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
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
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.