McKenna Process Company
Plant formerly located in Joliet, Illinois - ca. 1920.
By the Langfords: George Sr.(1876 - 1964), George Jr.(1901 - 1996) & George III (1936 - )
2005 by George Langford III
Bar Re-Forming

A "bar" is one of the two steel  "fish plates" or "angle" bars, bolted on each side to two abutting rail ends in a railroad track.  The track becomes rough and bumpy when the joint is much worn.  In December, 1924, the McKenna Company (i.e., George, Sr.) conceived the idea of "re-forming" or reshaping worn rail joint bars in closed dies under a power press.

The McKenna Process Company was originally organized in 1896 for the purpose of "renewing" or rerolling worn railroad rails, but finally this industry waned as Open Hearth steel came into more general use.  Another was needed to take its place.  The natural thing was to look further into the possibility of some as-yet untouched source of railroad material which might be reclaimed.

Railroads had practiced more or less the reshaping of worn rail joint bars in swages under s steam hammer.  The results were crude, and so this sort of work was not very popular.

In December, 1924, I had a talk with Mr. Cheney, Special Engineer of the C.B. & Q. Ry.
(the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, George, III) and secured permission to visit the C.B. & Q. shops at Galesburg, Illinois, where a particular method of reclaiming worn bars was being used.  Mr. D.H. Lentz, Jr., my assistant, went with me.

The method used at Galesburg was a milling down of the two worn contact surfaces of a bar, making a smaller bar with new contact surfaces to fit a smaller rail instead of to fit the same rail as I considered essential.  The process of milling was laborious, slow and costly.  It had no attractions for me.  But there was something else at the Galesburg shops that impressed me deeply: huge piles of worn steel bars classed as scrap which the C.B. & Q. Ry. was extremely anxious to salvage in some n
manner.  Here was opportunity for business of considerable magnitude.

George, Sr.'s patent drawing, showing the re-formed rail joint bar and the re-forming process:
U.U. Patent No. 1,659,776, Page 1
George, Sr.'s patent drawing, showing the press and die for re-forming the rail joint bar, including the important pin:
U.S. Patent No. 1,659,776 - Page 2

In about January, 1925, I secured authority from my directors to build a bar re-forming plant.  Press and die work was new to me, and so I made a deal with the E.W. Bliss Company of Brooklyn, New York, to do some trial re-forming with one of their big power presses at Brooklyn.  Mr. Haynes, Purchasing Agent of the C.B. & Q., agreed to furnish bars for my trials.

Meanwhile, we visited many railroads to get bar re-forming business.  Mr. Shaud, Chief Engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was among the first.  Our method of re-forming in closed dies under a powerful crank press aroused general interest.  With the information gained at Brooklyn, I designed and built a plant at Joliet, Illinois.  It was a small but well equipped plant.  We had a two row, gravity, continuous, oil-fired furnace; a 1,500-ton crank press, a large, oil-quenching tank; and numerous smaller machines to round out the main equipment.

We encountered plenty of grief when we finished building and began to operate.  It was just one thing after another, but we finally began to get the tonnage out.  There was no end of business intil others stepped in and made the going tougher.

Piles of heavily rusted bars
Image 22 - Piles of heavily rusted C.B. & Q. 100-pound bars to be re-formed.

When we got our bar plant running, the C.B. & Q. Ry. sent us many bars that had been piled up for several years and which were deeply caked and pitted with rust.  Cleaning them up was a serious problem.

  a. Closeup view of the rusty splice bars.

Rattling heavily rusted bars - Detail of Workmen
Image 23 - Rattling heavily rusted bars.
The worn bars were often so rusted, or covered with oil and dirt, that we had to clean them in some way.  We tried this foundry rattler at first but soon gave up the practice in favor of grinding with emery wheels.  Grinding was the only way to smooth up corroded fittings.

Probably the worst diffuculty encountered in re-forming was the discovery in 1926 that many worn bars had cracks in the middle of their tops.  This would eventually cause breakage, and so we had to find and eliminate bars that had these cracks.
Welding the cracked splice bars
Image 24 - View showing welding of the cracked bars.

a. Detail of the welder's truck:

Closeup view of the welder's truck

The sign on the side of the truck reads, "Will County Welding Co., Electric and Acetylene Welding and Cutting, 366 So. Chicago St., Joliet, Ill., Phone 145."

There is no picture of the mechanism for charging bars in heats, although worn bars were being charged at the time through one of the furnace side doors
(image not present - George, III).  Pulling hot bars out of the furnace (another missing image) The bar is being drawn from the side of the furnace near the hot end.  The furnace was of the continous type, oil fired.  Bars were charged in at the cold end, as fast as they were drawn from the hot end.  Proper heating was about the most important of bar re-forming operations.  View of hot bar going into press (image missing) This was a 1,500-ton Toledo Crank Press, electrically driven.  When fully assembled, it weighed over, 200,000 pounds.  The heated, worn bar was completely re-formed with one stroke of the press.  Pins were incorporated in the dies to insure proper sizing of the bolt holes in the bar while being re-formed (see patent image - George, III). View of hot bar in dies (no image) This was the outlet side of the press.  The crosshead with upper die is about to descend upon the hot bar lying in the lower die.  Hot bar being reformed (no image)  Outlet side of the press.  The top die is shown descended upon the bar.  Hot bars going through Oil Quench (no image)  Quenching was the third major operation, following the ones of heating and pressing. The re-formed bar, still hot, dropped into the oil tank and was conveyed through the hot oil, which gave it hardness.  The quenching tank had oil circulating and water-cooling pumps to keep the quenching oil at the desired temperature.

Image 25 - Views of re-formed bars being piled for proper cooling
The re-formed bars, conveyed throught the hot oil, were dropped onto outside conveyors.  Although they look cool, they are too hot to handle, and the man has an iron hook at each end of the bar to lift it from the comveyor and stack it in the pile.
Hot bars, out of the oil, being stacked for proper cooling

Same process, but in the Winter
Hot bars being stacked for proper cooling

Hot bars stacked for proper cooling
Image 26 - Closeup view of a stack of re-formed bars.
Note by George, III:  The heat treatment used here is an approximation of isothermal transformation.  The intent was, first, to avoid as much as possible the formation of pro-eutectoid ferrtie (which weakened the steel) by initially quenching in hot oil and, second, to keep the bars hot while the relatively slow decomposition of the high-temperature austenite into bainite or pearlite was given time to take place within the slowly cooling stack.  It later turned out that Alexander Langford, great-great-grandson of George, Sr., became expert in the measurement of continuous cooling transformation curves during his employment at Foote Mineral Company in Exton, Pennsylvania, in the late 1970's.  Alex still has the ISA - ADAMEL LHOMARGY high-speed dilatometer as well as the Reichert metallograph that he used at Foote.
Re-formed bars ready for loading
Image 27 - Re-formed bars ready for loading.

a.  Detail of workman:
Reformed bars ready for loading - Detail of Workman
Straightening crooked bars after re-forming
Image 28 - View showing our method of straightening crooked bars after re-forming.

a. Closer view of the two workmen:

Closer view of the two workmen
Machining die with planer
Image 29 - View showing the machining of the dies.
Note by George, III:  It turns out that in my penchant for collecting old machine tools, I happened to end up with an 1870's Pratt & Whitney planer much like the planer shown at left.  The image below shows some of the tool-crib tokens used by the mill hands to account for company tools they were using.
McKenna Process Company tool-crib tokens

Image 30 - Bar at the top below was reformed without the use of pins for the holes, while the bar at the bottom was forged with pins in the die (as for the patent drawing) to keep the proper size of the bolt hole.
Pins versus No Pins in Bar-Re-Forming Die

Image 31 - This view shows the special type of hole put in by McKenna so that an oval shanked bolt may be used.  This hole was originally square.

Square-Hole Approximation Used by McKenna Process Company
Image 32 - US Patent No. 1,890,687 splice bar model
US Patent No. 1,890,687 McKenna Process Co, splice bar model
Image 33 - US Patent No. 2,034,046 splice bar model
US Patent No. 2,034,046 McKenna Process Co. splice bar model
Image 34 - Typical splice bar cross sections used by McKenna Process Company
Splice bar sections from McKenna Process Company
The models seen in Images 32 and 33 were used to demonstrate George Langford Sr.'s processing methods and design basis to prospective customers.

The splice bar cross sections at left are for rail that is puny by today's standards, about 100 pounds per yard, but considered quite heavy at the time the McKenna Company was operating.
C.B. & Q. = The Burlington RR.
PENNA. = The Pennsylvania RR.