Teeth Talk: The Bull Dog Line
Avery Undermounted Steam Engine
By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
The Yorkton Western Development Museum’s Avery undermounted engine breaking sod with an eight-bottom plow, Manitoba, c. 1910.
WDM Archives, 1-D(b)-22
Out of the Avery Company plant at Peoria, Illinois came one of
the most unusual traction engines of the day. The famous
undermounted engine, looking more like a railway locomotive than
a conventional steam traction engine, attracted a lot of
attention when it hit the agricultural market in the early 20th
Unlike its competition, the cylinders, gearing and flywheel of the undermount were all mounted on the undercarriage, not on the boiler. This arrangement was purported to be safer and stronger–“more durable because the boiler is free from all pulling strains, more powerful because of the straight line pull from the engine cylinders through the gearing and back to the load, and more convenient because all the parts are low down.”1 The placement made it easier to oil and adjust the engine parts–the operator did not have to climb to the top of the boiler.
In 1911, the Avery undermounted double-cylinder engine came in several sizes, from 18 HP to the giant 40 HP model. The bigger models could pull huge gang plows through tough prairie sod. A deal with the Cockshutt Plow Company of Brantford, Ontario gave Avery distribution rights to the Cockshutt’s popular gang plows in the United States, Mexico and Cuba. Cockshutt-Avery plows were sold in five sizes–from five to 12 gang.
The Avery undermounted engine was good for other jobs in addition to plowing. “Is it plowing, seeding, shelling, sawing, ensilage cutting, grain hauling, road grading, house moving or other work? No matter what the work is we can supply you with the right kind of an engine or tractor to do the work.”2 Advertisements in farm papers showed the big Avery engines belted to the company’s line of Yellow Fellow threshing machines, with road roller attachments, steam shovel attachments, or steam crane attachments. They even sold trucks which in 1909 were described as “farm tractors.” Avery called its equipment line-up the “Bull Dog Line.” Its logo, a head-on view of a growling bull dog, teeth bared, with a tag reading “Teeth Talk,” was meant to convey strength and tenacity.
Avery was a big winner in the 1911 Winnipeg Motor Trials, a contest in which engines were rated in categories like plowing, fuel efficiency, design and construction. The undermount was the sweepstakes winner over 29 others and took first place in the design and construction class. A good showing at Winnipeg was good for business and company advertising made the most of it. An advertisement in the August, 1911 Canadian Thresherman and Farmer magazine declared Avery “The biggest winners in the greatest engine contest ever held.”3
Like other big American machinery manufacturers of its time, Avery had branch offices in Western Canada. Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary all had distribution centres. And like its competitors, Avery built engines with special boilers to meet the more stringent government regulations in the Canadian northwest. The “Alberta and Saskatchewan Special” had thicker boiler plating and other features meant to withstand the temperature extremes of the Canadian climate.
Competition in the farm machinery business was tough and companies who offered a huge line of equipment sometimes overextended themselves. In spite of its early success, by 1924 Avery was bankrupt. A couple of reorganizations followed, but the Second World War ended production for good.
The Western Development Museum has three Avery undermounted steam traction engines in its collection, two in Saskatoon and one in Yorkton. The largest of the three, the 40-120 HP model is in storage in the Museum’s Curatorial Centre in Saskatoon. It spent its working life in Alberta, mostly breaking and threshing. In the mid 1920s, it was traded for a quarter-section of land in the Camrose area where the new owner also used it for cutting brush.
A second Avery undermount in the WDM collection, a 20-60 HP model, came from Manitoba. For years it powered the sawmill at the annual summer show at the Yorkton Western Development Museum. The third Avery, equipped with a two-speed transmission, has been operated until recently at the Saskatoon WDM’s Pion-Era. Museum records tell us that A.S. Ferguson bought this engine new at Govan, Saskatchewan for $3200 in 1911. He used it until 1929.
Avery’s Bull Dog Line is also well-represented at the WDM by eight gas tractors, a road grader, an eight-bottom plow, a Yellow Fellow threshing machine and a truck. Visitors can see Avery equipment at WDM branches in North Battleford, Saskatoon and Yorkton. A warm welcome awaits your exploration of the treasures in the WDM collection.
Avery Company logo
Avery Company catalogue, 1918, I.6
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