Farm Collector

Charles Keller and the Bloomer Machine Works

608 Winchester Drive Douglas, Georgia 31535-7220

This is a picture of long ago, of the Bloomer Machine Works owned by my uncle, Charles Keller. The picture is enlarged from a picture postcard sent to my mother in 1913 or 1914. The location is Bloomer, Wisconsin, the hometown of many of my relatives and where I lived for several years around 1920-25.

Charles Keller owned the company for a number of years including when the picture was made. I cannot be positive, but the man in the picture with the suspenders appears to be Uncle Charlie. His background, briefly, consists of being born in Sweden about 1865. He had the usual good basic education of the Swedish schools at that time, followed by several years of technical schooling. He knew and practiced blacksmithing, pattern making, the machinist trade, the foundry business, and was somewhat of an inventor.

In the picture you can see the cupola of the foundry on the building next to the main shop. The foundry was used to make castings for steam engine and other machinery repair, as well as the castings for the line of Keller gasoline engines, ranging in size from about one horsepower up to eight or nine horsepower. He later moved his operation to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where he continued to build engines until after WWI. He had a contract with the government that caused him some grief, as he had built engines under the contract and when the war ended they terminated the contract with no notice leaving him with a large inventory of engines and parts that he was financially unprepared to carry. He survived that period and, as he had also been part of the team that was starting up the Gillette Rubber Co. tire plant, he managed to keep his business going. He continued to operate the Keller Tool and Machine Works in Eau Claire until his death in 1949.

I worked for him in 1936-37 and up to my enlistment in the U.S. Navy in September 1938. My older brothers, Richard and Edmund, both worked for him at times. Edmund until he went to California in 1937, and Richard until Charlie passed away, when he then operated the business for our aunt for a couple of years. Richard then purchased the business and operated it until August 1979, when he retired.

When I worked there in the ’30s there was a pattern loft on the third floor of the shop building. The building had once been a livery stable and the loft was the old hay loft. It had racks for hanging patterns as many as three and four high. There were patterns for just about any kind of gear that was cast in those days. I was somewhat shocked when I found that my brother had burned all the patterns when he decided to remove the third floor from the shop building!

The foundry was operated from about 1917 until 1935. Power was supplied for the line shafts from steam engines for a number of years, then from diesel engines for more years. The last setup for generating power was diesel-driven generators which supplied electrified line shafting. In the last few years, power was purchased and the generating plant disposed of. Several years ago, the entire building was razed. In the years I worked there, we had such items as a 2,000-pound steam hammer, a 150-ton horizontal hydraulic press, a 180-ton vertical hydraulic press, a lathe that would swing 72 inches, and a great variety of behemoths.

Uncle Charlie was by far the best blacksmith I have ever known. He had a favorite trip hammer that he could perform miracles with. I am one of the very few left who worked there.

  • Published on Mar 1, 2001
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