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.