Allis-Chalmers Fuel Cell Tractor

Farm technology is a constant evolving industry. I think about how much the farm has evolved in one hundred years. In 1915 fields were plowed and planted with teams of horses; grains were brought from the field to be threshed on the dooryard; milking a small herd of cows was done by hand. Today, farming is all but computerized. Thousands of dairy cows are milked systematically in robotic dairy operations. Thousands of acres can be planted with equipment that uses high-tech instruments for precision planting. Tractors have gotten larger, powerful, and loaded with additional features. A futuristic innovation that Allis-Chalmers engineers pioneered in back in the late 1950s has made a comeback in the farm scene–the fuel cell tractor.

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Allis-Chalmers Fuel Cell Tractor (History Wired)

On October 16, 1959, engineers from the AC Research Division unveiled a prototype fuel cell tractor at its proving grounds just outside of West Allis.It was built on the D10/D12 tractor chassis but had little resemblance to it. It had a bulky, box-like appearance. Three large panels covered the complex system of fuel cells where an engine would normally be. The operator sat dwarfed behind the giant fuel cell unit. The dash panel was packed with gauges and meters to monitor the chemical process and electric current. To the left of the operator were levers to control the current (for speed) and polarity of the current (for forward or reverse). Oxygen tanks were secured beneath the tractor, and a propane tank was behind the driver seat. It was a one-of-a-kind tractor.

The vehicle was powered by a 112 units of 9 cells in each, making a total of 1008 fuel cells in all. The chemical reaction between propane gas, hydrogen-oxygen, and an electrolyte in the cells produced an electrical current that powered the 20 hp electric motor. The fuel cell’s total electrical output was 15 kilowatts.It produced a clean by-product during the chemical reaction–water and carbon dioxide. The tractor weighed in at 5270 pounds and had up to 3000 pounds of drawbar pull.In addition, the tractor was silent while in operation.

Fuel Cell Process

Although Allis-Chalmers did not invent the fuel cell, it had been around for many years, the company was the first to build a vehicle powered by one. It’s fuel cell tractor was far too expensive to put into production, but It was a stepping stone that launched the company into a new line of products. Allis-Chalmers developed fuel cells for NASA’s space program, and the U.S. Military also contracted some experimental fuel cell equipment. Sadly, the company discontinued the division and sold it to Teledyne Corporation. Allis-Chalmers made the announcement in December 1970, that the loss of major contracts was the reason it had to cut funding.

After its tests were conducted, Allis-Chalmers donated the fuel cell tractor to the Smithsonian. The tractor is currently being loaned to the McLeod County Historical Society in Hutchinson, Minnesota, for display. If you attend the annual Orange Spectacular in that city be sure to take a quick detour to see this piece of technological history.

 

Wendel, C. H., and George H. Dammann. 1988. The Allis-Chalmers story. Sarasota, Fla: Crestline Pub.
Swinford, Norm. 1994. Allis-Chalmers farm equipment, 1914-1985. St. Joseph, Mich: American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
Peterson, Walter Fritiof, and C. Edward Weber. 1978. An industrial heritage, Allis-Chalmers Corporation. Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Historical Society.
Fuel Cell Paces Power- Allis-Chalmers publication

AC Drafting Table

About 6 years ago I had the opportunity to acquire an awesome piece of AC history that I couldn’t pass up. We restored a Farmall M for an implement dealership, and the gentleman who set up the restoration said he had a piece of Allis-Chalmers history I might be interested in. He showed me these pictures of a drafting table from the Allis-Chalmers factory in West Allis.

I think I paid $70 for it. I have actually never seen it put together. I got it home and it went into the rafters in my folks’ garage. Seems silly, but it is a big piece of furniture! My plan was always to set it up once I got a place of my own, which is what is going to happen now. I think it would be fun to get a blueprint of a tractor or other part that AC drafted to display it on the drafting board side. Once in a while an AC blueprint will show up on Ebay, but maybe AGCO Corp would be able to help me out.

This drafting table is a May-O-Matic built by Mayline in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The company began in 1939 specializing in drafting tables, blueprint files, and straightedges. I contacted the company to ask if they have any record or information about this desk. Unfortunately, the company does not because of its age; However, they were able to tell me this:

We don’t have a great deal of information to pass along.  The drawer pull was used until the late ‘70s, at least until 1977.  We do not have a record of how many Allis Chalmers bought, but I would imagine they had quite a large engineering department back then.

Like the Mayline representative said, Allis-Chalmers had a huge engineering department; which makes me wonder what happened to all the others when the place cleared out? I am pretty fortunate and happy that I acquired this piece. Once I get this all set up I will be sure to share some pictures of it.

 

Intercity Rail Through the Fox Valley?

(Streamliner Memories)

It has been over 40 years since the last passenger train roared down the rails in the Fox Valley. The Chicago & North Western’s 400s were among the last to offer intercity rail service between Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay. The popularity of the automobiles and airlines put rail travel in peril. Private railroad companies had to cut back or discontinue passenger rail service to save money. Congress responded with the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 that established the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) to continue passenger rail service where private companies could not. However, the Fox Valley would not be serviced by Amtrak.

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There is new hope for passenger rail service in our area! According the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Connections 2030 plan for the Fox Valley Corridor, an intercity passenger rail network could be a reality in near future. A line from Chicago to Green Bay with stops in West Bend, Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Neenah, and Appleton would be included. Can you imagine the use this stretch would have? The rail service would be heavily used during Packer games. It could also be potentially helpful for cities like Oshkosh that have major events during the year. Interstate 41 is heavily traveled and helps the west side of town. The railroad could help spur some tourism to Oshkosh’s downtown area.

Early 20th Century

Oshkosh’s Train Station

I am not sure if this plan died along with the high-speed rail project, but I think the Fox Valley deserves a passenger train again. It could be good to the communities it would serve, and it could relieve some traffic on the roads. Maybe former railroad depots could once again be used as stations.I think a lot of work would have to be done to add additional tracks to keep the trains running on time. Have you been on Amtrak? Where did you go and how did you like it? Do you think intercity passenger trains would be a good investment in the Fox Valley Corridor?

Better By Design: A Century of Allis-Chalmers Tractors

AC 49

Wow, what a fun experience speaking at the West Allis Historical Society fall banquet about Allis-Chalmers tractors. I met a few people with some great stories about  the company. I had a great time preparing my presentation and sharing it. So, I thought ahead and recorded the event for you, my follower, to hear. I also linked to my Prezi presentation to scroll through and follow along. Enjoy!

 

 

Speaking Event

BBD

I have a big talk coming up in 2 weeks! The West Allis Historical Society contacted me about a month ago about giving a talk about Allis-Chalmers tractors at the fall banquet. How could I turn it down?! What an honor to go to the city named after the company that was its center and talk about the tractors! I have been working hard on a Prezi presentation. I plan to give an overview of the tractor line history, innovations, and the making of an AC tractor. I joke with my wife, Molly, that I have to take a subject that I could talk about for hours and narrow it down into 20-30 minutes. If you are interested in attending the event contact the WAHS for tickets ($20 each) to the banquet. It is being held at on Monday, October 20th from 5:30-6:30 pm at the Knights of Columbus Hall (contact the historical society for more details).  For those of you unable to attend, I am going to attempt to record the talk and post it on the blog sometime after that Monday. I will also include a copy of my Prezi for viewing. I am looking forward to this fun opportunity!