North Central Illinois Steam Power Show, Inc.
Another fun day in northern Illinois! On Monday, March 26, 1973, a group consisting of friends from the North Central Illinois Steam Power Show, of Davis Junction, Illinois; the Stephenson County Antique Engine Club of Freeport, Illinois; and the Rock River Thresheree of Janesville, Wisconsin, shared a very exciting and interesting day.
We left Rockford, Illinois on a chartered bus, headed for a planned outing in the Chicago area; our first stop was the Museum of Science and Industry, where we found many items and displays of interest to engine enthusiasts.
The next stop was none other than the John Hancock Center, in downtown Chicago. A visit here would not be complete without the few-second elevator ride to the observation floor, which is the 94th floor.
At 3 p.m., the chartered bus pulled through the gate of the U.S. Tobacco plant on the west side of Chicago. We were greeted by John Evans, the Plant Foreman, and Otto Behling, the Plant Superintendent, who conducted us through a most-interesting afternoon.
The only product made in this plant is SNUFF...both Copenhagen and Skoal are produced here. Our main purpose in visiting this plant was to observe the everyday use of the four stationary steam engines and their generators, that keep this large plant humming.
Before I describe the engines, a few brief words on the production of snuff is in order...this is how it is, you Snuffers! Tobacco from Kentucky and Tennessee is received in large barrel-type containers; the tobacco is then steamed, separated, sprayed with flavorings, cured, steamed again, sliced, cut, recut and finally boxed in the little, round, flat containers...which, incidentally, are made in the same plant. It was unbelievable! Never would I have imagined the processes and the amount of snuff produced in one day.
Now we move to the engine room, consisting of four engine-generator units, operated by two of the most courteous, able and interesting engineers we have ever met. They are Ray Sjoberg, the Chief Engineer, and Alli Dzikowski, Operating Engineer. They rolled out the red carpet for us. These engineers went through the process of starting and shutting down two SKINNER UNI-FLOW CORLISS-TYPE engines; this was done with an amazing amount of fluency and grace. The engine used in the every day production in the plant was the largest of the four, namely a 940 HP SKINNER, running at 150 r.p.m., using 170 lbs. of steam pressure and developing 750 kw of 3-phase, 440 volt, electricity.
In the event that more output is required, the smaller HAMILTON unit can be started and delicately synchronized by governor control, so that the r.p.m. and phase relation becomes identical. Circuits are manually engaged, so that the two engines and their generators can furnish electricity to the same electrical lines at a much large capacity than one engine can do, running alone.
These engines could not run without the tremendous boiler room, adjacent to the engine room; the three boilers are BOBCOCK-WILCOX, 3 stories high. These boilers annually consume 9,000 tons of coal, stored in the overhead bunkers; the bunkers hold about twelve carloads per filling. The coal slides down from the bunkers to traveling-type apron grates, which are about 15-feet wide. The grates carry the fire continually into the furnace and, in turn, dump the ashes off at the far end. The ashes fall into the basement, where, once a day, they are drawn by a vacuum fan into a collection bin to be removed by truck once a week. Flue cleaning is accomplished daily by a process of steam blasts, which blow the soot right up the chimney. A constant survey on smoke and debris emission is graphed every day.
The basement under the engine room is a maze of plumbing, circulating pumps, condensate and vacuum pumps, and steam driven air compressors.
The cleanliness of the engine rooms and the engines is an indication of the efficiency of the plant. We all marvelled at the good condition of the varnished oak floor. Around each engine, rubber matting was laid down for walkways and toweling was kept over all matting where oil spills might be tracked.
These beautiful engines will be silenced for the first time in 60 years, when the company moves to a new plant west of Chicago, ending an era 'When Steam Was King.'
At 5:30 p.m., our bus pulled through the gates of the U.S. Tobacco Company and headed for home. Much good was accomplished by this type of trip. we're sure all had fun! This trip was organized and coordinated through much effort of Ed Schott of Rockford, Illinois. We also thank Jim Johnson of Park Ridge, Illinois, who helped to make our visit to the Tobacco Plant possible.