Allis-Chalmers Betatron Lab

 

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Every now and then I learn something new about Allis-Chalmers. One of those new tidbits I have recently discovered is the betatron lab the company had at the West Allis Works. Last year I had the opportunity to step inside this old testing lab and see some of the equipment left behind. The machine was essentially a giant X-ray used to inspect for imperfections in the large components made in the foundry. This was housed in a small concrete lab on the factory grounds.

A site was chosen on a bluff on the northeast side of the complex where the foundry dumped waste sand. It was close enough for equipment to be hauled in by rail and truck but also far enough away to avoid interference from ground vibrations caused by factory presses and hammers. The building was finished and operational in September of 1952 and cost $342,000. The company said that the cost of the betatron lab was recouped in less than a year from savings earned from inspecting equipment for quality and precision.

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The walls of the “L” shaped x-ray bay were constructed with steel reinforced concrete walls that were 6 feet thick and 20 feet high. Approximately 1000 cubic yards of concrete were used. The bay had a 25-ton bridge crane that moved components into position and then reloaded them on trailers or rail cars. The 22 million volt betatron hung suspended from a 7.5-ton bridge crane that allowed the unit to be moved around the entire work space. It could raised 20 feet above the floor, rotated 360 degrees around and tilted 170 degrees. In addition to the testing bay, the building had several other rooms for the testing processes. The control room housed the equipment that operated the giant x-ray behind the thick concrete walls. There was also a darkroom and viewing room that processed the film. Other areas included the electrical equipment room, storage, offices and wash rooms.

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Safety was one of the major components that went into designing and building the lab. The thick concrete structure shielded workers inside and out from the radiation exposure. Safety switches and warning devices were put in place to protect technicians from accidental exposure. After testing was completed, workers tested the lab with radiation meters to ensure no radiation escaped from the bay.

Allis-Chalmers made other betatron units for medical use in cancer treatment. Just another fine example of the sophisticated products the great Milwaukee manufacturer had a hand in.

Last Off Line

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There are certain objects you can own that give you bragging rights in a community of enthusiasts. Maybe you have a rare painting signed by the artist or a campaign poster signed by a beloved U.S. president. In the Allis-Chalmers tractor community there are a few tractors that come with bragging rights: A prototype tractor,  a first or last tractor of a production run, or one of the very early tractors–before they were orange! One tractor that I consider to be a shrine is the Allis-Chalmers 6070, but more specifically the model 6070 with serial number 1972. This tractor is the same mechanically as any other 6070 that rolled down the line at the West Allis Works that was assembled, started, and tested by workers of UAW Local 248. What sets this particular tractor apart from others is its mark in that company’s history. No other tractor came after it, because on December 6, 1985, that tractor closed the book on 71 years of Allis-Chalmers tractors.

The tractor, until just recently, was part of the Don Fenetti Allis-Chalmers collection in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Don was a truck driver and hauled tractors out of the West Allis Works. His connections with the company led him to acquire this astounding piece of history. Don passed away in 2009 and left this massive collection behind. I was fortunate to have been able to get a tour (twice) from one of his nephews. It was an Allis-Chalmers paradise. Don took very good care of his tractors, and he had them all restored and in tip-top shape. I had always heard of this collection, but Menomonie is a few hours drive from where I live. This past year I learned that his collection was going to be auctioned off, so I knew I had limited time to see this 6070.

My wife and I were heading to Minneapolis for a wedding, and I called ahead to see if I could arrange to see the tractor. I called the farm–no answer. So I left a message hoping I could arrange to see this tractor. A few days went by and I didn’t hear anything. We went to Minneapolis to the wedding and I still had heard nothing. Finally, around the time the dance started my phone rang and it was one of Don’s nephews. He said that he would be more than happy to show me the tractors. I was overjoyed. I would finally be able to see this tractor collection that had the holy grail of all AC tractors. We stopped in the next day on our way home. Nothing prepared me for what was in those sheds. These were some of the sharpest looking AC tractors that I have ever laid eyes on.

We made our way through the long line of tractors. Finally, I saw the tractor I had always read about…the last one. It was right there in front of me. This was the tractor in the photos from the plant that day where factory workers posed for a photo with their last piece of work, and where two men shook hands at the back of the tractor as it continued down the line with a large sign that read, “That’s All Folks, The End.” The original slow-moving vehicle sign was still perched on the back with the inscription “Last Off Line Hold 12/6” still as dark and bold as the day it left the factory. In the tractor world, the authenticity of a tractors age is told by the serial number. In this case, the number is proof that this is in fact the last AC 6070 and the last tractor made. There is no doubt about it! The name “Deutz-Allis 6070” on the hoods reminds us enthusiasts of the 1984 buyout by German tractor maker Deutz-Fahr. If one where to peel that sticker back, the name “ALLIS-CHALMERS ” would be revealed. Not only did I get to see this machine, I got to sit in it! It was one of those bucket list items I could now cross off of my list. I was so thankful that I got to see it, and wished my dad and brother could have been there. I told my tour guide the story of how my dad, brother and I got interested in AC tractors. He said I was welcome to come back with them for a tour.

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Fast forward a month and I was on my way to the 25th annual Orange Spectacular in Hutchinson, Minnesota for the BIGGEST Allis-Chalmers show in the United States. It had been a few years since our last trip there, but Dad, Adam, Dan (my father-in-law) and I were on our way to the show. On our way home after an incredible weekend, we stopped by the farm again for a tour. The guys were impressed. We had taken in a lot of orange tractors the previous day, but this was above and beyond. They were as amazed as I was the first time I saw all of them. Then we came to the 6070 again. It sent chills down my spine again. It made me think about the guys that built these things for a living. What was going through their minds as they built this tractor? It was essentially their pink slip moving down the assembly line. How could a company so big that made so many different things (tractors was just a fraction of what they made) go bankrupt?! I was glad to see it again and take it in. I think I appreciated it a bit more with the guys with me.

The Fenetti Auction closed today, and all of these tractors went for high dollars–as I figured they would. The 6070 went for a sum of $46,000 which is nearly double of what the machine priced at brand new. I am not sure who got it, but I am sure they bleed as much orange as Don Fenetti did. I think all the people in the AC community are holding their breath hoping it is going to a good home. I know it will. Seeing that particular tractor will be one of those memories that I will look back on with a big grin and cherish.

Winnebago County Courthouse Preservation: Part I

Winnebago County Courthouse 1938

Winnebago County Courthouse 1938

I’ve been keeping myself busy these past few months with all sorts of historical projects and am finally getting a chance to blog again. I would say a lot of people out there go to work, put in their time, and punch out at the end of the day. Lately, my line of work has me clocking in volunteer hours after work–but I am ecstatic about it!

I have been working hard to help with some historic preservation of the Winnebago County Courthouse in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Ever since starting work with the county, I’ve fallen in love with this Art Deco monument. It was built during the Great Depression without federal or state relief funds and cost nearly 1 million dollars. It’s breathtaking to step inside and take in the style and beauty of a different era.

One of the items on our “To Do” list is locating some of the original light fixtures in the building. Our courthouse was fitted with many bronze light fixtures. Some were very big, beautiful, ornate  fixtures. Unfortunately, most of these lights were removed during renovations that happened in the 1960s and 1970s. Fortunately, someone had the sense to rescue some of these fixtures giving us a chance to obtain them, but we are looking for some others that may be out there yet.

Lights Obtained

  • Stairway Light
  • Branch IV (1 of 6)
  • Branch III (1 of 6)

Lights Needed

  • Branch II/County Board Room
  • 2nd Floor Lobby
  • Hallway Lights ( unsure of what these look like )
  • Various Office Lights

I am looking for any information about these lights. Perhaps you know where some of them went or have a better picture of them. We are also seeking information on the manufacturer that made them. We do know that Keil & Werner Electric of Neenah supplied the light fixtures. The county has the spec books for the construction project, unfortunately there are no known blueprints or specs on these lights–the specs just labeled them as “special” fixtures. As you can see, the Branch III and Branch IV lights have seen better days. I am currently looking into the feasibility/cost have restoring these light fixtures.

In addition to these light fixtures, the courthouse also had 9 bronze drinking fountains in the public spaces. These fountains suffered the same fate as the light fixtures–replaced with modern equipment. Wouldn’t it be great to have at least one of these old drinking fountains back in the building?!

The search continues for these missing components of the courthouse. We hope little by little we will be able to bring them home. The 2nd floor stairway light was recently acquired by the Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society and donated back to Winnebago County to be placed back in the stairway of the courthouse. It is scheduled to be put up sometime in the next few months.

 

Allis-Chalmers Greendale Research Facility

In 1958, Allis-Chalmers announced that it would build a research laboratory for development and testing of nuclear technology. The 30-acre site chosen was a few miles south of West Allis in the village of  Greendale, Wisconsin, a planned community built during the Great Depression. The facility consisted of 2 main structures totaling 27,000 square feet* of space for labs, office areas, and a machine shop and staffed by 200 employees. (1) The laboratory was up and running by 1959, and scientists at the laboratory were able to conduct Wisconsin’s very first nuclear reaction in a model reactor they built. (2)

The company’s need for an advanced research facility can be traced back to Allis-Chalmers’ work with the Manhattan Project during World War II. The Hawley Plant, built at the West Allis Works, housed operations for filling wartime orders–one being equipment that helped build the first atom bomb. Management at Allis-Chalmers could see the peaceful uses of atomic energy for the future. (3)

Interior of facility at Argonne National Laboratory –notice AC logo at lower left.(Will Davis-atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com)

In October 1954, the company was awarded a contract by the Atomic Energy Commission to build equipment for an experimental reactor at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago.  The scientists at the laboratory built the reactor components, and Allis-Chalmers designed and built the power systems. (4) This was one of several AC nuclear energy projects. It’s work in the nuclear field prompted the company to establish a nuclear power division and erect the facility in Greendale.

Fuel Cell Testing Courtesy of West Allis Historical Society)

Fuel Cell Testing (Courtesy of West Allis Historical Society

)In 1959, Allis-Chalmers introduced a tractor powered by fuel cells–the first vehicle of its kind. This breakthrough launched the company into another field of advanced technology. Soon scientists and engineers with the company were building fuel cell components that powered golf carts, submarines, forklifts, and space equipment for NASA.  The U.S. Military began ordering millions of dollars worth of fuel cell equipment for military projects. (5)

Greendale Expansion Project 1966 (Courtesy of West Allis Historical Society

)In 1966, Allis-Chalmers announced that the Greendale facility would be expanded to include the fuel cell technology. Work on fuel cells had been done at the West Allis Works and a lab in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (north of West Allis). The addition to the Greendale complex was roughly 20,000 square feet**. About 500 employees worked at the Greendale facility on both the fuel cell and atomic energy programs at Allis-Chalmers. (6)

Despite relative success in the fields, Allis-Chalmers shut down these branches of the company. Management divested in the nuclear testing program in 1966. The government canceled its contracts for fuel cell equipment as interest in the space program waned. As a result, Allis-Chalmers laid off workers and eventually shut down that program as well. By the early 1970s, the Greendale facility sat vacant.

 

 


(1) MKE Sentinel 01/7/1958
(2) MKE Sentinel 11/13/1959
(3)An Industrial Heritage-pg 350
(4)MKE Sentinel 10/8/1954
(5)Fuel Cell Accomplishments of Allis-Chalmers Research Division. Box 8, Folder 41 “Fuel Cell Technology, Allis Chalmers Corporation Files. Milwaukee County Historical Society
(6)MKE Journal 01/10/1966

*Figures announced in a press release said 23,000 sq/ft, but company information shows 27,000 sq/ft.

** Figures announced in a press release said 32,000 sq/ft, but company information shows 20,000 sq/ft.

 

Our Adventure in Manitowoc

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Molly and I have been suffering from cabin fever like most Wisconsinites this time of year. We decided to hit the road and travel to Manitowoc for some fun. Molly wanted to check out a new yarn store that just opened, and I wanted to visit the Wisconsin Maritime Museum  along the lakeshore.

We planned our trip just at the right time. Manitowoc was celebrating Ice on 8th (8th Street is the main commercial district.) Locals came out and carved ice sculptures all along the sidewalks. There were also a few other activities planned during the festival. We explored the stores and even bought a few souvenirs. We had to stop a local coffee shop for some warm drinks–the air was nippy that day!

After our adventure of shopping, we headed down 8th Street to the Courthouse Pub across the street from the county courthouse. It was a super-sweet little brewpub! I ordered some of their craft beer and it was refreshing! If you go for lunch, Molly and I recommend ordering their delicious Judge’s Burger. They serve some great food and drinks in a fun setting.

After lunch, we headed down to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. We got there just in time to take a tour of the submarine USS Cobia. The Cobia is a Gato-class submarine built during World War II. While the Cobia was not built in Manitowoc, it is similar to 28 other Gato-class submarines built at the local shipyard.  The Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company employed some 7,000 people during the war to build these vessels. Upon completion, the submarines were tested in Lake Michigan and then were taken down to the Gulf of Mexico on barges in the cover of night.

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I think Molly really enjoyed the tour. It was something different for her–this was my third time in the submarine.  We headed back in the museum to see the rest of the exhibits. They had model boats, a triple expansion steam engine, and a great collection of sail and motor boats.

What I enjoy the most is when the stories of the men and women are brought to life. Before walking into the USS Cobia exhibit, there were little postcards that had a picture, name, background, and a story about a sailor that served on the vessel. It’s great when the personal stories tied in with the artifact.  You can go into this ship and learn all about the mechanics and specs of the ship. But it is the stories of the young men that risked their lives in these vessels to serve their country that makes it an interesting and lasting history. If it was not for them the ship would just be a floating piece of metal.

Have you visited the USS Cobia? What were your impressions? What did you think of the rest of the exhibits?

Winnebago County’s Struggle to Save a Courthouse

The original courthouse as it appeared in 1944

The original courthouse as it appeared in 1944

At the end of  my previous post about the construction of the first Winnebago County courthouse, I briefly mentioned the attempt to save the structure. This venture never worked out, and the original building that stood for 100 years was dismantled. I thought it was important to tell a bit of the story of how a local organization, the organization that I am now the vice president of, attempted to preserve this landmark.

In 1938, the citizens of Winnebago County had just erected a new “million dollar” courthouse on the corner of Algoma Boulevard and what was then called Jackson Drive. The courthouse prior to this stood on the old county grounds between Otter and Ceape streets. As the move from old building to new took place, something needed to be done with the old property. The County Board voted 31 to 10 in favor to accept an offer from the City of Oshkosh to purchase the land and buildings for $8,000. A year later the county’s second courthouse was razed.(1)

A few blocks away, the original courthouse built sometime around 1849 was also standing. Nearly 100 years later it was used as a warehouse by the Marquart Millwork Company on Ceape Street.  Around 1944, the Winnebago Historical and Archeological Society considered the idea of saving the structure. The building was in poor shape and deemed a fire hazard. The society did not want to lose this historic building, so mill owners gave the building to the organization. In 1947, the building was successfully moved off the mill site and relocated to the original courthouse grounds owned by the city. The historical society was assisted by the county board and the city in moving the structure. The local newspaper expressed the historical society intentions to repair and preserve the old courthouse:

Designation of the original courthouse as an historical shrine will await repairs and improvements to the structure. An early fall program is contemplated by the Winnebago County Archeological Society (sic) at which time dedication exercises will be conducted in a public ceremony. ( July 10, 1947, Oshkosh Daily Northwestern)

The society had high hopes of restoring the building as a historical attraction in time for the state centennial in 1948.(2)20151218_023542058_iOS

An idea was proposed to have the County Board appropriate $5,000 towards the restoration. After all, it was connected to the county and would be a point of historical interest for visitors. Unfortunately, a majority vote was not reached and the motion failed.One of the opponents to funding the restoration said that the city should help pay for the cost of repairs.(3)

Suddenly the situation began to deteriorate. Herbert Wenzlaff, an alderman of the Eight Ward, proposed the building be demolished. The society was not making progress on the restoration, and the city grew impatient. Time and money were hindering the progress of the restoration.(4)

The society was desperately seeking donations to save the building. They asked that citizens help fund the preservation the  same way it had been built–through public donations. By March 1949, the common council voted that the historical society must have the courthouse moved or it would be demolished. The council stated that the historical society had “failed and neglected to meet the terms and conditions of the lease and the building is still in an unsightly condition.” The society was given 30 more days to do something with the old building. (5)

After the 30-day delay, nothing was done to move or improve the building. Despite this, the historical society once again came to the council in April 1949 and said they had secured a building contractor that would complete the restoration in about five weeks. The society asked for a 90-day extension to do so, which the council rejected. In May 1949, the society came back again asking for only a 60-day extension and that the exterior would be improved in that time. Again, the common council rejected the proposal and stuck to its original order to remove or dismantle the building.(6)

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On May 10, 1949, the city began dismantling the courthouse board by board and placed the pieces in storage. I am sure that shortly thereafter the materials were disposed of. The land on which the building sat was converted into city parking spaces. I am not sure why the historical society did not just move the building, which the council said they could do. Instead, Winnebago’s first courthouse was lost to history.(7)

Courthouse as it appeared before demolition (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

Courthouse as it appeared before demolition (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

It is a shame that this courthouse was unable to be saved. It is a common struggle we see today–old buildings being leveled to make room for parking lots. At least an effort was put forward to try to save this structure. Preservationists back then saw the historical significance and made an attempt. I think there were important people who did not see the importance of saving landmarks. In addition to strong support, there was some strong opposition that stated the public should not be paying for somebody else’s hobby–implying that historical preservation was not a necessity.  Had the building not been placed on government property, or if the society would have made a last ditch effort to move it, we may still have had this structure today.


 

(1) ODN 10/7/1937
(2) ODN 5/24/1947
(3) ODN 3/10/1948
(4) ODN 5/3/1948
(5) ODN 3/8/1949
(6) ODN 5/3/1949
(7)ODN 5/14/1949

 

Book Review

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, what a book! This should be a required read in schools. This changes my entire outlook on the Holocaust. Not only were innocent individuals slaughtered during the second world war, but they were murdered before and after the war. Stalin and Hitler both had twisted justifications for what they did. It really hit home when Snyder reminds us that these people need to be remembered for more than just a victim or a number. Each and every one of them had a life and a story– they were humans.

View all my reviews