Monday, June 22, 2015

Battenfeld Grease & Oil Company

Updated 22 June 2015 with a few minor details on the company history and inbound commodities.

This installment of the Fairgrounds Branch tour examines the Battenfeld Grease & Oil Company, which was spot #327 on the 1972 Map.  Operations began around 1911 and I found this ad from 1924.

J. R. Battenfeld started the company at 3148 S Roanoke Road, which is actually across the street from the Farigrounds Branch, more on that later.  The company was involved in research into lubricating greases beginning in 1938 through 1940 (the time of the documentation).  At least one of their products was 'Tube-A-Kalk', first manufactured around 1949.  From an article about the owner's house, I learned that they made a lot of grease compounds: "... in 1947, his company was one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of grease and oil. Even during the Depression, the company produced 20 million to 30 million pounds of grease a year and supplied more than 1,000 oil companies ...".  It is unclear if all of that production took place at this location, though I have no reason to suspect otherwise.  30 million pounds is about one railcar's or six truckloads' worth of production every weekday.

A service bulletin for Piper Aircraft published in 1982 listed them as a supplier of a lubricating grease for a fuel plug on their airplanes, which confirms the company was still in business then at that date.

Today, there's a more modern-looking office building on the site with a sign that's not for this company.  City permit data indicates that that a significant remodeling took place in 1986, so the company may have folded or moved on around that time.  Interestingly, there is a company of the same name located in the state of New York that claims incorporation in 1939, however, according to a reputable industry source, the association between these two companies is by name only.

Now, about the difference in building location versus rail spur location.  Battenfeld Grease was served by two local railroads: The Frisco from the Fairgrounds Branch and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railway from a short spur that diverged from their Rosedale Yard (which, interestingly enough, was captive to the Frisco's mainline; the Katy had trackage rights from Paola, KS into Kansas City).

First a map for orientation:
(Click the map above or this link to the current Google Maps view)
On the map, the upside-down "Y"-shaped green lines in the center are the Katy spur, while the brown "S"-curve at right is the Frisco branch.  Battenfeld's plant was in the area outlined in red and across Roanoke Ave in the blue highlighted area was the tank farm.

I've pieced this together from multiple sources of information:

As for rail service throughout the years, the track with the tank car spots is busy in the late 1950s, less so in the mid-1960s, and, frankly, looks overgrown with weeds in 1969.  The Katy's rail spur has cars on it in all of these photos, so perhaps their product mix shifted from making greases from raw or bulk material to more of a distribution role.  The tank farm was served by the Frisco and the warehouse / manufacturing area was served by the Katy.  Frisco's spur did include on dock spot in addition to five tank car spots, so maybe smaller quantities were shipped from there or other smaller items were received.  The main inbound commodity would have been "base oil" used to make the various greases.

In any event, I'll plausibly be able to include the tank car spot and / or the edge of the tank farm on the model.  It remains to be seen how active this company was at this location in the latter part of the 1970s.