The Tribune is taking an A-to-Z look at La Crosse area history.
For a link to past installments, click here.
Trane’s roots in La Crosse go back to 1885, when a Norwegian immigrant named James Trane opened a plumbing business. Trane later invented a low-pressure heating system and partnered with his son, Reuben, who had recently earned a college degree in mechanical engineering, to begin making them. Trane Co. incorporated in 1913, and later began making indoor air conditioners, a novel concept in 1931.
The company didn’t become a leader in residential air conditioning until 1982, when it purchased General Electric’s AC division, which included a plant in Tyler, Texas. A company spokeswoman said the aggressive move into the residential market “substantially increased” the size of the company.
In the early 1980s, Trane employed some 4,800 workers in La Crosse, making it the area’s largest employer.
Acquired by American Standard Co. in 1984, the company headquarters moved away, but the plant remained. American Standard eventually took on the Trane name, a nod to the brand recognition.
In 2008, Trane was acquired by refrigeration giant Ingersoll-Rand for $10.1 billion.
1958: Heat exchanger plant
Trane workers check over equipment in 1958 at the company's new $12 million, 76,800-square-foot heat exchanger plant near the corner of Ward Avenue and Losey Boulevard.
In one year, Trane Co. increased its floor space in La Crosse by 23 percent, growing to over 1 million square feet in 1957, as show in this 1958 aerial photo looking east from 16th Street (the three-spoke building in the background is Harry Spence Elementary). Included in this expansion total is a new 65,000-square-foot engineering building (labeled in this 1958 aerial photo as No. 1), the first phase of a laboratory expansion (No. 2), a new 78,000-square-foot heat exchanger building (No. 3), and a new 60,000-square-foot structure (No. 4). Other facilities seen in this photo include a production facility (No. 5), a painting building (No. 6), an older manufacturing plant (No. 7), warehouses (No. 8), other manufacturing facilities (No. 9 and No. 10) and the purchasing building (No. 11). At that time, Trane also had its executive offices at Third Street and Cameron Avenue, and a separate manufacturing plant along St. Andrew St. on the city’s North Side.
Schneider Heating and Air Conditioning
Phil Murray, left, of Schneider Heating and Air Conditioning, is shown one of the new Trane residential air conditioners hitting the market in 1964.
Automated payroll system
A story in the Jan. 26, 1964, La Crosse Tribune explained how this IBM computer could process paychecks for 1,600 Trane employees in less than an hour.
The Green Hornet
After flying 980,000 miles for Trane Co., this DC3, nicknamed the Green Hornet, was taken out of service in 1969. Since being purchased in 1962, the aircraft carried more than 32,000 passengers on more than 3,800 trips. Company officials said the 14-passenger plane was no longer needed because of improved air service to La Crosse.
Long trip to Algeria
Inside this steel box on wheels is one of the four largest brazed aluminum heat exchangers Trane Co. had ever built as of 1972. The 80-ton unit was transported through downtown La Crosse to the municipal dock on the Black River at the west end of St. Cloud Street. Once there, it was loaded into a barge for a trip down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Its final destination was Skikda, Algeria, where it was to be used to liquefy natural gas.
Santa on the picket line
Santa Claus paid a visit to Trane workers during a 1973 strike. Shown here with Santa are Verland Urban and his son, Brendon.
Thomas Hancock retirement
Thomas Hancock is shown here in front of the Trane Co. headquarters on the city's South Side shortly before ending a 44-year career with the company. He held many leadership positions at the company before retiring as CEO and chairman of the board in 1978. He was succeeded by William Roth.
Truck driver Dave Knobloch prepares to hit the road in 1983 to deliver a Trane-produced brazed-aluminum part for the Great Plains Coal Gasification Project in Beulah, N.D. The machinery was placed atop two 90,000-pound capacity flatbed trailers that were bolted together to form a a single 21-foot-wide trailer. The total unit, which required special permitting to make the long trek, was 31 feet long, 11 feet high and weighed 42.5 tons.
American Standard merger
Trane Co. Chairman William Roth discuss the 1983 merger of Trane and American Standard at his office in La Crosse.
Mike Niles takes to the picket line with other Trane employees in summer 1985 after labor and management could not come to an agreement on a new contract.