In 1910 C.L.Warner, the owner of Baird Machine Co, made a very smart decision and hired Arthur J. Lewis II as their Chief Engineer. He started out working at Baird’s Oakville Conn. plant in 1910, as their Chief Engineer.
When the company moved from Oakville, Conn. to Stratford, Conn. he relocated as well. In 1940’s there was a garden equipment dealer, The Garden King Tractor Company, located near Baird. Art struck up an acquaintance with the owner, Mr. Hancock and they became good friends. Hancock was offering a garden tractor made by the Smathers Manufacturing Co of Bravard, NC, known as an Acme. It had some shortcomings and Hancock suggested that Art could improve the design.
Lewis had a machine shop attached to his garage and periodically would take on development projects, designing and prototyping them. Lewis set to work there, modifying the Acme, replacing the lever steering with a tiller, and adding a reverse friction drive. He communicated with Mr. Smathers, going so far as to visit his plant, and suggested improvements he could make to his tractor, but found little interest. (Smathers later did incorporate the tiller steering)
Arts interest in the tractor was for use on his property, but Baird’s owners had taken an interest in what Art was doing. They suggested that a new tractor be prototyped, addressing the Smathers shortcomings, and built with the intention of Baird manufacturing them. A manufacturing work order # FAA408, dated Jan. 28, 1948 was issued and Art designed and built a prototype Beaver tractor from scratch. It was built with weldments instead of castings and, after considering different engine manufacturers, he settled on the industrial quality of the Wisconsin AB 3 HP engine.
The build was a success. Drawings were updated to cast all items that were weldments (you will find A.L. cast into the back side of your front end) and a full line of attachments was developed. The original modified automotive rear wheels on the prototype were replaced with a flat disk center, which was welded to a 5x12 rim. A memo was issued on March 3, 1948 informing management that they were ready to quote production quantities to Mr. Hancock to market. Negotiations with the dealer ended up with Baird instead hiring him to run a new Baird “Beaver Tractor Division”
Production started in April / May of 1948 with a lever shift drive. They weren’t cheap to buy $429.50 was a hefty price in those days, but 527 sold that year. In 1949 Art replaced the lever shift with a foot pedal. Art headed up Baird’s Machine Design Department until his retirement. He was with the company for 50 years.
The above is my edit of a history written by Al Lewis, grandson of Art, many thanks Al!
The foot shift machine also saw a move up in engine size to the reliable AKN Wisconsin. At 6.2 HP it nearly doubled the horses driving our beloved machine. Baird also increased the Beavers axle size at this time and went with standard 5 lug wheels. Sales numbers peaked in 1952 with 763 units. All told some 4000 of these “black ball” machines were built. 1955 saw the introduction of what I call the “Red Handled” machines. The black ball on the tiller and lift handle had been replaced by a red bicycle grip. This new improved machine had a still larger 8 HP, BKN Wisconsin engine and was offered in both tiller and steering wheel models as well as electric or rope start. For the first time it had a dashboard that had the throttle, on/off switch and choke controls. This model was further modernized with a small red plastic hood and a gray front grill.
Innovation struck again in 1959. While still producing single speeds (this indicated by serial numbers prefaced by 4470-) Baird added a 3-speed transmission (designed by Dave Knight) and a wider stance front end as options, (these serials begin with 5424-). All told 443 of these 3-speed, red handled machines were produced.
Spring of 1961 saw the intro of the 750 Beaver. Available only in wheel steering but offered both electric and rope pull starts. Unfortunately this steering is based on a flexible cable within a tube; to describe it as unresponsive would be extremely generous. It stunk. The 750 was really the exact same machine as the 3 speed red handles except that it had a single piece fiberglass hood and was only offered with the wide front end. While early tractors were dark machinery gray, changing to a lighter machinery gray in the 1950’s, Baird used a brown on the 750’s through 1961 when the division was sold.
In the fall of 1961 the Beaver division was sold to three fellows: Ed Ahern became general manager, Ray Merrigan, a real estate man, and Lennie Paul an inventor and onetime movie theatre owner owned the balance of the stock. They renamed the company Beaver Industries Inc. and moved the headquarters to New Hartford CT. into what is now the Ovation Guitar Factory. Basically they bought several trailer loads of parts and manufactured very little. These tractors DO NOT have the distinctive brass number and patent plates. They have aluminum stamped plates that were glued to the steering column support bracket. I spoke with Lennie Paul in 2007, he described one guy that put the machines together and that same person loaded them onto a trailer and sold them around the countryside. They aggressively pursued Baird’s strategy of selling tractors overseas. India, Iraq, Afghanistan and Argentina bought containers of tractors. Ultimately they made no improvements and ended up supporting the tractors in use with parts. They did however change the model to “1000” with a Kohler 10 hp engine and some were painted yellow. It was a slow death; by 1968 they had had enough and found a buyer for the remains in the form of Diamond Machine of Lewiston, Maine.
Bob Verreault, owner, and paid $30,000.00 for the few remaining tractor-trailer loads. I include photos of Bob Vereault standing in front of the Beaver shack. He is in his 80’s now. What a great guy.
In the fall of 2007 I got the idea to search the historical records in Lewiston. I have an old brochure for the 750 Beaver with the address dated 1968. From there I was able to get Bob’s name and I just called information. He lives right down the street from the shop on River Road. Seems that Bob bought the company from the 3 fellows in New Hartford in 1968. It was basically 3 trailer loads of stuff that had originated in Stratford. Historical records show that the company was registered as being in existence in Lewiston through 1972. In asking around I had always been told that the Lewiston “factory” had burned, ending Beaver. But in speaking with Bob I learned that there had in fact been a fire in ‘72. But the fire was in his shop. All the beaver bits were stored in what the guys called the Beaver shack. This is the building that Bob is standing in front of when I took his picture, and he swears that it NEVER burned. Bob mostly just sold parts. He thought that they built perhaps 10 tractors in those 4 years, all for local guys. They quite possibly had green gel coat fiberglass hoods. He said he sold a lot of bits abroad, India mostly. After a time demand just trickled off. He needed the space in the shack so he sold off the engines and brought the rest of the stuff to the scrap yard.
I went up to see Bob again in Feb of 2007. Snow had been pounding Maine and it was piled high. I asked Bob if I could buy Beaver Industries, Inc and he said sure, so I did. I am now the proud owner of ...what? A name, logo, trademark.
Would be great to keep it alive in some form. Bob called me a week after that visit. He said they had had another big snow and that the roof on The Beaver Shack had caved in. It is funny how things happen.