Allis-Chalmers Betatron Lab

 

H20

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Intercity Rail Through the Fox Valley?

(Streamliner Memories)

It has been over 40 years since the last passenger train roared down the rails in the Fox Valley. The Chicago & North Western’s 400s were among the last to offer intercity rail service between Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay. The popularity of the automobiles and airlines put rail travel in peril. Private railroad companies had to cut back or discontinue passenger rail service to save money. Congress responded with the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 that established the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) to continue passenger rail service where private companies could not. However, the Fox Valley would not be serviced by Amtrak.

400

 

There is new hope for passenger rail service in our area! According the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Connections 2030 plan for the Fox Valley Corridor, an intercity passenger rail network could be a reality in near future. A line from Chicago to Green Bay with stops in West Bend, Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Neenah, and Appleton would be included. Can you imagine the use this stretch would have? The rail service would be heavily used during Packer games. It could also be potentially helpful for cities like Oshkosh that have major events during the year. Interstate 41 is heavily traveled and helps the west side of town. The railroad could help spur some tourism to Oshkosh’s downtown area.

Early 20th Century

Oshkosh’s Train Station

I am not sure if this plan died along with the high-speed rail project, but I think the Fox Valley deserves a passenger train again. It could be good to the communities it would serve, and it could relieve some traffic on the roads. Maybe former railroad depots could once again be used as stations.I think a lot of work would have to be done to add additional tracks to keep the trains running on time. Have you been on Amtrak? Where did you go and how did you like it? Do you think intercity passenger trains would be a good investment in the Fox Valley Corridor?

Speaking Event

BBD

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!

Book Review

I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I am going to try to pick up the pace as fall sets in. I thought I would write a short review on a book I just finished.  John Gurda is one of my favorite historians. He has some spectacular history books about Milwaukee. I borrowed the book Cream City Chronicles from the local library for some summer reading. This book is a compilation of smaller stories that Gurda posted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

The book is broken into topics, and each chapter covers a story of the topic. For example, a topic in the book is about celebrations. The chapters in that sections cover stories about Christmas, festivals, and holiday traditions. I enjoyed how he begins each chapter with a present view of the topic and transitions into the historical aspect. Gurda also gives his view or memory of the topic he is writing about. If you’re looking for some fun history about Wisconsin’s metropolis, check out this book for a weekend read.

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.