The magnificent giants too often forgotten: A story of Buffalo-Springfield and Waterous road rollers
Collector Ross Johnson of Mississauga, Ontario, sold one and donated two road rollers to the Muskoka Pioneer Power Association. They are two Buffalo-Springfield road rollers: a five ton, serial #14015, coming off the line on September 17, 1927, and a larger fifteen ton model, serial #16000, born on August 12, 1933. The larger unit is complete with scarifier. The third unit purchased is ten-ton Waterous steam roller, serial #B 6402-10, dated May 15, 1920.
Johnson couldn't let any of these big toys go to scrap, if at all possible. He was born in 1924 and raised in Ontario. In his younger years, he worked at all manner of jobs while going to school. One project was working with a paving company on the Queen Elizabeth Highway, which opened in 1939. The equipment fascinated him. A Navy man during the war years, he participated in many Atlantic crossings and was awarded the Medal of Honor. He returned to Ontario and after several related jobs as a stationary engineer, he progressed to the top job as Operations Superintendent at the Lakeview Generating Station of Ontario Hydro.
Ross was a very generous boss, always wanting the best for his staff. He often took them on fishing and camping trips in his personal aircraft, having obtained his commercial pilot's license some years earlier. Ross had several talents music, art and carpentry, just to name a few. His home is a testament to these talents, with his large collection of music, his paintings on walls, and many pieces of custom made furniture. Ross married Barbara MacDonald in 1955, and they have raised three children.
Purely by accident, someone brought an old steam engine to Lakeview. It was to be a "Sports and Social" project, and it was restored. That was the beginning. It seemed that his best challenges were "The Bigger The Better." He found and restored a Bucyrus Erie steam shovel, a chain driven Mack truck (also now owned here in Bracebridge), a Mack Army tank hauler and a Caterpillar 60 dozer, to name just a few.
Up until 1984, Ross had one of the largest collections of steam engine farm and construction equipment in North America. About that time Ross fell ill, and it was necessary to dispose of most of his collection to private collectors and museums in Canada and the United States. He couldn't part with his road rollers, and had planned a museum in Parry Sound. This did not materialize, and Ross' health continued to deteriorate and he passed away in 1996.
Ross Johnson was acquainted with several members of the Muskoka Pioneer Power Assocation, based in Bracebridge, Ontario. When Barbara was dispersing the estate, she remembered this organization and its members. Ross Johnson was a relative to Ron and Sybil Hicks of Baysville, and Ron spoke to Doug Duff and Glenn Kirton about this equipment, and they, too, became close friends of both Ross and Barbara. Barbara presented a proposal to them.
Following an executive meeting of the club, it was agreed to purchase the Waterous steam roller; Barbara would then donate the two gasoline Buffalo-Springfield rollers in memory of Ross.
There has been much documentation about these giants of iron and steel, but I will briefly mention dates of the companies that came on the manufacturing horizon late in the 1800s.
The Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company resulted from a merger of the Buffalo Steam Roller Company and the Kelly-Springfield Road Roller Company. These companies were outgrowths of road roller developments of the Buffalo-Pitts Company, manufacturer of threshing machines and steam traction engines in Buffalo, New York, in 1890, and the Ohio-Springfield Kelly Company of Springfield in 1902.
In 1957, Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company of Springfield, Ohio, was purchased by Koehring Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and now operates as a division of that company. The Koehring Company consists of 14 operating divisions, a wholly owned Canadian subsidiary, and many affiliated companies throughout the world, including Koehring Overseas Corporation in South America. All divisions and subsidiaries operate independently.
The Waterous Company had its beginning in 1844, as the Brantford Engine Works in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, owned by P. C. Van Brocklin. C. H. Waterous moved from Buffalo, New York, in 1848. The company was incorporated under the Waterous name in 1874. Waterous had a family of six sons and one daughter. All sons took their training in the business, but most left to pursue other business interests.
Many financial struggles and different partners evolved until the late 1800s. A new factory was built in 1895.
The steam roller was introduced into the line after 1897.
C. H. Waterous Sr., died in 1892, but previous to this he had bought out all partners. C. H. Waterous Jr., took over as president until he died in 1925 at age 74.
Another new factory was built in 1912, but then a depression hit and WWI was declared, and to make matters worse, the steel molders went on strike. There was wide diversification within the company, with new lines being added and non-profitable ones discontinued.
After WWI, when the automobile industry demanded better roads, Waterous obtained a Buffalo-Springfield license to build and market a scarifier. This was a huge labour saver, when reworking the road beds. The unit was mounted on the back of the Waterous road roller and had large teeth to grind up the road surface. By 1920, Waterous had reached a total road roller production of 250 units.
By the time of the 100th anniversary, WWII was well underway, but the war brought many new lines to production, the gun carriage as an example.
The gasoline road roller was introduced in 1946.
In 1953, Koehring of Milwaukee purchased Waterous to gain a foothold in Canada for the manufacture of heavy construction equipment. This takeover did not include the Edmonton and Alberta branches.
The Buffalo-Springfield road roller was brought to Canada by Koehring-Waterous Company soon after the takeover of Waterous, and the demise of the Waterous road roller soon followed.
The United States factory of Waterous Company opened in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1886. The steam fire engine production began in 1897, but the steam fire patents were sold in 1900. The Waterous Company developed the first gasoline powered pumper in 1898, and the horizontal stationary gas engine line in 1902.
This division in St. Paul was best known for its fire engine and pumper production, as well as related firefighting equipment. It became the national manufacturer of fire hydrants. The company eventually was sold to American Cast Iron Pipe Company in 1989, who continue to produce a large portion of the market of steel pipe.
The history of Muskoka Pioneer Power Association's 1920 ten-ton Waterous steam road roller, serial #B-6402-10, says that it was originally owned by A. R. Jupp Construction Company in Toronto. The Miller Paving Company owned it next, and it was sold in 1958 to Mr. Gord Smith of Orillia, Ontario, (a lifetime steam collector). It was salvaged and rebuilt in 1967 by Ross Johnson of Mississauga, Ontario. In 1998, this road roller was purchased from Mrs. Johnson by M. P. P. A. and is now on display in Bracebridge, Ontario.
There has been a lot of interesting historical material which came with the Waterous road roller, and we have also collected other interesting photos and material from Ross Johnson's archives.
Contact Barbara Dawson at 6 Cormack Crescent Brace bridge, Ontario Canada P1L 1R3.