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Chrome Crankshaft as a company dates back to at least 1959. The following want ad seeking hard chrome platers and plating engineers was in the Chicago Tribune on October 16, 1959: "Los Angeles firm building new plant in Chicago for reconditioning of large crankshafts." The new Chicago location was to be in Downers Grove, Illinois.
The location on New England Avenue was active as early as November 1961. (Cook County property assessment rolls)
In September 1969, the Chrome Crankshaft Company of Los Angeles was acquired by Sovereign Enterprises of New York. (Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1969)
Varlen Corporation, of Napierville, Illinois, purchased control of both Chrome Crankshaft of Illinois and Chrome Crankshaft of California in 1969. Varlen also owns Prime Manufacturing Corporation, a well known manufacturer of locomotive equipment, and Keystone, a manufacturer of locomotive draft gears. The three companies are operated under the Varlen Locomotive Group name.
Chrome Crankshaft of California was located at the former facilities of Consolidated Western Steel in Bell Gardens, California. During early 1971, there were 10 Alco switch engines at the facility, along with retired SP AS-616 5233.
Chrome Crankshaft Locomotive Sales Company was organized in September 1977 by Mr. Lawrence Beal, who was a vice president of Chrome Crankshaft of Illinois. Chrome Locomotive Sales remained under the direct control of Chrome Crankshaft of Illinois until the former Rock Island shop at Silvis, Illinois, was purchased in 1981. At that time the company was reorganized as Chrome Locomotive of Illinois, with facilities at Silvis and on South Avenue O in Chicago. The facility at South Avenue O was the location, along with at least one other minor location, where Chrome rebuilt many locomotives for the resale market, including former Milwaukee Road SW1200s and GE 80 ton center-cabs for the U. S. Navy, and 60 ton Baldwin RS4TCs for the U.S. Army. This facility was sold to NRE in 1990, along with the Chrome Locomotive shop in Silvis.
Azcon leased part of their facility at Hegewisch to Chrome Locomotive in 1977, and this is where Chrome began their rebuild business. National Railway Equipment later leased the same Hegewisch facility to do some of its work. (This information is from a brief telephone interview with Mr. Willard Winters of Azcon)
In December 1977 and January 1978, Chrome Locomotives Sales Company ran a series of want ads in Chicago newspapers, asking for experienced railroad locomotive machinists, welders, electricians and air brake specialists. The positions were for the facility at 13601 South Avenue O.
In May 1980, there were newspaper reports that Chrome Crankshaft Company of Illinois was about to purchase the former locomotive repair shop of the bankrupt Rock Island, which had shut down on March 31, 1980, putting 1,100 workers in the Quad Cities area out of work. The sale was to be finalized within two weeks of May 17th. About 450 people had worked at the Silvis shops, but the new company would likely only hire about 65 people when it opened. In August 1980, the Rock Island trustee rejected Chrome's offer to buy the shops. Negotiations continued and in December 1980, Chrome's parent company, Varlen Corporation of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, announced that the sale was final but still pending approval from the federal bankruptcy judge. The final offer was for $23.4 million; to purchase 82 acres of former Rock Island property, including the Silvis repair shops and track, along with 214 locomotives and an unspecified amount of repair equipment. The federal judge overseeing the sales of assets of the bankrupt Rock Island approved the sale on December 22, 1980. By January 4, 1981, Chrome had hired 20 workers, including the former Rock Island shop superintendent. Newspaper photos show the workers active within the shops. On February 3, 1981, the local newspaper carried a news item that "Chrome Crankshaft has moved in at the Silvis yards."
Due to the separate financing needed for the $23 million purchase the assets of the Rock Island at Silvis in late December 1980, a new subsidiary of the Varlen Corp. was organized, known as Chrome Crankshaft Locomotive Sales Company. In November 1984, the company was renamed as Chrome Locomotive, Inc. as a separate subsidiary of Varlen Corp., to market the locomotive rebuilding and sales of the Chrome Crankshaft companies. The facility at Silvis, Illinois, was the company's major asset.
Chrome Companies was the informal marketing name used to market the total railroad equipment services of Chrome Locomotive and Chrome Crankshaft of both Illinois and California. The locomotive rebuilding and parts services of the two Chrome Crankshaft companies, and of Chrome Locomotive of Silvis were marketed as The Chrome Companies from 1983 to about 1990.
Chrome Crankshaft's two facilities in Chicago, Illinois and in California both rebuild locomotive crankshafts, camshafts, and axle gears. Neither facility had rail access, and neither of the two were involved any locomotive rebuilding activity.
Chrome had a salvage yard in Southern California, first at Alhambra, then briefly at Mojave, and then at San Bernardino. The San Bernardino facility, located adjacent to Santa Fe's yard, was closed at the end of August 1992, reflecting Chrome Crankshaft's exit from the locomotive rebuilding market. Several locomotives were scrapped in preparation for the closure, including ex SP S6 1229 in April 1992, ex SP S6 1214 in July 1992, and ex SP SDP45 3200 in August 1992. Ex SP SD9 4439 was sold intact in mid August 1992, and numerous remaining locomotive components and parts were sold for scrap to Pacific Car Dismantlers of nearby Colton, California.
In June 1990 the facilities and interests of Chrome Locomotive were sold to National Railway Equipment.
Chrome Crankshaft closed its facility in Bell Gardens, California, on January 11, 1999, following complaints by neighbors and local government officials about the long-term effects of the air pollution of exhausting hexavalent chromium as one of the by-products of the chrome plating process into the air.
In June 1990, the facilities and interests of Chrome Locomotive were sold to National Railway Equipment. At that time, NRE added Chrome's former Rock Island shop in Silvis, Illinois, to its capability to completely serve the railroad locomotive rebuilding, second-hand locomotive sales, and locomotive leasing markets. The shop in Silvis completes both the rebuilding of railroad locomotives and the heavy repairs and modifications of railroad cars.
In October 1997, NRE purchased the Mt. Vernon, Illinois, shops of the bankrupt Precision National Corporation National Railway Equipment purchased the land and shop buildings of the bankrupt Precision National Corporation The former PNC shop was reopened in December 1997, with NRE hiring many of the former PNC employees. (Extra 2200 South, Issue 115, May 1998, page 22)
National Railway Equipment purchased the buildings and assets of VMV Enterprises in Paducah, Kentucky, in late June and reopened the facility on July 1, 2002. VMV declared bankruptcy and closed its doors on April 2, 2002. The reported purchase price was $4.5 million, with the state and county adding an incentive of $8.5 million. (Trains, July 2002, pages 14, 15; email from Steve Wilhelm, June 29, 2002; email from Cliff Downey, July 1, 2002)