Cottage Shack Articles Museum Articles

Cottage Shack Articles: My Favourite Artifact – Oct. 21, 2021

First in a Series About Historic Machines and Equipment at CCHM

To read the original article and others in this series visit the Cottage Shack magazine

My name is Clay and I am one of the original members of the A-Team at Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum (CCHM). The A-Team is a group of dedicated volunteers who use their particular skills and experience to improve various aspects of the museum. On any given Wednesday you will see anywhere from six to twelve of us working on up to three different projects. These might, for example, include erecting a pole barn, restoring a buggy, installing a new roof, replacing old boards on a barn, adding signage, creating a kid-friendly playhouse, maintaining a steam-powered tractor. The list of dos at the museum is endless.

although there is a lot yet that needs doing or that we wish to accomplish, a truly amazing transformation is taking place at CCHM and we are proud to have a part in it. You could too! Until recently I have given no thought as to what might be my favourite among the thousands of artifacts at the museum. But upon the arrival of the autocracy in 2020 it was love at first sight. It arrived I pristine condition, and to an A-Teamer this was huge because most arrivals represent one more restoration project. Don’t get me wrong; we all love working on restorations, but they seem to stack up faster than we can complete assignments that we also take on.

There is no way this beauty was going to be left exposed to the weather. Instead, a portable garage was erected by the A-Team to house one of the buggies making room for the autocracy in the carriage house.

What is so fascinating about the autocracy is the history that it brings. Our museum’s focus is very much on the agricultural society of the past century and farming is still an important local industry. There are a number of tractors in our collection including a Fordson tractor which is probably the earliest of the internal combustion types as well as a steam-powered giant.

The advent of the small farm tractor early in the twentieth century revolutionized farming. It could do the work of five horses for the price of one. But not all farmers could afford one, especially those with modest acreage. A conversion kit provided the perfect solution by turning a car into a tractor. One of the manufacturers even advertised that a Model T Ford could be converted to a tractor in 10 minutes and returned back to a car in 5 minutes. During the Great Depression of the 1930s and through the tractor scarce years of World War 11 this concept became quite popular with farmers, so much so that during the War and into the 1950s an Orillia company Otaco became a major producer of autotrac kits. The name Otaco was an acronym for Orillia Tudhope Anderson company 1902, makers of wagons and farm implements and, at one point, the Tudhope motorcar.

The autotrac was the “poor-man’s tractor.” As described by Bill Vance in the Times Colonist:

The autotrac was built using pre-fabricated parts, ad once the car was converted, there was no going back. It was constructed by removing the passenger cabin (often a Model A Ford such as ours), cutting off the back part of the car’s frame ahead of the axle and replacing it with a commercially available kit. The wheelbase was usually shortened for better maneuverability and access to implements. The kits would fit a variety of cars built up to the early 1930s, cars that were sitting around but their road going days were over.

The main elements of the kit were a frame with drawbar and a pair of large steel-cleated or rubber-clad tractor wheels with large internal ring gears.

The conversion kits could be installed by a large garage or blacksmith shop, or by a skilled farmer with instructions supplied.

Come visit us on a Wednesday at Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum and, if you would like, I will be proud to show you my favourite artifact.