Allis-Chalmers Fuel Cell Tractor

Farm technology is a constant evolving industry. I think about how much the farm has evolved in one hundred years. In 1915 fields were plowed and planted with teams of horses; grains were brought from the field to be threshed on the dooryard; milking a small herd of cows was done by hand. Today, farming is all but computerized. Thousands of dairy cows are milked systematically in robotic dairy operations. Thousands of acres can be planted with equipment that uses high-tech instruments for precision planting. Tractors have gotten larger, powerful, and loaded with additional features. A futuristic innovation that Allis-Chalmers engineers pioneered in back in the late 1950s has made a comeback in the farm scene–the fuel cell tractor.

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Allis-Chalmers Fuel Cell Tractor (History Wired)

On October 15, 1959, engineers from the AC Research Division unveiled a prototype fuel cell tractor at the company-owned golf course just outside of West Allis.It was built on the D10/D12 tractor chassis but had little resemblance to it. It had a bulky, box-like appearance. Three large panels covered the complex system of fuel cells where an engine would normally be. The operator sat dwarfed behind the giant fuel cell unit. The dash panel was packed with gauges and meters to monitor the chemical process and electric current. To the left of the operator were levers to control the current (for speed) and polarity of the current (for forward or reverse). Oxygen tanks were secured beneath the tractor, and a propane tank was behind the driver seat. It was a one-of-a-kind tractor.

The vehicle was powered by a 112 units of 9 cells in each, making a total of 1008 fuel cells in all. The chemical reaction between propane gas, hydrogen-oxygen, and an electrolyte in the cells produced an electrical current that powered the 20 hp electric motor. The fuel cell’s total electrical output was 15 kilowatts.It produced a clean by-product during the chemical reaction–water and carbon dioxide. The tractor weighed in at 5270 pounds and had up to 3000 pounds of drawbar pull.In addition, the tractor was silent while in operation.

Fuel Cell Process

Although Allis-Chalmers did not invent the fuel cell, it had been around for many years, the company was the first to build a vehicle powered by one. It’s fuel cell tractor was far too expensive to put into production, but It was a stepping stone that launched the company into a new line of products. Allis-Chalmers developed fuel cells for NASA’s space program, and the U.S. Military also contracted some experimental fuel cell equipment. Sadly, the company discontinued the division and sold it to Teledyne Corporation. Allis-Chalmers made the announcement in December 1970, that the loss of major contracts was the reason it had to cut funding.

After its tests were conducted, Allis-Chalmers donated the fuel cell tractor to the Smithsonian. The tractor is currently being loaned to the McLeod County Historical Society in Hutchinson, Minnesota, for display. If you attend the annual Orange Spectacular in that city be sure to take a quick detour to see this piece of technological history.

 

Wendel, C. H., and George H. Dammann. 1988. The Allis-Chalmers story. Sarasota, Fla: Crestline Pub.
Swinford, Norm. 1994. Allis-Chalmers farm equipment, 1914-1985. St. Joseph, Mich: American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
Peterson, Walter Fritiof, and C. Edward Weber. 1978. An industrial heritage, Allis-Chalmers Corporation. Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Historical Society.
Fuel Cell Paces Power- Allis-Chalmers publication

Speaking Event

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I have a big talk coming up in 2 weeks! The West Allis Historical Society contacted me about a month ago about giving a talk about Allis-Chalmers tractors at the fall banquet. How could I turn it down?! What an honor to go to the city named after the company that was its center and talk about the tractors! I have been working hard on a Prezi presentation. I plan to give an overview of the tractor line history, innovations, and the making of an AC tractor. I joke with my wife, Molly, that I have to take a subject that I could talk about for hours and narrow it down into 20-30 minutes. If you are interested in attending the event contact the WAHS for tickets ($20 each) to the banquet. It is being held at on Monday, October 20th from 5:30-6:30 pm at the Knights of Columbus Hall (contact the historical society for more details).  For those of you unable to attend, I am going to attempt to record the talk and post it on the blog sometime after that Monday. I will also include a copy of my Prezi for viewing. I am looking forward to this fun opportunity!

Allis-Chalmers Appleton Works

It is amazing what you run into when you least expect it. I just so happened to find the former Allis-Chalmers Appleton Works in Appleton, Wisconsin, last weekend. It was fate when I caught a glimpse of the  faded letters painted on the side of the factory complex. I started looking into this division of the company, and an AC friend of mine helped me out. He scanned me an article from a factory publication about the Appleton plant.

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Before becoming the Allis-Chalmers Appleton Work, this factory was the Fox Valley Iron Works that was established in 1882. The company manufactured machinery primarily used for paper milling. Allis-Chalmers acquired the firm in 1959, and it became the Appleton Works in 1965. This new division gave AC a foot in the paper milling machinery market. AC stated that the Appleton Works built complete machines from start to finish. Other manufacturers built specific components for milling equipment, but AC built it all in Appleton. Whatever could not be built at the Appleton plant was built by other AC divisions.

Here is more information about  Appleton Works.

Allis Playing in the Dirt

Winter is finally over, and it is starting to feel like spring! Although I am not at home anymore, my brother has kindly kept me in the loop of what is happening down on the farm. He posted some pictures of Dad on the 190XT Series III and our new (to us) Allis-Chalmers plow. Glad to see the orange back out in the field. Better By Design!

 

AC Farm Brochures

I have a little collection of Allis-Chalmers farm equipment brochures sitting on my bookshelf. So I thought that I would take an hour out of my day (literally) and scan just two of the dozen or so that I have. One is on the hay making equipment the company manufactured, and the other is about the 8000 series tractors that Allis-Chalmers was making the last few years before the tractor line was sold. If I get enough interest, I might attempt to scan all of them and make a documents page.

 Click the picture to bring up the PDF.

 

 

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