They shall beat their wings into plowshares; or, A brief look at the Romanian government firm Uzina Tractorul Braşov

An advertisement from Équipements Ascot Incorporée of Saint-Élie-d’Orford, Québec, extolling the merits of the UTB U530 tractor. Anon. “Advertising – Équipements Ascot Incorporée.” Le Bulletin des agriculteurs, February 1981, 28.

Salut ce mai faci? Personally, I am well – given the circumstances. As you may have guessed, expert linguist that you are, my reading friend, the subject of our blog / bulletin / thingee article is both agricultural and Romanian in nature. Would you also believe that this tiny nature is also aeronautical? Yes, yes, it is. Let me explain what this is all about.

Industria Aeronautică Română Societate pe acţiuni (IAR) was founded in 1925. This aircraft manufacturer and aeroengine manufacturer then belonged to the Romanian government, to the Romanian firm Uzina de Vagoane Astra Arad and to the French aeronautical firms Blériot-Aéronautique Société anonyme and Société Lorraine-Dietrich & Compagnie. Over the years, IAR produced several types of foreign and locally designed aircraft. It also produced engines of foreign design and local versions of said engines.

In 1938, the Romanian government acquired the shares held by the foreign shareholders (as well as those held by Astra Arad?), thus transforming IAR into a state-owned company. Would you believe that the site occupied by IAR was one of the largest aeronautical sites in Europe?

In June 1941, Romania’s far-right government chose to fight alongside National Socialist Germany against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In August 1944, realising that the jig was up, King Mihai, of house Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, had the head of said government arrested and declared war on his German ally. The USSR scarcely trusting this new ally, the Red army of workers and peasants, or Raboche Krestyanskaya Krasnaya Armiya (RKKA), gradually took control of Romania from the late winter of 1944-45 onward.

Already strongly affected by Anglo-American bombing raids in the spring of 1944, IAR had to stop producing Messerschmitt Bf / Me 109 fighter planes, as well as their engines, intended for the Aeronautica Regalǎ Românǎ, the whole kit and caboodle being confiscated by the USSR. The firm also had to agree to repair RKKA vehicles.

And yes, the exceptional collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum includes a Bf / Me 109.

Running out of resources and options, IAR had to reorient its activities towards producing tractors, specifically the R40, a vehicle apparently designed in the late 1930s by the prominent German firm Hannoversche Maschinenbau Aktiengesellschaft. A contract signed in October 1945 embodied this reorientation. The first IAR 22, the designation of the tractor manufactured in Romania, left the shops in December 1946.

It should be noted that, at that time, there were hardly any tractors in Romania, a country where agriculture nevertheless held / holds a predominant place.

By the way, the USSR orchestrated a coup d’état in March 1945 which saw the establishment of a pro-Soviet coalition government. The rigged elections of November 1946 granted a majority of the seats in the Adunarea deputaţilor, the lower house of the Romanian parliament, to said coalition. A people’s republic was created in December 1947. The Partidul Comunist Român (PCR), renamed Partidul Muncitoresc Român (PMR) in 1948, was now sole master on board, under the leadership of the big Soviet brother of course.

In 1947, IAR became Întreprinderea Metalurgiča de Stat Braşov. In August 1948, this state metallurgical company became Uzina Tractorul Braşov (UTB).

Another name seemed to be associated with the firm towards the end of 1948, namely Societatea sovieto-românǎ pentru fabricarea şi desfacerea tractoarelor, but yours truly does not fully understand the links between this state company for the manufacture and sale of tractors and UTB.

In any event, UTB went on its merry way. Between 1950 and 1960, the city of Braşov being known under the name of Oraşul Stalin, after Josif Vissarionovich “Koba” Stalin, born Ioseb Jughashvili, the monster who had ruled the USSR between 1927-29 and 1953, the firm (officially?) became Uzina Tractorul Oraşul Stalin (UTOS).

During the 1950s, OTB / UTOS produced a number of KD-35 tracked tractors, one of the great Soviet classics, designed by Lipetskiy Traktornyy Zavod. The firm also designed a number of wheeled tractors during the 1950s, of course.

The mid-1960s saw profound changes, both for UTB and Romania. In 1963, UTB acquired the production rights for at least one tractor designed by Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino Società Anónima, an Italian / European automotive giant mentioned several / many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee, and this since March 2019.

In March 1965, moreover, Nicolae Ceauşescu became secretary general of the PMR, which he quickly renamed PCR. The new ruler of Romania, renamed a socialist republic in 1965, aimed to reduce the influence and presence of the USSR in Romania and increase the importance of the national manufacturing industry.

UTB benefited from this change of direction. It saw its production capacity increase, for example. The firm’s main workhorses from the mid-1960s were the U650 and U445. The former seemed to be present in virtually all collective / state farms in Romania. The second, smaller, versatile, robust and economical, was the big favorite of Romanian farmers. A number of them seemed to still be running in the 2000s, even the 2010s.

Responding to the wishes of the Romanian government, UTB exported much of its production to more and more countries, countries as far apart as Australia and Canada, under a few names, Universal being the one used in Canada.

Better yet, several foreign firms acquired the rights to produce various types of UTB tractors. Just think of

- Tractores y Maquinaria Sociedad de responsilidad limitada, in Argentina,

- Hattat Traktör, a division of Hattat Holding Anonim şirketi, in Turkey, and

- Agripak, in Pakistan.

The presence of Romanian tractors in Argentina may come as a surprise given the virulent / murderous anti-communism of the country’s civil, military and religious elites.

The Universal U530, featured in the 1981 advertising at the beginning of this article, was one of many tractor models exported by UTB around the world.

By the way, Équipements Ascot Incorporée of Saint-Élie-d’Orford, a municipality located not far from Sherbrooke, Québec, the firm which represented the interests of UTB in Québec, had about 30 accredited dealers in 1981.

This being said (typed?), it was under the name of Ascot Equipment Incorporated of Ascot Corner, a municipality located not far from Sherbrooke, that this firm was born, in June 1960. One of its founders was a businessman in the making who had just turned 30, Louida Payeur.

A farm machinery seller in Ascot Corner since 1952, Payeur also founded Louida Payeur Incorporée of Sherbrooke, a farm machinery sales and services firm, in June 1961.

Équipements Ascot and UTB signed a long-term (10 years?) contract at the beginning of 1976. Said contract concerned the assembly and distribution of UTB tractors in 6 Canadian provinces: New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Québec. Said assembly would be done in a brand new factory. Équipements Ascot inaugurated this assembly plant in Saint-Élie-d’Orford in December 1976.

An interesting detail to say the least, no less than 49 % of the shares of the firm (and / or the factory?) seemed to belong to UTB.

A Romanian team spent some time in Ascot Corner overseeing the assembly of the first tractors and training the staff of accredited Équipements Ascot dealers.

The counterpart of the Québec firm for western Canada was Terra Power Tractor (Canada) Limited of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This firm was founded in 1974. An interesting detail to say the least, no less than 100 % of the shares of Terra Power Tractor (Canada) (and / or its assembly plant?) seemed to belong to UTB. The Canadian firm disappeared at the end of 1980 at the latest.

For all intent and purposes, Équipements Ascot found itself in a situation of bankruptcy around June 1982, which led to the closing of the assembly plant.

Curiously, an extra-provincial corporation by the name of Équipements Ascot / Ascot Equipment had seemingly been founded in Nova Scotia in January 1982.

In any event, Payeur refused to give up. He founded Distributions Payeur Incorporée in Ascot Corner in 1983. This firm still existed as of 2021. Distributions Payeur then had 3 branches, all 3 located in Québec, in Drummondville, La Guadeloupe and Laurier-Station. Its management was ensured by a grandson of the founder.

Over the years, Équipements Ascot and Distributions Payeur represented the interests of major foreign tractor manufacturers on Québec soil, including

- Kabushiki Kaisha Kubota, a Japanese firm, from 1970 onward,

- Daedong San-eob (ju), a South Korean firm, from 1983 onward, and

- Xingtái shi di Tuōlājī Zhizào Yŏuxìan Gōngsī, a Chinese firm, from 1990 onward.

It is with sadness that I must note that Payeur passed away in February 2020, at the age of 89, but back to UTB.

The PCR government, still led by Ceauşescu, becoming more and more dictatorial and repressive from the beginning of the 1970s onward, the living conditions of UTB staff deteriorated over the years. In 1987, overwhelmed by debt, the government rationed consumer goods and necessities. Pushed to their limit this by rationing, and by major layoffs and wage cuts, more than 20 000 employees of 3 major employers in Braşov, UTB, Întreprinderea Autocamioane Braşov and Hidromecanica Braşov, a truck maker and a maker of auto parts, took to the streets in November. The protest turned into a riot.

Fearful of touching off a crisis elsewhere in the country, the government reacted with a certain caution. About 300 people were arrested but the sentences imposed apparently did not exceed 2 years. The population of Braşov found itself under close surveillance, however.

The Braşov revolt, the most important Romanian anti-government demonstration in a long time, played a significant catalytic role in the very complex coup d’état of December 1989 which put an end to the dictatorship of the PCR. Ceauşescu and the Deputy Prime Minister, his wife, Elena Ceauşescu, born Leneţa Petrescu, were shot – a unique case in the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991.

The following years were very difficult for Romania – and the staff of UTB. Their number fell from around 26 000 in 1989 to around 1 700 in 2007, for example.

In 1999-2000, the firm was split into 6 units which were subsequently privatised. The circumstances surrounding some transactions, as well as the identity of some buyers, were controversial. This being said (typed?), a firm by the name of Tractorul UTB Societate pe acţiuni seemed to exist at that time. Yours truly wonders if this firm was not the one which owned the production rights for the various types of tractors previously made by UTB.

It should be noted that between 1946 and 1999 UTB delivered around 1.32 million tractors, of which around 760 000 were delivered to users living in around 115 countries, which was / is no small feat.

Intrigued by the potential of the plant and its staff, at least one Italian firm and two Indian firms considered purchasing the UTB plant, which then remained the property of the Romanian government. None of these projects resulted in the signing of a contract.

In any event, the Romanian real estate company Flavus Invest Societate cu răspundere limitată / Flavus Limited acquired the UTB factory site in July 2007, to all intents and purposes with the promise to continue producing tractors on the site – a request made by the Romanian government. This being said (typed?), this subsidiary / division of the British investment fund Centerra Capital Partners Limited apparently wanted to transform the site into an industrial park with shopping mall and high-rise apartment buildings.

Tractorul UTB went bankrupt in 2007. The following year, an Egyptian businessman formed Societatea Comerciala Tractorul U650 Braşov Societate cu răspundere limitată with the blessing of Flavus Invest. The firm aimed to produce U650 tractors for the Egyptian market, in collaboration with Roman Societate pe acţiuni, the firm formerly known as Întreprinderea Autocamioane Braşov. The 25 January revolution, in January 2011, in Egypt, interrupted deliveries.

Tractorul U650 Braşov, however, seemed to be continuing its activities, a little tractor manufacturing and a lot of parts manufacturing, in another Romanian city.

The UTB factory site being unused, Flavus Invest obtained, after many steps and a few legal proceedings against it, permission to carry out its industrial park with shopping mall and high-rise apartment buildings project. The UTB industrial site, in very poor condition one had to admit, was completely demolished – one of the many important industrial sites around the world to suffer the same fate in recent decades. Pity.

In 2017, Tractorul U650 Braşov, now under Romanian control, hoped to revive tractor production in the city which had given birth to UTB and IAR. This project apparently went nowhere. This being said (typed?), the firm appeared to be in business as of the start of 2021.

This writer wishes to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, not theirs.

La revedere, prieten cititor.

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Rénald Fortier