The Glasgow Tractor

| February/March 1995

Glasgow tractor

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.