78 S. Main St. Glen Carbon, IL 62034
Last spring I experienced seeing some old iron and I would like to share my story with you.
I am employed at a small construction equipment rental company in Collinsville, Illinois, which is about 10 miles from the National Stock Yards in East St. Louis. The stock yards had rented one of our 'giraffes' (a self-propelled aerial lift, which lifts a man and materials to 40 feet to work on buildings, etc.) to remodel an office building damaged by a fire. We had just finished rebuilding this 'giraffe' and it still needed some 'fine tuning' on the electric over hydraulic control system. When I was called upon to go and make an adjustment on the machine, I talked to some of the men working at the building at the stock yards about a giant steam engine at the Armour plant and asked them if the engine was still in the old meat plant. A friend of mine, George Rider, who is an engine nut like myself, had told me about a steam engine at the meat plant that had a 30 ft. flywheel which powered the refrigeration system for the plant. It was supposedly installed in 1896 and was one of the biggest if not the biggest refrigeration systems in the world! The engine, built by Frick, was a tandem compound cylinder type, 60 feet long with 27' and 50' cylinders. It ran 60 RPM and had 350 tons of cooling capacity! The head honcho at the yards said I could go into the old plant and take some pictures sometime.
Sure enough, within the next couple of days I had to return and make more adjustments on the giraffe, so I took my camera with me. I could seethe twin smoke stacks of Armour above the office building and the anticipation grew inside me as I knew that soon I would see this awesome giant engine that had been out of use for decades! A guard named Gus was to show me this dinosaur of modern technology. As we neared the brick building, I could see the toll that time had taken on the old plant. Also there had been a fire a few years earlier on the outside where the meat was loaded onto railroad cars and coal was probably unloaded. When we finally entered through the iron door I looked inside to see the boiler and firebox. It extended almost the total width and about one third the length of the building. It could have run the Titanic!
Next came the engine and control room. My heart beat with excitement as we neared the doorway. At first there was an old steam dynamo and next to that a large steam engine that powered a refrigeration unit. This engine has approximately 8'-9' flywheels with the driving cylinders on the floor and the compressor on top. It was installed in 1908 by De La Vergne Refrigeration Machine Company from New York for Armour & Co. Everything in this 3-story tall room is very well preserved. The brass railing and parts of the engine that are brass have a green glow that almost looks fluorescent under the skylight that runs the length of the room. To the right is a control panel that looks like it's from Frankenstein's lab with all of it's knife switches and gauges! There were some small Frick refrigeration compressors still in use but they were operated by modern electric motors. I was very impressed to see all this 'neato' stuff but could not see any giant flywheel anywhere. Could this large steam engine that I just spoke of actually be the giant engine I had heard of? If this is it, the size of it was greatly exaggerated ... but then it was supposed to be a Frick engine! No, this could not be it. It must have been scrapped years and years ago. I ventured to the back of this huge room and could see where this 30 ft. flywheel engine had been! There were concrete pads where the crankshaft mains were supported and a ditch, about 15 feet long and 2 feet wide (now filled with gravel) between the pads, where the flywheel ran. Some 35 or 40 feet away, I could see where the cylinder was mounted. Truly this engine was as big as I had heard it was!
The guard, Gus, said the engine was in use there when his dad worked there many years ago. He didn't know when the engine was scrapped. We guessed around W.W. II.
Anyway the experience was great and one I will never forget. My pictures turned out well. I did not get to see the old giant but still had quite a learning experience seeing the De La Vergne engine. The people at the stock yards said they would sell the steam engine but I said that most engine clubs would only want a donated engine. The building is probably going to be torn down before too many years pass and it would be great if some people could get this machinery out of this old plant. The Armour people would probably rather see the engine donated for show use than see it cut up for junk I hope.
Since my visit to the meat plant, I have found out that there was still another steam engine this one was even bigger a 40 ft. flywheel engine. This would explain having two stacks on the building. The boiler for this engine must have been taken out when the engine was scrapped.