November 18, 2002

intellectual spade work

Somewhere here at we have a picture of a crane (from a secure location) built by the American Diesel Company. During a lull in my six hours of researching social constructionism and human nature, I plugged the name into Google.

I found an article about submarine engines.

August Busch, (no relation to Arthur L. Busch), although better known for brewing than for submarines, did play a role in the early days of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force. In 1898 he bought the American rights to Rudolf Diesel’s engineering patents and formed the American Diesel Company to produce the engines. John Holland considered diesel engines for the Holland VI, but negotiations between the Holland Torpedo Boat Company and the American Diesel Company in May 1899 failed to produce an agreement. The American Diesel Company was reorganized in 1912 as the Busch-Sulzer Company. It first supplied diesel engines to the G-class submarines built by Simon Lake in 1911.

So I plugged in August Busch’s name with ‘diesel’. I got a article about the “This Bud’s for You” advertising campaign and the spy thriller hit of the summer XXX with Vin Diesel. Yes, apparently he is that Busch, of Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Misery.

Plugged in Anheuser-Busch. Bam. The Bavarian Brewery opened in 1852 but didn’t do too well until it was taken over by Adolphus Busch. Budweiser was born in 1876, thus named because it was brewed like beer in the Bohemian town of Budweis. The company changed its name to Anheuser-Busch in 1879.

In 1913, Busch died, but his son, August Busch, took over, and managed to keep the company going during Prohibition by such spin-off products such as yeast, soft drinks, syrup, and even refrigeration units. In 1933, after repeal, Busch had a case of Budweiser delivered to FDR in a carriage pulled by a team of Clysdale horses, which have since became a company trademark.

The brewery company operated freight cars under its own name. It also owned the St. Louis Refrigerator Company and the Manufacturer’s Railway. All this information is courtesy of the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society. I got lucky that Anheuser starts with an ‘A’, as the rest of their glossary is kept under lock-and-key for fat cat Society members. One year subscription: $50.

Plugged in Manufacturer’s Railway. East Troy, Wisconsin is the home of the Alpine Valley music venue, where I have experienced intense joy and elation at many Phish concerts. It is also the home of the East Troy Electric Railroad Museum.

Refrigerator cars are called ‘reefers’.

Early “reefers” were of all wood construction and about 36′ long. Ice bunkers were built into each end of the car and filled through hatches on the car roof. These reefers could only travel about 250 to 400 miles before they would need re-icing. Salt was sometimes placed in the bunkers to make the ice melt faster and lower the temperature of the load. Railroads built huge icing platforms and ice storage houses at major terminals and other strategic locations to quickly service cars.

Courtesy of, who seem quite fond of the Schlitz Brewing Company of Milwaukee.

Comments from a retired railroad engineer: When the beer train would pull up along side a Milwaukee brewery’s shipping dock platform, many of the crew would go into the brewery and come out with cases of beer. These were placed in whatever convenient places to be found on the train. When the train returned to the station, the crew members would pull their cars up along the train and transfer their goods. (Author’s note: Don’t know if these freebie cases were condoned by the breweries or the railroad management.)

It wasn’t uncommon to see a reefer car leaking foamy beer after it was backed into too hard while coupling. Sometimes this hard striking was intentional to break open the doorway of the car, at which time the culprits would begin unloading whatever beer they could get away with. This was usually done when the train yard detectives were on the other side of the yard checking car door seals.

While cool, this trail had gone dead. I plugged in Busch-Sulzer. Pulled up some U.S. Navy records housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Records, 1895-1946

Records of a St. Louis, Missouri manufacturing firm which produced diesel engines. Founded by beer magnate Adolphus Busch as the Diesel Motor Company of America, 1898-1901, then the American Diesel Engine Company, 1901-1911, this firm was the first to manufacture diesel engines in the United States under the patent of German scientist Dr. Rudolph Diesel. In 1911, the company merged with the Sulzer Brothers Diesel Engine Company, a Swiss manufacturer.

The records include correspondence, reports, blueprints, drawings, and legal records documenting the early development of the diesel engine, improvement of the locomotive engine, submarine engine production during World War I, engine production during World War II, and general industrial manufacturing; financial records documenting assets and liabilities, production costs, and engine orders; and corporate records including minutes of Board of Directors and stockholder meetings.

Also of interest is one folder relating to the company’s relations with labor during the 1920s and data on employee wages and working conditions, photographs of factory construction, advertising publications, and operating handbooks.

14.2 feet

Oh wait. My crane was built by American DiesElectric, not the American Diesel Company. The Southeastern Railway Museum of Duluth, Georgia has a 50-ton 1953 U.S. Army #C-271 self-propelled crane, built by American DiesElectric. The emblem on the back matches up.

More digging, now through books on internal combustion engines. It seems a ‘dieselectric plant’ is a single cylinder diesel engine with directly coupled generator units. Witte Engine Works of Kansas City makes them.

The Windsor West Green Party Candidate Chris Holt advocates the use of dieselectrics as a viable option for alternative fuel powerplants.

Busted out the groove with Witte Engine Works. It appears they made tractors. Found a ‘personal’ letter from Mr. Ed Witte himself, type-written on November 17, 1925 from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

I think I made a big mistake in asking you to make a big payment down on that engine that you need and I’m going to correct it right now!

I don’t need to SELL you this engine–but you sure NEED this engine, to save you money, time and hard labor, and if it were working on your place NOW it would be paying for itself.

Now, just send me $5.00 down and I’ll send you the engine, any size, mind, 2 to 7 H-P. inclusive, and don’t get one too small because practically every engine I ship pays for itself. Take a year to pay the rest and divide it up to suit your convenience, 2-4 or 6 months, 3-6 or 9, or anything that’s fair, and remember there’s no interest to pay.

Under this plan, you are really getting the engine FOR NOTHING, because it earns and saves you many times its cost. Remember, you need send only $5.00 down! Let me have your order today!

Yours very truly .

Witte Engine Works.

Ed. H. Witte


Proof that junk mail is nothing new. Proof that credit is nothing new. At least back then you got the dope straight from the President himself, and he actually signed the letter. I get junkmail from Playboy and Visa, not John Deere… but still… it’d be cool.

Various sites suggest that Witte Engine Works became Oilwell, but no one offers a history of the company. Even Marilyn Jones can’t help us, now:

Marilyn Jones, 67, of rural Dearborn, [Missouri?] passed away Tuesday, June 4, 2002, at her home.

Marilyn was born on August 24, 1934 the only child of Dewey and Edna (Hinton) Miller in Iantha. Her parents preceded her in death. She grew up and attended school in Liberal, MO., where she graduated high school as the valedictorian of her class, and later attended business school.

On November 7, 1954 she was united in marriage to Paul V. Jones. After their marriage they lived near Dearborn, where they made their home. He survives of the home.

Marilyn was a bookkeeper for Witte Engine Works.

According to Hoover’s the BUSINESS INFORMATION AUTHORITY (I see a square-jawed man with a vacuum stuck up his nose), “National-Oilwell is the tool man of the oil patch.” These would seem to be the right guys, as Witte engines are often mentioned parathetically with National-Oilwell on other pages. This company is still alive and kicking, making sure that the untooled man can suck the marrow from the bones of our Mother.

The company produces, distributes, and services oil and natural gas drilling equipment for land and offshore drilling rigs. Its mechanical components include drawworks, mud pumps, rotary tables, SCR houses, top drives, and traveling equipment.

No mention of the bartering Eddie Witte. Witte Engine Works is all but dead.

Other products include masts, derricks, substructures, and pedestal cranes.

Cranes. That’s what brought us here in the first place.