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
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.