Blast From the Past

My recent work on historical projects related to Civil Defense and the Cold War era are strikingly similar to the events unfolding in North Korea. According to USA Today, North Korea is planning to launch a multi-stage rocket that is capable of carrying nuclear warheads. CNN reports that North Korean officials stated that the missile test is part of a series of military tests to  prepare for “upcoming all-out action” against the United States. It is as though we have stepped back in a time and landed in October 1962 all over again. It is moments like these ( where history somehow repeats itself ) where I wonder how Americans from a bygone era react to traumatising current events similar to past ones.

The Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 was a critical time during the Cold War where things got hot. From October 16 to 28 1962 President Kennedy and his advisors frantically attempted prevent the Soviet Union from delivering more missiles to the Island of Cuba. The missiles that were in place were capable of delivering a nuclear war head to nearly any city in the United States. The standoff ended without a nuclear showdown between the super powers. The Soviet Union removed the missiles from Cuba, only if the United States promised not to invade Cuba.

Cuban Missile Range
(Wiki Commons)

The world was on the brink of thermonuclear annihilation those 13 days. The United States was prepared to do whatever necessary to hold off the Soviet Union. Americans prepared themselves in many different ways. Some prayed, others went on with their business and hoped for the best, others built, stocked, and took cover in their fallout shelters waiting for World War III. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and the human race continues to exist.

Family Fallout Shelter
(Wiki Commons)

So, are we experience what history will call the “North Korean Missile Crisis” where the world’s existence is once again in jeopardy? The irony is that Capitalism faces off again Communism again, just as it had back then. Reuters reports that the United State had hope the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, would usher in improvements with U.S. relations. The missile tests and threat of using nuclear warheads fractures any progress that was made, or any that could be made. The outcome of the missile tests and the consequences of nuclear threats will be interesting.  The Cold War may be over, but its legacy of the nuclear threat is still an issue today, as developing less stable governments get their hands on the technology.

Are Americans experiencing another missile crisis? What is your memory/experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler


The Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler could easily be one of the most complex farm machines I have ever used/laid eyes on. It requires detailed attention to all the springs, latches, bearings, chains, and belts.  If one component is not finely tuned, there is a good chance the machine will not work. The round bale machine has some very interesting history behind it. What people may not know is Allis-Chalmers did not invent the round baler, the company modified an already invented machine and was able to successfully mass market it.

Baling Press

“Baling Press” Patent No. 972,884
(United States Patent and Trademark Office )

The idea of the round baler was spawned around the year 1890 from an idea of rolling straw chaff into logs for fuel, which the Luebben Family of Sutton, Nebraska, is credited for devising. Hugh Luebben and his sons, Ummo and Melchior, worked on a machine that made straw logs for prairie dwellers to burn as fuel in the winter. Melchior provided the financial aspect of the project, being a banker, and Ummo was the creative force behind the baler. Melchior was caught up in a scandal at the bank that led to its closure around 1910, and he was sentenced to prison. Ummo kept building and improving the round baler design. He applied for his patent in 1901 and was granted a patent to his “baling press” design on October 18, 1910. This original unit was a stationary machine mounted on a chassis. Material brought to the machine was fed in and rolled. Eventually the design was improved to be used on the go, and material was fed into the machine while in motion. Luebben continued to improve his rotary baler design until it resembled what would be the Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler.

1930s Luebben Baler

1930s Luebben Baler

In 1940 the Allis-Chalmers Tractor Division Manager Harry Merritt acquired the rights to Luebben’s baler for the company to use. Engineers at Allis-Chalmers immediately began modifying and building a baler based off of Luebben’s model. According to Norm Swinford’s book, Allis-Chalmers Farm Equipment: 1914-1985, a number of prototype units were built and tested in the early 1940s. The earliest patent granted to Allis-Chalmers for their baler was in December 1945. From the illustrations in the patent application, this patent appears to be on the chassis and delivery system to the bale chamber. A patent granted to Allis-Chalmers in 1946 illustrates and describes the bale forming chamber and tying mechanism. After tests were run, and the engineering department fine tuned the machine, another company patent was grant in April 1949. That 1949 patent appears to be the machine that went into production. Notice anything missing from the drawing of that 1949 patent? (pictured below)

AC Rotary Baler Patent No. 2,468,641
(United States Patent and Trademark Office )

Allis-Chalmers put their baler concept into production in 1947 and built 3,000 units in the first year. The Allis-Chalmers La Porte Works had  the job of building the balers, and called their rotary baler the Roto-Baler. According to C.H. Wendel’s book The Allis-Chalmers Story, Allis-Chalmers applied for a trademark status in 1948, and the trademark was issued in 1950.

Roto-Baler Assembly Line at AC La Porte Works( The La Porte County Historical Society Museum)

Roto-Baler Assembly Line at AC La Porte Works
( The La Porte County Historical Society Museum)

The Roto-Baler could produce bale sizes from 14″ to 22″ in diameter, and, depending on the size, could weigh from 40 to 100 pounds. A double windrow was required to make an even, full-width round bale. One setback of the Roto-Baler had been that when the tying mechanism was engaged, the operator needed to stop forward travel but also keep the PTO running. The hay conveyor was also stopped as the tying mechanism was working. Once the bale was tied, the chamber would discharge the bale, then the conveyor would reengaged, and the operator could continue forward motion until the next tying cycle.

Allis-Chalmers had a few options for the farmer that did not have a two-clutch tractor and wanted to have a Roto-Baler. One option was to buy an Allis-Chalmers tractor that did have a two-clutch mechanism. The other was to buy a power unit to mount on the Roto Baler. A third option, which was the Allis-Chalmers’ solution, was to redesign and market a non-stopping Roto-Baler. For whatever reason Allis-Chalmers had, the company called the non-stop baler the No. 10 Roto-Baler.

No. 10 Roto-Roto Baler at 2008 Orange Spectacular.

No. 10 Roto-Baler at 2008 Orange Spectacular

Allis-Chalmers introduced the No. 10 Roto-Baler in 1955. The redesigned baler featured a second conveyor that was a bypass conveyor. This second conveyor routed material back to the front and onto pickup conveyor. This allowed for forward motion to continue while the bale was being tied. The material would continue to loop on the conveyors until the bale was tied and discharged. Another important improvement was the overdrive tying mechanism, which sped the tying cycle up (taking about 3 seconds).

No. 10 Roto-Baler

As amazing as this machine was, it never fully amounted to what Allis-Chalmers wanted. The No. 10 Roto-Baler was not efficient enough for baling up all materials in different conditions. According to Swinford, About 1,500 No.10 Roto-Balers were made, and most of them were eventually converted into standard ones. Although the non-stop Roto-Baler never worked out, some of the balers features improved the Roto-Balers functions. The overdrive tying mechanism was made an option for the Roto-Baler at an addition cost. The No. 10’s wing-type rotary feeder was also standardized on Roto-Balers to allow for even, improved feeding into the bale chamber.

The first run of Roto-Balers was from 1947 into 1964. The Persian Orange 1 paint scheme was used on balers  built from 1947- 1959. Allis-Chalmers changed their paint scheme combination in 1960 to Persian Orange 2 and Cream.  The Roto-Balers in the early 1960s and 1970s wore these colors (nicknamed the White-Tops for the white colored roof over the baler). Allis-Chalmers reintroduced the Roto-Baler in the early 1970s and built 2,400 units from 1972 to 1974. Allis-Chalmers improved  the operation and safety of the last run of Roto-Balers, adding more safety screens and improved mechanical operation. Allis-Chalmers built an estimated 78,700 Roto-Balers in its production time. Stories circulated that lawsuits from Roto-Baler accidents was a significant reason why Allis-Chalmers never built and marketed a big round baler.

We bought a Roto-Baler from a neighbor a few years back. I spent a significant amount of time and effort to get that machine running just right. I was very close too, but the machine broke beyond repair. Do any of you have memories of using the machine? Or maybe use them today? What is your Roto-Baler story?

*Read more about the Roto-Baler by these authors:
C.H. Wendel
Norm Swinford

AC Power Train Machining

The Allis-Chalmers West Allis Works was a vast factory complex in its day. Thousands of machined parts and equipment were being produced by the company day after day. On the northwest corner of the factory grounds, near gate 7, just off of 70th Street, was the tractor division. It was there that the Persian Orange tractors were built and rolled off the assembly line.


Besides the fact that these tractors were assembled there, tractor parts were also built and machined on the premises. Cast engines blocks, torque tubes, and power trains were among the tractor parts made by Allis-Chalmers. To help with precision machining, Allis-Chalmers had up-to-date automated machines to move parts along to be machined to precise specifications.

An article from Computerworld in 1974 explains the details of the automated process of machining power trains for the tractor assembly line. The system was called flexible manufacturing system (FMS). The cast parts would be loaded onto pallets, and then the pallets were placed onto carts that would be towed around to the different drilling and machining bays.The computer could determine which part had to go where by the coded dots on each of the pallets.

According to this article, Allis-Chalmers began upgrading its equipment to the new FMS system in 1972. A total of 51 pieces of production equipment were installed. The Manager of Manufacturing Engineering in the Tractor Division Vincent Stromei stated that the new equipment would help modernize Allis-Chalmers’ tractor assembly line, and help the company maintain efficiency. “We can make a variety of parts, adjust to engineering changes,” Stromei said, ” and even machine a different type of product with a minimum of tooling changes.”

Pictured below are some scenes of the FMS system in the AC Tractor Division. One shows the banks of drilling machines. The other is of workers moving power train parts from pallets and carts.



Finally, shown below is a short clip from an AC produced film called Okay to Ship. The scene shows some of the FMS system and the checking that was done after machining was complete.

This must have been some setup to see. Allis-Chalmers offered tours of their facility when they were still in business. Maybe some of my readers remember this part of the assembly line, if they toured the plant. Or perhaps some of my readers were employed by AC and remember this. I would like to hear what you know/ remember of this.

Markesan Historical Society

Being involved with your local historical society is a great way to be involved with your community. Whether you are from a small community or big city, most of these places have a historical society or two. In Wisconsin the majority of historical organizations are affiliated with the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS). If you are interested in getting involved with your local organization check out the WHS’s database and find yours!

I am a lifetime member of my local historical organization in Markesan, Wisconsin. Our historical society might be in a small town, but we have a magnificent museum and intriguing collections. Although I am currently attending school some 40 minutes away, I still find myself wanting to be more involved in promoting our organization and museum of who we are, what we do, and what we have. I am in the process of developing another blog that could share information, pictures, documents, and some of the exhibits that we have. By doing this our organization could attract more attention.


We are more than just history enthusiasts who get together and talk about the past. We are educators, historians and preservationists. Local histories are the puzzle pieces of what makes up the larger picture of state and national history. It’s important to keep that history alive and share it with the public. Our museum is free to tour and we also offer free research appointments.

Smaller historical societies sometimes have a difficult time attracting new members and volunteers. There is also the task of keeping people interested and coming to the museum. If visitors have been there once, they have seen it, and there is no reason to go back. Whereas larger museums have  permanent exhibits and also traveling exhibits. Although we have some spectacular permanent exhibits, which I will get to later, it would be helpful if limited exhibits or special exhibits could be created. One idea that I have heard being recommended is having a family history case. The case would be reserved for a selected family to insert pictures or heirlooms to tell their family’s history from the past. That could be a very good way to get more involvement, and it could also offer the opportunity for new material.

Another prospect that should be looked into is getting the youth involved. Our historical society offers a scholarship for graduating high school students. Students who are going on to study areas of history or education are those that are considered for the scholarship. Instead of just handing out a check, these students could be given the opportunity to volunteer at the museum doing cataloging, tours, organization, and planning to earn their scholarship and gain experience. Afterall, it is the youth that will continue to keep the organization alive.


The Markesan Historical Society operates the Grand River Valley Museum. Our museum consists of three buildings. The main building houses our research information, Old Streets of Markesan, Utley Depot, gift shop, and other smaller exhibits. One of the most interesting and unknown collections we have is the Gene Albright Presidential Necktie Collection. It is a set of one personal necktie from Presidents Eisenhower through George H.W. Bush. With each tie is a signed letter from each president gifting a tie to the collection (President Kennedy’s tie  and letter was sent from Jacqueline Kennedy after his assassination). We are currently trying to updated the collection by acquiring ties from Presidents Clinton, W. Bush and Obama. Maybe someone at the White House will see this blog post and help us out.

The second building that is a part of our museum is the former Markesan railroad depot. Inside is a schoolhouse exhibit, railroad office, with working telegraph, and other miscellaneous exhibits.

The third and most recent addition to our museum is the Arthur Jahns Memorial Agriculture Museum. This 60′ x 100′ building houses antique farm machinery and tools. On every wall is a beautifully painted mural depicting the seasons and equipment associated with them (spring planting, fall harvesting, etc).

Our organization is truly amazing. We have a vast collection and donors are giving us more collectibles everyday. We are proudly preserving the history of our hometown, and we want to share it with people. What are other historical organizations, big or small, doing to keep people interested and change things up? It would be beneficial to know how they keep people interested.