History of Birdsall Engine Co.

A bit about Birdsall steam engines

| July/August 2003

  • Birdsall traction engine
    A Birdsall steam traction engine, probably a 10 HP or 12 HP, photographed in 1895. This unit is equipped with chain steering instead of Birdsall's patented 'automobile' style of steering gear.
  • 18 HP Birdsall
    Steve Davis' circa 1918 18 HP Birdsall running a thresher in 1966. This engine is currently in the collection of the New York State Museum in Albany, N.Y.
  • 10 HP Birdsall traction engine
    10 HP Birdsall traction engine at the Mount Washington (New Hampshire) cog railway base station.
  • Birdsall boiler
    Birdsall boiler details, from a circa 1918 Birdsall catalog.
  • 10 HP or 12 HP Birdsall
    A 10 HP or 12 HP Birdsall photographed in Australia in 1981. Was it ever restored?
  • 10 HP Birdsall
    A 10 HP Birdsall photographed at Rollag, Minn., in 1985 by Charles Harthy, Homer, Mich.
  • Birdsall factory
    The 'new' Birdsall factory in Newark, N.Y., as depicted on the cover of a circa 1918 Birdsall catalog. Main building 565 feet and 100 feet long,
  • Double-cylinder Birdsall engine
    Double-cylinder Birdsall engine as shown in the circa 1918 catalog. Curiously, no horsepower ratings are given for any of the engines shown in the catalog. Birdsall's move to Newark must have been fresh when this catalog was made, as most engines shown were still marked 'Auburn, N.Y.'

  • Birdsall traction engine
  • 18 HP Birdsall
  • 10 HP Birdsall traction engine
  • Birdsall boiler
  • 10 HP or 12 HP Birdsall
  • 10 HP Birdsall
  • Birdsall factory
  • Double-cylinder Birdsall engine

In the November/December 2002 issue of Iron-Men Album Geoffrey Stein, senior historian at the New York State Museum in Albany, N.Y., wrote in on the subject of Birdsall steam traction engines. I have a special interest in Birdsall steam engines and other engines made in New York, and as such I would like to contribute the bit of Birdsall history I have gleaned from various sources.

Evolution of Birdsall name
The earliest published reference to the Birdsall company I have found is an ad from an 1880 issue of The Rural New Yorker. This ad contains a very nice cut of a small (perhaps 6-8 HP) portable, with no mention made of any other type of engine being available. No mention is made of how long the company had existed at that time. The ad ends with the admonition: "For Special Circulars address E.M. Birdsall, Penn Yan, N.Y. USA."

The next chronological bit of information comes from a photograph of a Birdsall steam engine with the notation on the back, "Don Gridley 1895." Shown is a small, perhaps 10 HP traction with chain steering and no visible means of carrying any water or fuel. The builder's plate on the cylinder jacket is almost illegible - even under magnification but possibly shows "#1657, Auburn, N.Y." This is a lot of guesswork, however. The engine shows a lot of caked-on grease and oil and was probably at least a few years old in 1895.

The next source of information is an 1899 price list, and the address is Auburn, N.Y. In the earlier ad the company is listed only as "E.M. Birdsall," while in the 1899 price list it is called "The New Birdsall Co." Perhaps the company had been reorganized in some way as well as relocating to Auburn.



The 1899 price list also lists Birdsall branch houses in St. Louis, Mo., Toledo, Ohio, Fond du Lac, Wis., and Baltimore, Md. Semi-portable and skid engines are listed in eight sizes ranging from 6 HP to 25 HP and priced from $600 to $1,200. Portable engines are listed in six sizes from 6 HP to 18 HP with prices ranging from $700 to $1,050. Traction engines are offered in 12 HP, 15 HP and 18 HP sizes. The least expensive was the chain-steered 12 HP at $1,300, and the most expensive at $1,900 was the 18 HP straw-burner with suspended water tank and "patent steering gear."

What Birdsall called their 'patent' steering apparatus consisted of a worm and sector on the left front wheel spindle and a tie rod running to a spindle arm on the right wheel. Later on, as the automobile became more common, the company described this apparatus as an 'automobile' steering gear, thus making it sound more up-to-date. Birdsall claimed to be the only traction engine builder to use this system.



SUBSCRIBE TO FARM COLLECTOR TODAY!

Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

Save Even More Money with our SQUARE-DEAL Plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our SQUARE-DEAL automatic renewal savings plan. You'll get 12 issues of Farm Collector for only $24.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of Farm Collector for just $29.95.




Facebook Pinterest YouTube

Classifieds