Cottage Shack Articles Museum Articles

Cottage Shack Articles: A Helping Hand – Feb. 3, 2022

To view the original article and others in the 2022 series visit the online Cottage Shack magazine

“When we have lost sight of the past, we have lost the ability to look forward intelligently.”

One of my many responsibilities as a director and a volunteer at the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum (CCHM) is to have a solid base of knowledge about the historical artifacts at the museum. Well! Easier said than done! When one begins to research any of the artifacts; say, farm machinery, clothing, books, furniture one can very quickly find oneself going down a rabbit hole . So, the rabbit hole I would like to share with you is the plethora of small, single cylinder gasoline engines that came on the market in the late 1800’s and, in some cases, before.

Lots of PHD papers have been written on the subject of the industrial revolution and of innovative creations of machinery such as the Balun and Watt steam engines of the period 1760 to 1775 or the power loom designed by Edmund Cartwright in the 1780’s. Some eve have been written about the impact these innovations had on rural communities.

The development of better casting methods and more precise machining processes improved the ability to build a more efficient steam expansion engine as far back as 1712. Much later came the development of the internal combustion engine. In some schools of thought the advent of steam power had more impact on urban and rural communities than the computer chip.

I am not going there! Instead, I would like to look at how the single cylinder gasoline engine became a helping hand in the rural community. Try to imagine doing everything by hand: grinding corn, cutting wood, pumping water and thrashing wheat, to mention a few.

One manufacturer’s name that has stood the test of time is Briggs and Stratton. We see it today on our lawn mowers, root-tillers, water pumps and other devices. Stephen B. Briggs and Harry Stratton formed the company in 1908 – evidence that some things do survive, if only in name. Meanwhile, most of their competitors have either turned their attention to other products or have a long since faded away.

As farming became more of a business, increasing productivity and expansion was a way to success. Small gasoline-powered engines afforded a farmer time to address other work on the farm like mending fences, maintaining structures, mucking out the barn. He would have had to weigh the purchase cost of an engine against the benefits to the farm operations as this would have been a substantial investment in those times. If he were looking to purchase a one-half horsepower New Holland engine in 1912 his cost would have been $57.50. What would the equivalent of that be in today’s dollars?

When I looked at the Hercules and Fairbanks Morse engines at CCHM, I marvel at the number of small engine manufacturers that operated in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It appears almost every letter in the alphabet was used in the company names including ‘X’ in Xargill Mfg. Co, U in Utica New York 1904 and ‘Y’ in Yonkers Mfg. Co. of Yonkers, New York 1885. What a competitive industry! So, I think it is clear there was a demand for these products both in small industry and on the farm.

Much of the focus of CCHM is on our agricultural heritage, so our interest in this technology pertains to its application to farming. Here are some examples: to power a water pump for livestock and the homestead; to power a beet or corn grinder providing better silage for the livestock; to power a 32-volt generator of the time for lighting the barn; to power a buzz saw providing fire wood; and to power a saw mill for lumber to sell or use on the farm. How many of these jobs could be done by hand? All of them! But when this technology became available productivity increased significantly.

If one of these small engines failed, all these tasks could still be done by hand, though not a desirable prospect. I wonder if the same thing could be said when a computer chip fails in modern machinery!

Times have changed, but not so the pursuit of more efficient and more powerful devices. The idea of a machine freeing us from manual labour is not a new concept. In 1678, French physicist/inventor Jean Hautefeuille proposed the use of a gunpowder motor to pump water from the Seine to Versailles. No doubt the learning curve was steep. The lessons of many failures ultimately led to technological advances in this exciting bygone era. The American Book of Gasoline Engines has 584 pages cataloguing a plethora of small engines.

We strive to preserve this intriguing history at CCHM with documentary evidence and with functioning examples of old engines. Their preservation and the story of their development is a responsibility that we do not take lightly. Without small collection, we like to think we are honouring this legacy.

Our collection consists of: a 7 H.P. Fairbanks Morse-powered buzz saw purchased from Chris Janson with funds donated by Tom Smith; a 5 H.P. Hercules-powered buzz saw donated by Jack Bird, and a 7 H.P. Fairbanks Morse-powered turnip and corn grinder Donated by Frank Janson.

Visit the museum on one of our event days and hear a popping emanating from these wonderful examples of a time one can now only imagine.

CCHM is very fortunate to have members that are so knowledgeable about our artifacts and exhibits. Much of my research for this article stemmed from dialogue with Frank Janson whose hobby is building and restoring antique small engines. Frank has a collection of some thirty plus engines, most restored and running. Thanks for sharing, Frank!

If any of our readers have information or artifacts that they would like to share with us, please feel free to contact Richard at

By Richard Jolliffe

Cottage Shack Articles Museum Articles

Cottage Shack Articles: The A-Team at the Coldwater Museum (Part 2) – Oct. 1, 2021

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. One 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 to-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 can too! Earlier this month in Part 1 of the story of the A-Team, I wrote about how a friend and I began volunteering at the museum on Wednesday mornings and by year two we had expanded to a crew of four. I also shared some details about the early restoration and refurbishment projects that we tackled. We continued our commitment into the following year and took on two challenging projects; the buzz saw and the dog walker. Here is a brief description of what was accomplished:

The Buzz Saw

It is a large saw mounted on a horse drawn sled that was used to convert downed trees into shorter pieces to be split for firewood. A log is placed on the carriage about the size of a part bench and as it is slid forward the overhanging log is cut by the massive circular blade. The early versions such as the one we are about to restore are belt driven by a tractor. Others on display at CCHM are motorized.

Our buzz saw was so rotten that the entire chassis and even the runners had to be replaced. We clearly needed to hatch a plan before driving in on this project. We took various pictures at different angles and mounted them around the workshop. We collaborated and formed a plan and subsequently sources the materials. Volunteer Bob – he is a scavenger – provided the makings for the new 9-foot runners from a couple of beams taken from a barn demolished years earlier at a golf course in Cambridge.

Then began the careful disassembly of all the rotten framework, keeping as many pieces as possible as templates. Next came the forming and fitting of the saw. It was then that we were forced to learn some new skills including mortice and tenon carpentry and how to drill square holes. Things went surprisingly well which prompted us to remark, “I love it when plans come together.” We said it so many times that we decided to call ourselves the A-Team and I potty the foo’ who gives us a hard time about that! This is how we became the A-Team at CCHM.

Today the buzz saw is stored under cover, but now the carriage is in need of repair. Another project to add to the list! Just so we don’t get too full of ourselves there is one small piece left over from the original. There is a prize for anyone who can figure out where it goes.

The Dog Walker

Near the end of our 3rd year, before time to close the museum for the season, the A-team was asked to assess some items in need of repair that were taking up space in the schoolhouse. They included a large octagonal turntable, some gears, a treadle wheel and several wooden shafts of various shapes and sizes. After some head scratching by the rest of us, Bob explained, “These are the parts to make up a dog walker that was donated to the museum by Joe King.” “You can’t be serious!” said we. “Yes, I am and I’m not joking,” he quipped.

It took some serious Googling to find out how a mechanical dog walker works – not a hire who walks dogs – before we were able to do all the fixes and add a fresh coat of paint.

It wasn’t until a few years later that, much to the relief of our school-marm Miss Patti, we removed all the components and sun-assemblies from the schoolhouse and created a permanent home for the dog walker in a unique structure – designed by volunteer Richard – that we built next to the original homestead. It was through the genius of volunteer Jay – he’s a millwright – that we succeeded at mechanizing it. We could not convince Richard’s dog Sass to walk on the turntable.

The dog walker is now on permanent display at CCHM. An electric motor turns the table and its gears drive the treadle which in turn works the arm up and down to operate a water pump. Dog walkers were also commonly used to work butter churns. Talk about a modern convenience of the time!

Stay tuned for Part 3, Building Fences.

See the original article and others at The Cottage Shack magazine

If you are retired – or not – and want to spend one day a week with a group of really great guys doing some remarkable historical preservation works, give me a call at (705) 209-1087. Or email me at