Thursday, June 6, 2013

One of my vices is vises: RAE Revisited and the OTACO connection

Mister G did a previous post on Rae vises.  Neither of us was able to find out very much about this Canadian company.

Yesterday, I happened to be using my RAE vise, and noticed a previously-overlooked decal on the screw, partially obscured by spilled varnish:

Four new pieces of information are offered here.  The company was based in Orillia, Ontario;  it billed itself as "Canada's largest vice manufacturer";  it was operated by OTACO Limited, and it used "Ductalloy" as a trademark.  

OTACO goes back a century.  The name itself, first used in 1936, is an abbreviation for the Orillia Tudhope-Anderson Company.  The firm started with William Tudhope, a blacksmith and wheelwright, whose company later made carriages.  In 1897, his son James formed the Tudhope Carriage Company in Orillia, and in 1902 he expanded into the agricultural equipment business with partner Harry Anderson.  The Tudhope Motor Company was another business, which from 1908 to 1913 made cars which were equipped with the most Canadian-made components of any other car manufactured in this country.  Tudhope purchased mechanical parts from McIntyre of Auburn, Indiana.  The Tudhope-McIntyre sold for $550, and one of them became Bell Canada's first motorized vehicle.  In 1909, the Tudhope-Anderson Company was founded.  In 1936, the company ran into financial difficulties and Ross Phelps bought it and renamed it OTACO.  The names OTACO and TACO were used on a variety of products, including stoves, heaters, logging sleighs, snow-plows, wheelbarrows, pumps and farm and logging wagons. During the depression, OTACO produced the "Auto-Trac" kit to convert a car into a tractor.  The kits were priced from $149 to $300, well below the $600 price tag of a new tractor, so the product was very successful.   Over the next 25 years, over 6000 of these kits were sold.  The Simcoe County Museum has a 1929 model in its collection.  

Below, some photos of two Auto-Tracs for sale at a local auction.  Note that epicyclic gearing was used, with a planetary gear from the axle turning the ring gear in the wheels.

During World War II, the factory was retooled to make undercarriages and wheels for the Mosquito fighter-bomber.  After the war the range of products expanded to include pumps and water systems, boat kits and boat trailers. The production of farm implements and plow shares continued to grow and Otaco became one of Canada's largest manufacturers of farm wagons, wheels and hubs.  

1951 photo of the OTACO  In-Throw Disc Harrow in front of the  factory.  From Postcard Memories:  Otaco plow
However, competition from American firms like John Deere ate into the farm machinery market, so starting in the late 1940s Phelps took OTACO into the metal toy business to cater to the needs of the post-war baby boomers.  Consequently, the popular line of Minnitoys also became an important part of plant production with thousands of sturdy Minnitoy tanker and transport trucks being sold across Canada, employing almost 1600 people in the Orillia plant until the early 1960's when competition from plastic toys ended the Minnitoy venture.
In 1948 Otaco became the first Canadian company to receive a license from International Nickel to produce a new metal – a cast iron material with the properties of steel known as Ductalloy Iron. Otaco started producing Ductalloy castings for other companies as well as for its own products including the Gold Tip Plow Share.  At some point the company also started producing the line of Rae vises.  According to Bob Brown, grandson of R.W. Phelps and author of R.W. Phelps and the History of OTACO in Orillia 1927-1964 (copies of which can be purchased from the Orillia Museum of Art and History):
"The history of the Rae Vise was probably the same as several of the cast consumer products that migrated to the Tudhope Anderson Company ( TACO)  later changed to Otaco , believed to be the Orillia Tudhope Anderson Company. In late 1915/16 period several  regional small foundries made such things a Marvel Stoves , Peerless Plows and probably the Rae Vises. Foundries need to have tonnage to make pouring economical these products migrated to larger foundries Taco was such a foundry. Otaco was a ductile casting foundry which was malleable iron suitable for cast vises but this was not until the late 1930's so it may have been this time period. Because of the scale of Otaco  and varied consumer products it was able to merchandise and distribute more efficiently than say a smaller company. "

I recently found the 1914 ad below online:

I wonder if this company was the one acquired by Otaco, hence the Rae name and Hamilton location (as marked on one vise in Mister G's previous post)?

In any event, the Rae Vise division was sold in 1972 to Harcox Holdings Ltd. of Orillia.

In the mid 1950s Otaco designed and built a wide range of over-the-snow equipment for operation "Deep Freeze", an Antarctic expedition. Sleighs of up to 20-ton capacity, wanigans ( a mobile home made to withstand the most hostile environments) and ice runway maintenance machinery were made resulting in Otaco receiving the U.S. Navy Certificate of Merit – the first to be awarded outside the United States.

Otaco was purchased in 1961 by R.M. Barr and became a division of Bartaco Industries until sold to Redlaw Industries in 1984. Redlaw continued to operate the foundry until closing in 1990.  A division, Otaco Seating, made train and bus seats.  It was acquired by the Michigan-based American Seating in 1985, which closed its Orillia operation in 2007.  
J.H. Ashdown Hardware Company Ltd, Winnipeg, 1953 catalogue

A visitor (see comment below) drew our attention to the following:

I had published a previous post on the McCoy Foundry and somehow had missed the fact the the vise jaws in that post also carried the RAE name.  So, it looks like the McCoy Foundry was the company behind this product.  At some point, they must have sold this off to OTACO.  I sent an email to McCoy, asking if they could shed any light on this.  Typical of most Canadian manufacturers, I did not receive the courtesy of a reply.
Update, June 2023. Below; Small Rae Anvil found at Aberfoyle Antique market.


Rob Paul said...

the "Rae Machine Tool Works" made lathes and crank shapers in Hamilton 1919 and 1920. see advt at Vintage Machinery
or see online in "Canadian Machinery and Metalworking" magazine, April-June 1920
no mention of vices/vises though
Rae family genealogy at
also mentions Robert Allen Rae and the Rae Machine Tool Works, also William Allen Rae and brother Walter Rae were machinists in Hamilton

Mister G said...

Thanks for the info!

Unknown said...

Hello: Thank you for the info. We have a Antique Horse Drawn Plow with the name:

"Tudhope Anderson Company Ltd. #41" on the side of it. So I was looking for infomation. It sits in our garden.

Teresa and Scott Coombes - Grand Valley, ON

Anonymous said...

I found this picture of an intact decal from a Rae vise made by the McCoy Foundry in Hamilton . If you're interested enough you could probably give them a call and see if maybe they have some more info. Rae Revisited again perhaps.

The Duke said...

Thanks for this! I've added the new info and will pursue it further.