestead proved up in 1915. Back to the old Missouri home in 1916 for a year.

Southern California saw 'Brownie', as his fellow salesmen usually called him, for about ten years as he worked for dealers and distributors of Ford, Allis-Chalmers, Le Tourneau and Caterpillar tractors and equipment. In such concentration of farm and heavy construction gas and diesel-powered equipment, BB really got a thorough sales-service training from hard experience in working for and against the champions in big and little farm, pipeline, road, dam and oil field tools. As one who has seen both and visited jobs to catch the machines and men in action, the writer must agree with BB that the best farm tractor organizations rate with the top heavy dirt moving companies about like a good high school football team going up against a professional outfit like the Cleveland Browns or Chicago Bears. Hence, we see today the old full line farm tractor builders trying to break into the big road and dam construction jobs.

Two more of BB's years of experience were spent covering a wide territory for Winslow Engineering in selling and servicing the Winslow air cleaners and allied lines. Farm tractors didn't last long in the dust clouds they worked in until Charles Winslow developed his cleaner. Much of the early research in this field he did in cooperation with University of California Agricultural Engineering department here at Davis.

As an ex-reporter, the writer probably appreciated the combined know-how and reacher qualities of B. B. Brown better than anyone else. By frequent visits to each other's collections to compare notes, pictures, catalogs, ads, letters from other old timers who 'were there' when big jobs, shows, demonstrations and conventions were seen, we searched the world for the facts, and all the facts from the grass roots to the Top Brass. BB never overlooked starting up a correspondence with any ex-engine manufacturer, dealer, sales and service man who got his name into print as someone who knew some line of steam, gas or diesel power. His correspondence covered both US and Canadian maps. And on his pet specialties of Gears and Valves he dug deep, wide and persistently for facts he checked, re-checked until he had threshed out all the wheat from the piles of chaff and straw that littered his path. My quick look at his 20 feet of book shelves gave me no time to carefully evaluate his two carefully typed MSS on Valves and Gears. He had spent years gathering the Patent Office, tear sheets from engineering and threshermen's publications, notes from catalogs and letters. They are his masterpieces and should be published with B. B. Brown as author.

A sampling of his catalogs, jotted down in a 15-minute scanning of BB's collection, shows he had many very scarce items. Some of the rest came from the late Mr. Hudson's collection sent by Hudson's widow in Los Angeles only a year ago. Some of these date into the 1860's and '70's. The Best Mfg. Co. 'Steam Plowing' was so scarce the writer had never seen it in spite of knowing what Caterpillar has and having practically everything Holt and Best ever published including their ad. Complete runs of all three hobby magazines of the engine fraternity are in the Brown Collection.

BB was only 71 when cut down by the killer cancer. He leaves Mrs. Florence Brown after 46 years and one son, Winton Brown. The latter is a key engineer in the space and missile industry. BB belongs to Engine history from here on as long as men and boys work and play with steam, gas and diesel powers.                           -FHH