Tag Archives: plant

Wyman-Gordon Power Plant

Wyman-Gordon

Photo: Power plant for what was originally the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co.

In 1910 seasoned manufacturing veterans F.A. Ingalls and Charles C. Shepard partnered to create the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co. in Harvey, Illinois. Ingalls took up the mantle of President and treasurer, while Shepard acted as Vice President. The company produced a wide range of parts for the burgeoning automobile industry and railroad companies. As the world delved into chaos during the War to End All Wars industrial manufacturers across the United States were pushed to the limits of their operating capacities to great profit. In 1920 the Wyman-Gordon Company out of Worcester, Massachusetts acquired the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co. and rechristened it as the Ingalls-Shepard Division. The consolidation placed Ingalls as Vice President of Wyman-Gordon, but he would still maintain operational control over the Harvey factory.

Wyman Gordon

Photo (source): Logo from an advertisement for Wyman-Gordon with the Harvey plant on the right.

The Roaring Twenties were a boon for the steel industry. The automobile, which had been a luxury item the previous decade, now entered the American mainstream as mass production made “horseless carriages” accessible to the general public. The automobile may have driven urban development outward, but new architectural technologies drove cities upwards. Skyscrapers demanded strong metal frameworks to withstand environmental punishment. New massive machines such as massive cranes and earth movers were needed to move materials. While skyscrapers penetrated the sky, aeronautic developments of the Great War brought with it the commercialization of airplane travel. Wyman-Gordon produced parts that serviced every one of these industries. At the outset of World War II all large US manufacturers devoted their efforts to defeating the Axis, which Wyman-Gordon used to their industrial advantage. US Army engineers kept on the heels of the front lines to dismantle superior German industrial technology and pass it on to American businesses such as Wyman-Gordon. The Wyman-Gordon company claims to have produced more single parts for the war effort than any of its entirety of its competitors in the industry.

Q

Photo: The equipment is completely rusted over.

Innovation in the aeronautics industry drove Wyman-Gordon business for the next few decades. By the 1960’s the Wyman-Gordon company was recognized as the leading innovator in forging and titanium technologies. The US government contracted with Wyman-Gordon to create parts for the B-52¬†Stratofortress, the secret SR-71 spy plane, F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle fighter jets. In the civilian market the company produced parts for hundreds of other aircraft. In the 1980’s, however, declining defense expenditures, sagging commercial airline development, and international competition put manufacturers like Wyman-Gordon into commercial distress.

In order to stay operational Wyman-Gordon decided to shutter the Ingalls-Shepard Division in Harvey. The announcement proved devastating as the community had already endured the recent closing of three other major manufacturing employers. The company tried in vain to sell the 780,000 sq. foot facility for over six months, but was unable to find a buyer. The manufacturing of diesel engine crankshafts was moved to the company’s Danville, Illinois plant and special manufacturing to Jackson, Michigan. In 1986 the closing of the Ingalls-Shepard Division took with it 350 jobs from Harvey.

Dead Drop

Photo: Massive storage areas several stories tall.

Plans for redevelopment of the 47-acre industrial site revolve around tapping into Harvey’s geographic advantages in transportation. The southern Chicago suburb has three expressways, four national highways, four freight railroads and the Chicago Metra lines running through it. Although a majority of the Ingalls-Shepard Division buildings have been demolished, the Environmental Protection Agency has listed the location as a brownfield in need of cleanup before development can continue. It would seem logical that Wyman-Gordon would be on the hook for cleaning up the site, but that is not the case. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the Chicago area and lowest average household income Harvey cannot afford the up front costs for assessing the property. Compounding an already bad situation is the fact that the total cost of cleanup may exceed the market value of the land once remediated.

All that remains of the Ingalls-Shepard Division is the power plant and a still occupied large building across the street from it. Fences border the entire perimeter of the power plant, but are pried wide open in several areas. The building is about four or fives stories high with an even higher smokestack affixed to the rear. On the inside the factory has been scrapped and everything metal has the patina of decay. The interchangeable fixtures of the heavy machinery are all missing, but the core pieces remain. Coal hoppers, generators, and some dynamos encased in a heavy layer of rust remain. Steel walkways crisscrossing the upper portions are missing large sections and appear quite unsafe for even the most seasoned urban explorer to traverse.

Dead Drop

Photo: Some of the steel walkways have large sections missing.

The Ingalls-Shepard Division power plant is a monument to the prosperity once generated in the Harvey. The power plant will most likely loom over the community until the federal government steps in with enough money to remediate the land. In the long run the tax-payers will end up paying for Wyman-Gordon’s mess.

There is still one thing that I have been unable to pin down about this location though. Why was the power plant spared from demolition when the rest of the factory came down? If you have an answer, please leave it in the comments.

Resources:

ASME (PDF) – Fascinating brochure detailing how US troops captured superior German forging technology during World War II and passed it on to Wyman-Gordon.

Chicago Tribune – 1985 article announcing Wyman-Gordon plans to sell the Ingalls-Shepard Division plant.

Chicago Tribune – 1986 article announcing 350 layoffs from the Wyman-Gordon plant.

Chicago Tribune – 2010 article on the EPA cleanup of the Wyman-Gordon plant.

CNT (PDF) – Document describing a collaborative effort between Harvey and Dixmoor authorities to remediate the site.

EPA – Facility Detail Report by the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA – 1997 Brownfield Assessment Pilot by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Flickr – My Wyman-Gordon photo set.

Google – Wyman-Gordon company timeline.

Google Books – 1910 Railway Age Gazette article mentions construction of the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co. building in Harvey, which was acquired in 1919 by Wyman-Gordon.

Google Books – 1917 Electrical Review succinctly explains why electrical furnaces are better than gas fueled ones.

Google Books – 1920 Machinery mention on the merger of Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co. and Wyman-Gordon.

Google Books – 1920 Electrical World mention of an electric heat furnace used at the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co.

Google Books – 1922 Wyman-Gordon advertisement from the Society of Automotive Engineers that has the Harvey plant pictured.

Flickr – Flickr user reallyboring’s set of the Wyman-Gordon plant.

Funding Universe – Wyman-Gordon company history.

IQMesothelioma – Law firm notice of asbestos and mesothelioma health risks for former workers at the plant.

 

Armour Meat Processing Plant

Armour

In American public schools Henry Ford gets credited with inventing the assembly line. He’s touted as an American hero for figuring out that dividing labor into small specialized tasks could maximize output and drive down production cost. If you believe this story, you are complicit with the oversimplification of American history. By his own words, Henry Ford cites the meat packing industry in his autobiography My Life and Work for giving him inspiration to work with an assembly line.

Armour

Photo: On the main floor of the plant.

The truth of the matter is that the meat packing industry beat Ford to the assembly line punch. Philip Danforth Armour had every bit of meat processing down to a science. Armour’s competitive edge over other meat packers was to use ever bit of the animal “except the squeal.” The Armour product catalog included not just meat, but also adhesives, fertilizer, drugs, industrial chemicals and even Dial soap.

Photo: Source – Wikipedia

When Armour and Company were founded in 1867, refrigerators did not exist. Meat had to be processed by a local butcher, sold, and consumed in a relatively short amount of time. One of the largest costs associated with meat packing was shipping the animal live via rail to the location it would be slaughtered. The rail lines of the time made massive profits shipping cattle as railways expanded westward towards California. Armour saw an opportunity in this vastly inefficient system. Adapting one of his chief competitor’s ideas to refrigerate meat, Armour built their own fleet of refrigerated boxcars to ship processed meat all across the country. Armour had 12,000 refrigerated boxcars in operation at its peak. This innovation had a cascade of benefits for the consumer. Not only could meat be purchased cheaper, but could also be kept fresh for longer periods. Other food companies quickly adopted refrigeration and raised food quality standards nationwide.

Refrigerator Generator

Photo: One of the massive refrigeration generators still at the Armour plant.

Armour

Photo: Wheel on one of the refrigerator generators. Notice the intricate lattice work painted on. How many heavy industrial machines still have that personalized level of detail?

The Armour Packing Plant is a massive industrial complex surrounded by dense vegetation just to the north of East St. Louis, Illinois in what is known as National City. Getting into the location is fairly easy, though you MUST bring a partner with you. There are many holes and rickety steel platforms on the first floor that can lead to a nasty fall. Getting up to the higher floors is a bit tricky. The main stairwell for one side of the plant is missing the first few steps and has a nice twenty foot drop to the basement. Again, bring a partner. If it wasn’t for my urbex safety buddy I would have never been talked into actually making the climb.

The Killing Floor

Photo: Slaughtering room lined by tile. Moss now grows over most of the floor.

There are rail lines on each side of the factory. On the back side is a complex to remove cattle from boxcars as they arrived. The cattle were moved to the slaughtering room on the top floor pictured above. From this point the carcasses were stripped of flesh, cut into pieces, and sent to specialized rooms. There is an intricate series of doors, tubes, and other means of transport to move the product throughout the factory. Everything eventually made its way to the first floor, where it was packed into boxcars on the opposite side of the factory.

St. Louis in the Distance

Photo: The Gateway Arch in St. Louis across the Mississippi River. Photo taken from the roof. The building immediately across the street is owned by Little Ceaser’s Pizza.

Armour and Company began production at this site in 1903 and it stayed open until 1959. The company languished after World War II and its assets were eventually sold off. Dial soap, perhaps Armour’s most lucrative product, is still in production to this day by another company. Armour eventually donated this factory to the city of St. Louis, where it sits unattended to this day.

Who Are You?

Photo: A young owl standing only a few feet away. It was about 18″ tall and the talons were intimidating.

Exploring the abandoned Armour Meat Packing Plant was quite satisfying. My friend Drew and I found something new around every turn. There were also plenty of clues in each room to make an educated guess about what that specific area was used for. In the course of exploring the factory we came across two owls. The first one was much larger than the one pictured above. It swooped down and held its wings out while clicking its beak. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get close enough to snap a decent photo of it. Later we made our way up a large steel staircase to the uppermost part of the factory. ¬†Drew told me to freeze and turn around very slowly. When I turned, I said that I couldn’t see anything, and then it was there. We were only a few feet from a large young owl. My partner descended the stairs slowly, but I stayed behind, slowly raised my camera and started snapping photos. My heart was absolutely pounding at this point.

Urbex gives me a rush every time I stumble upon a new location. I want to see everything it has offer and photograph it. But, there is a level of adrenaline that you become acclimated to when you do urbex enough. Running into the owls was a high unlike any other. It was unnexpected. It was natural. It was dangerous. It was the highlight of the day.

Research Links:

Wikipedia – Armour and Company

Armour and Company History

Virtual Globetrotting – bird’s eye view of the factory

YouTube – UEU314 Armour Meat Packing Plant

St. Louis Patina – Armour Meat Packing Plant

Built St. Louis – Armour Meat Packing Plant

Wikipedia – National City, Illinois

UrbanAdventure.org – Photos from 2002

Flickr – My Armour Meat Packing Plant Set