Oral History Interview with Jim Ames

Previous Next World War II Exhibit Page Home Search
Record 35/959
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Classification Archives
Collection World War II Oral History Project
Dates of Accumulation January 23, 2003
Abstract Oral history interview with Jim Ames by Brad Larson. He discusses his experiences working at Universal Foundry during World War II, attending college during the Great Depression at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. A typed transcript is on a computer file in the archives.

Jim Ames Interview
3 January 2003
Conducted by Bradley Larson.

{B: indicates the interviewer, Mr. Larson; J: indicates the subject, Mr. Ames}.

J: [ ] in foundry February 1st 19… milling machine, cut [ ] for [ ]. And ah, there three months when I got an offer from [ ] 42 years. I was vice president, developer [ ] and [ ] mechanical engineer and I [ ] metallurgy. And then I became a purchasing agent for a couple years and then Art Ziebell needed me to help him with engineering because World War II was coming on. So we had to design a new production system for, to take care of added jobs during the war.

B: So you knew the war was coming?

J: We knew the war was coming. That was, well I started in 1940 and December 7th, 1941 the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. And the European war was already on at that time. When I started. Anyway…

B: How did you know the war was coming? How, what were some of the indications that we would be at war?

J: Well, our ah, the, the foundry was doing business with a lot of firms that were in the, were in the ah, arms business. Like Caterpillar and John Deere. They started making things for the government. So it was quite evident that all hell was going to break loose one of these days. Anyway ah, I started working for Art Ziebell and he was going blind. And he was president of the company. His father helped, old Bob Ziebell helped the company start in 1919. Farney had built the Universal Motor Company because he was a speedboat guy. And he could, he built the speedboats at Universal Motor. And then he needed engines so he started a foundry to make the castings for his big engines for speedboats. And ah, so that's how the foundry got started.

Well, to make a long story short, during the 20's, the company grew and grew and grew and started taking outside business besides just building for Universal Motor Company, which was fine. And ah, by 1940, they were a pretty darn good foundry and I started working for em on the recommendation of ah, Universal Motor, who we knew a fella there that was doing business with Carl Miller at the foundry. So I went in on his recommendations and he asked me who I worked for and I told him Cap Thorndike. And I says, "Don't call him because I called him an awfully naughty name and he threw me out, right through the screen door."

B: Did he?

J: Yeah. Carl laughed and said, "I didn't like the guy either." He had trouble with him. They gave me a job right on the spot.

B: He did, huh?

J: Yeah. 25 cents an hour. Think of that.

B: Was that considered to be pretty good?

J: Well, that was about all they paid in Oshkosh. But that was terrible. $12.50 a week was all I made and they only worked, they didn't work Saturdays at the time. Because they had a 35 hour work week for the, 'cause they wanted two shifts. They couldn't have 8 hours shifts because they couldn't get the sand… had to be mixed up with a, what they called a, like a lawn mower. Had a big blade that went around and around. They called it a sand cutter. So between shifts, they had to re, redo the sand piles for the molders. And they just had a long sand pile and they'd pull the molding machine out to the front and start molding and use up the sand pile until it got back to the end of the, to the front of the floor. And then the molding floor was full of molds to pour.

Well then, when we saw World War II coming on, ah, World War II was really boiling by the time we built a unit. We built a continuous unit that's, that ah sand was all handled with conveyors and hoppers over the molders. So they could increase their production to beat the band.

And I worked on that in 1944 with a company in Milwaukee called Gehringer. Walter Gehringer, Inc. and I worked with them and we built this ten-man unit ah, that ah, we poured about 40 ton a day in that. And about 40 ton a day in other parts of the foundry. But at that time, our main customers as I recall, I didn't have anything to do with sales at that time, but Caterpillar, John Deere ah, Wisconsin Motor, we made lots of air-cooled cylinders, that was one of our big fortes was air cooled cylinders. Ah, Briggs & Stratton, Onin (D.W. Onin there), and air-cooled cylinder maker out of Minneapolis. And just little companies all over the, this area. And even Illinois. And ah, now that unit carried us through, it was still there working when I quit in '82. It was still runnin after pretty near 40 years. Ah, but ah, in ah, in 19 ah, oh gosh, we installed all kinds of equipment.

I built ah, the company built under my direction, units for producing air-cooled cylinders. For pouring em on carts that ah, we could take and roll em through the pourings on an endo-cooling hood, then into a shake out and not break all the fins off, you know. And ah, then oh goodness, we had ah, we went to automatic [shellco] machines that ah, made cores instantaneously. I mean they were a plastic binder in the sand. We heated the core boxes. We put the sand in the core box under air pressure. And the heat of the box cured the resin and we got a mold ready to pour. And so we were one of the pioneers in that field.

B: Was there problems during the war in obtaining materials?

J: Ah, yeah. There were, oh I'm trying to remember what was the worst ones. Ah, the foundry industry was a key industry though in the war effort. They were, they were just one of the top notch companies because everything has to start out with a casting. A foundry is the start of everything. If it weren't for the foundries, you wouldn't have any modern civilization today, hardly. Except that now with the modern things today, the foundries are losing business to a lot of other processes.

But ah, so we, we, we did pretty well during the war. I mean supplies were sand, you know we had to have new sand for molding. The binders that made the sand grains stick together. And ah, cores, there were binders for cores that were made out of oils. Linseed oils were part of em and ah, Delta Company in Milwaukee was one of the main suppliers of core oil, which we had to bake. You mixed the oil with sand and other materials like corn flour and ah, oh I can't remember all the things we, silica flour and so forth. We ah, each core had a different mixture almost for the ah, difficulty of casting the part. And we did pretty well, we were pretty well known in the casting industry as being as a good core foundry because we made these air-cooled cylinders. And ah, but during the world war which you are mainly interested in,

Ah we, the war pretty near ended before we got this new unit that we put in. [ ] But ah, it helped survive the company through all the ins and outs of business during the 50's, 60's and 70's. Ah, but um…

B: Did you cast mainly iron products or was there other metal?

J: We had a non-ferrous foundry which casted aluminum and bronze. I've got a big propeller that came off of a, a nephew of mine got it out of a fire engine in Chicago and it had Universal Foundry, UF. And it's a big brass bell about that big and a beautiful bell. Got a beautiful tone. And my son bought it for me. And we lived on the lake, Lake Winnebago, until last March. And ah, I didn't have a good, there was a garage hooked onto an entryway to the back kitchen and the house. They're all hooked together. And he hooked it so that the, he put a new door in the side of this entryway and stuck the bell on a frame on the inside with a ticker that went through a little hole in the wall. So the people out there rang the bell when they came. And it's still there.

But anyway ah, so the foundry was, we had two foundries. One on 7th Street that I built in 1950-51 in the old Rusmussen Building. It was a, he, Rasmussen was in business back , way back. It was in the late 1800's, early 1900's. Where he'd pull the trains in there and refurbish the trains. On each side. The railroad track came right down the middle and then there were big iron, concrete columns. And a roof that was like so. The side ah, side bays for each car that they were going to rebuild. And so we bought that building and it was a strong building. It was all concrete room, concrete everything. And put a non-ferrous foundry in.

Then about, that was in, oh gosh, that was in the late 40's or early 50's. I just forget right now. But then we built a big additions to it for permanent mold foundry. A permanent mold aluminum foundry where you'd pour aluminum into a cast iron mold and it would make everything you could think of in these ah, cast iron molds. And we had a sand foundry too and ah, so ah, from there on, we had two foundries. The non-ferrous job poured brass, manganese bronze, and all kinds of different brass products.

B: Was that in the works during the war? Did it actually function during the war?

J: No. that was after the war.

B: Was there labor problems during the war? Did you have enough men and women to actually…?

J: Well, they hired women for the core room during World War II. Because we couldn't get enough men. And of course the draft was on. But the foundry industry was such a needed industry that they'd almost get deferments for everybody. Unless they'd only been there a month or two. And then they couldn't hold em anymore. But ah, the government was pretty good to us. When we had men that were doing essential jobs, not sweepers or anything like that, they'd draft them, but men that were doing, making castings, or molder or making difficult core work. We could get them off.

B: What did the women do?

J: Well, core making about only. The, we started a new addition called a new core department during World War II ah, which had all women. And boy they were good core makers. Women are better with their hands than men, almost.

B: What goes into making a core that made them so…?

J: Well, they're difficult, well, ah I don't know how to explain it to you. Any casting, the outside is ah, reasonably easy to make compared to intricate passages within the casting. For oil passages and water and anything you can think of like a hydraulic pump. You got lots of internal passageways. Well you gotta make those internal passageways with cores. 'Cause there's iron on both sides and there's a hollow in the middle. How are you going to get the hollow in the middle unless you got something in there that'll take the heat.

So a core is a baked product that's mixed oil, flour, other binders, iron oxide and other binders together and then you bake it in an oven and it becomes harder. But the heat of the iron will break the core down eventually. And so, but when you pour the casting, you got the core supported in there. And iron goes on both sides of the core like a water jacket in the engine of your car.

We made hundreds of those for Universal Motors. Four cylinder little engine. Well those things had to use cores on the insides to get the water jackets around the cylinders. And anywhere you gotta have a circulation of oil or water, you have to core it out. So cores are an important part of a casting. And so we had a big core room. Lots of air-cooled cylinders are all big cores. 80% of the mold of our new additions we put on for air-cooled cylinders, whole mold was made out of baked sand.

B: And the women were better at doing those cores?

J: I don't say they're much better but it was light enough work to where they could do it. Molding is hard, you know. You're, in those days, they were pounding the sand by hand mostly. They had a jolt machine and a squeeze machine but it was hard work. Women couldn't do it very good. But a core maker was a, they just made little pieces that were fit in and they were good at that. And so ah, there's a lot of women still in Oshkosh that worked in the core department there. We had a whole separate room and I hadda build new shower rooms for the ladies 'cause the men's showers, you couldn't mix em up. And ah, so we built women's locker rooms and shower rooms and ah, oh goodness.

B: What was your job then. You were an engineer and so you designed and supervised some of this?

J: I had, I had the maintenance department and I designed all the equipment that went in. Now I used other designers obviously. I'd go to firms that built [shellco] machines. I had to build those. I didn't build molding machines but I bought em. But the arrangements in the plant, the equipment arrangements, the conveying equipment, was designed by me, mostly. And ah, ah,….

B: Well that sounds like that's a pretty important job so you must have been deferred from military service too.

J: I was except I was 4F on top of it. I had an ulcer in my esophagus at the time. And I went to Mayo Clinic because I couldn't swallow anything. And they found that and I still got problems with it. But I lived anyway. But I was 4F in the service. But they got me out regardless because they needed me at the foundry. Ah, I was ah, you know I was a Depression kid living on 25 cents an hour in Madison. I paid $10.00 a month rent for my room. And I had, my best meal cost me a quarter.

B: Were you born and raised here in Oshkosh?

J: No. I was born in Brooklyn, Wisconsin on a farm. Then I moved to Madison in 1929 and went to, graduated from West High School, a brand new high school in Madison. And then after I graduated from high school, my dad moved up to Oshkosh and I had to come up here. So I went one year to the college here. Then I went to Madison and had to support myself in Madison and go to the university.

B: Things were pretty tough, huh?

J: They were damn tough.

B: Yeah? Tell me about that. What was it like? It's hard for us to imagine that. But tell me what that was like.

J: Well I worked at Oscar Rennebohm for two bits an hour and finally my cousin in Chicago had a Model A Ford that he no longer wanted. So he sold it to me for $20.00. So I was nineteen, twenty years old at the time. So I went to Chicago, hitch-hiked to Chicago, went to his place, got his Ford. He wouldn't give me his license on it. I didn't have enough money to buy one.

So I filled it up with gas, I had about $5.00 in my pocket. Of course in those days, gas was 12 cents a gallon. And I got, I, the damned thing would go 73 miles an hour. And I had er wide-open pretty near all the way home. Except I got shut in between some railroad tracks. Gates came down on me in Chicago. And I didn't want to get stopped because I didn't have a license on it. So I went right through the gates and the guy saw me coming and he raised the gates but I took em off with the top of the roof. I took the end of one gate off. But I got out of there without getting arrested.

But on the way home, I, damned moth got up my pants leg and was, I felt it about here and was battling that damn moth. I went off the road and hit a line of posts along the curve. I took off about ten posts with the front end of that, wheeled out of it and took another one with the back end. I stopped in, in ah, Oconomowoc. No, Campbellsport. Walked into a tavern and asked for a glass of soda. And he looked at me and said, "Hey, what's the matter with you son? You look like you just came from the dead." I wouldn't dare admit that I'd knocked all those posts down.

But I got home and it cost me 75 cents to get a new bumper off a car at the junkyard. And I put a little dope in the radiator because the radiator was starting to leak a little bit. But it went fine. I took it back to Madison with me and used it until I had to sell it.

Anyway, I worked down in Madison. I worked for Rennebohm for a couple years. Then I had this $20.00 car and he came out with an edict that nobody that made under $100.00 a month could drive a car because they'd steal money to keep it going, he figured. So I quit and I went to [Tietemann] Drug Store and I got 30 cents an hour. And they didn't have that. They had ah, they were a good bunch to work for.

B: When did you come back to Oshkosh?

J: 1939. The fall of 1939.

B: And what brought you back here?

J: My dad went busted. I couldn't, but he only gave me, my mother gave me $15.00 a month for my room. My room cost me $10.00 and I had $5.00 for food or something. But I had to make the rest of it. I couldn't live on $5.00 a month. So I got this job. And I never took, 16 credits was all I could stand. But anyway I went there two years and one year here, so I had three years at the university. And I was a pretty good engineer so I, when I came here, nobody wanted anybody in that in February l940. I had a helluva time getting a job. And they didn't pay anything in Oshkosh. Oshkosh was always a low paying town.

B: Why do you think that is?

J: I don't know. To this day, it's lower paying than most places. The reason it was is this was a woodworking town. And wood workers, Paine Lumber Company and ah, they didn't pay any money. So everybody, other businesses… But our prices are high here. Our gasoline, even in those days, you could buy gas in Neenah/Menasha a lot cheaper that you could here. Right today, go up to Appleton and you get gas for four cents, five cents a gallon cheaper than here. I can't understand that.

Well anyway, the foundry in those days was a pretty good place. It was always a low paying place as far as salaried help was concerned. And ah, oh when I think of the money I worked for, the amount of hours I put in. I worked 50, 60, 70 hours a week and never got overtime or anything. I could have been out in the foundry and made more money than I made as an engineer.

B: What did the people out on the floor make? The actual workers.

J: I don't remember. 40 to 60 cents an hour is my guess about that.

B: What was it like in town during the war? What were some of the things that you did during the war? Was there recreation available?

J: Oh yeah.

B: Well tell me some of the things that you did.

J: We had ah, movie theaters on the South Side. I think it was called Star. And then there was the Time Theater was the little one. Still there. And the Capital Theater. No, what was the other one called? Strand I guess. I don't remember. I'm getting mixed up with Madison. {The Star was a very small theater on the South Side. The Mode was larger, also on the South Side. The North Side had both the Oshkosh and the Strand, the Strand being the largest and most ornate}. The Time Theater was also on the North Side, on the west side of Main Street. It was somewhat smaller than the Oshkosh or Strand). But we had good theaters here and ah, …

B: Did you go to the movies often?

J: And ah, oh they were anywhere from about 25 cents in the daytime to 40 cents at night. And so you could see good movies. And the radios were good. They didn't have any television of course back in the thirties. We didn't have a television set until, God, I guess it was 1948. After the war they started out. About '47 when television sets… By '50, why we could buy pretty good ones.

And ah, Wilson was a good place on Main Street for that sort of thing. I bought my first television set. They had it advertised in the paper for $213.00. A 19" set, which is as big as they were in that day. And I ran in that morning, I got out of work. I got in there before, I waited for em to open up. "I want that television set for $213.00." They wouldn't sell it to me. I said, "You got it in the paper - you gotta sell it." "No, we can't sell it right now. We wouldn't have it to draw people in." I said, "Lookit, you're going to sell me that television set." I got a CBS television set. Finally, they had to sell it to me. For $213.00. I was the only one in the neighborhood that had a television set! But anyway we had a good time.

You could buy a car then. Oh, you could get a helluva good car for $1,000.00.

B: Really!

J: Yeah. My dad had a, the best car I ever drove was a '37 Nash Lafayette that would go 92 miles an hour. That's the way I drove it most of the time.

B: What was your dad doing at the time?

J: He was a, he worked for, he was a farm organizer for milk companies. He worked first during 1929, there was a milk strike in Chicago, in '28 I guess it was. And he was one of the leaders of the strike to get farmers more money. Because we had a dairy farm. And ah, then he quit the farm. It was owned by his father. So he left and my oldest brother who is now the last one left in our family, 92 years old, he ran the farm for a year. Then he quit and went to ah, the University of Wisconsin. Got a degree in agriculture. And ah, every one of my family was a university graduate but me.

B: During the war do you remember bond drives?

J: Who?

B: Bond drives? Raising money?

J: Oh, yeah. When I was moving over here, I found a thing with stamps. We bought stamps. War stamps.

B: How did that work?

J: Well, you bought the stamps and put them in a book. You filled the book up, you got money for it. I just forget but I got the book somewhere. Ah, and war bonds were the way you saved money. By buying war bonds and war stamps. Because they put the stamps out for 25 cents a stamp. Something like that. So that a person could buy a stamp. Cigarettes were two packages for a quarter. Imagine that.

B: So did, did the ah, city or the federal government or war bond committee encourage everybody to buy bonds?

J: Oh yeah. There was advertised something awful. Everything was. Buy bonds, buy stamps. Yeah. 'Cause they had ah, it's not like today. You know the amount of money we spent on World War II is peanuts today, what it costs. Because everything was so low priced back then.

B: Did you think that the United States and its allies would win the war?

J: Oh yeah.

B: Did you? Did you ever have any doubts that we would win?

J: No. We were shocked when they came out with the atomic bomb. I remember we were sitting in our living room on December 7th. I think it was a Sunday. And all at once they broke into a good program we were listening to. And announced that we had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. And what it did to the city. Well, we knew the war was going to be over then with that thing. The Germans pretty near had an atomic bomb too but we got there first. But ah,…

B: Did you have any inkling what this atomic bomb was?

J: I didn't know about it. None of us knew about it before it went off. That was a very great secret. And then they explained it to us. What were we talking about?

B: Atomic bomb?

J: Oh yeah. Of course you know that was 1945 when they dropped that. But boy those poor Japs sure got hell with that.

B: But then again, it took an awful lot of men, American lives against Japan. Did you, were you aware of that?

J: Oh yeah.

B: Did anybody talk about that sort of thing?

J: Yeah. Everybody was concerned about it. And to this day ah, the people that went through it don't like the Japanese very well because they were just horrible during the war. And how they tortured our people. And look at how they bombed ah, Honolulu. No, it wasn't Honolulu they bombed. God, they did it on a Sunday and killed thousands of people. And wrecked most of our ships that were all there. And I, there was word that we knew it was coming and they didn't tell anybody. You know, that they wanted to go to war to get out of the Depression. Roosevelt was, I don't know, I never liked him but I guess he was a great man. But he was a little bit of a bugger at the time, we thought.

B: Did you believe that when you heard that?

J: I didn't like him at all. Most of us didn't like him but an awful lot of Republicans hated his guts.

B: But did you believe that they knew about the attack but didn't tell anybody?

J: We didn't hear that until after the war was over. No. But when you see a movie of that thing, it's terrible. I've been on the Arizona, the port out there. And you can still see it under the water. Some of the domes are still sticking up. And there's lots of bodies, thousands of bodies still in the darn thing. Never got em out.

B: Thinking back, I gotta put a new tape in…

B: Okay. Jim Ames, tape two, January 23rd, 2003. Thinking back on that time now. Imagine yourself as a young man. How did you feel about the Germans and the Japanese. Do you remember how you felt?

J: Oh, I hated them. Everybody did. They started the war. Germany did. And Hitler was the hatedest man in this country. And then the Japs came along and ah, there was no love for them either. Because they didn't love us. They were killing us as much as they could. I'm eating lunch here at our table with Orville Klotzbuecher who spent pretty near four or five years in the Pacific Theater. And oh, he tells some awful stories about what went on over there.

B: I wonder if he'd be willing to talk to me in an oral history?

J: I don't know. He's got, he…I think so. His wife is not in good health at all. She's almost a basket case. He's 85-86 years old. I'm 83.

B: Would you ask him if he'd be willing to talk to me? From the museum?

J: Sure.

B: I would appreciate that. I'll give you a card.

J: Larson's your name, right?

B: Right.

J: [ ] and then I forgot about it this morning.

B: Well, you know, what are some of your most enduring memories of the war? What are some of the things you think of more than anything else? Did you know people for example, any of your friends lost their lives?

J: Ah, well I had quite a few relatives that were over in the European Theater. Wondering if I'd ever see them or if they'd ever come home. My father, my wife's father was in World War I in France. And ah, so we knew that war was horrible. But I don't know, the war in Iraq right now kinda scares you a little bit. I don't know whether we should hold off for awhile or what the hell we should do.

B: When the war ended, what kind of celebrations were there?

J: Let me think. We had some, we had a group of people in. Dick Miller who was ah, you called on his wife. She [ ] me. I got, I was their best man at their wedding in 1944 before he went in service. And ah, no, he just got out of service. That's right. Anyway, in '45 ah, he was a helluva fine guy. Ah, he was, finally owned the foundry, lock stock and barrel.

And then he sold it in 1969 to those buggers from Fond du Lac who ruined the place. They spent money. They were just trying to make a fortune off of it. [A statement here was not included at the request of Mr. Ames}. But anyway, I didn't like em at all. Nobody liked em because they cut everybody's wages and they treated us not like human beings. So I was with em from'69 to '82. I finally quit during the last, after getting the last foundry going, I quit, in January. And the foundry wasn't running yet. And oh, they had a fit because I quit. They finally offered me $10,000.00 to stay until April 29th over my wages. So I stayed until May 29th. They wouldn't speak to me after the first iron was poured.

But ah, well, I didn't give you much history during the war. Our biggest employment was around 500 people during the war. That was our, we had three shifts going around the clock and breaking our back to do everything we could for the country.

B: Was there a sense that you really were doing something important?

J: Oh, yeah. All our casting went for the war effort. Ah, we didn't make hardly anything for civilian use. It was all war stuff. I mean, even our air-cooled cylinders were put in ah, into service for you know, for, to run a paint sprayer or something there ah… We don't have, I don't have any idea of the thousands and thousands of products that were used in the war, you know. Everything you can think of. From cooking pots, to caskets to you name it. It was, had to have a lot more than normal during that period of time.

B: Where did your raw materials come from?

J: Well, sand came mostly from ah, Ottawa Silica came from Ottawa, Illinois. And we used some Tennessee molding sand that was real fine grain; made very good castings. We used that in our non-ferrous foundry; and other sands came from Berlin, Wisconsin; a lot of sands, still supply a lot of sands for the foundry.

And then you've got the Bentonites that come from South Dakota and North Dakota. Southern Bentonite and Western Bentonite. There are two types of Bentonites and that's a clay, a very fine clay that you mix in a muller which mixes the sand with wheels and plows and everything, and coats the sand grains with this clay. So that when you add a little water to it, they stick together. You make a mold. And ah, ah, so we got sand, most of our sand probably came from Berlin. We got [ ] from lots of other places for special applications. And they have sands that are ah, oh what do they call it now, there are special binders that, oh I can't remember the name of it right now. I'll think of it in a minute.

But ah, there were, everybody that had good clean sand sold it to you. You had to get good clean sand. You couldn't have dirty. And they'd screen it to get any bird droppings out of it or any chaff out of it. And we had this, I remember we built, we didn't have room for, we had three kinds of sand. Different grain fineness.. You can get course sand, medium and a very fine sand. And ah, so you'd blend em to get the type of finish on a casting.

And we couldn't store three kinds of sand, so I built two silos. We had room just for two forty, fourteen foot silos. And I put a mid-floor in one. I built a steel frame and put a sloping floor. So we put two kinds of sand in one silo. [ ] fine sand. [ ] loading process - elevators.

Then they came out with front-end loaders. God, I think the front-end loader was the best thing that was ever invented. Because I bought a small one that would get right in the boxcar and unload the boxcar with a front-end loader. Dump it in an elevator to the, to get up to the forty foot high top of the silo.

B: And where did the actual pig iron come from, or the raw iron?

J: The raw iron was put out by [ ]. Oh, there were several manufacturers. Hickman-Williams, ah was one, Pickens-[Mate] there was another one. And then there was silver, silvery Iron. It was high silicon iron. It was white. Harder than hell. It was poured where they had a high silicon content because silicon was a softening agent in iron. It made the carbon form into flakes so that it was nice and soft and you could machine it. And it was a lubricant. That's why a car engine was good with cast iron cylinders, 'cause it had graphite in it. Graphite's a lubricant. And ah, ah, so we ah…

B: Was there any trouble getting that raw material?

J: No. None whatsoever. We got it all by rail and ah, Berlin came by truck. No it did not, not all of it. So it came by truck. Because we had this unloading system in the core room with a front-end loader. Had a ramp outdoors so we could get up into the boxcar. And ah, when I went there, they did everything by hand. All the sand was shoveled by hand. Pig iron was unloaded by hand. And Block Iron supplied our scrap iron. Because we got scrap cast iron, scrap steel. And you blended those to make a 3.5% carbon iron. And the way you ran your cupola determined whether you, they had a chill test where you pour the iron into, onto a cast iron block. A little corner had a slot. The chill test was about 1.5 inches high and 3/8's at the bottom and a half-inch at the top, or quarter inch at the bottom and about a half inch at the top. And you poured that in there and how deep the chill was, it hit the cold iron block. It would solidify on that. And how deep it was white would tell you how hard that iron was. And you could put silicon with it. It would knock that chill way down. And you'd get a softer iron.

B: That scrap iron was pretty important as part of the process?

J: Yeah. 'Cause steel, scrap steel, old used motor blocks were the best scrap we could get. And other cast iron. We had to watch out for certain cast iron that had a high sulfur content. Because sulfur was no good. And ah, we had about a .08-.1 sulfur is all we could stand. And ah, steel didn't have any and steel was low carbon. Steel was .20 to maybe .50 carbon. And ah, but cast iron's 3 to 3.5% carbon. So ah, we put steel because we didn't want too high a carbon in our iron.

B: Was that fuel, did you use coal?

J: We used coke. You bought from Pickens-Mate and we bought, it was quite expensive but it had to come in big blocks. And ah, boy, you could melt iron like crazy with it. It was all carbon. They got, they had ah, you could melt cast iron with gas-fired furnaces but they didn't get hot enough. If you did, everything melted. About it. But ah, today they use electricity. We finally got into electric furnaces. We started an electric furnace department in about 19, oh God, it must have been about 1970. I was in charge of that too. And ah…

B: It certainly sounds like you had a great career there. I mean [ ] a lot of experiences that…

J: I was with the foundry industry from its infancy to modernization. I go in a foundry today and I don't know what the hell they're doin always. You take the Berlin, the Waupaca Foundry. They were started by two guys that were at Brillion Iron Works up here in Brillion, Wisconsin. And smart as hell, they were. And they started a little foundry over in ah, Waupaca. It was just a shed. And it's the biggest foundry in the country now. Its been sold to somebody in Germany. Well anyway, a helluva good foundry.

B: I imagine the city has changed a lot since those war years, hasn't it?

J: Well, not as much.

B: You don't think so?

J: Yeah, it's changed but ah, the Main Street's about the same as when I moved here in 1936. All those buildings are old. But there are some new ones going up. The new apartment building and the new banks. But the ah, the First National Bank Building was still there. And the one that's the Raulf Hotel now was a theater. That was a good theater. And ah, I guess the Kitz & Pfeil, Time Theater. Now they own that whole block. I've been to Europe with him a couple times. They're wonderful people.

B: Well thanks very much. This has been very ah, very enjoyable for me and I really appreciate you doing this.

J: Well, my memory is, I had a brain operation on my head and I had a blood vessel burst in my brain. I was riding a jet ski. In 1994, my son and I bought a new jet ski for my grandson. You know what they are. They go to beat hell and I, anyway we got that home and I, my son rode it and I said I'm going to ride that sucker. And we lived on a bay north of Oshkosh, Shorewood Dr. And I got on that baby [ ] to the other side. And all of a sudden I said I'm going out on the lake and hit some big waves. And I just, absolutely I was struck dead. I didn't know what happened. And they found me floating in the water. When you fell off that machine, you had the key, was tied to your belt. So if you fell off, the key would pull out. And you'd, the machine would die. The engine would quit. They saw my, yeah…

{The second tape ends here}.
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID OH2001.3.40
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
People Ames, Jim
Subjects Industrial facilities
Universal Foundry
Universities & colleges
World War II
Title Oral History Interview with Jim Ames
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION ~ For access to this image, contact

NOTICE: This material may be freely used by non-commercial entities for educational and/or research purposes as long as this message remains on all copied material. These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format for profit or other presentation without the permission of The Oshkosh Public Museum. © 2005 Oshkosh Public Museum, All Rights Reserved   
Last modified on: December 12, 2009