Norge/Whirlpool Fort Smith

Discussion in 'General' started by john, May 19, 2010.

  1. john

    john Supporter

    Here's a very brief look at the Norge / Whirlpool plant at Fort Smith which was once a large Frisco shipper and still receives plastics and other chemicals over rail via A & M.

    The site was originally occupied by a division of the Equitable Powder Company which primarily produced black gunpowder for the mining industry. I suspect that this industry dates back to the 1800's, I know it appears on timetables by the first decade of the 1900's.

    A 1906 ETT lists the siding as Fenn (mp 420.4) capacity 141 cars. (This is the wye Frisco used to turn the Fort Smith passenger trains as needed.)

    Equitable closed for good after the Second World War. The area just north of the original powder plant was then chosen as the site for a new Norge division of BorgWarner appliance plant. Construction began in 1961. Most of the "old hands" I spoke with considered the Norge operation a total failure because of "insane" operating practices. In 1966 the plant was sold to Whirlpool Corporation which has operated it ever since.

    The original building had an attached warehouse on the southern side (which has since been converted to manufacturing area). A single internal spot (#1) was used primarily to unload raw steel at the northwest corner of the building. Tracks #2 and #3 handled boxcars along a series of doors on the north side of the plant where inbound materials such as plastic or fiberglass were unloaded. Track #5 might handle a boxcar of 55 gal drums of paint on the south side of the plant. #6 and #7 led to the finished goods warehouse (#9 and #11 inside the building). An early 1960's Fort Smith track chart, which illustrates all this, has been posted here on by Steve Marquees

    The current finished goods warehouse (south of the plant - connected to it by an overhead conveyor) was constructed in two phases, the first half (close to Jenny Lind Road) was built in the early-mid 1970's. A few years later a second (rear) half was constructed. This building was primarily a rail warehouse until the GREEN took over. It wasn't long after that before all sorts of problems, many of them self inflicted by BN, caused Whirlpool to abandon rail and convert to what eventually became an all truck warehouse.

    An attached photo was taken by Mike Condren, who gave me permission to share it. The NYC car is being switched at the original NW corner of the plant (the building has been expanded to the west more than once and this area is now well inside the existing building). The Norge plant was still almost new at this date.

    The aerial photograph was taken by me on the Memorial Day weekend in 2003 (which explains the lack of activity in the auto parking lots). This photo is looking at the northwest (back) corner of the plant. The current warehouse is located on the right side of the photo. By this date the warehouse had long since been converted to a truck/trailer warehouse.

    Andre Ming provided the 1980 BN chart.

    Whirlpool area ca 2000.jpg Whpl BN 1980.jpg SLSF213.jpg Whirlpool plant aerial photo.jpg
  2. tripphd

    tripphd Member

    The building to the left of the locomotive is the boiler/steam plant. My father worked at Norge and then retired from Whirlpool as a millwright. Very interesting. I grew up in south FS, and wondered all around the area.
  3. friscobob

    friscobob Staff Member Staff Member Supporter

    This could make a decent switching layout all by itself.
  4. fr613

    fr613 Member Supporter

    In October 2011, Whirlpool announced that they will close the Fort Smith plant by mid 2012, disposing of the remaining 1000 employees.
  5. slsf580

    slsf580 Member

    This past Thursday, June 28, 2012, the last refrigerator was produced at the Fort Smith Whirlpool plant, and 800 hourly workers were laid off and sent home. Thus ends another era of Frisco related business in the city.
  6. William Jackson

    William Jackson Bill Jackson

    Boy, that's a big hit, for Ft. Smith. When I was Roadmaster for KCS in Sallisaw, I lived in Van Buran. Guess they can still count on Planters, just peanuts, compared to Whirlpool. Lots of history there, I had a NARCOA run on the FT. Smith branch while working there. Back with Frisco, I worked on that line, some. One of my first runs on a Burro Crane was through Winslow Tunnel, over the bridges into Chester and Rudy. Seven miles down hill, scared me to death.
    William Jackson
    PS Enjoy the 4th,
  7. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    Indeed a sad day for all the Whirlpool employees. On Thursday, the switch job I was working picked up the last hazmat car spotted on 5 rail. There now remains two plastic cars over on the north side on track 3 or 4, can't remember which. (It's been so long ago that they were spotted.) Those two plastic cars are supposed to be transloaded and emptied by the middle of July. Once we pick up those last two cars, that will end something like 50 years of rail service to Norge/Whirlpool.

    Re: Grade south out of Winslow...

    Seven miles down what is reputed to now be (by our Superintendant) the second steepest mainline grade in the US.

    As I recall, there are segments of the descent that reach something like 2.6%. Just a few months ago, the speed on that portion of the line was reduced from 35 MPH to 25 MPH. (To help curve wear, it is hoped.) I learned to drop trains off that grade long before the 25 MPH limit. "The Mountain", as it's referred to, definitely gets your respect when you enter the Tunnel southbound. We don't have dynamics on the Alco's... so you bring a train down it using only train air. Simply put: You'd best know what you're doing.

    Once I'm retired, I can tell you of some "interesting" descents off that grade. Can't now in order to protect the innocent as well as the guilty!!

  8. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    That is bad news for these people. Makes me sad and yes angry, to think of all the jobs lost in this country to the far East, It's all about $$, but it shouldn't be every time, all the time. I have no idea how good these jobs were, but I would propose it was much better than what they have now, I guess there is no merit to keeping some of these tooling and MFG skills on these shores. As a veteran, I hope we can still figure out how to supply ourselves with enough beans, bullets and band-aids to defend whats left of this country. But enough of that.

    Andre, what do you guys typically use for switch engines? I hear you on the mountain grades, makes a big difference too if you have 130 TPOB, as opposed to 40 TPOB:D Had and old hog head now long gone, tell me one time, "kid if you use that air before you need it, it will keep you out of a lot of trouble". It was, and is, good advise:D I am always glad to read and see you posts Andre, Still trying to wear out that GP7, I got from you years ago, I am on the second motor and set of wheels, it has been in many pictures too.:D
    Tom Holley
  9. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member


    In Fort Smith/Van Buren we use C420's. Hopefully, never again another T6. (Knee knockin', rough riding, sons, of guns.) Handling a longer train of empties is fun: They'll start fast, stop fast. (Relatively speaking.) More forgiving than loads. Here'ya on the advise. One of the more challenging things to do is when you have to drop off a grade with a heavy train at a posted speed, have to reduce speed to meet a slow order, then resume speed, all on a grade with only air. Remind me to tell you of an anecdote about that when I have more time. (It's time to head off to bed.)

    Glad you're still enjoying one of my old engines! I had a lot of fun on that layout.

  10. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    I hear you Brother, get your rest. Just got re-called today, off of a bid, retention/reserve board, and placed on the "bump board".. Man, it was the best job, so far:D I have ever bid to, in my career.:D:D OH well, looks like I am pulling a throttle in the East pool. Until my vacation starts Monday:(:eek:
    Tom Holley
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 1, 2012
  11. Andre,
    With Whirlpool now gone, How bad of a hit will this be on A&M's bussiness in Ft. Smith? I hope you don't mind me asking but, Also have you picked a year to retire or is it many years down the road? I'm hopeing to go to work for the A&M(if I can't work for them Ft. Smith RR or UP are my other options) in four years(After College) , but I think it would be cool to get to work with a guy who got to run on the line back when Frisco had it. Hope you got a good amount of rest though.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 1, 2012
  12. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    Hi Murphy:

    No, I don't mind mentioning: I have about 5 years, 10 months, two days, and 18 hours to go... but who's counting?? :D

    I hope it works out for you on your hope for a railroad career. I also hope you find railroading to be what you hoped it would be.

    As for Whirlpool:

    They've been tapering off significantly the past two years. When I first hired out on the A&M, we were switching them about 3 times per week. (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.) Then they started needing a switch once or twice a week. Then about once a week... the every other week... then once or twice a month. So, their car count hasn't been a major income factor for some time.

    We have taken a hit on several customers in Ft. Smith since the Obama administration has taken over. Soon after the election in 2008, it was like someone flipped a light switch and the business just DIED. Not only Ft. Smith, but also Springdale and surrounding railroads. The FSR went from THREE jobs to ONE. Several of their employees were laid off. It was rough.

    Two A&M Train Service guys got laid off in Springdale (first time in the history of the A&M that Train Service employees were laid off due to lack of traffic), two others got transferred to MOW. We barely hung on at Fort Smith. I was one man off the bottom of the overall seniorty roster at the time... so to say it was a nervous time would be an understatement.

    However, one the MAIN REASONS I hired on with the A&M is because they have AGRESSIVE MANAGEMENT. They don't just sit back and let things run its course. Our Marketing/Traffic Department, as well as our owner (and he is a good one), rolled up their sleeves and got busy beating the bushes and making things happen. It took a while (a year or so), but soon they had creatively and innovatively drummed up business to replace what we lost... and the car counts started coming back up. Today, we have decent car counts in spite of having lost a few customers during this God-awful economy we've been stagnated in since 2008. We (the employees) owe it to our Marketing/Traffic Department and the A&M's owner for coming up with ways to get us through this economy.

    Ozarktraveler likes this.
  13. It is good news that the A&M has an Agressive Management team and I'm glad it wasn't too big of a hit for the company. I'm really hopeing that more traffic will be generated outta the Ft. Smith area(hopefully the windmill parts plant in chaffee will open). If everything works out I'll be working for a railroad a year and half before you retire. I do want to work for the A&M, but I can't be too picky. Have a good time though running those engines and try to stay cool in all this heat!
  14. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    As for more traffic out of Fort Smith: We are already having to run an FS Turn on Sundays every now and then to handle the excess tonnage. Many times we have to reduce tonnage during the week for the FS Turn on account of there being too much. Thus, a Sunday train is needed to keep up with the flow. I will be working nights this week, the job I will be working is responsible for getting the northbound tonnage ready then meeting the FS Turn and exchanging freight. Many times I've handled 90 or so cars off the FS Turn when working this job. Likewise, we've sent the FS Turn north with that many. Much of this is due to NEW BUSINESS that our Marketing/Traffic Dept and our owner have drummed up. Like I said, the A&M doesn't just sit and pout: They work their way out of a slump if at all possible.

    As for the Mitsubishi plant: It was in the local news here a while back that the plant has been put on hold by Mitsubishi due to the economic climate in the US.

    SAFN SAAP Member

    Sorry to hear about the economic issues, but glad your marketing is proactive to keep the money flowing in. Those transfer turns can be a bee-otch. I remember doing those on the C&O. An Yardmaster can make or break those jobs. Experienced ones make it an easy night for you. Rookies usually give it to you in the rump. A lot of tonnage. A lot to move. Little time to do it all in.

    Toyota built a big plant in South San Antonio on the old San Antonio, Uvalde & Gulf, also known as the "Sausage Route". UP handles it of course, but BNSF came right in and low balled the UP and now UP is giving BNSF priority because of the agreement with Toyota. UP isn't happy about siding Port San Antonio's container business for the likes of BNSF. It's nice to see the pumpkin engines come in. I hope to see a Frisco Heritage down here. Would be nice. Ah, wait, I'm wanting to see a diesel? Somebody fetch me a cold one so I can sober up! LOL...
  16. KGH52

    KGH52 Member

    It was the Frisco that
    The Frisco helped Whirlpool build a large warehouse for trucking finished goods to Tulsa in the mid-70's so this traffic was gone long before A&M took over what remained of the old Central division. I believe the fate of the Central division was sealed long before the BN merger.

  17. Bart

    Bart Member

    As reported by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), ‘Fenn is the name of the manufacturing plant of the Equitable Powder Manufacturing Company, located about 4.1 miles south of Fort Smith and connected by a spur track with the main line of the St Louis & San Francisco Railroad Company.” The ICC also stated that the spur track was about 1 mile long and belonged to the railroad, and that no other industries were located at Fenn beside the powder works. The Equitable Powder Manufacturing Company plant was located to the east where the Norge facility was later located.

    The Equitable Powder Manufacturing Company was founded in 1892 by Franklin Olin and several other investors. The company had two early plants, one at East Alton, Illinois, and the second one here. This plant was built to provide commercial explosives for area coal mining. The black powder mill used nitrate of soda in carloads imported from Chile through the ports at New Orleans, Louisiana, and Pensacola, Florida.
    qaprr and fr613 like this.
  18. john

    john Supporter

    Don't know how well this will work. This is from a 1960 Frisco map showing Norge as originally built. The location of the former powder mill tracks is shown in yellow.
    Old Powder Mill tracks  NORGE.jpg
    fr613, rjthomas909, Rob R and 5 others like this.
  19. tferk

    tferk Member Supporter

    Excellent map - very rare to see maps of plant trackage.
  20. John, this is really nice posting [as always]!

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