Canada’s American-Owned American-Abell Engine & Thresher Company

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American-Abell Engine & Thresher Company's "Toronto Advance" separator with the Maplebay wind stacker folded.
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The John Abell patent end-fed straw-burning boiler, manufactured specially for the Manitoba thresher trade.
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American-Abell rear-mount plowing engine 28 hp single.
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American-Abell 28 hp "Cock o' the North" compound traction engine.
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American-Abell 18 hp "Cock o' the North" Ontario-type wood-burning traction engine.

In 1902 the Advance Thresher Company and the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company jointly purchased the John Abell plant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and renamed it the American-Abell Engine & 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 & Machine Works Company.

John Abell’s “Toronto Advance” separator had been well received in Western Canada and was improved by the addition of the Maplebay wind stacker with wooden chute followed by the Cyclone rear-driven blower with metal pipe and the Parsons self-feeder. In the East, where all kinds of grain are grown, it was not so popular, so, in the late 1890s John Abell designed a new separator for Ontario. This machine featured a revolving grain carrier instead of the oscillating grain deck, and had the straw decks made in four sections which were hung on pivots at the outer ends and given a nicely balanced motion by a center crank shaft connected to the inner ends.

About this time the press was featuring the exploit of Lance Corporal Findlater of the Gordon Highlanders who won the Victoria Cross at the assault on the Dargai Hill in Northern India, on October 20th, 1897, where, shot through both legs, he sat through the hail to bullets and continued to cheer his hard-pressed comrades with the stirring tune “Cock O’ the North” on his bagpipes. John Abell was impressed and 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 trade mark and calling their output the “Cock o’ the North” line. The American-Abell engines had the figure of a rooster cast in the smoke box door.

For a few years the new owners continued to build the “Toronto Advance” and the “Cock o’ the North” separators and a full line of American-Abell “Advance” and “Compound” portable and traction engines. The simplest engines had a spring mounting similar to the U.S. built Advance of the same period and were equipped with the Marsh reverse gear and double-ported balanced valve. For the Western trade the simple engines were built in the 14, 16, 18, 22 and 26 hp sizes and the cross-compounds 22 and 28 hp, and were mounted on John Abell Patent End-Fed Straw Burning Boilers. The flues extended back two feet and a half into the firebox of the boiler giving the engines, especially the compounds, a short stubby appearance. Those in the smaller sizes built for the East had regular wood-burning fireboxes and diamond top smoke stacks and looked better proportioned.

With the demand for more power for threshing and heavier engines for plowing the American-Abell firm developed a line of sturdier engines of its own design. Familiarly known as the “Cock o’ the North,” these side-mounted engines were built in the 16, 18 and 20 hp sizes with simple cylinder for the East, and in 22, 26 and 30 hp simple and 28 and 40 hp compound sizes for the West. The dropped crown sheet on straw-burning boilers was discontinued after a few years, but the John Abell patent idea of aiding combustion by admitting air through openings in the sidewalls was retained. Spring mounting was omitted, and heavy gearing and flat-spoked drive wheels were used on all models. The Woolf single-eccentric reverse gear and plain slide valve were adopted. Later a balanced valve was designed and the steam chest raised at an angle to give the valve stem and rod a straight line motion. Three experimental double-simple engines were built and all compounds were of the cross-compound type with one side and one center crank set at right angles. The exhaust from the high-pressure cylinder passed through a re-heater in the smoke box before entering the low-pressure cylinder. Front or side tanks were mounted on plowing engines if ordered.

In 1908 the first rear-mounted engine was built, a 36 hp simple with drum-type drivers so that water could be added to make more weight. Named after F.R. Kenaston, president of the Minneapolis Threshing Company at the time, it was shipped West and shown at the Winnipeg and Brandon Exhibitions then on to Regina where it was stored until the disastrous fire in November 1911 that cleaned out the American-Abell branch there. It was rebuilt the next year and sold. This experimental model was followed by many more rear-mounted plowing engines built in two sizes: a 28 hp simple and a 32 hp cross-compound. The latter being one of the heaviest of North American traction engines having a shipping weight of 24 tons. Both these models had a novel steering arrangement designed to steer easier and relieve the boiler from the strain of jerking steering chains. Both standard front wheels were mounted close together in a yoke and the steering rod moved the roller bearing turntable by means of a worm and segment running in oil. Another feature was a power feed pump mounted below the level of the water tank for positive gravity feed and driven from a crank on the intermediate gear.

In addition to the number each “Cock o’ the North” engine bore, it had a name on its number plate according to its size. Some of these may be of interest. The 18 hp “Garfied”; 20 hp “Dewey”; 22 hp “Bobs,” named after the Boar War figure Lort Roberts; 26 hp “Dun Donald,” after a colorful British admiral; 28 hp compound “Watts”; 20 hp simple “King” and 40 hp compound “Queen.” The 28 hp rear mount was named “Bush” after S O. Bush, vice president of the Advance Thresher Company, and the 32 hp rear mount “Drummond” after the plant superintendent.

Along with its line of engines the American-Abell Company developed a new separator by combining the best features of the Toronto Advance and Cock o’ the North machines. The new separator was named the Toronto Combination and proved itself a fitting companion for the American-Abell engines.

When the great Rumley 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 its last traction engines shipped West now serves as a heating plant for the Allis-Chalmers-Rumley building in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. They 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, sworn by and at as are the tractors of today. IMA

H.S. Turner is a writer from Goderish, Ontario, Canada.

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