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.

AC Drafting Table

About 6 years ago I had the opportunity to acquire an awesome piece of AC history that I couldn’t pass up. We restored a Farmall M for an implement dealership, and the gentleman who set up the restoration said he had a piece of Allis-Chalmers history I might be interested in. He showed me these pictures of a drafting table from the Allis-Chalmers factory in West Allis.

I think I paid $70 for it. I have actually never seen it put together. I got it home and it went into the rafters in my folks’ garage. Seems silly, but it is a big piece of furniture! My plan was always to set it up once I got a place of my own, which is what is going to happen now. I think it would be fun to get a blueprint of a tractor or other part that AC drafted to display it on the drafting board side. Once in a while an AC blueprint will show up on Ebay, but maybe AGCO Corp would be able to help me out.

This drafting table is a May-O-Matic built by Mayline in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The company began in 1939 specializing in drafting tables, blueprint files, and straightedges. I contacted the company to ask if they have any record or information about this desk. Unfortunately, the company does not because of its age; However, they were able to tell me this:

We don’t have a great deal of information to pass along.  The drawer pull was used until the late ‘70s, at least until 1977.  We do not have a record of how many Allis Chalmers bought, but I would imagine they had quite a large engineering department back then.

Like the Mayline representative said, Allis-Chalmers had a huge engineering department; which makes me wonder what happened to all the others when the place cleared out? I am pretty fortunate and happy that I acquired this piece. Once I get this all set up I will be sure to share some pictures of it.

 

Pioneer Power- Chapter 1

I recently acquired a book published by Allis-Chalmers in 1942. This book covers the history of the firm and products since 1847. Instead of scanning this book, which could damage it, I will transcribe each chapter in a series of blog posts.

Forward:

The following pages tell a story about this company’s growth that covers practically a century. Many real discouragements were met along the way and it would have been easy to let others carry the torch. But red-blooded men always came forward at just the right times and prodded rusting ideas into perfected realities. Our story deals with the facts surrounding these accomplishments and it is tendered to our many friends with the hope that they will find it interesting. At the same time, the Company welcomes this opportunity to show that its aims have always been to serve above the average and to build products which not only promote the advancements of peace, but those as well which satisfy the full requirements of national defense.

Chapter I – Go West Young Man

In the Spring of 1824, a well known allegorical stork settled down gently on the Allis home near what is no Cazenovia, New York.  He was unruffled and no stranger to the Allis generations. In fact, he’d been a frequent visitor at their households in England for centuries.

The name Cazenovia doubtless has its derivation in the Portuguese words “casa nova” meaning new house. But there was nothing new or pretentious about that settlement or the squatty frame house where our feathered friend deposited Edward Phelps Allis on May day over eleven decades ago. Allied to practically all pioneer dwellings of the time, it was endowed with a humble cleanliness, and a warm hospitality that is now seldom equalled.

During his first decade Master Edward Allis was naturally heedless of the history making movements about him. Most of his time was spent scouting the surrounding sugar maples or toy-boating in the cast-iron horse trough directly in front of his home; a good meeting point for migrating strangers. It was probably here that his pioneer instinct was born.

By the time young Allis was nineteen, the Erie Canal had been opened, the first metal vessels had been built at Savannah, the Atlantic had been crossed by steam power in 15 days, and the first telegraph line was functioning between Baltimore and Washington.

Small wonder then, with these stirring events and his country reaching out into pulsing, rich territory, that this young man should turn his eyes toward the New West immediately after graduation (1845) from Union College at Schenectady. Sturdy settlers were expanding their acreages in Ohio and Indiana new homes were being hewed out of thick stands of hemlock and white pine in Michigan; and glowing reports came in about the prospects in distant Illinois and Wisconsin. The New West was beckoning with no uncertain gesture.

Important events continued to time their peaks with young Allis’ life. Even as he pulled a bulky handbag from beneath a high-posted bed and smoothed the crown of his plushy hat with the back of his arm, the Unites States declared war on Mexico. Hardy railroad pioneers were pushing their difficult lines west out of New York and Pennsylvania. The “grasshopper” type of engine had given way to an improved “crab” locomotive, a forerunner of today’s design. Steam powers was threatening horse and canal transportation. But these fingers of communication were still stubby and disjointed. Allis’ trip to Wisconsin, by the very nature of these disruptions was an interesting and enlightening one.

With the dawn of a balmy, mid-Spring day in 1846, Mister Edward P. Allis waited expectantly by the grayish cast-iron horse trough and gazed somewhat sadly at the old homestead which had sheltered him for so many years. He knew that he was leaving  behind much that was dear to him. But the soberness of home-leaving soon gave way to his hunger for pioneering when he heard the muddled rumble of the approaching stage coach. Even as the driver unloosed the check-reins and the horses buried their velvety noses in the cool water, he flung his heavy bag onto the carrier deck and stepped excitedly into the dust-covered coach. Across the way a lone wisp of smoke floated skyward out of a kitchen chimney. The driver clucked vigorously to his horses and Allis headed northwest through the wooded hills toward the Erie Canal.

Twilight of the same day found him supping at a three-story lodge in Syracuse and his bulky bag already stowed deep in the nearby canal boat. It was a long, squatty, blunderbuss of a craft with a full-breasted prow and sufficient cabin space to support a small, upper promenade deck. With the morrow he would start the second leg of his long journey west; on a ribbon of calm waterway, winding prairie-ward to Lake Erie.

Early the next morning, before the sun had topped the silver maples, young Allis was gazing interestedly from the small deck as the horseman fastened the tow chain into the hame ring and the muscled dapple-gray bent to her share of the long pull; Buffalo, the new gateway to the great West lay over 150 miles ahead.

Two weeks later Allis was pacing the rounded deck of an oaken schooner bound for Detroit about 225 miles away, his brown cloth coat now somewhat bedraggled. Before they were opposite of what is now Cleveland, our young man had made many friends with his fellow passengers. Each nourished his or her own particular plan for the new territory ahead; all had those same healthy hopes so common to vigorous pioneers.

Then a short trip by small boat to Monroe, a brief forty miles to the south. Here a vehicle that was neither coach nor wagon carried him across a 180-mile stretch of southern Michigan to New Buffalo. Then rolling stage coach wheels to busy Chicago and hilly Wisconsin, the silvery expanse of broad Lake Michigan glistening at intervals on Allis’ right between dark clumps of evergreens or white rounded sand dunes. And then Milwaukee, his final destination; his home for the next forty-three years; the setting for a great industrial expansion in which he would play an all important part.

With Allis safely located in Milwaukee, we can now parallel the efforts of two other robust young men who believed that Milwaukee was destined to be something else beside a summer  camp for Pottawatomie Indians at Walker’s Point. These men were Charles Decker and James Seville.

At this time (1846) Milwaukee was considered about equal to Chicago in population and, on account of the expanding lake traffic, likely to take the lead. Seville didn’t overlook this point nor other lively prospects around him. As he said years before:

“On my arrival, I found A. J. Langworthy, Turton & Sercomb, and Nelson & McCracken the only mills in the region supplying flour and sawmill machinery; products greatly needed by the incoming settlers. The firm of Ludington & Company was acting as agents for machinery made by J. T. Noyes of Buffalo. The making of flour with steam-driven machinery was to come and bandsaws had yet to bite into the clean-smelling logs of virgin timber. I saw a splendid opening for good business and the chance to render a real service to my countrymen. I decided to look into the matter.”

To satisfy himself, and to see the country first-hand, Seville visited Chicago. He then scouted another segment of the new region by taking a French & Winkler stagecoach west to Galena near the Mississippi and back to Milwaukee. Soon afterward he entered the employ of Turton & Sercomb to gain a little practical experience; in the meantime, quietly studying his secret ambition.

During the early part of 1847, he accumulated a pile of tamarack poles from a swamp in the second ward, several rough boards from the Mabbett & Breed’s lumber yard, and commenced building at the corner of Cedar and West Water Streets. By the time his two-story structure was nearly completed, a supply of factory materials from New York was actually landed on the ground. Milwaukeeans had yet to learn what was afoot. Then came the announcement of the new concern of Decker & Seville, manufacturers of French burr millstones, and all kinds of stove, grist and saw-mill supplies… the taproot for the Allis-Chalmers to come.

But, like all ultimately going concerns, Decker & Seville had its discouragements. By 1856 the Civil War pot was commencing to simmer, business prospects started to fade, and months later the Panic of 1857 struck hard at the little millstone factory. It went bankrupt with many others keeping it company.

Meanwhile, our Mr. Allis had entered the leather business under the name Allis & Allen. In 1854 he quit this business and built a couple of tanneries near Two Rivers, Wisconsin, after which he joined up with Messrs. Nash & McGregory (brokers) ; this proved his stepping stone to Decker & Seville

In 1860 a sheriff with a handlebar moustache auctioned off the defunct millstone factory to Messrs. Allis, Nash & McGregory. The purchase included eleven unassuming acres of land at the corner of Florida and Clinton Streets which ultimately became the expansion point for the old Reliance Works of Allis-Chalmers. Mr. Allis was installed as manager of the new company called E.P. Allis & Company. In 1862 he bought out the share of Mr. McGregory and the firm took the name of Allis & Nash. In 1863 he bought out Mr. Nash, thus giving him complete charge, and the establishment was known as Edward P. Allis & Company for years thereafter.

By 1865 the former Decker & Seville plant was working day and night with a personnel of 150 men. Its business was growing rapidly and the old tamarack building was at last bulging with expansion. Allis decided to move the plant to his south-side property and building on that eleven-acre site started in 1866 (often spoken of as the old Reliance Works). the old Decker & Seville plant was split up into three parts and floated section by section on unpainted  barges down the Milwaukee River to its new location. There it was noisily assembled into a crude likeness of its former self.

From here the story is one of gradual development, consistent with the times. Yet, always back of each new machine, new department , or new expansion was a steadfast aim to build something that could be relied upon, something that would serve, a something that would permit mankind to live a little better as the world few older; this had been the underlying thought of James Seville in 1847; he lived to see the fulfillment of that dream.

AC Biographies

I am in contact with a gentleman from Milwaukee who is going to help me gather the stories of former Allis-Chalmers employees. He takes his father, a former AC employee, to a monthly gathering of these AC retirees. He said that a lot of these guys are getting up there in age, and I would like to collect as many stories as I can. I am asking any former employees of AC to fill out the form below. I also encourage family members of former workers to fill the form out as well.

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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