formerly located in Joliet, Illinois - ca. 1920.
[Annotated March 2, 2007, by George, III on the basis of an article on the English McKenna Company, Ltd.
in the British magazine, Engineering, published in 1906, and graciously conveyed to me by John A. Dichfield]
In 1904 I became
general superintendent of the American McKenna Process Company through
the resignation of David H. Lentz. I had charge of three rail
"renewing" or rerolling mills; at Joliet, Illinois; Kansas City,
Kansas; and Warner's Station (Tremley Point) New Jersey. The last
named plant was in the salt marshes on the Staten Island Sound shore, 7
or so miles from Elizabethport.
In spite of
the fact that the three mills were not indulging in promising business,
H. Abbott, Boston moneyed man of the McKenna Company, had organized
an English McKenna Company, and he, together with Howard Morris of Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, and Harry
L. Burrage of Boston, Massachusetts, had put a lot of money into
it. These three men controlled. Three Englishmen, [William] Tozer [Managing Director], [S.Thornley] Mott [Chairman of the Board] and [George F.] West [Director & Secretary] were the three managing directors. [F.A. Knight was the English McKenna Company's engineer - George, III.] The English
McKenna Company was to "renew" worn railroad rails as was being done in
the USA, and also to reroll heavy rails into smaller ones for
commercial use. The three American trustees and three English
directors anticipated great things from this English company.
Work was well under way on a plant at Birkenhead, England, in
1904. This was across the Mersey River from Liverpool.
It was the
original intention of the American trustees to send Mr. D.H. Lentz over as
consulting engineer to help build the plant and show the Englishmen how
to "renew" worn railroad rails. It was he who designed the
buildings and machinery, and with his long rolling-mill experience, he
was considered a good man for the job. But his resignation ended
that, and then I was asked to take his place. I then had an
assistant, Nathaniel L. Hurd of Joliet, with several years of McKenna
mill experience, and it was thought that he could run things in the USA
plants while I was in England.
sounded good to the American and English managers but not to me.
I had helped Mr. Lentz in the designing of the English plant and looked
upon it as a mass of experimental hodge-podge and fanciful ideas.
It was all cumbersome, expensive and impractical. I did not think
it would work. Besides that, Hurd would find the three American
plants a big job, more than plenty for the two of us. So I went
to see Mr. Howard Morris about it. He thought me pretty fresh and
said so. I was only a cub, and it was not for me to criticize the
judgment of older, experienced men. They knew what they were
doing, and it was for me to do as I was told. So I was sent to
England in October, 1904. My wife and two very small children
were with me. We
sailed on the Baltic.
trunk missed the boat. That was tough getting along until we
landed. Mrs. Harry Loud was on the boat, sailing to join her
husband in Liverpool. He was a manager of the Westinghouse plant
there and an old friend of the Lockwoods in Riverside, Connecticut.
"Aunt Kate" Buxton, my mother's school chum, was Mrs. L.A. Lockwood's
sister. So we expected to see more of the Harry Louds in
Liverpool. My wife's sister, Mignon Holmes, sailed on the Baltic
with us. Lee DeForest
was on the boat also. He was the inventor of the radio
tube. I knew him at Yale. He was in the Sheffield
Scientific School class above me - 1896 Sheffield. He soon showed
marked attention to Mignon but she was not very responsive. He
seemed to have the knack of antagonizing most people that he met.
Our first home
in Birkenhead was at a boarding house owned by Mrs. Birket. Late
in the Fall we rented a house with garden. We found this a very
comfortable home and inexpensive. Common labor was then being
paid 5 pence, less than 10¢ per hour.
McKenna managers sent me out on various business trips, on which my
wife and her sister elected to accompany me on every occasion. Birkenhead had a
very good rugby football team, and we went many times to see how
the original game was played; lots of running, no rough stuff, no
tackling, and very few injuries.
The Russian-Japanese war was
going on. We were then at Mrs. Birket's, and the naval officers were
boarding there also. One evening a message came, and they were
off in a hurry. The Russian
fleet entering the English Channel had shot up a bunch of fishing
boats, thinking that they might somehow be Japanese boats.
That made all England pretty mad.
I went to
Glasgow next day on business. Although this was a manufacturing
town, my wife and her sister insisted upon going too. From
Glasgow we went to Edinburgh. We stayed nearly four days in
Edinburgh, looking over all the places of historic interest. I
put in an afternoon at the archaeological
museum. We went to Stirling and went out to see the Field of
Bannockburn where King Robert the Bruce defeated the English.
We stopped overnight in Stirling so that I might get out the next
morning to see the Firth
of Forth Bridge.
I was up
early, probably too much so. When I came in sight of the Firth
far below, I was amazed to see it covered with a lot of battleships
moving about. Then a squad of soldiers swooped down upon me, and
I was taken before an officer to explain my presence. I finally
did so and was sent back to my hotel. The attack on English
fishing boats by Russian warships had aroused great indignation.
The British fleet was ready for battle. But diplomatic
discussions were going on, and the matter was eventually smoothed
I did not get
to Perthshire in the Highlands, home of my Grandfather D.A. Robertson's
ancestors. These were the chiefs of the Robertson
Clan of Struan, which I knew almost nothing about at that
time. I now regret that I did not make this visit. We made
another trip to the Isle of Man; this was by boat. We spent two
days there, at Peel, Castleton, and Douglas. We went to Llandudno,
a beautiful spot by the sea in Wales. From there I went to Dowlais to
see the steel works. A bit later I went far up the west coast
of England to Workington
and visited the Cammell Laird Steel Works. There I met the
manager, Mr. Carlisle, with whom I was to have business experience
The three of
us got to reading Walter Scott's books and playing Shakespeare
quotation games. We met people and did some entertaining.
We often barged over to the Liverpool
Hippodrome, a thing that English ladies did not do. But we
did it anyhow. We went to the Windermere Lake District,
travelling part way by coach, We stayed over at Keswick.
Somewhere around there we penetrated a rocky region and met an
individual named Postlethwaite. He collected Paleozoic fossils
and clung to us when he found that I was interested in the subject.
By this time
we were better acquainted with English people and their customs.
We knew better than to go to the "pork butcher" to buy fish. We
got those at the "fishmongers." The "green grocer" had fresh
vegetables, and we got other stuff from the "dry grocer." English
houses lacked heating furnaces, but each of our rooms had a small
coal-burning grate in it and we kept them all going during the not very
severe Winter. Coal was cheap; about 75¢ a ton; and very
good soft coal at that. Our two children had a capable nurse and
were generally having lots of fun.
sister left us and visited the Continent. In the early Spring, my
wife went there too for a couple of weeks. We went to Henley and
saw some of the rowing. This was in 1905. I
had taken part in the races there in 1896. The Boer War had taken
off some of the English oarsmen that I had known. I went over the
course again in a rowboat. We were very happy in England.
We made other sight-seeing trips. They were tiring, but we could
go home and rest until the urge for another jaunt came upon us.
I do not
mention here some of the trips that I made alone; a few on business,
others on fossil-hunting expeditions to Wigan, Castleton, Sheffield,
Peterborough, Ipswich, Cromer, Whitby and other places. We
returned to America in the Summer of 1905.
side of our life in England was nothing but grief. My position
was that of a looker-on mainly, as I was given no real authority.
My American employers had made it clear that I was not sent to England
to criticize or usurp authority; but they would be glad to hear from me
from time to time. But before long I was sending out warnings,
and by that time they could begin to understand for themselves that the
whole venture was threatened with disaster.
new manufacturing plant into production is not easy. The weak
spots show up and must be remedied. The plot is to get things right as
soon as possible so that the plant can get going on a paying
basis. In designing its plant on experimental and unperfected
lines, the McKenna Company expected some difficulties. They might
have foreseen that better judgment might have greatly reduced the risk,
but Mr. Lentz's word was Law on all engineering matters and he followed
his own ideas blindly. He had a head draughtsman, Diefendorf, and
the two of them worked it all out. I was called in a great deal
when any cessation of mill operations gave me the spare time. As
my approval and not criticism was in order, I soon found myself very
much on the outside and did little more than make tracings of plans
already agreed upon. I was much disturbed by the whole thing and
had several talks with Mr. Howard Morris about it. He invariably
chided me gently. I was still young, and fundamental policies
would be decided by more mature minds. That failed to dispel my
apprehensions, but it did convey the warning that it might be well for
me to keep my mouth shut for my own good.
In the period
of preparation in England, I had few responsibilities. There were
two capable engineers in charge of all mechanical operations, Knight
and Bolton. I ran errands. My advice was often asked by the
engineers and managers, and they made the decisions. From time to
time, I reported progress to Mr. Morris in the USA. As previously
instructed, I confined my reports to engineering matters ... for a time.
In the Winter
of 1904-05, the plant passed from preparation into the operating
stage. Then the troubles began to show up, and they were plenty
bad. Week after week; month after month passed through a series
of serious and unending difficulties. These were the results of
untried and experimental fundamentals. It was an electrically
operated plant with three steam-driven turbines attached to electric
turbines were new, and the Willans Company was
in the stage of improving them. A few had been tried on
vessels. Turbines were destined to replace steam engines, but
there was still a long way to go to make them dependable. The
McKenna engineers soon found that out. Time and time again,
everything stopped for days, sometimes weeks, while Willans engineers
rewound generators, replaced myriads of turbine blades, and worked to
remedy obvious defects. It cost Willans a pretty penny, but they
met this cheerfully in the knowledge that it was valuable pioneering
work that would eventually pay good dividends. [See J.V.G.
J. V. G., The Enterprises of Willans and Robinson (1880-1919) -
this was tough on McKenna; money continued pouring out; and none was
coming in. And the McKenna engineers had other great big worries,
for the roll trains with their electric motor drives were having no end
There were six
stands of rolls arranged in tandem, making one long line of six,
two-high rolls with long spaces between each stand of rolls. The
hot rail, starting at one end, was kept moving in a straight line
through the six shaping passes, one after the other, after which it was
presumably finished to the required shape. Each of the six roll
stands was motor driven.
roll stands were spaced progressively from 35 feet at the first stand
to 72 feet at the last in order to accommodate the increase in length
of rails that were being reduced in all six passes from 45 pounds per
yard to a considerably lighter commercial rail. The six stands
were stretched out in a line 423 feet long - George, III, paraphrasing
the Engineering article.
But the motors
were small with high speed. Big slow speed motors had not yet
come into use for driving rolling mills. The roll speed was
geared down by a small motor pinion and a big roll gear. There
were no flywheels for storing energy, and the small motors were not
strong enough. The rails stalled in the rolls. The motors
and roll gearing were on separate foundations with nothing to tie them
together. They began to pull apart, one after the other. The photograph of one roll stand's drive system in the Engineering article of 1906 still shows separate foundations for the motor and gearset - George, III.
all-electric drives were a big mistake. The 12-1/2 foot driven
gear turned at no more than 75 revolutions per minute (rpm) so it
stored virtually no kinetic energy. The 500 horsepower electric
motors turned at only 300 rpm and so they stored little, if any,
kinetic energy either. On the other hand, the large steam engine
driving each pair of rolls at the Joliet works of the McKenna Process
Company supplied the power to keep a huge direct-connected flywheel up
to a similar 75 rpm speed. The "power" of the Joliet plant's
steam-driven arrangement actually came from the conversion of the
kinetic energy of the flywheel into mechanical energy to deform the
steel rail. The flywheel was large enough to supply all the
energy to complete the rolling of each rail passing through the mill
without slowing down excessively, and there was sufficient time between
rails for the steam engine to get its much larger flywheel back up to
its rated speed, regulated by the steam engine's governor. The
motors of the English McKenna plant's mills therefore had to supply all
the energy to roll each rail without drawing more than the rated
amperage of their windings. If the torque to operate the rolling
mill exceeded 2-3/4 times the rated running torque of the motor, then
the rail would stall the mill - George, III, comparing the data in that
Engineering article to what is known about the Joliet plant's operation.
When I lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1967-1969 I could often
hear the steam engine driving the 48 inch universal rolling mill
converting ingots into blooms at US Steel's Carrie Furnaces,
across the Monongahela River at the Homestead Works. It was the
last steam-operated mill in the US. The sound was a heavy BOOM,
followed by smaller BOOMs
at an ever-increasing frequency but decreasing intensity - the
frequency corresponded approximately to the two-beat-per-revolution of
a double-acting steam engine operating at about 120 rpm - George, III.
grief, plenty of it. I forget how long it took to repair motors;
design and build six new huge iron base plates to tie motor and roll
gearing together; to design and build six motor flywheels; to repair
six roll drive foundations; and what not. It took a mint of money
to do all this, and meanwhile the money was pouring out fast in
numerous other quarters; a flood of money going out and none coming in.
were the furnaces, two of them near the first of the six roll
stands. These were heating furnaces over 50 feet long to
accommodate the new standard of 45 foot rail. In practice it had
been the custom to break long lengths into shorter lengths and use
shorter furnaces. But long furnaces to accommodate long rails had
been Mr. Lentz's decision, and there it was.
roll trains, and all were finally rehabilitated, the furnaces had their
turn. The long 45 foot lengths were too much of a drag upon the
rolls and the electrical driving power. Circuit breakers flew
out, and the rails stalled. This occurred incessantly, and
finally rails had to be broken into short lengths, resulting in more
grief because of having to handle short lengths in long furnaces.
There were two other shorter furnaces for 33 foot rails, and they might
have proved a godsend at that point. But they were too far away,
placed to serve the fifth and sixth roll stands as per two-pass rail
many other similar troubles but I mention only the disastrous ones that
were rapidly hurrying the McKenna Company to its downfall. Those
in authority were concerned, but it amazed me how blithely they went
along. The money was going fast, but the trustees in the USA kept
the English managers supplied with fresh funds, and so things went
merrily on. However, my reports to the USA, becoming more and
more outspoken, were not eliciting rebukes. The men who had to
get the money were becoming hard pressed.
British rails evidently had a different profile than American rails,
because the English McKenna Company dispensed with the Joliet mill's
rail-cooling practice of letting the rails cool at first while tipped
over to the right and then flipping them over to the opposite side when
they had reached the recalescence point, easily discerned visually by the one man assigned that job.
The English McKenna mill had to camber the rails while they were hot so
that they would come out approximately straight, as the head cooled
differently from the flange, distorting the rail. Cambering was
done on automatic machines, but then many of the cold rails then had to
be straightened on one of the four presses needed for the task, each
one of them requiring only a single operator, but overall causing more
operators and four straightening presses to be needed, while Joliet's practice only needed two operators on one press - George, III, again gleaning data from the Engineering article.
Even then, the
McKenna Company might have eventually pulled out of its
difficulties. I so wrote to my American employers. Under
certain conditions, a tie-up with the big Cammell-Laird Steel Company
might be made. They appeared receptive. I explained
why. I had talked with the English managers about it. I
looked like the best way to do.
I had been to
see the Cammell-Laird rail mill at Workington, where the manager
Carlisle had called me into his office for a chat. This was
before the mill at Birkenhead had passed into the operating
stage. Once in Carlisle's office, we had drinks, We talked;
and the more Carlisle drank, the more I could see what was in his mind.
centered on heavy rails; what did I know about rolling heavy rails
? "Not much," I admitted. My experience was with the
"renewing" of heavy worn rails not new ones. That was why I had
been sent to England. Could the McKenna Cmpany manufacture heavy
rails ? He asked me this, having not yet visited the McKenna
plant. I replied that the plant was not designed for such a
purpose. How about moderately heavy rails, for instance 75 to 85
pounds per yard ? "Hardly practical," was my answer. How
about rolling heavy rails into moderately heavy rails ? I was
beginning to see the plot by this time. I told Carlisle that the
McKenna Company had never contemplated this. "But it might be
contemplated," Carlisle insisted. Did I think it could be ?
I replied that the best thing that I could think of was to make some
arrangement with the Cammell- Laird Company to be supplied by them with
heavy rail "seconds" for rolling into light commercial rails, 25 to 60
pounds per yard. The mill was best suited for that.
This seemd to
touch Carlisle in the right spot. He had been drinking
incessantly and began to talk more freely. I knew that a
tentative deal was on whereby the Cammell-Laird Company would soon be
sending 105 pound "seconds," 45 feet long, to the McKenna Company to be
rolled down to small commercial rails. "Seconds have long been a
problem," Carlisle said. "Nobody wants them; and now with the
increasing weight per yard and the long 45 foot length, their disposal
is becoming a serious problem. It may be that your mill in
Birkenhead is the answer."
I met Carlisle
again later in Liverpool at a Lord Mayor's dinner to which many
manufacturers were invited. Two of the managers of the English
McKenna Company were there, too. A man suddenly gave me a hearty
greeting as we stood around, awaiting the call to table. It was
Carlisle. "I have just been chatting with Mott and Tozer," he
announced. "Now let's get down in a corner by ourselves and have
a visit." "Suits me," I replied. "Things were looking
pretty dull until you came in," I continued."
He seemed to
like that. So we found a place for ourselves and he began
drinking as soon as he could get a waiter to serve him. He seemed
to know a good deal more about the McKenna plant. "You will have
troubles getting going, but things will get better if you don't take
too long at it." Mott and Tozer had evidently told him that the
mill was running after a fashion, and he asked me about the weights of
rail we were making and contemplating. I gave the weights; orders
for 25 and 45 pounds per yard, and bids on several batches of 20 to 50
pounds. Evidently, Mott and Tozer had given him the same
information, for he appeared satisfied; then he growled a bit; "your
friends have some big ideas; but I guess they will get over
them." The rest of his talk, when it veered to business, had
mostly to do with finding markets for lightweight commercial
rails. "It takes a lot of them to make tonnage," he said.
"And it is not easy to sell enough of them to keep things going." [The Engineering
article of 1906 says that the English McKenna plant's daily capacity
was 200 tons - that works out to the potential of processing 50,000
tons per year vs. the American McKenna Process Companies' combined
output of 80,000 tons as of 1900, having started in 1897 - George, III.]
It was more
than apparent that Carlisle was friendly disposed toward me, He
wanted to meet my wife and children, and I invited him to my
house. He was, as I remember, about 20 years older than I, smooth
faced, thickset and powerfully built. But I never saw him again
after that meeting in Liverpool.
A few days
later, Tozer told me of his short visit with Carlisle. He had
been discussing the matter with Mott, and both men agreed that they
could manage McKenna business without Carlisle's help. The latter
had been briefly discussing the marketing problems with them and had
suggested that it might be better if the Cammell-Laird Company had some
control of this. The McKenna Company was beginning to experience
operating troubles, but the English managers had not beome alarmed on
that score as yet. They were decidedly cocky over Carlisle's
suggestion. I then made it known that I thought the suggestion a
pretty good one. Tozer thought differently. The
Cammell-Laird Company would want a selling commission, a
shilling, maybe even two shillings per ton, and the McKenna Company
would not consider that.
sometimes choose to travel along devious channels. I cannot yet
understand why those English managers turned from the obviously
straight path opened before them. "You must either work with the
Cammell-Laird Company or you must oppose it," was the most I could say,
and that made no impression. I wrote the same to our American
managers but got no response.
on. Mill operations were experiencing the troubles previously
enumerated, and the English managers were seeking business and doing
the best they could to get orders filled.
More time went
on; from Spring to early Summer, 1905. Then one day Mr. Tozer
showed me two letters; one signed by himself, bidding on a lot of 85
pound rail; the other an acceptance. I will never forget the
sensations that almost overwhelmed me, after I read those
letters. It was too late to talk. Tozer could see that I
thought it was bad news. "It will work out all right," he assured
me, but already he was beginning to have some doubts. He had
decidedly more of them when he learned a few days later that the order
he had taken on 85 pound rail had been alotted by the Rail
Pool to the Cammell-Laird Company. Queer, how it happened
that way. I could see Carlisle rising up in his wrath and hatred
of McKenna and all its works at this double-cross, as it would appear
to him. His answer was not slow in coming. The next
consignment of rails from the Cammell-Laird Company came in 15 foot
lengths, the minimum length agreed upon. Each 45 foot length had
been broken into three, 15 foot lengths. Notice of another
consignment showed the same thing. Mott and Tozer asked me what I
thought about it. There was only one thing to do: cancel the
order as soon as possible and get back into Carlisle's good graces if
that were possible. So they cancelled the bid, but
evidently the Cammell-Laird Company was through. No more rail
came to McKenna from them.