Nelson Brothers Company History

Mark T. Baier
January/February 1993

This is an update for GEM readers concerning work that is being done on the history of Nelson Brothers Company. This process is still in the information gathering stage, requiring much more input from Nelson engine owners, and the holders of literature pe


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11 Pleasant Street Milford, Massachusetts 01757

A brief outline of important progress that has already been made is presented in this article. As we all know, Nelson Brothers was the maker of the 'Jumbo Line' of gasoline/kerosene engines. They were also the maker of a nearly identical line of trade-name engines, likely sold through Nelson's marketing arm, Royal Engine Company.

Current Trade Names Attributed to Nelson Bros. Engines

2,3 Bluffton

1,4 Gray

1,3,4 Monarch

1,2,3 Sattley

1,3,4 Bohon

3 Hapgood Plow

4 National

M. W. Savage Co. (see Patch & Northome)

   

2 Brown (Fence & Wire Co.)

3 Hertzler & Zook

1,3,4 National Chief

4 Sheldon

Charles Williams (see Maynard)

4' Hush

National Farm Equip. Co. (see Chief)

Slave

   

4 Dairy King

Joy

4 Nelson

4 John M.Smythe(1? HP)

1,2,3,4 Dan/Dazzle Patch

1,2,3,4 (Little) Jumbo

4 New Model

Smyth-Desspard (see Krackerjack)

1,2,3,4 Detroit (Engine Works)

1,3 Krackerjack

1,2,3,4 Northome

4 Standard Motor Parts Co.

4 Drew

Lazier

4 Ohio

Stover (small air-cooled)

4 Dunn's

4 Lyons

1,4 Ontario (Wind Engine Co.)

1,3,4 Sun (Power)

Eaton

1,3 MacLeod

1 Page (Wire & Fence Co.)

1 Thorndike

4 Efficiency

4 Mandt

1,2,3,4 P&O Plow

4 (Little) Trojan

4 Elbro

1,2,3,4 Maynard

1,3 Pittsburgh Pump

3 United Type C

4 Essex

Mendy

Royal (see Monarch)

United Factories (see Unito)

1,3 Essick

4 Michigan

1,2,3,4 Samsco

1,4 Unito

4 Ever-Ready

4 Minnekota

Samson

4 Winnipeg Boy

4 Franklin

Minneota

4 Sandow

 

Key to notations: 1) visual verification of tagged engine; 2) visual identification in original advertisement; 3) identification of photo in book or magazine; 4) named in period literature (Webster booklet, Millards directory, etc.).

In the box below is a current list of trade names commonly attributed to Nelson Bros. Additions continue to be made. Preceding each are marks indicating its current verification status. Note, Nelson was not the only supplier of some models.

Only notations 1 & 2 in the table of current engines on the previous page are considered conclusive evidence. I will carry no listing in the final draft for which conclusive evidence has not been presented. Any information on the above listings is needed. Names such as Bluffton, Maynard, Sattley, Detroit, Gray, Unito, and others were supplied at one time or another by manufacturers other than Nelson, or indeed started out building their own engines. In most cases, Nelson was the final supplier; providing a most price-competitive, full product line including cement mixers, generators, grinding mills, saws and pump rigs.

These trade-name vendor changes, Nelson models and years supplied, must be identified for all listings. Any existing literature, ads, or mail-order sales catalogs containing Nelson equipment is needed. Based on current information, the Nelson engine models offered were as follows:

Nelson Models & HP Ratings

A 1? HP

F* 6-7 HP

B 1? HP

FB' 6-7 HP

C* 2?-3 HP

J 12 HP

CA' 2? - 3 HP

N' 1? - 1? HP

CB 2? - 3 HP

P 1?-1? HP

CC* 2? - 3 HP

T* 1? HP

D* 4? - 5 HP

TA 1? HP)

DA* 4? 5 HP

U 2 HP

DB' 4? - 5 HP

 

Small, high-speed engine line:

VAG ? HP

VCG 1? HP

HB, XB 5/8 HP

VDG 2 HP

VBG ? HP

VFG 3 HP

VSG 1 HP

 

Symbols: (*) denotes Jumbo Line only; (') denotes trade-name only.

As noted in the box at bottom left, horsepower ratings were increased at some point, I believe without any change in design. An initial identification of an engine as Nelson Bros. can be made by finding one of the model designations given above in most all of the casting numbers on the engine. There was some parts interchange between models.

The casting letter on the cylinder would coincide with the exact model, as the main difference between most Jumbo and trade-name models was the separate cylinder and base castings on the Jumbos. The trade-name models were all one-piece. The official Nelson model and serial number on many engines is stamped on the face of the pulley-side flywheel. This is an important number, as some vendors, like Smyth-Desspard and Gray, were allowed to put their own series of serial numbers on the tag. Nelson serial numbers listed so far range from a low of 158 on a model P to 19434 on a model TA pump rig.

Some 400,000 Jumbo engines may have been produced. It appears at this point that Nelson properly issued its serial numbers in order. There may be a casting date stamped on the bottom edge of the base, facing the skid. This stamp may have aided monitoring the casting's curing period. If present, it would be the best way currently to date a Nelson engine.

As more literature is obtained, and more Nelson owners list their engines, it will become clearer in what years certain models and configurations were offered. This will aid both the engine dating and authentic restoration process. Colors also need to be clarified.

Some information on the beginnings of the Nelson Brothers Company in Alma and Saginaw, Michigan in the early 1900s, including a history of the Nelson family, was obtained from Mr. David Babcock of Cass City, Michigan, who did some research several years ago. More information is needed here also. The existence of Alma Engine Co./Re-public Motor Trucks, also of Alma, tends to confuse early recollections.

I have concluded my investigation into the end of Nelson Bros. with a recent trip to a company in Auburn, Indiana; the end of the trail that the Nelson Company name, records, and repair parts inventory followed after their bankruptcy sale in 1940. Mr. Dallas Winslow, purchaser on that date, owned many similar companies and repair parts businesses bought in or near insolvency. The story of this man, millionaire philanthropist, and charismatic entrepreneur of the time, would be an interesting biography itself.

Little was done with the Nelson inventory. As a result of Winslow's various company consolidations in the late 40s, when it was clear that no production of parts would take place, most Nelson Company records, blueprints, and literature was burned. I talked with the gentleman who remembers being told to burn barrel after barrel of records from many of Winslow's holdings that were no longer active. Indeed some of the surviving Nelson documents now discovered show burns at the edges, attesting to the narrowness of their escape.

Original patents, trademarks applications, including both the Jumbo and Monarch trademarks, are just some of the many records which did survive to be included in my Nelson Company History. There is not space enough here to go through all the information that has been gathered, or sidelights like Nelson Motor Trucks, the Nelson Associated-like engine model sold without tags or numbers, or other issues.

As to the demise of the company, legal documents recovered reveal a number of patent infringement suits lodged against Nelson in the final years. This, combined with possible labor troubles, debt load, and the death of H.B. Nelson, president and founding member, may have brought the end of official operation.

Further information on Nelson Bros., related companies, and engines, is requested by the author. My thanks to those who have already responded to my ads in the GEM Wanted section.


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Post a comment below.

 

Rob Jess
4/21/2010 2:42:14 PM
This is about my Jumbo C 3HP engine, found under 20 tons of musty hay in a barn in Northern Ireland. We dug it out in 1988, it had been on its side under the hay for probably 40 years, the rats and mice were none too impressed at being made homeless! Mine was brought from a hardware dealer in Belfast called Brownlees. They marketed the Nelson Bros Jumbo line under their own name of 'The Brownlees Handy-Boy'. I have been told by a couple of Irish collectors that demand was so great, they ran out of 'Handy-Boys' and stop-gap deliveries of 'Jumbo Line' were obtained from the London EC1 importers. I assume this is where mine came from. Apparently, they were very popular at one time, but very few survived the scrap-yard. I have been trying to find out more about it for years, glad I stumbled upon your site - it looks great.








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