The Suitcase Lady


January 19, 2010, 9:32 pm

My childhood was defined by tractors. Since I grew up in a city, that statement may sound strange. But my hometown was West Allis, Wisconsin, named after the famous, orange Allis-Chalmers tractor.

Growing up in a blue collar, manufacturing town was not a bad way to start life. I certainly will never have any delusions of grandeur. As a child, I would lie in bed at night and listen to the reverberating thud of the drop forge hammer from nine blocks away. That sound and the slight quaking under my feet became familiar presences. The hot metal smells the plants emitted signaled that something scary, big and powerful was going on in those hulking, soot covered brick buildings.

Although my father worked in a steel company warehouse, Allis-Chalmers permeated all our lives. Acres and acres of downtown was devoted to the tractor shops. Classmates suffered and school fees were waived when Allis-Chalmers workers were on strike. The high school proms were always held in the Allis-Chalmers Clubhouse.

I grew up, but the tractors weren’t finished with me. My fiance, a native of northern Wisconsin, got his first job thus making our marriage possible. His employer was Allis-Chalmers; he worked in their fledgling computer department for eleven years. The computer filled an entire room. Since we only had one car, the kids and I took our breadwinner to the tractor works every morning and picked him up every afternoon.

My husband left Allis-Chalmers when he knew the demise of the plant was near. Most of the huge complex remains to this day, but it has been converted to smaller offices, businesses and a low-end mall. Nothing remains of the manufacturing might of my hometown.

A wave of nostalgia hits both of us when we see an ancient, orange tractor laboring through a field. And then there is the arrival of our one and only pension check. Without mentioning a dollar figure, I’ll just note that I thank the tractors for three big bags of groceries every month.

2 Comments for this entry


    Such different small towns…… amazing

  • Noreen Strehlow

    Ha! I lived in Cudahy and aside from the tannery and the packing house, there was the constant thud of the drop forge hammer of Ladish Corporation. Oh…and the sonic booms of airplanes which made outdoor conversation an impossibility during the summers.