On the south side of River Street, just east of Eighth Street was the Michigan Gas and Electric Company’s Gas Plant where the manufactured gas, for the city, was produced. That was a stinking, dirty operation that would not be allowed to operate under today’s air pollution regulations. The plant was torn down in the late 1940’s. In fact, I used one of the heavy timbers in the construction of our home, at Fisher Lake.
I guess that the most important manufacturing enterprise in the 1920’s, was Fairbanks Morse and Company. Their principal products were Railroad Motor Cars, Velocipedes, Standpipes, Cattle Guards, and other railroad related equipment. I say the 20’s because my father worked in the Motor Car Division for several years, in the early 20’s and I worked in the Railroad Engineering Department, in 1930. I was, therefore, exposed to their railroad products enough to be somewhat familiar with them. I know very little about the other things that they made, except that they manufactured Diesel Engines and Centrifugal Pumps in the Three Rivers Plant, at one time or another.
During the time that I was familiar with their operations, they built Velocipedes, Hand Cars, Standpipes, and Cattle Guards, for the railroads of the world. The velocipede was a three wheel device that one man could put onto and remove from the track, when it became necessary. The operator could sit down while operating the machine which, I suppose, was the only redeeming feature of the device.
The Hand Car was a two or a four man-power conveyance that operated much like the velocipede, except that the men stood up and provided the motive force by means of a walking beam arrangement that was mounted in the center of the car.
The Motor Car was driven, usually, with a single cylinder gasoline engine. Many of them were equipped with two cycle engines. The cars could carry from four to six men along with their lunch pails and their rain coats. All of this equipment was wide open to the weather. In other words, no top or sides, so if it rained you just got wet. Fairbanks also built a four wheel, flat bed, trailer that went along with the motor car and was used to carry the tools and the material.
I haven’t seen any of this equipment in use for several years. There are, perhaps, some still going and I have not noticed them. I did, however, see one of the Motor Cars in a Railroad Museum, last winter, in Savanah Georgia. I rushed right over to it thinking that it might be of a familiar vintage, but it was a Felton, made by a competitor of Fairbanks.
The Standpipe is another device that is no longer used, except in places that still use steam locomotives to pull their trains. It was a device that stood by the side of the track. They were equipped with a large spout, at the top, that could be rotated. When the end of the spout was lowered into the hole in the top of the Tender, of the locomotive, it opened a valve that allowed the water to enter. There used to be one on the north side of the tracks, in Lockport, and by the way, there used to be a Roundhouse on the north side of those tracks, just to the west of the Eighth Street crossing. There was also a Signalman’s Tower where the two railroads cross. Many of the adjacent switches were operated from that tower.
There also must have been a telegraph in that tower because I have watched the signalman pass messages to the passing train crews. Those messages were attached to a loop on a long stick. As the train passed the tower, the signalman would hold the loop out toward the track and a member of the train crew would stick his hand through the loop, take the message off and throw the loop to the side of the track where the signalman would later retrieve it.
The Cattle Guards are another thing that you don’t see, in our country, anymore. They were used to keep cattle and other large animals off the railroad right of way. The Cattle Guards that Fairbanks made were stamped out of flat metal sheets that were about 1/4 inch thick. The stamping left rows of three cornered projections that stuck up about three or four inches. When several of those sheets were placed at a road crossing, between the fences and the track and between the tracks, they became an effective means of keeping animals out of the right of way.
During the time that my Dad was working in the experimental department, I would sometimes go down to the shop and he would let me ride with him on the test track. That track was located in back of what is now Dock’s Foundry.
When Foundries are mentioned I am reminded of a man by the name of Noles who was a Moulder in the foundry at Fairbanks Morse and had his own little foundry, back of his home on Second Avenue, in the Fourth Ward. Everyone called him Sieppy, and I guess that I never did know his right name. Sieppy would cast anything that you could furnish a pattern for.
He, more or less, specialized in Window Weights of different sizes. I guess that window weights are no longer used either, at any rate, not the kind that Sieppy made. Sieppy was a very obliging sort of a person and as I say, he would cast just about anything that you wanted. However, he was not too critical about the scrap that he used or the time that he ran his heat. Of course, if he was running window weights, it didn’t make any difference, but if he was to pour a casting that needed to be drilled, you might run into hard spots that could not be machined with any tool that was available at that time. But, Sieppy’s foundry served a purpose, and he did a lot of good for a lot of people. The world should have more Sieppys.
The new Paper Mill was just getting ready to start up, or at least, I think that it was, because they were still building the smokestack, when we arrived. The Old Mill (Eddy No.1) was operating and it may have still been owned by the French Paper Company. I am not sure, because I was still too young to be concerned with such things.
The Armstrong Machine Works was on Rock River Avenue, where the Halverson Chapel parking lot is now. Ralph Reed had a Concrete Block Plant on Wood Street, where JoCo Hall is now. Bill Sloan was Sexton of the Cemetery, Charley Salsbury was Chief of Police and Fred Berstitcher was the Fire Chief.