The Glasgow Tractor

Glasgow tractor

Glasgow tractor, serial no. 110, fitted with Continental engine. Manufactured at Cardonlad, Glasgow, about 1920-21.

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The National Museum of Scotland has recently acquired two significant items of Scottish agricultural machinery history. The Glasgow tractor, Scotland's only indigenous tractor which was produced between 1919 and 1924 and a 3 HP single cylinder single sleeve valve stationary engine, both of which were closely linked to three families Wallace, Burt and Guthrie.

John Wallace, a blacksmith and joiner at Fenwick, Ayrshire, in the early 19th century had four sons: John the eldest who eventually founded John Wallace & Sons Ltd.; a second son of whom little is known is believed to have emigrated to New Zealand where he set up as an agricultural engineer; a third son may have been a fanner in Arran or Ayrshire. The youngest, Robert, set up as an agricultural engineer and plough-maker at Whitletts, Ayr and it was his sons who later established J & R Wallace, Agricultural Engineers, The Foundry, Castle Douglas.

But to return to John (b. 1814) who probably assisted his father in the Fenwick smiddy for a number of years until Robert, who was twelve years younger, was able to take his place. John moved to Dalkeith where he became foreman of Mushet's Foundry which specialized in the manufacture of fire grates, but after only a few years he moved to Dunv bartonshire where he took the tenancy of Haldane Smithy near Balloch. By 1857 with four growing sons he sought greater opportunity and moved to premises in Graham Square beside Glasgow market in Dennistoun where he set up as agricultural implement market, trading as John Wallace & Sons. The business prospered and their range of manufacturers included ploughs, cultivators, reapers, hay machinery, binders, potato diggers and barn equipment.

John Wallace died in 1886, but by that time his sons Robert, James, William and John were well established, each playing a vital role in his own department, so that by 1896, under the direction of William, the company was registered as John Wallace & Sons Ltd. and was doing business throughout the whole of central Scotland.

Peter Burt (b.1856), a contemporary of William Wallace, was of an inventive turn of mind and after serving his time with his father turned his attention to gas engines. When only 23 he founded Acme Engine Company Ltd. and in collaboration with Professor W.T. Row-den, Professor of Applied Mechanics at the Glasgow & West of Scotland Technical College, he built the first engine to run on blast furnace gas. Unfortunately, steel masters in Britain were not interested in this initiative and it was left to engineers in Belgium and Germany to develop it as a viable proposition. Soon after that he designed and built one of the first gas engine driven generating stations which was installed in Belfast. The other branch of his business, Acme Wringers Ltd., was devoted to the manufacture of domestic laundry machinery. It is however in the development of his single sleeve valve engine that we are particularly interested.

Steam and the development of railways had revolutionized travel by the mid 19th century. By the early 20th century, the compact internal combustion engine provided a power unit capable of propelling individual transport in the form of the motor car and in this new era there was unlimited scope for experimentation with new designs and components.

Poppet or mushroom valves tended to be noisy with the result that a number of inventors turned their attention to sleeves as a means of uncovering the inlet and exhaust ports at appropriate stages in the four stroke cycle.

Charles Y. Knight, an American, had developed a system of concentric sleeves, one within the other which moved inside the cylinder and enclosed the piston. One sleeve controlled the flow of combustible mixture through the inlet port whilst the other enabled the spent gases to be driven out through the exhaust port. Knight's engine was remarkably quiet and he used it to power four or five Panhard type cars which he made and marketed in 1905 as 'Silent Knight.' In the following year he made a further 38 cars which sold for $3500 (700) each, at which point Daimler became aware of his remarkably quiet engine and invited him to Coventry with a view to incorporating his engine design in a range of cars which went into production about 1908-09.

Peter Burt must have been aware of this development but sought a simpler mechanism. In 1907 he started experimenting with a single sleeve valve (SSV) system in which the sleeve described an oval orbit. On the upstroke, ports in the sleeve uncovered the inlet, the sleeve then moved sideways to close both ports for the compression stroke, and on its downward stroke the orbiting sleeve uncovered the exhaust port to allow the spent gases to be discharged. By 1909 he had sufficient confidence in his new design to take out his first patent and then started looking for a manufacturer to incorporate it, under license, in his range of motor cars.

As it so happened Argyll Motor Company, one of the largest manufacturers of motor cars in the world at that time, was located nearby in Alexandria, Dunbartonshire. Within two years Argyll had adopted Burt's SSV engine design and were able to demonstrate its capability at Brook lands, where one of their standard 15/30 HP cars covered 1000 miles in fourteen hours, including stops for refuelling and changes of tyres at an average speed of over 70 mph! That feat had not passed unnoticed by Daimler which had adopted Knight's design employing two sleeves. Daimler therefore sought an injunction in the High Court to restrain Argyll for infringement of patent. The court recognized that there was a significant difference between the use of one and two sleeves and gave judgment in favor of Argyll. It proved to be a Pyrrhic victory for the cost of defending the case had been so great that Argyll had to call in the liquidator in 1914, so ending commercial production by Burt's most promising licensee. Whilst this confrontation had been going on in Britain, James Harry Keighly McCollom, a Canadian, had also been developing a single sleeve valve engine and it is thought that he and Burt chose to collaborate and merge their interests under the Burt Mc Collom SSV patents rather than become involved in expensive litigation.

By 1912 Wallace's premises in Graham Square were becoming too small and plans were made to build a modern factory and office complex on a 2 acre site a mile away at Paton Street. The move was hastened by a disastrous fire at Graham Square and by 1914 Wallace was once more in full production.

Apart from his business activities Peter Burt was an active and much respected Baillie and member of the Glasgow City Council on which he represented Dennistoun ward for many years. He was too a close friend of William Wallace, Managing Director of John Wallace & Sons Ltd., who also served on the City Council until his death in 1912. William was succeeded as Managing Director by his son Duncan who maintained the close family relationship with Burt. It was inevitable therefore that Burt, having lost his most promising licensee and impressed by the modern new premises in Paton Street, should appoint John Wallace 6k Sons Ltd., as the sole licensees of his single sleeve valve patents in 1914.

William Guthrie (b.1884) was a few years younger than Duncan Wallace. He too was a resourceful engineer who after serving his time with his father obtained employment with Argyll Motor Company at Alexandria, and was involved with the development by them of Burt's SSV engine in the 15/30 HP car.

Guthrie must have left Alexandria about 1912-13, when Daimler first started proceedings against Argyll, to set up on his own as Dalziel Motor Manufacturing Company (later abbreviated to D.L. Motor Manufacturing Company for ease of pronunciation!) at Toll Street, Motherwell, first it is said to make a 'cycle car' and later to make an attractive 11.9 HP two seater touring car with a vee shaped radiator.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 there was an immediate demand for transport and Guthrie was given an allocation of steel and directed to make lorries for the War Department.

At the height of the U boat campaign in 1917, Britain was running perilously short of food, whereupon Henry Ford in America offered to put at the disposal of the Government the plans, patents and services of his engineers so that the Fordson tractor could be manufactured in Britain. His only stipulation was that no profit should be derived by the participating companies, that is, that the tractors were to be made and sold at cost price.

The significance of that event cannot have passed unnoticed by Guthrie, engaged as he was in making lorries, so whether on his own initiative or at the suggestion of the Government, he started to design and make a prototype tractor, perhaps powered by one of the engines which had been allocated for his lorries.

He must have been well aware, in the days before differential locks, of the problem of wheel spin in wet conditions and particularly in the mud of Flanders. His problem therefore was to drive all wheels positively without incorporating a differential. He must have reasoned that it would be difficult or impossible with four wheels but why not three? Thus in Guthrie's tractor the rear wheel took its drive directly from the engine through a gearbox with two forward speeds and one reverse. A second shaft carried the drive forward to the front axle, through a bevel and pinion and thence by universal joints, to permit steering, to each front wheel. Within each front wheel hub there was a pawl and ratchet mechanism so that when the tractor was moving forward in a straight line all three wheels (of 33' diameter) drove positively. When turning to right or left the outer front wheel continued to be positively driven whilst the inner one slipped on the ratchet until the steering wheel once more returned to a central position.

Duncan Wallace was obviously aware of Guthrie's initiative for in 1918 he sought and obtained a financial stake in D.L. Motor Manufacturing Company and by 1919 had acquired for John Wallace 6k Sons Ltd. the sole selling rights for the Glasgow tractor.

A sense of euphoria following the Armistice in 1918 heralded a new era in which many who had prospered from the war sought to invest in promising peace time initiatives and where better than agriculture!

When the former National Projectile factory became vacant in 1919, a consortium of Glasgow businessmen sought to manufacture the GLASGOW tractor in quantity and market it worldwide. They therefore launched Wallace (Glasgow) Ltd. with an authorised capital of lm to purchase the factory at Cardonald and bring together John Wallace 6k Sons Ltd., D.L. Motor Manufacturing Company Ltd., Carmuirs Ironworks of Falkirk and Peter Burt's Single Sleeve Valve engine syndicate.

Hopes were high, the world was at their feet and the sole selling rights for the British Empire with the exception of Canada, were assigned to the British Motor Trading Corporation, 50 Pall Mall, London. It is not known whether that body was associated in any way with British Empire Motors of which Duncan Wallace was a director.

Plans were made to manufacture and sell 5000 tractors in the first year, a target which was never achieved. It is believed that only a few hundred were ever made. The highest serial number so far recorded is 234!

Alongside the tractor production, a subsidiary line was established in 1922 to manufacture GLASGOW single cylinder sleeve valve engines for farm use. Two models were made: a 3 HP vertical and a 7-9 HP horizontal version. 

Again it is not known how many were produced and sold. They were mainly used for driving farm lighting plants and powering milking machines and barn machinery. The National Museum of Scotland has a 3 HP vertical engine (serial number 33). There is a 7-9 HP horizontal engine in Caithness.

It would appear that the British Motor Trading Corporation had little experience of agriculture, farm tractors or after sales service, with the result that following promising initial sales, repeat orders were not forthcoming and the ambitious manufacturing programme was never realised.

British Motor Trading Corporation became bankrupt in 1924, and with a stock of unsold tractors in the yard, Wallace (Glasgow) Ltd. was forced into voluntary liquidation on 20 June 1924-So ends the sorry tale of an interesting initiative, high hopes, under funding, misfortune, perhaps ineptitude and ultimate downfall!

It is known that there are two GLASGOW tractors in Britain (serial numbers 110 National Museum of Scotland and 234 National Science Museum, Wilshire), three in Australia (serial numbers 18, 27 & 78), one in Tasmania (serial number unknown), and one in New Zealand (serial number 168). There ought to be others in Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Europe including Romania, USA and Canada news of which would be welcomed!