Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Western Electric's Montgomery Shops and Manufacturing Solvents

(Satellite, more location details below)

I was well aware of WE's Hawthorn Works. The following taught me that WE had a plant in Montgomery, IL.

Lost Illinois Manufacturing posted
In 1969 comes this photo from the Western Electric plant in Montgomery, Illinois. Courtesy of their employee Facebook page
Joe Murray Some of that western electric equipment is still in place inside the central offices. It’s all ‘retired in place’ until the engineers decide they need the bays.
Dennis DeBruler I worked for Bell Labs back when both BL and WE were part of Ma Bell (AT&T before it was broke up). I was aware of the Hawthorne Works. I was not aware of a Montgomery Works. The caption reminds me that the existance of integrated circuits was "cutting edge" at the beginning of the 1970s.
The plant was occupied in 1955. The principal products in 1964 were Data-Phone data sets; Wire spring Relays; Test sets. [TheBellSystem, pdf page 46] This document also explains on page 44 the difference between Works, Shops and Plant:
An understanding of the organization of the Manufacturing Division requires a brief digression into intra-company terminology. It’s a question of semantics, really. Words like “Plant," “Works," and "Shops," when capitalized have specific meanings at WE, though the reasons may not always be clear and the distinctions do not necessarily apply elsewhere in the Bell System. To take one example, Webster’s defines "plant" as “… the machinery, apparatus, fixtures, etc., sometimes the real estate employed in carrying on a trade or mechanical or other industrial business." In Western Electric usage, "Plant” has a more limited meaning. Strictly speaking, there are only two WE Plants - with a capital P. One is at Buffalo, New York; the other in Laureldale, Pennsylvania. Specifically, "Plant” refers to a separate, medium-sized manufacturing facility, encompassing several “Shops." “Shop" is used to describe a manufacturing unit under the direction of a superintendent, that produces one particular product family, like crossbar equipment or cable. Major manufacturing facilities, which comprise many Shops, are designated Works. There are 11 WE Works and they are responsible for the great bulk of the company’s manufacturing output. Five of these Works operate satellite Shops with large manufacturing facilities employing sizable numbers of people and located physically apart from the Works to which each reports. The Burlington Shops, for example, where the Speakerphone and ground radar and missile guidance equipment for the armed forces are made, covers well over 700,000 square feet of manufacturing space. 
The 469,000 sq. ft. plant was demolished in 1987. [GeoCache]  The building is too new for the copyright free historic aerials and too old for Google Earth. I found the building in 1973 and 1952 historic aerials. But they are copyrighted.

So I worked on learning how to find the online USGS topo maps. The cross-hatched area is the footprint of the plant. If you compare a contemporary satellite image with the historic aerials you can see that the existing concrete triangle on the northeast part of the property was a parking lot. The big asphalt part on the south part of the property did not exist in 1952, but it was in the 1973 image.

Even though WE did not occupy the plant until 1955, it existed in 1953 because United Wallpaper built it in 1943 to help make flares and bombs. This became one of several plants that United Wallpaper had built or converted to bomb production. "Most town people were aware that the factory produced flares that would light up airfields and battlefields throughout the world, but few were aware of the great danger in that process. Three workers had been burned to death on the third shift at a United Wallpaper Factory in Clearing, IL, while loading the first fire charge in the M-50 bombs. Clearing is on the south side of Chicago where many large industries are located. The probable cause was friction. At this location many fires, explosions, and accidents were reported. All in all, 2,289,492 bombs were loaded at United Wallpaper Factories. Accidents and fires were common." After the war, the plant did convert to wallpaper production. "After the wallpaper plant closed down, the site was sold to Western Electric and then to Lucent Technologies. When these factories closed the buildings were torn down and site remediation began. Heavy trucks trekked up and down River Street hauling the soil away to be treated, and bring it back again. The site is still [2012] being monitored regularly and occasionally workmen can be seen using long probes to test the soil at the lower depths. Once all contamination is gone, it will become a beautiful riverfront property once again." [hidden-danger-in-our-midst]

I found it interesting that before United Wallpaper bought the land, it was a yard for the CA&E. But I could find no trace of this yard or the track that went south across the CB&Q branch and followed IL-31 in a 1939 aerial photo.
1944 ed of 1925 map
20170725 0572
I now realize that I parked right next to the land at the end of River Street when I took the trail that goes under the US-30 bridge. The land on the right that I walked past to get from my parked van to here was the Montgomery Shops property. Around 2000, Lucent Technologies pad $10m to clean up not only their oil and solvent mess but United Wallpaper's mess. "In June 1998, Lucent completed an effort to remove solvents, among them a possible carcinogenic, from the northern end of the site using the largest mobile machine ever assembled in the state to remove contaminants from dirt. The EPA has since determined that the effort was successful....Contaminated soil beneath the former AT&T Montgomery Works plant had leached into the groundwater." [ChicagoTribune] Since then, Lucent Technologies became Alcatel-Lucent. It is now Nokia. The satellite image indicates that the land has yet to be repurposed.

I've retired from Bell Labs. Back in the 20th Century, we used to receive a weekly Bell Labs News newspaper. I remember an article talking about how they invented a solvent based upon a chemical found in oranges for cleaning printed circuit boards. The article made a big deal about the new solvent being "environmentally friendly." After a little research, I learned: "Many industrial cleaning processes have relied heavily on the use of chlorinated solvents, specifically 1,1,1- trichloroethane (TCA) and 1,1,2-trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane (CFC-113). They are regulated as hazardous wastes. These chlorinated solvents also have been identified as ozone-depleting chemicals and are being phased out under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990" [epa-oh] So now I understand why the new "orange-based" solvent was considered such a breakthrough. Not only would it reduce cancer rates and protect the ozone layer, it would avoid millions of dollars of cleanup costs. We keep a bottle of Goo Gone to clean off adhesive after removing tape. The front label has photos of it removing paint & varnish, gum, grease & tar, and glue as well. It also has an image of an orange with a face and two strong arms with the words "Citrus Solvent    No Bad Oder!". The epa-oh article was written in 1992 and states "At this time, there is no common or simple substitute for the wide variety of solvent uses." I assume Bell Labs solved at least the PCB (printed-circuit board) cleaning problem. Solvents for spring-wire manufacturing are no longer needed because logic and switching relays were replaced by electronics by 1990. As an alternative to better solvents, "Some AT&T plants are using a low-solids flux for wave soldering in an inert atmosphere which eliminates the need for PCB cleaning altogether. For this no-clean approach AT&T Bell Labs has developed a low-solids fluxer (LSF) that can apply fluxes on PCBs reliably and so accurately that little residue is left." [p2InfoHouse] The LSF solution is a high-capital manufacturing machine. But in the 1990s, Western Electric was still making enough PCBs that expensive machines that removed the no-value-added cleaning step was obviously cost effective.

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