Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Allis-Chalmers Story

In the opening sentence of the Foreword C.H. Wendel says that his greatest worry as a writer is omitting some important aspect of the story. He shouldn’t be overly concerned. It isn’t likely that the average reader will notice. If you think that Allis-Chalmers was a manufacturer of tractors you’re about 10% right. Over the course of 372 pages Wendel follows the history of this corporate behemoth from Edward P. Allis’s purchase of Decker and Seville in 1861 to the final mergers and acquisitions by foreign multinationals in 1985. Most of the early tractor companies began in blacksmiths or machine shops but Allis was a businessman first and this shaped the company’s development throughout its history. Just trying to follow the convoluted flow chart of mergers and acquisitions is enough to give the corporately challenged a migraine. From mill stones to the Manhattan Project and beyond it’s all here. Allis-Chalmers seems to have chased every conceivable industrial application and market. It’s a fascinating story accompanied by over 1,500 period photos that average 4 to 5 per page, The Allis-Chalmers Story offers hours of entertainment for anyone with an interest in antique equipment or the history of industrial America in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Oh yea, there’s plenty here for tractor and farm equipment collectors too. My favorite comes on page 300. Did you know that A-C pioneered the use of rubber tires on tractors? Back in April I posted a spoof about tractor racing. Well, seems that in 1933 Allis-Chalmers installed special gearing in a few tractors as a publicity stunt to promote the new rubber tires. There at the top of the page is a photo of Barney Oldfield in his leather football “crash” helmet hunched over the steering wheel of his Model U leaving the competition in his dust as he sets a world speed record of 64.28 mph on a tractor! Just goes to show, anything you can think of, no matter how ridiculous, somebody somewhere has probably already done it.

Classic American Tractors The Allis-Chalmers Story by C.H. Wendel published by Krause Publications 2004 Library of Congress Catalog Number 2004093887. ISBN: 0-87349-927-1. You might find it at your local library under 629.2252. Available online from around $30 new.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A 1844 Griswold Cotton Gin

The prospect of seeing something I’ve never seen before is the main reason I go to these shows and the Foothills Antique Power Association’s (SC.) 25th Power From the Past Show on May 30, 2015 at Greer, SC. didn’t disappoint.

I was taking some photos of his McCormick-Deering engine when Jerry Neely walked up.

We talked about his engine for a while and then he directed my attention to what was sitting behind it on the trailer which up till then had pretty much gone unnoticed. It doesn't exactly jump out at you, it looks more like a piece of furniture than a machine but that's fitting for the period it's from, when the world was transitioning from an agrarian past to an industrial future. Be honest. Did you pick up on it?

What I was looking at was a reconstructed Griswold Cotton Gin that was originally made in 1844 which is pretty unusual in itself but the real story lies in how it came to be there.

Starting with a pile of badly decomposed timbers and rusted metal parts he found behind the barn on the family farm Jerry began a remarkable bit of reconstructive mechanical archeology and reverse engineering.

With little more to work from than an old photo from the 1920's and a few pieces of wood that were still intact enough to dimension from he scaled off the rest of the machine using a CAD program.

It was an amazing story, and since there's no substitute for firsthand knowledge I asked Jerry to work it up and send it for posting on The Mule. 

He said he'd give it his best shot so here's hoping he's burning the midnight oil at the keyboard and one day soon you'll get the skinny straight from the horse's mouth.

His experience is bound to provide valuable insight for anyone who might be considering undertaking a similar project and the photos he took illustrate the reconstruction from debris pile to a working machine.