Gilson 12-25 (1918)

One of the rarer tractors in the Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s collection is this 1918 Gilson 12-25 tractor. It was donated to the Museum by Ken Murray of Minnedosa, Manitoba.

It came to the Museum with a non factory radiator mounted on it and missing the sheet metal that covered the top and part of the sides of teh engine bay. The metal framework that supports the sheet metal is still on the tractor. Examining a photo of what is believed to be a Gilson 12-25 at the Brandon Plowing Demonstration of 1918, the orginal radiator did not protrude above the sheet metal top and there was a round tank mounted at the back of the hood and between the fenders over the rear wheels. This tank may have possibly been the fuel tank.

Gilson is a fairly unknown Canadian tractor manufacturer. Gilson appears to to be the fourth Canadian manufacturer of tractors with Slyvestor the first, Goold Shapely and Muir second and Sawyer Massey the third. Gilson was a fairly low volume producer with some sources claiming only 100 tractors were produced.

The Gilson 12-25 featured a 4 clyinder Waukesha engine with a 4 1/4 x 5 3/4 bore and stroke. It also used a Foote Brothers transmission with 2 forward speeds and I reverse gear. Interestingly it possesses individual wheel brakes on the rear wheels. These brakes are a form of disc brakes, only instead of pads gripping the sides of the disc a narrow v shape made of metal was forced over both sides of the disc when the brakes were applied.

Gilson Guelph originated out of Gilson Manufacturing of Port Washington, Wisconsin. This company was formed in 1850 by the Gilson family and produced plows and threshing machines.  By 1904 Gilson was producing stationary gasoline engines. Gilson Manufacturing of Guelph was formed in 1906 and began producing in Canada the same line of engines produced by Gilson in Wisconsin. Gilson may have done this to avoid paying the tariff that the Canadian government levied on imported machinery at the time. The Canadian government wanted to protect Canadian manufacturers from US imports and used a tariff on imported goods to do so.

Gilson produced a number of different models and sizes of stationary engines. In 1916 Gilson in the US was purchased by Harry Bolens while the Guelph operation was purchased by Canadian interests. While the manufacture of Gilson stationary engines continued on both sides of the border, by 1917 Gilson US had ceased the production of the Gilson stationary engines. The Gilson Guelph continued to manufacture the stationary engine line until 1929 or 1930.

Gilson Guelph appears to have entered tractor production in 1918. By using Waukesha engines and Foote brothers transmissions the company was able to reduce the amount of fabricating needed to a bare minum. Gilson produced three sizes of tractors an 11-20, 12-25 and a 15-30. Some sources indicate Gilson experimented with different tractor ideas.  However Gilson Guelph exited the tractor business in 1922 after producing about 100 units. Gilson Guelph continued manufacturing engines and also got into manufacturing electric washers, furnaces and refridgeration equipment. However in the 1950s the company was purchased by the Robert Elder Company with the Guelph operation finally closing in 1977.

Gilson in the US was successful in the lawn and garden equipment business under Harry Bolens.


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