Allis-Chalmers Factory Complexes

I live and breathe Allis-Chalmers history. The story of the industrial giant, that was once headquartered in Milwaukee, has attracted many other followers and enthusiasts like myself. The story of the company’s achievements and innovation is worth studying. I have set out to locate and document the locations of some of the factories, ones that were once operated by the firm, across the world using Google Maps. Consulting books, newspapers and fellow Allis-Chalmers enthusiasts I was able to pinpoint and mark out the exact locations of a few of these old complexes, but I still have many more to go.

Using the map below you can examine the locations of Allis-Chalmers’ old complexes (these are a few I have listed so far). Some remain  and stand as a reminder of the once huge firm, while others have been long decimated to make way for new industry.

Because it would take a long time to put all the information into one posting, I have decided to break up the information into segments about each of these locations.

West Allis

#1 West Allis Works- Headquarters

I have been to the West Allis Works in West Allis, Wisconsin (a suburb of Milwaukee). There are still quite a few buildings left from the days it was occupied by Allis-Chalmers. The old factory grounds are located on South 70th Street, just off of I-94 East exit 307A.

An old comic book, put out by Allis-Chalmers, from the 1950s includes brief overview of the West Allis Works. That complex was built in 1901 when the E.P Allis Reliance Works, Fraser & Chalmers Manufacturing Co, Dickson Manufacturing Co. and the Gates Iron Works merged to form the Allis-Chalmers Company. In order meet the demand for their products, the company moved out of its cramped Milwaukee lot and relocated west of Milwaukee near Greenfield. The community would rename itself “West Allis” after the company that setup headquarters there.

In this publication it was stated that the plant stood on 160 acres and maintained a workspace of over 4,100,000 feet of floor space in the sprawling complex. The factory employed 15,000 of the total 41,000 (at that time) workers of the entire Allis-Chalmers firm. To get their product out, the complex contained 21 miles of railroad tracks and 5 miles of roads. The West Allis Works was the largest of all the A-C factory complexes at that time.

When you visit this place, you get the sense of how massive of an operation the place really was. Above a retail store that is standing there now, a Pawling & Harnischfeger crane remains as a reminder of the big things that were made by the firm and the equipment that was used to move them.

It was in the main foundry, where massive heavy equipment was cast, that Allis-Chalmers claimed that 80,000 tons of metal would be melted and cast into parts that could weigh as much as 135 tons. Large objects, after being cast, were shaped and formed in massive 2,500 pound press machines. Automated machines and conveyors made and transported cast tractor parts from start to finish before being assembled as a tractor.

Elsewhere in the factory, Allis-Chalmers boasted having “the largest position welding table in the western hemisphere.” The firm also had a X-ray machine, powered by 24 million volts, that could examine their metal products and detect any irregularities or flaws on a piece of metal up to 24 inches thick.

Allis Chalmers made so many different pieces of intricately design pieces of machinery and heavy equipment. Everything from steam turbines & components, parts for crushers in mining industries and massive rotors for electric motors ( Allis-Chalmers claimed they built the largest rotor being fitted for a 3,600hp motor).

Other important machines and components built at Allis-Chalmers were generators, transformers, steam & hydraulic turbines and condensers, all of which would help power plants produce electricity for people all around the world. Electric equipment, both indoor, outdoor, high voltage and low voltage switch gears and control units were also built at the West Allis Works.

Another product built at the factory, the one that got me interested in the firm’s history, was the Allis-Chalmers tractor. The company got involved in the farm tractor business in 1913. They gained a reputation for some of the key innovations of farm equipment including pneumatic tires, power-shift adjustable wheels, turbo charged diesel engines on tractors and more. The Allis-Chalmers tractor line was most noted for its bright orange-colored tractors, a color that was said to be inspired by a flower.

D-17’s on tractor assembly line

The West Allis Works of the Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co. was a huge industrial complex that put out some intricately designed and manufactured goods. Though the firm was great in size and was profitable, it was no match for the recession the 1980s brought in. Management began selling branches of the firm to prevent economic loss, but all attempts were futile. The firm filed chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1987 and on January 29, 1989 the factory officially shut down, except for a few office workers. In 1999 the rest of the complex was closed and Allis-Chalmers’ legacy came to an end.

* Information from: A better tomorrow begins today at Allis-Chalmers: The story of a great company. (1950s) produced for Allis-Chalmers by Johnstone and Cushing of N.Y.C.

“Makeup for a Tractor”

“Makeup for a Tractor”

WE of Allis-Chalmers-March/April 1946

Orange paint is sprayed onto A-C tractor by Norman Haney. A spray gun is used and two men spray each tractor.


It takes four minutes for two men armed with spray guns to put on a tractor’s “makeup.” The smooth, shiny coat of Persian orange paint the spraymen apply makes A-C tractors look like slabs of sunshine as they roll off the West Allis assembly line at the rate of 150 each day to farms and industrial plants throughout the world.  Similar painting processes are carried on at all A-C tractor branch plants.

Orange paint was adopted in 1928 as the color most suitable for A-C products after a series of color tests were made in various locales with different backgrounds. It was discovered that orange equipment could always be easily distinguished from the surrounding countryside even though the machine might be covered with dust and dirt from the fields.  Prior to this, from 1919 to 1928, A-C had painted tractors deep green with yellow striping.

Before it is paint sprayed, each tractor gets a shower bath in a 35ft. long chamber. Edward J. Kau puts a protectorate over the tail light as tractor proceeds into rinsing chamber.

The first step in painting a tractor is to prepare it for the spraying operation.  To produce a successful paint job, all the grease and dust which has accumulated on the parts during their journey along the assembly line must be washed off completely. This is done by giving the tractor a shower bath in a chamber about 35 feet long. Sprays shoot out from the sides, top, and floor of this chamber so that the bath will be a thorough one. The tractor is washed in the first half of the area and rinsed in the second half. Two tanks provide treated waters for the operation. One contains a washing solution composed of compounds to cut grease; the other holds a rinsing solution of Sodium Chromate to prevent rust formations. Warm water, about 130˚ to 140˚, is used. The tractor is cleansed and rinsed in this area for about 15 minutes.

WATER BLOWN OFF

When the washing phase is completed, the tractor proceeds automatically into the next area where the water is blown off by two men using air hoses. Excess water that cannot be blown off using the hose is wiped off by hand. Cup goggles are furnished [to] the men for their protection during this operation. Now, the tractor is ready to be sprayed and moves on to the spray booths.

Llyial Hagen (Left) and Earl Wambold use air hoses on tractor to blow off water from shower bath. Excess water that cannot be blown off using hose is wiped off by hand. The tractor must be thoroughly dried before it can be paint sprayed.

It looks like a very easy process to spray a tractor, but in reality the job is a difficult one, for the paint must be sprayed onto the tractor anatomy at certain angles depending upon which particular part or portion is being sprayed. If the paint is not applied properly, it will tend to become thick or runny. It takes about one gallon of paint to spray a “B” or “C” model tractor and about one and one-half gallons to cover a “WF” or “WC” model. Sprays vary, according to the individual preference of the painter, although it takes 20 pounds of pressure to force the paint from the drum into the spray gun, and approximately 70 pounds of pressure in the gun to break up the paint into small particles for spray painting purposes.

About 1,250 gallons of paint are used each week. The paint comes in 50-52 gallon drums and must be thinned to make it adaptable for spraying purposes. Best results are obtained if the paint is kept at a 70˚ temperature.

Two men spray each tractor. They wear canvas gloves, coveralls, and chemical cartridge respirators. The respirator protects the painters from the solvent fumes used in paint and also from small particles of paint which may not have been eliminated through the regular exhaust system, although this system is more than adequate. These particles are most likely to be encountered when the sprayman is bending over to reach the lower sections of the tractor. Each day the sprayman receives a cleaned, sterile respirator from the Personal Protective Equipment Headquarters.

PAINT SALVAGED

On the side wall of the spraying booth there is a constant stream of water, resembling a waterfall, to absorb the paint fumes. From this miniature falls, a pool is formed at the edge of the booth which catches excess paint that misses the tractor. From atop this pool, the paint can be salvaged by scooping it up and reprocessing it into more paint to be used for safety lines, skids, etc. There are about 100 gallons of paint sludge removed from here each week. Thus the circulating waters have a double purpose.

Raymond D. Anderson is thinning paint to make it suitable for spraying purposes. The paint comes in 50-52 gallon drums and is kept at 70˚ temperature.

After the paint has been applied, the tractor moves into the drying oven, a cave-like affair, 85 feet long. Inside, the tractors bask for 30 minutes in temperatures that reach 180˚ to 200˚ when the tractor reaches the center of the oven. The temperature is regulated according to the model of the tractor and the rate of production in effect at the time. When the tractor leaves the drying oven, it is garbed in a bright shiny, permanent coat of orange paint. At this time the storage battery, steering wheel, and tires are put onto the tractor.

COLOR TO SUIT

Sometimes a color other than the traditional orange is requested by a foreign country or other group for their tractors. India, for example, prefers a very deep red; and Africa requests Coronado, a straw tan color. Some of the southern states in the U.S. desire a Canary Yellow. The U.S. Army also requests Canary Yellow for its airfields, but generally uses Olive Drab. Tractors built to travel in snowy sectors, or snowmobiles, are painted an eggshell shade.

When tractor leaves drying oven, the steering wheel, tires and storage battery are put on. These operations are performed by Joseph Baranek (left) and Andrew Zaje.

One of the last steps before a tractor is ready to be on its way to an A-C customer is to apply the Allis-Chalmers name. This operation takes only a few seconds, because a transfer is used. Then, several other smaller labels are added and we have an A-C tractor. . . sealed, signed, and all set for delivery.

Clarence Kadler applies the A-C decal. This is one of the final steps before a tractor leaves A-C on its way to a farm or industrial plant. A transfer is used and the operation only takes a few seconds.