Pioneer Power- Chapter 1

I recently acquired a book published by Allis-Chalmers in 1942. This book covers the history of the firm and products since 1847. Instead of scanning this book, which could damage it, I will transcribe each chapter in a series of blog posts.

Forward:

The following pages tell a story about this company’s growth that covers practically a century. Many real discouragements were met along the way and it would have been easy to let others carry the torch. But red-blooded men always came forward at just the right times and prodded rusting ideas into perfected realities. Our story deals with the facts surrounding these accomplishments and it is tendered to our many friends with the hope that they will find it interesting. At the same time, the Company welcomes this opportunity to show that its aims have always been to serve above the average and to build products which not only promote the advancements of peace, but those as well which satisfy the full requirements of national defense.

Chapter I – Go West Young Man

In the Spring of 1824, a well known allegorical stork settled down gently on the Allis home near what is no Cazenovia, New York.  He was unruffled and no stranger to the Allis generations. In fact, he’d been a frequent visitor at their households in England for centuries.

The name Cazenovia doubtless has its derivation in the Portuguese words “casa nova” meaning new house. But there was nothing new or pretentious about that settlement or the squatty frame house where our feathered friend deposited Edward Phelps Allis on May day over eleven decades ago. Allied to practically all pioneer dwellings of the time, it was endowed with a humble cleanliness, and a warm hospitality that is now seldom equalled.

During his first decade Master Edward Allis was naturally heedless of the history making movements about him. Most of his time was spent scouting the surrounding sugar maples or toy-boating in the cast-iron horse trough directly in front of his home; a good meeting point for migrating strangers. It was probably here that his pioneer instinct was born.

By the time young Allis was nineteen, the Erie Canal had been opened, the first metal vessels had been built at Savannah, the Atlantic had been crossed by steam power in 15 days, and the first telegraph line was functioning between Baltimore and Washington.

Small wonder then, with these stirring events and his country reaching out into pulsing, rich territory, that this young man should turn his eyes toward the New West immediately after graduation (1845) from Union College at Schenectady. Sturdy settlers were expanding their acreages in Ohio and Indiana new homes were being hewed out of thick stands of hemlock and white pine in Michigan; and glowing reports came in about the prospects in distant Illinois and Wisconsin. The New West was beckoning with no uncertain gesture.

Important events continued to time their peaks with young Allis’ life. Even as he pulled a bulky handbag from beneath a high-posted bed and smoothed the crown of his plushy hat with the back of his arm, the Unites States declared war on Mexico. Hardy railroad pioneers were pushing their difficult lines west out of New York and Pennsylvania. The “grasshopper” type of engine had given way to an improved “crab” locomotive, a forerunner of today’s design. Steam powers was threatening horse and canal transportation. But these fingers of communication were still stubby and disjointed. Allis’ trip to Wisconsin, by the very nature of these disruptions was an interesting and enlightening one.

With the dawn of a balmy, mid-Spring day in 1846, Mister Edward P. Allis waited expectantly by the grayish cast-iron horse trough and gazed somewhat sadly at the old homestead which had sheltered him for so many years. He knew that he was leaving  behind much that was dear to him. But the soberness of home-leaving soon gave way to his hunger for pioneering when he heard the muddled rumble of the approaching stage coach. Even as the driver unloosed the check-reins and the horses buried their velvety noses in the cool water, he flung his heavy bag onto the carrier deck and stepped excitedly into the dust-covered coach. Across the way a lone wisp of smoke floated skyward out of a kitchen chimney. The driver clucked vigorously to his horses and Allis headed northwest through the wooded hills toward the Erie Canal.

Twilight of the same day found him supping at a three-story lodge in Syracuse and his bulky bag already stowed deep in the nearby canal boat. It was a long, squatty, blunderbuss of a craft with a full-breasted prow and sufficient cabin space to support a small, upper promenade deck. With the morrow he would start the second leg of his long journey west; on a ribbon of calm waterway, winding prairie-ward to Lake Erie.

Early the next morning, before the sun had topped the silver maples, young Allis was gazing interestedly from the small deck as the horseman fastened the tow chain into the hame ring and the muscled dapple-gray bent to her share of the long pull; Buffalo, the new gateway to the great West lay over 150 miles ahead.

Two weeks later Allis was pacing the rounded deck of an oaken schooner bound for Detroit about 225 miles away, his brown cloth coat now somewhat bedraggled. Before they were opposite of what is now Cleveland, our young man had made many friends with his fellow passengers. Each nourished his or her own particular plan for the new territory ahead; all had those same healthy hopes so common to vigorous pioneers.

Then a short trip by small boat to Monroe, a brief forty miles to the south. Here a vehicle that was neither coach nor wagon carried him across a 180-mile stretch of southern Michigan to New Buffalo. Then rolling stage coach wheels to busy Chicago and hilly Wisconsin, the silvery expanse of broad Lake Michigan glistening at intervals on Allis’ right between dark clumps of evergreens or white rounded sand dunes. And then Milwaukee, his final destination; his home for the next forty-three years; the setting for a great industrial expansion in which he would play an all important part.

With Allis safely located in Milwaukee, we can now parallel the efforts of two other robust young men who believed that Milwaukee was destined to be something else beside a summer  camp for Pottawatomie Indians at Walker’s Point. These men were Charles Decker and James Seville.

At this time (1846) Milwaukee was considered about equal to Chicago in population and, on account of the expanding lake traffic, likely to take the lead. Seville didn’t overlook this point nor other lively prospects around him. As he said years before:

“On my arrival, I found A. J. Langworthy, Turton & Sercomb, and Nelson & McCracken the only mills in the region supplying flour and sawmill machinery; products greatly needed by the incoming settlers. The firm of Ludington & Company was acting as agents for machinery made by J. T. Noyes of Buffalo. The making of flour with steam-driven machinery was to come and bandsaws had yet to bite into the clean-smelling logs of virgin timber. I saw a splendid opening for good business and the chance to render a real service to my countrymen. I decided to look into the matter.”

To satisfy himself, and to see the country first-hand, Seville visited Chicago. He then scouted another segment of the new region by taking a French & Winkler stagecoach west to Galena near the Mississippi and back to Milwaukee. Soon afterward he entered the employ of Turton & Sercomb to gain a little practical experience; in the meantime, quietly studying his secret ambition.

During the early part of 1847, he accumulated a pile of tamarack poles from a swamp in the second ward, several rough boards from the Mabbett & Breed’s lumber yard, and commenced building at the corner of Cedar and West Water Streets. By the time his two-story structure was nearly completed, a supply of factory materials from New York was actually landed on the ground. Milwaukeeans had yet to learn what was afoot. Then came the announcement of the new concern of Decker & Seville, manufacturers of French burr millstones, and all kinds of stove, grist and saw-mill supplies… the taproot for the Allis-Chalmers to come.

But, like all ultimately going concerns, Decker & Seville had its discouragements. By 1856 the Civil War pot was commencing to simmer, business prospects started to fade, and months later the Panic of 1857 struck hard at the little millstone factory. It went bankrupt with many others keeping it company.

Meanwhile, our Mr. Allis had entered the leather business under the name Allis & Allen. In 1854 he quit this business and built a couple of tanneries near Two Rivers, Wisconsin, after which he joined up with Messrs. Nash & McGregory (brokers) ; this proved his stepping stone to Decker & Seville

In 1860 a sheriff with a handlebar moustache auctioned off the defunct millstone factory to Messrs. Allis, Nash & McGregory. The purchase included eleven unassuming acres of land at the corner of Florida and Clinton Streets which ultimately became the expansion point for the old Reliance Works of Allis-Chalmers. Mr. Allis was installed as manager of the new company called E.P. Allis & Company. In 1862 he bought out the share of Mr. McGregory and the firm took the name of Allis & Nash. In 1863 he bought out Mr. Nash, thus giving him complete charge, and the establishment was known as Edward P. Allis & Company for years thereafter.

By 1865 the former Decker & Seville plant was working day and night with a personnel of 150 men. Its business was growing rapidly and the old tamarack building was at last bulging with expansion. Allis decided to move the plant to his south-side property and building on that eleven-acre site started in 1866 (often spoken of as the old Reliance Works). the old Decker & Seville plant was split up into three parts and floated section by section on unpainted  barges down the Milwaukee River to its new location. There it was noisily assembled into a crude likeness of its former self.

From here the story is one of gradual development, consistent with the times. Yet, always back of each new machine, new department , or new expansion was a steadfast aim to build something that could be relied upon, something that would serve, a something that would permit mankind to live a little better as the world few older; this had been the underlying thought of James Seville in 1847; he lived to see the fulfillment of that dream.

Money Matters

President Obama made a comment how having women on U.S. currency “was a pretty good idea.” It got me thinking about who would be some good candidates, and it also got me looking into how our paper money has evolved. For example, how many of you knew that $500, $1,000, and even $100,000 bills were printed at one time?! Wow, if I had that big of bill in my wallet it would require an armed escort! The U.S. Treasury has some history about these large denominations. Apparently there are a few of these still floating around out there.

Back to the main point of this post. Which women in our nation’s history have earned a spot on our currency? Here is a list of a few I think would be good candidates and why. There are quite a few women that should be immortalized on our currency, but that would make for a very long post.

Jane Addams - Addams was a pioneer facing the issues of urbanization as a result of industrialization and immigration. Poverty and unsanitary living conditions were not uncommon in American cities. Addams established the Hull House in Chicago to address some of these issues. The organization offered schooling for young children, English classes, libraries and other activities for immigrants and the poor.

Clarissa “Clara” Barton- Barton was as brave as the soldiers of the Civil War. She risked her life to tend to the wounded and sick soldiers on the front during the war. When she was not tending to the wounded, Barton was also actively answering letters from families that were seeking information about missing soldiers. After the Civil War, she went to Europe and assisted the Red Cross there during the Franc0-Prussian War. This inspired her to start and run the American Red Cross, which she did from 1881 to 1904.

Harriet Beecher Stowe- Beecher Stowe was an important writer in 18th century America. Her most important and controversial publication was Uncle Tom’s Cabin that portrayed the evils of slavery. This book reflected her abolitionist views of slavery. The commotion her book stirred is said to have caused the Civil War. This is best reflected by what President Lincoln allegedly said to Beecher Stowe upon meeting her in 1862. “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.”

Francis Perkins- Perkins made history when she was the first woman to be appointed to the Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt. She was arguably the mastermind behind many  of the New Deal programs of FDR’s presidency; social security was being a major milestone. After her time as a cabinet member, she went on to teach about labor relations at Cornell University.

So there you have them! Just a few of the women I think should be on our currency. I know this has stirred up some debate about why the faces on our money would change. The fact of the matter is that faces have been changed on our money before. I look forward to seeing how our currency changes in the future. How do you feel about women being on money? What other women would be good candidates?

Camp 5 and the Lumberjack Steam Train

This past weekend our families got together in northern Wisconsin. It was a weekend of relaxation and fun at the lake. We spent some time out on the lake boating and swimming. My father-in-law, Dan, was the cook, and my father, Mitch, was the entertainment! It seems like whenever we visit the cottage we do some sort of history lesson. This time we paid a visit to the Camp 5 Logging Museum.

First off, I am a railroad fanatic. I have always been fascinated with the steam locomotives, so when we pulled up to the museum and an old steam locomotive was waiting by the station… I sort of lost it. I knew this was going to be a fun experience. You purchase your tickets at the ticket office in the old depot. The train takes you for a short ride over to the logging camp/farm. On our way out to the museum, the family piled into a vintage, wooden passenger car. With a few short blasts of the steam whistle, the train began to move down the track.

A few minutes later we arrived at Camp 5. What a neat little museum they have. There was a petting zoo, logging museum, blacksmith shop, general store, and a food shack. I was eager to learn some history about the logging industry in the area ( I had ancestors who were lumberjacks). They had a full spread of tools and equipment used by men in the camps, as well as some history of the company the camp was associated with. Molly was really excited to feed the animals at the petting zoo, so we spent $1 for a bag of oats to feed to the goats, donkey, and a calf.

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When we were done at the museum the train came to take us back. I chose to sit in the observation car ( formerly a cattle car) right behind the locomotive. A conductor yelled, “All Aboard,” and we were on our way. The locomotive gave a few long blasts of the whistle and began to hiss and chug. The black smoke billowed from the stack as we roared down the track. The smell of the burning coal was distinct, and it made me wonder what industrial cities like Oshkosh and Milwaukee once smelled like with all the coal-burning factories and locomotives. Tiny particles of soot rained down on us for a few moments. I did not mind it all. I figured it was all part of the experience.

Finally, we arrived at the depot. As we disembarked from the train, one of the engineers asked a five or six-year-old boy if he would like to blow the steam whistle. He must have been shy, because he opted out. I wonder what the engineer thought when a stocky, twenty-four-year-old guy came running up and anxiously asked if he could blow the steam whistle ( I was just a little excited ). After posing for a picture with Molly, I made my way up to the cab of the locomotive, and Dad, who was just as excited, was right there to watch. I latched on to the cord and gave two long blasts and then two short blasts of the steam whistle.  It was better than I imagined it would be. Wow, I got to blow the whistle of a steam locomotive. I can cross that off of my bucket list.

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Yours truly blowing the whistle

It was truly a fun day at Camp 5. If you are near Laona, Wisconsin, I would recommend it to anyone with small children. It is educational and hands on. Heck, I might even go back again someday for a chance to ride in the locomotive and blow the steam whistle again!

Faucet Fiasco

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Hello again to my blog followers! Sorry for my brief hiatus from blogging. Life has been super busy with Molly and I buying a house and moving. Now we are pretty much settled in and the work begins! There are so many things to tackle, but our first project is to fix our 1920s Crane shower faucet.

  Crane “Concorde” Shower Faucet (Bathroom Machineries)

This is a pre-war Crane “Concorde” shower valve. The shower handle is hard to turn and hot water was not coming out. My dad and I pulled everything apart to see what it looked like and try to fix it. Unfortunately, our attempt to fix the valve was futile. We bought some rubber washers hoping it would help, but it was not the right thickness to allow any water to flow. It’s been a bit of a hassle to locate info and parts on this model mixer valve. I found a place in Chicago called the Chicago Faucet Shoppe that carries the parts for this shower faucet.

I gave the company a call, but the news was not reassuring. Although I was able to get the parts I needed now, some of the parts were no longer available. I am afraid that if something else broke on it I would not be able fix it. Molly and I decided to just replace it with modern faucet. Yes, this was a hard decision for me to make. I loved this piece in our shower, but it is just not practical for us.

 

 

Oshkosh Luggage

Oshkosh Trunk

You never know the treasures you will run into each day. Last weekend I got my vintage stove that will be going in my new kitchen, and now this week I bought a suitcase made right here in Oshkosh. I was so stunned when I found a travel bag made in Oshkosh. So, once again, I had some history to discover.

The Oshkosh Trunk Company was started in 1902 and operated out of a factory on High St. The firm produced quality wardrobe trunks (exclusively). Its signature line of luggage called the “Chief” was styled with red and yellow striped canvas.  In 1927 the company began manufacturing smaller travel luggage. The Oshkosh Trunk Company was acquired by Plotkin Brothers, a Chicago firm, in 1939. The Plotkin Brothers owned several other luggage companies, and added Oshkosh Trunk Company to add quality luggage to its product line. After the merger the Oshkosh company’s name was changed to Oshkosh Trunk and Luggage Company. The company fell on hard times, and the Oshkosh factory was closed in 1961.

Oshkosh Trunk Company (Oshkosh Public Library)

Too bad my suitcase was not the “Chief” line with red and yellow stripes, but I can keep a lookout for one. The plan is to turn this piece of luggage into a craft box for my wife’s sewing and knitting supplies. Another interesting tidbit I found while doing this search was how the “Chief” is making a comeback in small handbags. Apparently someone was inspired by this high-quality line of luggage with the slogan that boasted, “There is none finer.”

 

Our New Old Stove

GE Kitchen

My wife and I are in the process of purchasing a home. The kitchen is decked out with steel cabinets, which is really retro but awesome! When we went and toured the home I noticed that the modern electric range had some significant gaps between the cabinets on each side. The realtor explained that the old stove had been removed by previous owners. I never really gave it any thought. I looked up some old kitchen appliance brochures, just to see what late 1940s early 1950s kitchens looked like.  I showed my wife and said it would have been sort of neat to have the original stove in the kitchen. Well, good things come to those who wait.

While visiting my in-laws in Milwaukee I acquired one of these vintage stoves by chance. My father-in-law’s friend was also visiting from Portland; he used to live in Milwaukee. We told him about our new house and the vintage kitchen. He told me that the house he wants to sell has an old GE stove in it and we could have it. Sometimes I cannot believe how these opportunities come along. We went over and checked it all over, and the stove is absolutely amazing.

The only mystery I had to solve was the year and model name of this range. I had a category number (C-32) and serial number(7888101) that I found in the oven. One would think that a Google search would muster some answers. This was not an easy task! I found other models of GE ranges but nothing that matched this model. I sort of put this quest on the back burner, but tonight I found my answer! I asked myself, who would know more about GE appliances than GE!? I gave the GE hotline a ring (1-800-626-2005) and asked the customer service representative. I am sure not too many people are calling up this hotline asking about info on ancient appliances. Nonetheless, she was able to tell me that my electric stove was from 1950. She was not able to find out what the name of the model was (Stratoliner, Liberator, Airliner, etc). The search went on!

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With very little information available, I decided to go through Newspaperarchive.com and find some answers. I narrowed my years to 1950, and I did a search for “GE Electric Range” in all newspapers. I finally got the results I was looking for. It turns out this model is the GE “Astroliner” electric range. There was no indication of that on the unit itself, but the advertisement I found matches the appearance of our range and the model C-32 I found in the oven door.

I cannot wait to get this oven in our new house once we move in! It will be one step closer to being the original retro kitchen. Maybe a retro refrigerator will be installed one day. How many of my readers remember having or still have one of these old units? What brand do you use?