New Berlin Historical Society
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Figure 1. 1941 aerial view of future proving ground property (center) showing open farm fields

Allis Chalmers was a large industrial conglomerate that manufactured agricultural equipment from about 1915 until 1985. The author spent 22 years, from 1963 to 1985, with the firm’s Advanced Technology Center in West Allis. During those years, New Berlin was transformed from a mostly agriculturally-based community to a suburban and industrial community. New Berlin shares a border with West Allis, and the author finds the business relationships between this large corporation and New Berlin of interest.

The author is aware of three major connections:

  1. The former Roberts Golf Course located at the NE comer of New Berlin
  2. The Albert Schroeder farm on Calhoun Rd. that served as a beta test site for the first production rubber tired tractor
  3. The Allis Chalmers Proving Grounds

This article deals primarily with the Proving Grounds, which was located on land south of Cleveland Avenue, near 166th street.

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Figure 2. 1950 aerial view of proving grounds property. New service building and test track outline are visible

Figures 1, 2, and 3 are the three aerial maps available which help to establish location and tenure of the operation. The 1950 map (Figure 2) shows a lane leading from Cleveland Avenue south to a small building, and an indication of a test track in the SW corner of the picture. Not surprisingly, the track would be located as far from the mainroad as feasible.

The 1941 map, Figure 1, shows no signs of the development, whereas the 1963 map, Figure 3, shows the property being transformed to accommodate the Industrial Park complex we know today.

The brick building constructed by AC remains on the 1963 map, and indeed survives today as shown on the 2007 aerial map, Figure 4.

Further research is needed to determine the timing more accurately, but one could speculate the AC proving ground in New Berlin was established after WWII, and operated until about 1960 when a new facility was constructed near Union Grove, WI.

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Figure 3. 1963 aerial view showing road development in progress for the coming industrial park

A search of Norm Swinford’s archives has revealed only one photo that was positively taken on this site. Figure 5 is a staff photo taken in 1953 of a WD 45 tractor outfitted with a diesel engine, the first diesel to be marketed by AC.

The photo of Figure 6 shows a field test being conducted on a WD 45 tractor pulling a 4-bottom moldboard plow in alfalfa sod. The picture illustrates the technology available in the 1950's for conducting such tests. Here, drivewheel slip is being measured by recording revolutions of the drive wheel as compared to actual travel distance measured by the “fifth wheel” device running freely on the ground behind the tractor. Other measurements may have been the lift cylinder pressure which would indicate weight transfer to the rear wheels. The test could have been structured to document the performance of the “draft control”, snap coupler hitch system AC had introduced on the WD tractor.

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Figure 4. 2007 aerial view of property now part of the New Berlin Industrial Park. The service building remains intact

The building AC constructed at this site still stands today, although in poor repair. Figures 7, 8, and 9 are views taken in December, 2009. Boarded up windows suggest little use is made of it except perhaps for storage. The bays were once likely used to service tractors under test and to build prototypes.

Forested for thousands of years, open fields for crops and livestock for 100 years, an industrial park for the last 50 years, what does the futurehold for this land?

David Totten
New Berlin Historical Society
January, 2010

1. Norm Swinford (1925-2014), authored several books on the history of Allis Chalmers agricultural equipment.

 

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Figure 5. A preproduction WD with new diesel engine is shown in this 1953 photo taken at the New Berlin Proving Grounds (courtesy Norm Swinford)

 

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Figure 6. Field text of WD45 pulling 4-bottom plow c. 1952 (courtesy Norm Swinford)

 

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Figure 7. Former proving grounds service building as it appeared in late 2009

 

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Figure 8. South side of service building, late 2009

 

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Figure 9. West side of service building, late 2009