What Blogging, Twitter, and Texting Do for the Historian’s Craft

Found this short blurb a very interesting read. New technology is proving useful for the history field. My wife got me hooked on it a few years ago, and now I try to post on a regular basis ( I would like to make them more frequent). I will be perfectly honest, I miss school. I love learning, reading, and writing. This is how I keep those skills honed. I am always on the lookout for other history bloggers to collaborate with. What do you like to blog about?

The Historical Society: What Blogging, Twitter, and Texting Do for the Historian’s Craft.

Allis-Chalmers 782 Chopper Restoration

If you have visited the Unofficial Allis-Chalmers Forum you know people post a lot of good content on there. A thread I have been following this past year and a half is a 782 Forage Harvester restoration that a guy has been working on. Micheal has been restoring his chopper for that last 4 years.  The project started off with the machine itself being repaired and restored and turned into restoring a two-row corn head for it.

Chopper before restoration

He said the projected started in 2009 when he noticed oil dripping from the feed-roll gear box. He had been using the chopper to fill silos on his farm, so he kept adding oil to the gear box to get by. He decided to take the gear box off and have it repaired. Some other minor fixes eventually led him to overhaul the whole machine “all because the last owner did not seem to know how important a grease gun was.” The lower feed roll shaft was very loose, and upon inspection,  he determined the roller bearings had long been seized. This work led to more inspection and more issues.

Without knowing the feed roll shafts are splined and removable from the feed rollers it seemed I had to take the entire side of the chopper off to get the feed rolls out. This also meant pulling the cylinder and as long as I was doing that I should look into the drive line over-running clutch. The main PTO gearbox was leaking from the front seal so I should probably have that fixed…oh and as long as I am this far I should probably look at the PTO shaft U-joints. It also seemed a shame to take that much apart without doing some “minor” painting. I think you can see how things progressed. So after much deliberation with the machine half torn down I decided to do a full restoration. How hard could it be right? It is only a chopper and not as complicated as a tractor?

Michael’s optimism was soon put to the test. He ran into some challenges repairing the machine. One of the first challenges was getting the cutter cylinder out. He tried a few methods to move the cylinder, but it remained stubborn. Finally, with the help from a work friend, he rigged up an old chisel to a pneumatic hammer that successfully forced the cylinder out. The splined shafts on the feed roll were badly rusted, and those parts are no longer available. He turned to a local machine shop to make new ones from scratch. Michael also had some issues  finding the correct bearings, as they are no longer available. Luckily, he managed to find a pair of new old stock (NOS) bearings at a dealership.

Originally I thought I would take the major pieces off the machine, put the wheels back on and pull the carcass to the blaster/painter, but before I knew it I had it stripped down to the bare frame. Did you know you can fit an entire chopper in the back of an 8′ pickup truck bed when it is in pieces?

Michael seems to have learned a lot from this project. The best word of advice he has for those interested in this kind of  project like is documentation. “When I started the project I thought I was only working on three items,” he said, “so I did not take any disassembly notes.” He started taking notes in the middle of the restoration, but things he did not document proved to be a challenge later. He suggests taking pictures and writing down all the measurements take can be taken. Another useful tool for him was getting a hold of a parts book that shows how parts go together. After much time and patience, he finally got the machine up and running in summer 2011.

His most recent project involved finding a two-row, narrow corn head for the chopper.  Michael located a corn head he had been looking for in Michigan, but the owner would only sell the unit as a whole. Michael took a Lake Michigan ferry to Central Michigan to bring the chopper back into Wisconsin. The head was not used very much, but it did have issues from sitting out in the elements for thirty plus years. Bearings were out, the cutter bar was a wreck, and the sheet metal was rusted and banged up. He proceed to tear down the head, much like his chopper, to replace and repair broken parts.

Michael had a lot of help getting the machine back up and running.  Manitowoc Motor Machining & Parts Inc. helped with making and setting all the obsolete moving parts the chopper needed. Schuette Manufacturing re-fabricated and fixed any rusted sheet-metal parts. Sandy Lake Implement helped located NOS parts in dealership inventories. Schaus Roofing & Mechanical helped him reproduce sheet metal for the corn head.  Michael also had help from friends on the Unofficial Allis-Chalmers Forum, who generously answered questions about the machine.

What are some hard restoration projects you have taken on? What kind of problems did you run into? How did the project turn out?

For more pictures of Michael’s restoration visit his Photobucket albums:

Chopper Rebuild
Corn Head Rebuild

History at Work

Who ever said work could not be fun?! I work for Winnebago County as a seasonal laborer, and one of the areas our crew has to maintain are the recreational trails in the county (Wiouwash and  Mascoutin). Both trails had previously been corridors  of the Milwaukee Road and Chicago & North Western railroads. They now serve as trails running throughout the county and into others. As you walk down the trails there are many remnants of their former railroad past. Pieces of rail, rail ties, spikes, and foundations of old signal towers are not uncommon. At one time these lines were alive with freight and passenger activity.

On the Mascoutin Trail there are a lot remnants of that railroad past. On the north end of the Winnebago County stretch of the trail (near the Winnebago/Green Lake County Line) there are the ruins of some sort of quarry operation. There is an old some sort of old kiln, along with other chutes and electrical equipment, laying in an area overgrown with trees and weeds. Next to what would have been the railroad is a large, stone retaining wall. There must have been chutes that were here that served as a gravity feed system into the railcars. I am still trying to investigate what the name of the company was that operated on this section of the line. Maybe someone from Berlin,Wisconsin, would know.

As I was mowing the part of the trail just north of Rush Lake I stopped to look at my mower that had plugged up. I noticed something lying amongst the brush. I thought it was a bottle that a litterbug just threw in the woods, so I picked it up. Then I saw the words “Thomas A. Edison” embossed on the bottle. I knew I had something. Besides the mold and dirt that had accumulated on it, the bottle was in great condition.

Edison Battery Oil

Edison Battery Oil

The bottle can hold 2 oz of battery oil and would have been sealed with a bottle cap. I did a little research on this bottle and discovered that these are commonly found along railroad lines. The signal boxes along the lines were battery powered, and this battery oil was added to prevent acid evaporation. When the batteries were serviced, the railroad workers threw the bottle to the side.

STANDARD IDENTIFICATION CODES FOR 
BATTERY OIL BOTTLES FROM EDISON AND OTHERS
ALL BOTTLES LISTED ARE BASED ON EDISON CATALOG INFORMATION OR ACTUAL SAMPLES
(BOTTLES IN BLUE HAVE WRITING EMBOSSED IN THE GLASS)
[AntiqueBottle.com]

CODE

CITY

SIZE (oz.)

SHAPE

CLOSURE

E1

Orange

1

?

?

E2

Orange

2

?

?

E4

Orange

4

?

?

E6

Orange

6

?

?

E8

Orange

8

?

?

E12

Orange

12

?

?

E5.5P

Orange

5 ½

?

?

T2-2

Orange

2

For Potash

T6

Orange

6

Round Cork

T4

Orange

4

Round Cork

T3

Orange

3

Round Cork

T2.5

Bloomfield

2 1/2

Oval – Flask Cork

T2-1

Bloomfield

2

Round Bottle Cap

W2

Waterbury

2

Round Bottle Cap

N2

New York

2

Round Bottle Cap 

The bottle is not a million dollar collectible, but it is very intriguing. I am thrilled to able to hold a piece of railroad history that kept our trains moving. It will have a spot on my shelf as a fascinating conversation item. It makes work much more exciting when you can tie your life’s passion in with it.

What kind of exciting historical place/items have you come across at your job?

History in Your Neighborhood

There are times I find myself driving through areas of the city or in the country and wondering what these areas used to look like. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard how there was a structure that stood in an area that is now a parking lot, or how a road used to run in a different location than now. There are a few tricks I have learned over the past few years to investigate these curiosities in local history.

The University of Wisconsin Digital Collections (UWDC) has been a great source of old maps, pictures, plat books, and histories. It was in their collection that I found some interesting bits of history worth exploring further. I found an old plat book (circa 1923) showing the layout of the intersection near the farm I grew up on. I have heard from neighbors how the intersection used to be quite different, and how the road was routed differently than today. I went to an earlier plat book (circa 1901) that also showed a creamery being in the middle of our intersection. I really wanted to find out what this old road looked like, and the creamery occupied the middle of this intersection. Both of these were somewhat of a challenge, but I never turn down a hunt for history!

Wisconsin Creamery
(wiroots.org)

The 1901 map I found of our township listed the creamery as “Groose Creamery Station.” I did a search on UWDC’s website and turned up some of the Wisconsin Food and Dairy Commission reports from 1896, and there is a Groose & Haas Creamery listed. When I did a search in the 1900 edition that creamery was not listed. A local historical society website had it listed in one of the gazetteers in its collections. So I have some base information on this creamery. Perhaps a visit to the Kingston Historical Society, or looking through some Markesan Herald newspapers will help piece together some of the missing puzzles.

After my search for the former creamery was done, I turned my attention to finding evidence of the old roadway that ran through the area. Finding this information can be tricky, because it is not as easy as looking on Google Maps. A great deal of time could be spent looking at local historical societies or asking older neighbors. I found a very, very helpful website that was exactly what I was looking for. The Wisconsin State Cartographer’s Office has a finding tool called the Wisconsin Historic Aerial Image Finder that allows you to go to an exact location and look at aerial photographs of that area from the past. I zoomed into my neighborhood and brought up a photograph from 1938.

As you can see from the 1938 picture, it appears as though the creamery was demolished by 1938. It is stunning how much the intersection changed. I believe the highway was worked on in the mid 1950s, and this intersection was made the way it looks today. The road was also re-routed to the other side of our neighbor’s property.  It is amazing what resources are available on the internet to find information like this.

Do you have some local history that these resources might be useful for? Where are you from, and how has your neighborhood changed?

Holt & Balcom Logging Company

This past August my father-in-law planned a trip to the Holt & Balcom Logging Camp near Lakewood, Wisconsin.  To my amazement, it is the only logging camp in the United States in its original location and is on the list of National Historic Landmarks. The original building is now surrounded by the McCauslin Brook Golf and Country Club; however, it had very different surroundings over 100 years ago.

Devillo R. Holt & Colonel Uri Balcom
(RootsWeb)

The logging camp operated from 1881 to the 1920s. Devillo R. Holt and Uri Balcom partnered in 1865 to form the Holt & Balcom Lumber Company.  In addition to the lumbering camps in Wisconsin’s lush White Pine forests, the firm also operated a sawmill out of Oconto, Wisconsin,and had offices in Chicago. Sometime near 1890 the firm was reorganized and renamed the Holt Lumber Company. One source said Holt bought out Balcom’s shares in 1888, while another said the partnership ended when Balcom died in 1893. Either way, the company was handed down to succeeding Holts until the company folded around 1940.

H&B Lumber Co. sawmill in Oconto
(RootsWeb)

The logging camp building stands as a time capsule of Wisconsin’s once booming lumber industry. The camp has undergone extensive restoration in these past couple years, and the work has really paid off. In one end of the timber cabin is the kitchen, mess hall, and cook’s bedroom. On the opposite end is a bunkhouse with 10 beds for 35 men ( 3-4 men per bunk).

Life was not glamorous or easy for lumberjacks. Our tour guide explained that the men woke before the sun and did not return to camp until the sun set. The men ate  four meals a day to compensate for the roughly 6,000 calories they would burn in a day’s work. Logging was done in the winter months, while the ground was hard, and the logs floated down rivers or loaded on railcars for the sawmills in the spring. Most of the men in the camp were either immigrant workers or local farmers looking to make some extra money during the slow, winter months.

Logging in Wisconsin
(Flickr member paws22)

This logging camp is a fun, historic visit in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Check out the museum’s page for information about planning your visit. Have you been to the H&B Logging Camp? What were your impressions of the building and its history?