79 Elm Street, Ansonia, Connecticut 06401
As a young boy my friends and I would watch the freight trains
go by from the hill above the tracks. Far below, on the opposite
side of the tracks, was the Baird Machine Company. Being an
inquisitive child I asked my parents what they made in that factory
on the other side of town. ‘Tractors,’ they answered, along
with ‘What are you doing so far from home?’ Needless to say
it was a few years before I saw the Baird Factory again.
My next contact with U.S. Baird was in 1970, in my senior year
at Stratford High School. I finally got to see the inside of the
Baird Factory along with my industrial arts class. In awe of the
overhead cranes and other large machinery, I completely forgot the
tale of the tractors from years before. Un-known to me at the time,
it had been ten years since the last tractor was made there. A few
months later an offer of an apprenticeship followed. I declined and
went off to a state technical college.
It would be more than two turbulent decades before Baird and I
made contact again. After working at and watching the demise or
decline of many factories, such as Bullard Company, Farrel Company,
and Consolidated Diesel, it was the collapse of aerospace giant
Avco-Ly coming that finally brought me back to U. S. Baird. It was
in May of 1993 that I was employed at Baird.
Now being an inquisitive adult, I began to ask about the long
history of this company. Founded in Connecticut in 1846, it has
become one of the world’s largest producers of high production
metal forming machinery which includes multiple and four slide
machines, multiple transfer presses, horizontal chucking machines
and more. And also I was told we used to make tractors here.
By now you must be wondering where the tractors fit in? It was
at the company celebration of 150 years in business (1846-1996)
that I displayed two Beaver tractors. Company President Charles
Warner, whose great-grandfather, Charles Warner, bought the company
from Mr. Baird in the late 1800s, related this story to me about
how the Beaver was born.
It seems that the Warner family owned land in the area in the
1940s with several fields separated by very narrow trails. Full
size tractors had difficulty in negotiating these trails, so the
decision was made to see what kind of small tractor could be made
on the factory floor. The design proved to be so rugged and popular
that the decision was made to go to commercial production in 1950.
Keep in mind that these tractors were designed and produced by a
machine tool builder. They designed them the only way they knew how
to last for fifty years. This also accounts for the industrial look
of the early tractors and the unique evolution of the design as
time progressed. In short, they did it their way.
Owning a few stationary engines previous to Baird, I was already
interested in this field. Asking around I found a few old-timers
who remembered that Beaver production was ending just about the
time that they started. I then made the acquaintance of Charles
Choun, whose father worked on the Beaver production line. Charley
had four tractors and was willing to part with one. It was a 1957
and I was hooked. With a little work this tractor served as my
snowplow for the next four years. Its unique floating pulley pedal
design with a toe forward, heel reverse made quick work of snow
removal. This was a Beaver exclusive no shifting of gears to go
from forward to reverse and back.
Beaver number two came soon after. Answering an ad in a local
paper I was surprised to find a Beaver. It was under a tarp in a
backyard and it didn’t look anything like my first Beaver. It
had no steering wheel, a tiller for steering with a black ball knob
on the end. In place of the foot pedals was a hand-operated forward
and reverse lever.
This tractor was fairly complete and with some fresh gas and a
dozen pulls on the starter rope, it ran well enough to drive it
under its own power into the back of my pickup. This somewhat crude
appearing tractor had the serial number 4470-226. This 226th Beaver
was produced in the fall of 1950.
By now I had Beaver fever and had picked up several non-running
Beavers for parts. The one from near the Canadian border in New
York State was my first three-speed transmission. This was later
grafted with my first Beaver to produce a complete stock Beaver.
Talking to the owner I found out that at one time he had lived
within twenty miles of my home. This time it was four hundred long
miles back home.
Beaver number three was found in response to an ad I placed
looking for Beaver tractors. Two towns over, up on a hill, between
two trees was a 1957 Beaver B model, tiller steering, single speed
forward and reverse and no compression. I wrestled it into the back
of my truck. At home I discovered a stuck exhaust valve was the
reason for the lack of compression. A little more work and it was
running. This model Beaver, although basic, showed me how far the
design had advanced from the early model #226.
At this time I had just subscribed to GEM, and was looking
through the want ads when I found Beaver #4. I called, got
directions, packed the kids in the truck and off I went. What made
me so excited about this Beaver? It would be my first electric
start Beaver. I sure didn’t expect much for the sixty dollar
asking price and I wasn’t disappointed. The owner of this
Beaver had bought it at a farm auction three years earlier. It had
been stuck in a field where its steering cable had broken years
before, and I was buying it as it stood, sunken in the ground in
his field. I paid him the full price because he wrapped a chain
around it and pulled it out of the frozen earth with a backhoe and
put it in the back of my truck. After defrosting it in my garage
for a few days I realized just how bad it really was. All the sheet
metal was deeply pitted or rusted through, along with part of the
frame. I figured there was still hope because the engine was free.
It had a 6-volt positive ground system with a separate Bendix type
starter and generator. Too far gone for a restorationI decided to
make a snowplow out of it so I could restore Beaver #1. Well, I can
never do anything halfway and spent the whole summer turning it
into the beautiful orange machine you see here. Nothing like
electric start at zero degrees. The only thing that bothered me was
the odd serial prefix number 5424. I was told all Beaver serial
numbers started with 4470. More research was needed.
By now I was on the hunt for a Beaver 750. This was the last and
most advanced Beaver and also the least produced. No one seems to
know how many 750s were produced before the tractor franchise was
sold around 1960. A separate company was formed by a new owner in
New Hartford, Connecticut, to produce Beavers, known as Beaver
Industries-Greenwood Plantthis is where Beaver #5 came from.
Garaged for all its years, it was in good condition and showed
refinements that come with a mature design. A full-tilting
Fiberglas hood, 12 volt starter/generator, a more accommodating
angle to the steering wheel and locking levers for the side mounted
gearbox rounded out the improvements in its design. It is rumored
that the Greenwood plant burned to the ground, never achieving full
production as hoped.
Besides the innovative reversing wheel instead of a gear, the
later Beavers had another truly inspired design. The
cable-controlled steering design gave the flexibility to put the
steering squarely into the operator’s hand. Aircraft
counter-wound directional control cable was adapted to serve this
purpose. The continued use of Wisconsin engines added to the
durability of this line. I have never seen one with any cylinder
Beaver tractors were a fairly expensive item due to the high
quality engine and differential gearing. Most Beavers were sold
mainly on the east coast. It was popular locally because you could
buy it direct from the factory floor. Just back your truck up and
drive it on. I was told that all those years Baird never made much
money from the tractor line because of the high build cost and the
need to keep prices competitive. Over 4,500 Beavers were sold over
10 years of production. One large order of 300 was shipped to
India. Many attachments were made for the Beaver including a
cultivator, harrow, scarifier, roller, rotary tiller, rotary mower,
sidebar sickle mower, snowplow, triple gang reel mower, dump cart,
mold board plow, lawn spiker, and dual wheels.
One day, talking to engineer Dave Knight, I found that one of
his first assignments at Baird was to design a transmission to
complement the Beaver’s then single-speed rear axle. Told that
this was a design exercise for tradeshow demonstrators, he went to
work. The result was a three-speed sliding gear transmission which
would mount on the side of the axle housing. Aircraft quality gears
were used throughout. Total reduction in first gear was 219 to 1.
These show machines were such a hit that in the late ’50s they
went into production. It is unclear if the serial number was
changed to 5424 for all models or just the transaxle units. After
some research it was found that 606 tractors were sold under this
serial prefix. That tractor I pulled from the frozen field was
5424-1. The first of three show machines (see invoice sheets) used
as demonstrators. Still in service as my trusty plow, it will be
restored someday to original condition.
The late Fifties were a time of great change at Baird. During
the brutal recession of that time there were few orders for machine
tools, and making Beavers kept the factory going for a year. In
1957, Baird Company acquired U. S. Tool Company of New Jersey and
became known as U. S. Baird. An addition to the factory doubled
manufacturing capacity floor space and the increased business no
doubt played a part in the decision to sell the Beaver tractor
franchise. Still, 35 years later, when I mention that I worked at
Baird, the next question is ‘Hey, do they still make tractors