Dreadnaughts of the Prairies
The Marshall Tractor
By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
The WDM's Marshall tractor.
WDM Artifact file WDM-1973-s-334
British tractor maker Marshall, Sons & Company had its eye on the
lucrative Canadian market early in the 20th century. The company had been in
business since 1848, building thousands of engines, boilers, threshing
machines and the like. Marshall introduced its first tractor in 1907 and by
the early teens employed 5000 men in a 40-acre site at Gainsborough,
In 1908 Marshall sent a tractor to the Winnipeg tractor trials where it performed satisfactorily but burned more fuel than its American competitors. Undaunted, Marshall set up a plant in Saskatoon to take advantage of the expanding tractor market in western Canada. In 1913 the 500 by 130 foot operation was located on 11th Street West. Components were shipped "knocked down" from England for assembly at the Saskatoon plant. Tractors were available in two sizes: 16-30/35 HP and 32-60/70 HP.
The December 10, 1913 edition of the Grain Growers' Guide carried a full-page ad for Marshall, Sons & Co. (Canada) Limited, Engineers, Saskatoon, Canada. Titled "Dreadnaughts of the Prairies" the company promoted its "British Colonial Tractors" with the slogan, "Built like a Battleship-Runs Like a Watch." Marshall tractors were "guaranteed of finest material and best workmanship." The company claimed it was "known in every corner of the earth."
Marshall also advertised in the June, 1914 Canadian Thresherman and Farmer magazine declaring "every engine is thoroughly tested before leaving the works and we guarantee efficiency. We have them right here waiting for you...Marshall's name stands for quality all over the world. We have a full stock of spares on hand and there will be no delay in case of accident...We are here to look after you and have skilled mechanical engineers from works at Gainsboro."
As late as 1920, Marshall was still advertising its Dreadnought of the Prairies, cautioning farmers not to be "misled by the light, short-lived, inferior, cheap (so-called) Tractor; it will not stand up, and only causes trouble, vexation and loss." But tractors of the size and type of the "Dreadnought" were on their way out by this time, being replaced by smaller, lighter, more efficient and manoeuvrable designs. By 1923, Marshall had wound up its Saskatoon operation.
Perdue, Saskatchewan area farmer Jesse Linklater bought one of Marshall's tractors in 1917, paying the princely sum of $5000. Jack Potts, who worked for Linklater in 1924, got to know the Marshall well. "While Mr. Linklater demonstrated well his qualifications and abilities of horsemanship, I think he would readily admit that the same cannot be said in regard to his knowledge and handling of internal combustion engines. This led to some late morning starts in excellent threshing weather and caused questioning in the minds of farmers as to whether or not the Marshall, of English manufacture, was suitable for our chilly morning starts." Potts apparently had a mechanical bent and learned the Marshall's idiosyncrasies. In his words, "Jesse had always found the Marshall quite temperamental as to starting but I had no trouble and the Marshall redeemed herself in that respect among neighbouring threshermen."
But the mechanically inclined Potts never did figure out one of the Marshall's quirks. It had a cone clutch operated by a pedal and a lever on the left hand side. "One mystery I never solved was the sticking of the cone clutch when in traction, but never in threshing. I learned that we could travel up to one-quarter mile and the clutch would release with no trouble, but trying to stretch that a bit one day, then wanting to drop the separator, I found that the clutch would not release. I jumped on the pedal, throttled down real slow, all the time trying to jar the clutch loose. Jesse came on the platform and started to jerk the lever - still no dice. So, as I was heftier than Jesse, we switched places and he steered while I jerked on the lever. It snapped and I went out on my back with half a lever in my hand and a separator coming toward me." Potts scrambled out of the way, got up and stopped the motor, released the clutch and "we were back in business."
The Marshall was last used in 1927. Linklater retired in the mid-1940s and left the farm and the Marshall along with it. The Western Development Museum acquired it a few years later from the new owner, Grant Miller of Leney.
Be sure to look for the Marshall on your next visit to the Saskatoon Western Development Museum. Please click here for hours or call (306) 931-1910.
Canadian Thresherman and Farmer, June, 1914
Grain Growers' Guide, December 10, 1913
Marshall, Sons & Co. Ltd. file, Roy Potter collection, George Shepherd Library, Western Development Museum
Wendel, C.H., Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, Crestline Publishing, Sarasota, FL, 1979
Western Development Museum artifact file, WDM 1973-S-334
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