Austin M. Frederick

Memories from the Allis-Chalmers Proving Grounds

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.

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.