Roy Robinson was born on a farm in Grand Valley, Ontario and began his career as a machinist. He married Rose in 1942. In the fall of 1946, the two moved to Toronto to stay with his brother-in-law Peter Pakosh (inducted in 2018).
While Peter was holding down a full-time engineering job, the two began exploring their own construction and manufacturing ideas in the ever-growing and ever-competitive farm implement market. In late 1946, the men assembled their first field sprayer in Peter’s basement.
In the spring of 1947, after a verbal partnership agreement which was sealed with a handshake, the two entrepeneurs, Robinson and Pakosh, started Hydraulic Engineering Co. in Winnipeg. They made Roy the first employee of the company paying him $7 a week.
By 1952, both families were re-established in Winnipeg and new facilities were constructed in West Kildonan while the operations back in Toronto continued running.
In 1963, the company became Versatile Mfg. Co., and in 1966 the first Versatile four-wheel drive tractors were introduced. These machines used heavy-duty axles and 12-speed transmissions and featured articulated hydraulic steering and hydraulic brakes. Versatile kept ahead of the market for the next 10 years with bigger and more powerful tractors while experimenting with new designs.
In 1965, the province awarded Robinson and Pakosh the Manitoba Export Award. Cited as “one of the most fascinating success stories in the history of the Manitoba industry.” Versatile Manufacturing was now the largest producer of swathers in the world.
In 1977, Robinson, now Versatile’s President and General Manager, instructed the engineers to design and build the Model 1080. Robinson stood six foot four inches and was a larger than life character with a standard attire of cowboy boots and Stetson hat. It was natural therefore, to name the Model 1080, “Big Roy, the World’s Largest Tractor.” The 1080 had a 600 hp, rear-mounted Cummins engine, four axles (giving it eight-wheel drive), and weighed more than 28 tons when the 550-gallon fuel tank was filled. The center-mounted cab made for poor visibility (especially to the rear), so a closed-circuit TV camera was added to give the driver a view of the drawbar. Only one prototype was built as it was too big and too expensive to go into production. It is now part of the Manitoba Agricultural Museum collection in Austin, Manitoba.
By the 1970s, Versatile was an independent operation that had 70% of the 4WD tractor market.
Versatile’s ground-breaking tractors were primitive by modern standards but sold for less than $10,000 and earning the reputation of being affordable and reliable.
By 1976, the Winnipeg-based firm had over 1,300 employees, more than $100 million in annual sales and it was then that Roy and Peter decided to sell their stake in Versatile and retire.
At this time, I would like to call upon Versatile’s Adam Reid to receive Roy’s plaque on behalf of the Roy and the Robinson family.