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      email: tony@lathes.co.uk
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      McDougall &
      McDougall-VDM Lathes (Canada)
      - contributed by Andrew Webster -


      What follows is a first attempt to unravel the history of this important Canadian lathe maker.  Many thousands of characteristically large McDougall lathes were produced over approximately a century, yet little has been written about this firm or its products.  The following should be considered a preliminary analysis based on fragmentary data.
      The writer would be grateful for historical information, photographs, or the sight of relevant literature such as catalogues and manuals. 

      History of McDougall Lathe Production
      The Canadian firm R. McDougall Co. Ltd. produced metalworking and woodworking machinery from the late 1800s until shortly after World War 2.  Its factory was in Galt, Ontario.  Galt is no longer visible on maps because, in 1973, Galt amalgamated with Preston and Hespeler to form the present city of Cambridge. 
      By the 1870s, Galt (a railway-served foundry town) was well on its way to becoming a major manufacturing centre specialising in the production of large iron and steel machinery with about a dozen machinery-builders with plants  It is particularly important to distinguish between the Scottish-named firms R. McDougall Co. Ltd. and MacGreggor-Gourlay Co. Ltd., both of Galt, and both producers of large machinery, particularly lathes.  The latter traces its roots back to 1864 as Cant, Gourlay and Co., but the name MacGregor-Gourlay and Co., first appeared ca. 1885, becoming in 1910 the Canada Machinery Corporation.  It is suspected that its competitor, R. McDougall Co. Ltd., the subject here, was founded in the late 1880s.  Note also that the long-extinct firm of Cowan and Co., which apparently became Cowan Engineering, also produced machine tools, including metalworking lathes, in Galt. 
      Surveying the post-industrial landscape today, it seems inconceivable that Galt was once a major centre for the production of heavy machine tools.  Indeed, the British or American observer might be surprised that a heavy machinery industry developed in a land currently known for trees, asbestos, uranium, tar sands, wheat and seal-flipper pie.  The answer is twofold: firstly, British and American machinery was expensive because, for the former shipping costs added up, and for the latter because of import duties and other protectionist measures.  There were also strategic reasons behind the Dominion's protectionism with respect to American machinery.  In the latter 1800s, Canada and the United States were not on the best of terms, and the subject of another war periodically vexed the public and the Parliament in Ottawa.  The Canadians, British subjects, taught their children about burning the US President's house black (hence the White House) during the stupid little War of 1812.  Laura Secord, a woman who warned of an American attack, was a national heroine.  Border skirmishes, mainly in the form of Fenian raids from the U.S., continued well into Queen Victoria's reign, and serious talk of war briefly resumed in the 1890s.  The Dominion's red-coated militia, backed by small numbers of British regulars, was oriented entirely towards repelling invasion from the United States.  This intergenerational paranoia had the happy domestic effect of engendering an impressive heavy industrial base, despite a corresponding, but larger, industrial complex a hundred miles to the south.  The second reason for a heavy machinery industry in Canada was the nature of transportation in the country.  The distances were huge.  By the turn of the Century, Canada boasted an impressive network of railways, some thousands of miles long, connecting centres of population dozens and hundreds of miles apart.  This network spread outwards from the southern Ontario and Montreal, Quebec, where the machine-tool builders were located.  The entire network required huge quantities of large machines to maintain.  The population of Canada in 1914 was a mere seven million, connected over vast distances by a labour-intensive sea and rail infrastructure.  Not surprisingly, heavy machinery such as that made by McDougall was employed extensively in the production and maintenance of railway locomotives and vehicles, railway plant generally, and steam shipping during the labour-intensive age of steam. 
      Continued below:

      A 1925, 14-inch (diametral) swing non-gap lathe for toolroom and technical school use.  This model was new in the early 1920s.  Note the American type top-slide with lantern toolpost, atop a slotted boring table - a mixture of American and British design.  Length of bed 6', weight 1,800 lbs.

      Continued:
      Canada's vast railway network changed dramatically soon after World War 2.  Rationalisations during the 1950s and 1960s - reactions to long-distance motor transport on metalled roads - severely reduced the system.  Diesel traction replaced steam traction more than a decade sooner than in the United Kingdom.  These changes severely reduced the demand for heavy, home-built metalworking machinery.  Competition from American builders also bit into the indigenous machinery industry.  By the 1920s American machine tools had gained a solid foothold in the Canadian market.  This was in conjunction with greatly lowered tensions following the Great War, when America was sick of conflict and an invasion of Canada based on notions of 'manifest destiny' seemed too messy to contemplate.  Despite this softening of trade relations, it would be decades before U.S. manufacturing firms were able to operate easily in Canada, except through a Canadian-owned subsidiary, usually a branch plant.

      A Dominion-based subsidiary, the Canadian Fairbanks-Morse Company, played an important part in the marketing - and later manufacture of - McDougall lathes.  The original firm, Fairbanks Morse & Company, had its headquarters in Chicago.  Dealerships were established in major American and Canadian cities, and in 1876, the firm opened a factory in Montreal.  By the early 20th Century, the Fairbanks-Morse network had grown from a weigh-scale manufacturer to a major distributor of tools of many makes, and a renown builder of oil and steam engines, pumps, windmills, diverse industrial equipment and even railway locomotives.  One of its signal achievements was the Co-Co diesel-electric 'Trainmaster' locomotive, constructed by the Montreal-based Canadian Locomotive Company from about 1956.

      An impressively thick publication, the Main Products Catalogue of Canadian Fairbanks-Morse (CFM) had McDougall products figuring prominently (extracts are shown below).  The McDougall range included drilling machines, shapers, planers, milling machines and lathes - all massive designs with plenty of iron in the right places.  Canadian Fairbanks-Morse also marketed American lathes by South Bend, Walcott, Seneca Falls, Gisholt, Star, Speed, and Ames.  The McDougall lathes competed on the basis of nationalism, ease of servicing, and an astonishing degree of rigidity during the heaviest of cuts.  It is not known whether McDougall had other distributors up to, and including, the Second World War.  There can be no doubt' however, that CFM was the most important of McDougall's distributors.  We do not know the extent to which McDougal products were advertised in the American catalogue of Fairbanks-Morse.  The writer would gratefully receive relevant scans from any of these catalogues.

      World War 2 was certainly kind to R. McDougall Co. Ltd. because Canada produced vast quantities of vehicles, small arms, artillery, warships and merchant ships, and aircraft for the Imperial war effort.  The War's end signalled the collapse of this inflated, artificial demand.  Simultaneously the railway industry contracted severely.  The R. McDougall Co. was one of the last major Canadian machinery builders to survive into the Post-War period.  Unlike most, which seem to have simply closed, McDougall survived long enough to be taken over by another Canadian firm circa 1951.  This firm, interestingly, had its origins in Canadian Fairbanks-Morse.

      In the late 1940s, three of CFM's executives struck out on their own, founding the Canadian tool-distributing firm Upton, Bradeen & James (widely known even today as 'UBJ').  This new firm bought McDougall's Galt manufactory, sometime in the early 1950s, and continued the McDougall brand long after the demise of genuine McDougall designs, eventually by re-branding German VDF products that contained no Canadian content - other than the cast iron nameplate.  Initially, UBJ sold only genuine McDougall lathes, then McDougall lathes with VDF content, then VDF lathes with McDougall content, and finally just VDF lathes imported intact and also assembled in Canada.  In order to make sense of post-War McDougall lathe production it is necessary to understand the complex relationship between UBJ and VDF.
      Continued below:

      A 1925-manufactured 16-inch non-gap toolroom lathe "of exceptionally heavy construction". Even though it had a short, 6-foot bed, this machine weighed an astonishing 3,100 lbs

      Continued:
      Standing for Vereinigte Drehbank-Fabriken, the acronym VDF means'Combined Lathe Makers' in German.  This group comprised four major producers of high-quality industrial machinery:

      · Gebr. Boehringer G.m.b.h., of Gppingen;
      · Franz Baun A-G, of Zerbst;
      · Heidenreich & Harbeck, of Hamburg; and
      · H. Wohlenberg Komm.-Ges., of Hannover.

      It is interesting that this group understood the importance of collaboration and scale in an increasingly globalised market.  It is unfortunate that certain other great German lathe makers (notably Boley, Leinen, and Lorch) failed to collaborate and were consequently extinct by the end of the 1980s. 

      Collaboration with the VDF group was instrumental in ensuring that Upton, Bradeen & James thrived until recently in Mississauga, Ontario.  The ownership of UBJ apparently went to an investment company in Florida upon the death of the last of the three partners.  Then, sometime in the late 1970s, Boehringer G.m.b.h. bought UBJ.  This was a sensible acquisition since UJB had sold and assembled many Boehringer over the previous two decades.  It is reported that Boehringer sold UBJ in 2008 to MAG based in Cincinnati.  Since around 2005, MAG has swallowed up a significant portion of the American and German machine tool industry, including Cincinnati, Cross, Diedesheim, Ex-Cell-O, Giddings & Lewis, Lamb, Hller, Hille, Fadal, Witzig & Frank, Hessapp and finally Boehringer.  Now, if you type in 'www.ubj.com', you will be redirected to the main MAG web site that has a distributing facility in Mississauga, Ontario. This being said, let us return to the immediate post-War years when UJB had just purchased the McDougall machine tools works in Galt, Ontario.  The new owners maintained production of indigenous McDougall designs for a while.  Unfortunately the works, and the equipment to produce lathes, were unsuited for age of the carbide cutter.  Demand for the traditional types of low-speed headstock plummeted.  Upton, Bradeen & James decided that it was uneconomic, or just impossible, to produce modern headstocks using the aged resources associated with the McDougall Plant.  The decision was made to import high-speed headstocks from the VDM companies.  This gradually led to the purchase of other, complete sub-assemblies from Heidenreich & Harbeck and from Boehringer, although for years the beds continued to be cast in the McDougall plant's own foundry.  Eventually even finished beds were imported.  It is thought that the McDougall plant was closed in the early 1960s by which time it was decrepit.  The usable physical remains of the Galt production line, and some of the fitters, were relocated to UJB's Toronto facility. 

      It is not known when UBJ ceased its support for indigenous McDougall lathes.  It is reasonable to assume that the level of support declined precipitously after the closure of the Galt plant and the shift to German products.  The loss of the foundry, probable scrapping of the patterns, and loss of machining capacity would have put UBJ in no position to offer refits or major spares.  It says much of the quality of genuine McDougall lathes that, after more than a half-century out of production, they are still widely encountered and considered worthy of rebuilding by unfamiliar machinery specialists. The purchase of the McDougall plant gave UBJ the reason, equipment, and expertise to marry German and Canadian lathe components, but it does not explain the interest of VDM in such an uncommon arrangement.  In the early years the German consortium was desperate for export orders under any terms short of ceding ownership of the designs.  However, VDM remained a strategic thinker, and must have appreciated the difficulties faced by a German lathe manufacturer, in the wake of WW2, in penetrating the lucrative US machinery market.  At the time, most of the great American lathe-builders were still in production, and American industry was still patriotically protectionist except when the low price of foreign equipment could not be ignored.  The VDF lathes could not compete strictly on quality and price, good as they were on both counts.  It was also necessary to offer fast product support and rapid delivery of the finished products. 
      Continued below:

      Manufactured during 1925, 16-inch, 18-inch, 20-inch and 26-inch non-gap lathes were supplied with quick-change gear boxes and beds in any length requested.  The 16-inch swing lathe, shown here with collet attachment, had just a six-foot bed with 2'6" between centres, and weighed a robust 2,100 lbs.  The 26" machine had a twelve-foot bed with 6'3" between centres and weighed a crushing 7,100 lbs.

      Continued:
      VDF would have realised that the Canadian machinery market was comparatively miniscule, but the Compnay of Upton, Bradeen & James was their way into the larger North American continental market.  To this day, American industry remains practical and does not feel a special brotherly love towards Canadian suppliers.  (Nor any longer for suppliers of American machinery, since most American lathe-makers have shut down or shifted production to Asia.)  Nevertheless, it appears that, for many years, UBJ established itself as the principal if not solitary source of VDM lathes on the North American continent.  These were undeniably good machines, priced well, and they could be had from UBJ within a week or two of receiving the order.  This was much quicker than the 5-6 weeks associated with trans-Atlantic shipping, and, UBJ's fitters, using components on-hand, could tailor-make the lathe to the customer's needs. 

      Upton, Bradeen & James also supplied a comprehensive range of machine tools of major makes, at one time including South Bend, but towards the end of independent operation its lathes business centred on the VDMs.  Throughout this, the success of UJB, in selling its peculiar Canadian-German hybrid lathes, and finally VDM lathes labelled as VDM, rested in part upon a cadre of skilled German fitters.  German workers were again allowed into Canada starting about 1951.  By then it was clear that Germany had been reduced to rubble and the workforce posed no ideological threat.  Many mechanically skilled Germans fled to Canada before the 'economic miracle' which lifted Germany out of the ashes.  Consequently, it is said, UBJ had a regular supply of trained German fitters who were conveniently cheaper than trained Englishmen during the early years.  Many of the Germans stayed just long enough to learn English and make themselves portable, but enough settled that UBJ could boast a trained German workforce for the assembly of top-quality German lathes.  Apparently, after on-site manufacture of components had ceased, just two fitters were retained to hand-scrape the headstock, tailstock, saddle, and anything else needing precision alignment. 

      Considering the forgoing, the evolution of the McDougall brand of lathe appears to be as follows:

      1. McDougall lathes made in Canada under McDougall ownership.
      2. McDougall lathes made in Canada under UBJ ownership.
      3. McDougall lathes with German headstocks.
      4. McDougall lathes with other German sub-assemblies.
      5. VDM lathes badged as 'McDougall' and then 'VDM-McDougall' (particularly standard models by Heidenreich & Harbeck and Boehringer).
      6. VDM lathes sold as VDM, imported intact or assembled in Canada.  No further reference to the McDougall brand.

      McDougall lathes, built before the UBJ acquisition, bear prominent cast-iron plates indicating 'McDougall' and 'Galt, Ontario'.  These identifiers were often cast into the bed or the iron pedestals.  Sometimes a less conspicuous distributor plate is also attached; often this is Canadian Fairbanks-Morse.  McDougall brand lathes, built under UBJ auspices, typically carried cast-iron plates with the names 'McDougall' and sometimes 'VDF-McDougall'.  'Upton, Bradeen & James' also appeared on some of the name plates, creating the impression, amongst some today, that Upton, Bradeen & James was once a make of lathe.   

      Aside from what is presented here, very little is known about the important Canadian lathe maker McDougall and the eventual superimposition of the historic McDougall brand onto lathes of purely German manufacture.  We suspect that Upton, Bradeen & James imported from Germany, fully assembled, the VDF models 18/21 ROs and 42/44/48D/S.  Others, particularly the less popular models, were imported complete.  Sub-assemblies of the E3/V3 and E5/V5 series, known to have been shipped to UBJ for assembly, include beds, headstocks, aprons, saddles, gearboxes, and tailstocks.  A four-digit number stamped on the bed apparently distinguished the lathes assembled in Canada.

      McDougall Lathes
      Renowned for their extraordinary weight and consequent rigidity, indigenous McDougall lathes were built to a 'heavy machines policy' - rather like English manufacturer Portass - but of several orders of magnitude greater.  These McDougall machines are still prized by users wanting extreme rigidity - with huge cuts and no chatter - but possessing thick ferro-concrete floors and substantial cranes to lift the lathe in place.
      Continued below:

      McDougall lighter pattern of gap lathe, built in swings 18-30, 20-36, and 22-40 (in inches), beds to any length.  The weights are unknown but these were also extraordinarily massive given their modest swings and centre distances.

      Heavy-duty 26-inch wing gap lathe, 48 inches in the gap. 

      Continued:
      All McDougall lathes so far observed have possessed double ways along the lines of the South Bend.  The tailstock and fixed steady are located by the inner ways.  The carriage and apron move on the outer ways, upon which the headstock is mounted.  This is a very good system until heavy wear necessitates regrinding, which is quite difficult especially when the manufacturer is long out of business.  These indigenous McDougall machines seem to wear very 'well' if properly maintained. 
      Lathes continued to be built, to indigenous McDougall design, until the mid-1950s when German headstocks started to be added to Canadian beds.  The German influence prevailed and, in the early 1960s it seems, the Galt manufactory was closed and McDougall lathes ceased to have any Canadian components.  All genuine Galt-made McDougall lathes, so far observed, have flat belts.  Any vee-belt headstocks, which may be encountered, are most likely of German construction.  German headstocks were fitted to late production McDougall lathes in the 1950s, and eventually all the parts came from Germany and were rebadged 'McDougall'.  We have no photographic or technical information on these hybrid machines built in the 1950s and possibly the early 1960s.  Please contact The writer if you can help in this regard. 
      Some immaculate, big, genuine McDougal lathes remain in revenue earning service in Canada and as far away as Indonesia.  One that has been advertised recently is an unknown species with 12 feet between centres, kept in clean condition and recently repainted properly.  Unfortunately one also observes McDougall lathes in fine condition, sitting in warehouses, forlornly awaiting an appreciative buyer in a largely de-industrialised, outsourced Canadian economy.  The likely fate of these machines is the scrap merchant, unless by chance enlightened purchasers in the rapidly industrialising Pacific Rim nations note them.  One hopes that these machines survive long enough to be remanufactured since the remanufacturing of vintage iron era lathes is increasingly a sensible proposition.  Few modern lathes have the mass, in the right places, needed for serious production work and modern designs usually lack solidity.  The value of these large, old machines will likely escalate when iron foundries, in developing countries, are subjected to Western type environmental controls.
      Much research remains outstanding.  If you have a McDougall, McDougall-VDM, or VDM lathe, or you can contribute to the development of the history of these firms, the writer would be pleased to hear from you..


      email: tony@lathes.co.uk
      Home   Machine Tool Archive   Machine-tools Sale & Wanted
      Machine Tool Manuals   Catalogues   Belts   Books  Accessories

      McDougall &
      McDougall-VDM Lathes (Canada)
      - contributed by Andrew Webster -
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