Memories from the Allis-Chalmers Proving Grounds

Allis-Chalmers tractors and implement prototype units were designed, built, and then tested at the company proving grounds. The units were put through hell at the proving grounds; scenarios that the machine would hardly experience on the farm. Test tractors were abused around the clock for quality assurance. Engineers conducted field tests on grounds or on nearby farms to monitor equipment in action. Before an implement or tractor design went into production it was put to the test on the proving grounds.

WD-45 undergoing field testing
(New Berlin Historical Society)

There were two Allis-Chalmers proving grounds, that I know of, in Wisconsin. One was once located near New Berlin, Wisconsin, located south of Cleveland Avenue, near 166th street.  An old service building still stands as a remnant of the old proving grounds. Sometime around 1960, Allis-Chalmers relocated its proving grounds near Franksville, Wisconsin, on the northwest corner of County Road G and 6 Mile Road.

Franksville Proving Grounds

Prototype D21 being tested

Tractor engine hours accumulated in 4 years on a farm would be done in less than 6 months at the proving grounds. The “Rough course”, as it was called, exceeded any shock the tractor would endure in rough field conditions, but was necessary to test axle, sheet metal, and wheel strength. During the spring growing season, local farmers would line-up at the proving grounds office to offer their farms as testing grounds.

A former employee at the Franksville proving grounds shares memories of testing equipment.

The test track was where the first building north of the main proving grounds building. That building (the one where the track was) was built sometime after the proving grounds closed. The area that Omega Circle now loops around was all open field. It was someplace we could take a plow or whatever and “play” with a little.

Out in that field, I had an obstacle built so that the auto reset bottoms could be tested. It was 2′ square chuck of concrete (faced with steel) on top of about a 4′ concrete pillar, and the top was a few inches under the soil. The top was sloped so that one side sloped up and the other side sloped down so that it would “hook” the plow point. The other two sides were vertical.

The implement chief engineer and project engineer brought out the engineering boss one day so he could see the trips work. The trips worked fine on the first 3 passes, but on the pass where the point got hooked, things broke. That was because the linkage design required the bottom to come up in order to come back.

The chief engineer called it an unrealistic test and blew it off (although he was embarrassed in front of his boss). The first winter that the plow was in production, (by then we had all been relocated to La Crosse), we got a call from the Florida panhandle about the auto resets not working. I was sent down to see what was happening. They were clearing land that had been full of pine trees. There were a lot of roots left in the ground after dozers had pushed the trees into piles on the edges of the field. The plow points were getting stuck under those roots and either breaking things or stalling the tractor. So much for my unrealistic test.

The proving grounds must have been a something to see in its heyday. Did you or someone you know work at the proving grounds? Or maybe you remember a farmer offering to test equipment on their farm? Comment with a story or question.

15 thoughts on “Memories from the Allis-Chalmers Proving Grounds”

  1. Austin, Do you have any photos of the main buiding at the A-C Proving Grounds at Franksville?
    I was on the tractor ride and a lady took photos of each tractor as it came out of the door on
    what I think was the West side of the building. I have not been able to get copies of the photos
    so I would like to reconstruct the scene, but I need a photo of the buiding espcecially the overhead
    door area. I didn’t get to meet you if you were on the tractor ride and would sure have enjoyed
    meeting you. You are a real expert on anything Allis-Chalmers. Thankyou very much,

    1. Look up Allis Chalmers proving grounds on Google. New Berlin Historical Society has a page About that proving ground

  2. So it looks like the only things left are the buildings. The long one on the west was the machine shop, garage and test stands. The skinny one was a research and development lab. Then on the far east on hyw 45 was the publicity and events building. The track and test fields were on the north where all the newer building are at now.

  3. One other thing the track as show on the map is much longer than it actually was. The ends were very curved and highly banked. You could get some good speed on that track even for a tractor (and my personal car late one night)

  4. My father worked for Allis Chalmers until his death in 77. He started his career in the 50s at a proving ground in Mechanicsburg, Illinois. Just went through there and it’s like it never existed. If anyone has any information, please email me at Thanks. Cindy Meden

  5. My Dad, Charles Hayden, worked for AC as a draftsman in the early to mid-sixties (after transferring from the Springfield, IL plant in ’62) at the plant @ 70th & Greenfield. We built a house in Wind Lake…and SOMEHOW he was able to “fanagle” the use of a backhoe from this proving grounds to dig the basement on weekends. He would actually drive the tractor home on Friday night, use it all weekend, and return it before Monday morning. How he ever got away with that is beyond me.

  6. My Dad, Kenneth C Adams, Jr. was in tractor engineering from 1948-1969, and again in the mid-70s to his retirement in 1986 (A-C had failed and the tractor business sold to Deutz in 1985. He stayed on to help defend against product liability lawsuits.) He was Manager of Tractor Engineering twice in his career. I worked between college degrees at the Franksville proving grounds, expediting parts for building the prototypes for A-C’s first big, articulated 4WD tractors (previously outsourced from Steiger). During my days there, A-C’s Power Shift Transmission had just been introduced, but was having some problems — premature clutch plate failures. So we “casual labor” guys were part of the 24-hour test program for every production tractor with a Power Shift transmission. We drove the tractors on the test track, shifting gears up and down, periodically pulling over for a pressure differential test to determine how the plates were holding up. At night, with maybe 6 tractors on the track at once, all with flashing lights, it was quite a sight!

      1. I don’t think I do. There might be some 35mm slides from Dad buried somewhere in the crawlspace. I still have my (metal) model A-C190 tractor. (Dad passed away in June 2018.)

    1. I believe that my Dad, Leonard Rogers did work on the test track at least some of the time. Around 1958 or 1959 we were living in a company house on Mechanicsburg’s property. The pipes in the house froze and my Dad tried to thaw them out but caught the house on fire. It burned to the ground. A few years later he fell asleep on a test drive and ran over the garage that had been a part of that property.

      1. You know, I think that I vaguely recall that. My Dad worked at the proving grounds around that time (’53-’59/’60) and he would occasionally take me out there on Saturdays…and again, I think I recall something about that being talked about. I was very young (around 5 yrs. old) so memory i fuzzy but nonetheless there.

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