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As industrial and economic prosperity continued for the Western Tonawanda/North Buffalo area, Lots 102 and 103 continued to see developmental change. O-Neil Street became Vulcan Street by the early 20th century and served as the boundary between Tonawanda and Buffalo. General Motors purchased Lot 102 in 1937 and immediately became the industry leader in that area.

However, Lot 103 remained subdivided with many divisions unoccupied. One of the unoccupied areas was 280 Vulcan Street. This property was originally developed by the U.S. Navy for the contruction of a manufacturing building and powerhouse. It was operated for many years by Bethlehem Shipbuilding on behalf of the Navy. In 1920, the property was sold to Farrel Foundry & Machine Company, a manufacturer of heavy machinery, and castings specifically for the rubber and plastics industries. Farrel-Foundry, or Farrell-Birmingham as they would be called later on, expanded their location to eventually include 10 buildings of various functions. However, it was their main product line that brought them to the attention of another major manufacturer of rubber products.

The Fawick Flyer
An example of the Fawick Flyer, shown here with President Theodore Roosevelt at the Sioux Falls railroad station. *
In 1889, around the same time that the industrial growth of Western Tonawanda and North Buffalo was in its infancy, Thomas Fawick was born in South Dakota. Even at an early age, Fawick exhibited a talent for design and engineering. By the time he reached the age of 17, he was ready to go into business for himself manufacturing an automobile of his own design. Naming the car the Fawick Flyer, Fawick enjoyed moderate success selling his car around the Sioux Falls, South Dakota region. His car was unique in that it was the first offered with four doors.

Unfortunately, Fawick did not have the tremendous capital needed to expand his business and compete with other major automobile manufacturers. He stopped production of the Fawick Flyer and moved to Waterloo, Iowa in 1914. There, he went to work for a friend who manufactured farm equipment. Within a short period of time, the two developed a superior tractor and had success in delivering 800 units. By 1916, Fawick had moved to Chicago to design and build heavy duty clutches for tractors.

This type of engineering and design seemed to be Fawick's niche. By 1918, his new clutch was enthusiastically received and he became President and General Manager of the Twin Disc Clutch Company. Twin Disc still remains today a major contributor in the area of heavy-duty power transmission components, including clutches, marine gears, power shift transmissions, and axles.

By 1928, Fawick had the desire to pursue other interests. After spending 10 years with the company, he sold his shares in The Twin Disc Clutch Company and turned his attention to other things.

The Fawick Clutch
An example of the Fawick Airflex Clutch. **
In the summer of 1936, Fawick began work on a new style of coupling and clutch. He joined forces with the General Tire and Rubber Co. of Akron, Ohio, who at that time was a major gear supplier to the U.S. Navy. Together, they produced the Airflex clutch. This innovative design made it possible to reverse the propeller of a towboat from full ahead to full astern in three seconds. This proved to be a milestone in marine navigation. It also laid the cornerstone for future development of Airflex clutches in thousands of NAVY vessels during World War II.

In 1938, the Fawick Company was formed. Together with General Tire and Rubber, Fawick continued development on industrial clutch applications. In April of 1939, The Fawick Company changed its name to The Fawick General Company. All preliminary development of the clutch had been completed and the Airflex clutch was placed on the market as a standard product in May of 1940.

By the summer of 1941, just prior to America entering World War II, Fawick General had designed a new marine reverse gear based on the Airflex and needed a manufacturer to produce the new device. Farrel-Birmingham Co, of Buffalo, New York was selected in cooperation with the General Motors Corporation. Farrel-Birmingham would build the clutch/gear assembly, and General Motors would place it in marine engines it was producing. This new design permitted a rapid propeller reversal without having to slow down, stop, or reverse the driving engine. The design and tests of the pilot model soon met with the approval of the NAVY Department.

The Farrell-Birmingham Reduction Gear
The Farrell-Birmingham reduction gear.
When America entered into the War, the reverse gears were installed on various types of landing craft, tugs, and service ships. These vessels were hailed for their maneuverability and relatively maintenance-free performance. Through the war, more than $46 million of the clutch and gear units were sold to General Motors for installation in the engines they were building for the NAVY.

In the meantime, The Navy Department created a shipbuilding program centered on the use of non-reversible, two-cycle diesel engines driving propellers through the reverse gear. To facilitate increased production of this high demand naval engine, the U.S. Government engaged Farrel Birmingham in 1942 to construct a new facility on the adjacent lot to the east, at 280 Vulcan Street. The company pioneered in the development of propulsion gear systems and related equipment for marine diesels. The new facility would come to be known as Plant 5.

War Supply Contracts from 1945 indicate that Farrel Birmingham had contracts for gear generating machines for the U.S. Army, reduction gears for the U.S. Navy and gear generators for the U.S. Treasury. Their propulsion gear units were used on most of the small sea-going crafts of World War II, which included: destroyers; escort vessels; patrol boats, light plant tenders; submarines and their tenders; mine sweepers; medium landing craft tugs; and maritime commission vessels.

The Farrell-Birmingham Facility
The Farrell-Birmingham facility as seen in the 1960 aerial photograph. 280 Vulcan Street is the building on the left and 344 Vulcan Street is the building on the right.
In 1942, Farrel Birmingham Company received the U.S. Navy "E" Burgee Award for their contribution to the war production achievement. The company was awarded the Navy "E" at a ceremony held on March 6th at Kleinhan's Music Hall in Buffalo for their record manufacture of gear drives for Navy ships. The event pamphlet included a copy of the notice of the award from Frank Knox, the Secretary of the Navy, along with a list of official and invited guests. Historically, since 1906, Navy "E" awards were handed out to ships and their crews who excelled in efficiency and devotion to duty. This coveted honor and mark of excellence is best elucidated in the following passage taken from the Navy "E" Award Program, May 10, 1942:

"In times of national crisis such as exists today, the Navy's duties demand a vast and speedy enlargement of ships, guns and equipment to assure its ability to meet and overcome any enemy, anywhere in the world. This means simply that the strength of the Navy, and through the Navy the safety of the Nation is dependent upon the loyalty, hard work and devotion to duty of hundreds of thousands of men and women who make the equipment -- upon the capital which provides the tools -- upon the management which coordinates and directs, industrial effort -- in short, upon the patriotism and will-to-win of industrial America."

Portions of the text and images (**) containted in this section are used with the kind permission of Eaton / Airflex (

* Photo credit courtesy of "The Weekly South Dakotan" (