Thursday, March 04, 2021

RLK knew a LOT about this flat car, and shared this info!

I’m going to hazard a guess here and suggest the image of the loaded CNW flatcar was taken at the West Allis, Wisconsin Allis-Chalmers works.

The plant was serviced by two railroads, the Chicago and Northwestern and the Milwaukee Road.

Having been employed by both I’ve given a bit of thought to the image and cannot think of any other facility in Milwaukee that required a car with the capacity to handle 400,000 pounds.

Thus, my keen sense of deduction leads me to believe the load is out of A-C. 

In days long past railroads used to paint a ‘Load Limit’ and ‘Capacity’ on each car. The definition of each was pretty much the same, so at some point recently (relatively) they dropped the capacity reference. In short, both represented the weight axle journals could bear.

 In this picture we see four trucks which would effectively double the capacity of a standard flatcar. Also note the ‘dispo’ instructions painted on the car: as soon as this damn thing is empty don’t even think about loading it again and return it promptly to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

There are two ‘built dates’ painted on this critter, December 1930 and July 1943, the 43 date obviously referring to a rebuild. By 1943 everything coming out of A-C was made for the war effort, so we can be reasonably sure this equipment was made to handle such loads. This is not to say with certainty this load was part of that effort as security issues would have precluded pictures of wartime materials. 

My father worked at the Hawley Plant during the war, a building hurriedly constructed for the specific purpose of producing stuff for the Manhattan Project. Dad received a draft deferment because of the nature of his work. He left us in 2005 at 90 plus and he kept a tight lip about his work there to his last breath. 

He had a bunch of other great stories though, one in particular I’ll always remember. They were in the middle of a project that could only be shipped by rail, but traffic could not find a carrier with suitable equipment. The ‘supe’ finally got pissed off and said, “We’ll build our own damn car.” And they did. Such was the mindset at A-C. I used to drive dad through what was left of A-C, repurposed buildings that sell women’s panties and bras, sub sandwiches and the like. It tore him up, recalling days when A-C WD tractors came out the south end of tractor plant two, a steady stream of orange 24/7, and transformers and dam turbines sat on railcars waiting to go, lined up like automobiles in a parking lot. Women’s panties, but no tractors for every corner of the planet. Good grief! RIP Pop.

Thanks RLK!

This photo id from the post a month ago of the cyclotron 


  1. Well thank-you ‘Car Guy’ for posting my remarks regarding the CNW flat. I’ve followed you folks for about two years or so and would like to express my appreciation for the work you put into Just a Car Guy. Like thousands of others I’m sure, I find the time I spend here very satisfying and well spent. What I find particularly pleasing is the political/cultural perspective that tends to sneak through on occasion...and the other times as well when it appears with all the grace of a charging rhino. Your response to “Smithhere” comes to mind. “Right to the point,” as Kasper Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet, 1941 version of “The Maltese Falcon”) would say. Or, “Here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding,” as he toasts Sam Spade (Bogie, same film). You sir, have cultivated the concept into an art form, one the likes of HL Mencken surely would have embraced had his editors been more understanding. My thanks for the link to the February 9, 2021 post revealing the location and nature of the cyclotron shipment out of Homestead, Pa. Corporate traffic managers at the time had a resource about the size of a big city telephone directory issued by the American Association of Railroads that listed every piece of rolling stock in America. It listed rail cars by type, length, height, capacity, etc. A traffic manager could pour through the document looking for just the car he needed and take measures to get it. Hence, as in the instant case, we find a car based in Milwaukee loading in Homestead. Even though my keen sense of deduction failed me again (but only the third time in my 80 years, mind you) that’s OK. The memories the most recent post stirred up were very gratifying. Christopher Lasch wrote, in the 80s I recall, “The Culture of Narcissism,” in which he observed that fond memories will help sustain one in old age. I’m here to tell anyone who cares to listen, he was 100 % right. I bear witness to that truth, which is clearly the trigger that prompted my remarks earlier. I offered before my dad always had good Allis-Chalmers stories. Well I have one of my own if you’ll indulge me. So there I was, fresh out of high school in 1959 on the A-C payroll for the summer only. My job was to roam about a huge warehouse (three floors, each the size of a football field) picking tractor parts from thousands of bins. It was not unusual to go for hours without seeing another person. So you can imagine my surprise when I got off the elevator one day hearing this absolutely perfect jazz scatting Ella herself could not match. I pushed my little cart towards the sound, looking down each row of bins for it’s source. Finally, there it was, this tall guy with a head as shiny as a cue ball. I startled him a bit and he quit singing. He smiled and after a moment of silence I said, “Hey man, I thought Jon Hendricks had come to town.” He laughed, took a few steps toward me, extended his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Al Jarreau.” (Al Jarreau as in seven time Grammy winner.) “Pleasure to meet you Al, I’m Bob.” That’s my claim to fame. I worked at Allis Chalmers in Milwaukee with Al Jarreau, picking tractor parts out of of dusty, dirty tractor parts bins. (Is anyone impressed yet?) The icing on the cake was meeting Al’s father. He worked at A-C as well and would wait for Al outside the warehouse at quitting time. The three of us would walk to the plant gate every day. I don’t recall the father’s first name, but the guy was as cordial and gracious as they come. Al was a stone cold knock-off of his father. Al left us a couple of years ago, but I’ll always remember his friendly, “Hi, I’m Al Jarreau.” RIP Al.

    1. THANKS!
      Compliment of the day!
      Sure I know Al Jarreau, but wow, had no idea he'd worked a job punching a clock with his incredible singing, until your letter, I'd have guessed that he went from singing in church or high school straight to making records!
      I'm impressed, darn right! How cool!
      Yep, I included the link to the original post, as I think you might have missed it, or you would have told me about the flat car earlier.
      I'm guessing the amount I post probably causes some stuff to get missed, and I KNOW that the blog mainframes will skip stuff often, not show images a LOT, and give up on running videos after a couple years.
      But it's free.
      So, I put up with it. After all, I'm not out to write a book, so, I just add stuff here for fun, and everyone that wants to enjoy it can do so when ever from where ever.
      Great story, thanks for taking the time to type it all out and share it!

    2. Thanks for your kind words Jesse. Yeah, Al punched in and out just like the rest of us. He would have only been 19 when we met, and his talent notwithstanding paid gigs were hard to find for such a say nothing of the law. As luck would have it I ran into his brother Emile’ one morning in a small cafe’ after the bars had closed when he came in and sat next to me. We started chatting and after about twenty minutes I introduced myself. When he reciprocated I asked if he was related to Al. Turned out Emile’ was Al’s older brother. Emile’ had a little musical talent himself, but nowhere near Al’s. Emile’ would ‘sit in,’ as it were, with local bands and sing for drinks. I got to know Emile’ reasonably well and he would tell me that Al’s first musical love was straight ahead jazz. That’s how I’ll always remember Al, singing straight ahead jazz. If you care to sample some of his early jazz stuff plug “Al Jarreau The Masquerade is Over,” into the Youtube search bar. Very tasty stuff from very early in his career (1965). Regarding your blog, again let me express my gratitude for the time and effort you put into it. I think of it as a little polished gem in the midst of a truck load of trash and have been pleased to refer a number of my acquaintances to it. The tidbits of joy that come my way while reading it are always welcomed. You have a winner on your hands. Regards, rlk.

    3. wow, I had heard of the name Mencken, but until now, haven't heard about him! Well, thanks to Amazon, I've got the 3 book set of the American Language on the way! Sounds like a hell of a fun writer!

  2. My thanks to RLK and his pop for the fine couple of essays. I always like it when somebody goes "long".