NORBECK RESEARCH 117 Ruche Street Coplay, PA 18037
Author Norbeck and the Norbeck Research Library, which now
contains over 550 binders of history and information from around
One of the most pictures que figures among pioneer Canadian
manufacturers was born in England, September 17, 1822, and
immigrated to Canada as a young man. In 1845, John Abell settled in
the village of Woodbridge, 20 miles northwest of Toronto, Ontario.
There he obtained employment in the wagon and stage coach factory
operated by Wood and Ethridge.
Possessed with much inventive and mechanical ability, young John
Abell was anxious to get into business for himself and in 1847 he
built a small log shop and began the manufacture of mill iron and
similar articles. Here he fashioned a lathe and other tools, which
he constructed for his own use and built the first steam engine to
be used in the district.
Assured of power to drive his machinery, he immediately made
plans to increase his output and in January, 1862, moved into a
larger building and began the manufacture of plows and other farm
Business increased rapidly and before many years John Abell was
employing a hundred workmen and concentrating on the production of
a threshing machine which he had developed and which had met with
much favor. Abell’s machine, which he named the Paragon, was of
the apron type and geared for horsepower drive. Later, gang beaters
and straw carriers were added and the separator enlarged and
improved and adapted for steam power.
In 1874, the establishment was completely destroyed by fire.
Undaunted by this misfortune he immediately rebuilt on an enlarged
scale taking into consideration the manufacture of portable steam
engines which he had been planning for some time. John Abell’s
first engines were of the locomotive boiler type, with an extra
long smokestack topped by a screen.
John Abell stole the show at Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1881
with his exhibit of the first cross compound threshing engine ever
built in Canada.
In 1886, John Abell built his first traction engine by adding
steel rear drive wheels and steering controls to his standard
Triumph portable engine. Abell’s early tractions were driven by
a friction belt from the main shaft to the countershaft.
Lance Corporal Findlater of the Gordon Highlanders won the
Victoria Cross at the assault on the Dargai Hill in Northern India
on October 20th, 1897. Shot through both legs, he sat through a
hail of bullets and continued to cheer his hard pressed comrades
with the stirring tune ‘Cock O the North’ on his
John Abell was so impressed that he named his new separator the
‘Cock O’ The North’ and incorporated the story and
illustrations of the epic feat in his catalog. The American-Abell
firm went further by adopting a game rooster on a stump as its
trademark, and calling the output the ‘Cock O’ The
North’ line. The American-Abell engines had the figure of a
rooster cast in the smoke box door.
The sands of time run out for all men. In 1902 this energetic
man was in his 80th year, with no family and in failing health.
Consequently the big Abell factory had to be sold. He lived until
August 7th, 1903, long enough to see that his name would continue
to be associated with threshing machinery for years to come.
American-Abell 20 HP steam traction engine built in 1905 by the
American-Abell Engine and Thresher Co., Ltd., Toronto, Ontario and
owned by Bill Johnson of Ontario, Canada.
Photo taken at Norwich and District Historical Society’s
Show at Norwich, Ontario by Jack C. Norbeck, author of Encyclopedia
of American Steam Traction Engines and included in the 3rd revised
edition. See article about the American-Abell firm in this
In 1902 the Advance Thresher and the Minneapolis Threshing
Machine jointly purchased the John Abell plant in Toronto, and
renamed it the American-Abell Engine and Thresher Company Limited.
Although American owned, the new company immediately adopted the
policy of ‘Canadian-made goods for Canadian users’ and
continued without interruption to build the threshing machinery
formerly manufactured by the John Abell Engine and Machine Works
When the great Rumely merger took place in 1912, the
American-Abell factory was included and the ‘Cock O’ the
North’ line was discontinued.
No further engines were built. The boiler of the last steam
traction engine shipped west served as a heating plant for the
Allis-Chalmers-Rumely building in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The
company built a total of nearly 2,500 farm engines, the majority of
which went to the Canadian West where the Cock O’ the North
line was a famous name.