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Don's Rail Photos

Milwaukee Solvay Coke Co.

Before the natural gas pipe lines crisscrossed the country, gas was generated in places with no natural gas. In Milwaukee, in 1906, the Milwaukee Coke and Gas Co. built a large plant on the south east side of Milwaukee between the C&NW mainline and the Milwaukee harbor. It started near Washington Street and ended near Greenfield Avenue. It was state of the art, and used electric traction for inplant operations. To give you an idea of what went on here, refer to the color picture of locomotive 1. Coal was brought in by boat and by rail and lifted to the top of the tipple. It was then dropped into an extremely wide gauge electric rail car which ran on the top level and took power by trolley from the wire at the front edge. The coal was then dropped into ovens where it was heated to a high temperature in a low oxygen atmosphere. The carbon reacted with the oxygen to produce carbon monoxide, or coal gas. There were also other smaller amounts of gasses trapped in the coal. The gases were collected and sent to storage tanks. The resulting hot carbon was then pushed out the front door of the oven into a hopper car and sent to a quenching tower. This produced coke. It was a very spectacular sight to see the hot coke dumped out and then to see the clouds of steam from the top of the quenching tower. Originally the hoppers were self propelled cars, seven of them, with small cabs on the end. In 1931, the trucks and controls were used to build 3 steeple cab locomotives which then were coupled to a hopper by a drawbar. The locomotives used a bow trolley on the north end of the line which had overhead. The south end, by the ovens and tower, used an overrunning covered third rail. Milwaukee Coke and Gas Co became Milwaukee Solvay Coke Co. in 1942 and later became the Milwaukee Coke Division of Manganese Chemical Corp. It is my understanding that nothing remains of this operation.

Here are the 3 electrics.

After the coke was cooled, it was then taken to loading bins where it dropped into rail cars which were somewhat below the level of the steeple cabs. Thus we have 3 levels of rail operation, from the wide gauge bins, to the standard gauge electrics, to the standard gauge railroad.

Over the years they had a collection of locomotives for switching the coke out and the coal in. I don't know anything about the 101, but the 102 was built by Baldwin December, 1912, #38949. It could not lasted much after 1937.

I stumbled onto the 103 switching, but I never saw it again after this picture. It was probably gone within a year or two at the most.

104, 60 Ton, was built by General Electric-Ingersoll in December 1936, #12139. It was scrapped October, 1968.

105, 60 Ton, was built by General Electric-Ingersoll in October, 1937, #12237. In February 1970, it was sold to Miller Compressing Co. and used by them as 105.  In July 1976 it became Algoma RR 105, operating on what had been the Ahnapee & Western. I don't know what happened to it after that.

106, 65 Ton, was built by General Electric in February 1952, #31331. It was sold to the Granite Rock Co. in 1988.

Brian Rumary gave us some additional information regarding this operation. The works closed around April, 1983. The three electrics were numbered 8-6-1, 8-6-2, and 8-6-3. This was apparently only on the books. Diesel 106 was carried as 25-5-106. In addition, there was another diesel locomotive. 25-5-107 was a 65 Ton General Electric built in August, 1944, #27521. It came from Copperweld Steel Co. at Warren, Ohio, on January 29, 1970. Brian did not have a disposition after the Milwaukee plant closed.

We have word from Mike Slater, President of the Western Union Junction RR Club and Museum, that 106 was donated to this organization in 1996. From the photographic evidence, however, it appears that this is really the 107 since there was no further information on its disposition. It is apparent from comparing the photos of 106 and this locomotive that they are not the same locomotive. The donated locomotive is somewhat older than the 106. Mike provided some photos. It was however acquired by the Kettle Morraine RR.

Meanwhile, the old plant was still standing, but finally it was completely removed.


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