Everett E Henderson Jr: Architecture Reseach Art

2016-02-24 Everett E Henderson Jr – Architecture Research Art

This is a link to my latest portfolio “Architecture Research Art.” I attempted to create three sections for each of the disciplines, but there is obvious overlap in the three areas.

 

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Abstract for “The Machine and the Craftsman”

This was the final abstract for the final dissertation that was accepted by the University of Florida, School of Architecture. The full title is:  “The Machine and the Craftsman in Modern American Architecture: Tournalayer Housing in the 1940s.”

PhD Cover

Robert Gilmore “R. G.” LeTourneau was an industrialist who designed and constructed heavy earth-moving machines in the early 20th-century. Lesser known was the prefabricated building system that formed a concrete house per day with the patented Tournalayer. The Tournalaid house plans became more refined as each new house was analyzed, refined and re-tuned. LeTourneau’s prefabricated construction technology shifted the factory to the community site where multiple steel forms within the Tournalayer were used to quickly form affordable and durable housing. The focus of the craftsman shifted from directly constructing the home with simple hand-tools to making the complex machine that made the home. The craftsman’s tools evolved as new technologies such as the torch and welding machine were introduced.

This dissertation reveals how the Tournalayer influenced the middle 20th-century to form homes and communities that made strides toward a utopian vision. LeTourneau molded Christianity, technology, and production into a business that unified craftsmen to create machines that formed housing across America and internationally. LeTourneau developed his ever-evolving machines while evangelizing his strong Christian beliefs to develop a dialog between the machine and the craftsman in American modern architecture. Photographs, stories, and interviews were analyzed and interpreted through writing to reveal how the hand, mind, and heart combined with industrial processes to create meaningful environments.

LeTourneau introduced the hope for technology by providing a unique American perspective of pragmatism that created communities of craftsmen. He was pivotal in the earthmoving business as he used his knowledge to create machine-crafted homes that changed our perception about how we dwell with machines. The case study of the Tournalayer reveals the desire to mass-produce homes with strength and value while allowing for enjoyable lives. The desire to mechanize is not necessarily contradictory to the desire of living life with purpose, and architects have the ability to provide a sensitive connection between production and the consumer. The quest for prefabricated housing remains a quest for many architects, yet the goals of housing, as harbingered by LeTourneau’s pioneering endeavors, shifted from simple pragmatic production to creating houses that were sustainable and cultivated a collective memory.

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A Utopian Vision for “Tournapull,” Georgia: R. G. LeTourneau’s Pioneering Machines

This was originally written for the spring 2015 issue of the Athens Historian.

Everett E Henderson Jr
University of Florida

Figure 1. R.G. LeTourneau Co. of Georgia, Toccoa, Georgia, photograph (detail), custom welding van in front of a Tournalayer at the LeTourneau plant circa 1945, courtesy of the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas, Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

Figure 1. R.G. LeTourneau Co. of Georgia, Toccoa, Georgia, photograph (detail), custom welding van in front of a Tournalayer at the LeTourneau plant circa 1945, courtesy of the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas, Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

Robert Gilmore “R.G.” LeTourneau developed his earthmoving equipment company in Stockton, California in the early 1920s and then followed the Caterpillar Machinery and Equipment Company to Peoria, Illinois in 1935. LeTourneau made the scraper blades for the Caterpillar equipment as the designs of his own earthmoving equipment evolved. While in Peoria, LeTourneau would search for locations to establish new plants and would expand to Toccoa, Georgia; Vicksburg, Mississippi and Longview, Texas. Stockton and Peoria were well established cities upon his arrival. He wished to develop a plant in a new location that would allow for his Four-Point Program which supplied machinery, established a community, provided food and promoted Christianity among the local people. LeTourneau was drawn to Toccoa because of the philosophy of the already established Toccoa Falls Institute (now Toccoa Falls College) which promoted a Christian foundation in conjunction with technical training. LeTourneau met Dr. Richard A. Forrest and decided that Toccoa, Georgia was an excellent site; LeTourneau’s beliefs were parallel to Forrest’s as they both had strong Christian foundations and a wish for a pragmatic technical education. Another reason for locating the plant in Toccoa was to “provide a source from which to draw intelligent, well-educated young men for employment in (the) plant.”[1]

While developing and patenting his new technology, LeTourneau needed to train his employees in the new processes. Electrical arc-welding was a new process that LeTourneau witnessed as it came into being at the turn of the century and he would contribute to the evolution of the process as he developed new techniques for welding. He preferred the construction method of welding the connections of his complex “Rube Goldberg-like” machines rather than using the then ubiquitous and time-consuming process of riveted connections. Robert Gilmore LeTourneau was called “Bob” in California, but when he moved to Peoria his employees began calling him “R.G.” because they thought it stood for Rube Goldberg. The complexity of his machines is reflected in this name change. Rivets required more design time to create the connections of the cast sections. He would often repair and fine-tune his equipment in-situ and he developed portable welding equipment that would fit within automobiles in order to reach his massive machines as shown in Figure 1.

LeTourneau was focused on creating mammoth-sized machines not just to make small projects easier but rather to tackle large projects. To create the machines LeTourneau developed the infrastructure for and invented several machines and construction processes to help established communities near his plants creating roads, dairies, home-sites, homes, and utilities. He would essentially have to develop tools to make these machines; there were no machines large enough to create the needed components for these large machines. In Peoria he invented a metal system which was used to establish a small community of around 38 prefabricated all-steel homes.[2] The metal panels were shaped with a large panel-press that he developed; he then welded the sections together to form the structural panel system as seen in Figure 2. When LeTourneau expanded his company to Toccoa, he essentially had a new slate with which to work; he used the immense amount of pine-covered land to develop his plant and test his machines. To test the earthmoving machines LeTourneau shaped the earth and created a dam to form Lake Louise which was named after his daughter. The Louise Farming Company would also bear her name and a dairy was established to provide affordable food for LeTourneau’s employees. LeTourneau demonstrated pride in his creations by giving them his name. He is best known for using “Tourna-” as the prefix on much of his machinery, components, and even a few places such as two of his colonies named Tournata, Liberia and Tournavista, Peru; his employees even referred to themselves with pride as Tournahands.[iv]

Figure 2. Photograph of the construction of a steel building panel in a jig, Peoria, Illinois, circa 1938. Courtesy of the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

Figure 2. Photograph of the construction of a steel building panel in a jig, Peoria, Illinois, circa 1938. Courtesy of the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

LeTourneau went into the earth moving business to test his machines. Nobody wished to buy untested radical-looking machines and LeTourneau had to prove their value by becoming a contractor himself. Once he began the process, he realized that he was “forced to build (his) own machines to build (his) own machines.”[3] The scale of the new machines was so large that standard manufacturing tools would not work; LeTourneau discovered that there was no manufacturer that made industrial equipment large enough. This habit of making the tool to make the thing was established early in LeTourneau’s career. He did not hesitate to make an attempt at a solution and appeared to have little fear of failure. Many of the unsuccessful machines would be set aside because their designed use did not work as planned, yet he would later revisit the machines when new tasks arose. Designing machines to be components of other machines allowed for new combinations to be formed. LeTourneau believed that there were no bad ideas; rather the idea may have just been used in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One of LeTourneau’s machines was the patented “Two-Wheel Tractor” seen in Figure 3. LeTourneau took great pride in this tractor, even as it became a source of amusement for his competitors; they would ask what happened to the other wheels? Confident that his invention was efficient he would name the tractor the Tournapull. The Tournapull would go through many different versions as he fine-tuned the design. What he created was a machine that was simple in its concept yet remained multifunctional as different components could be added to perform different tasks. The Tournapull became the foundation of many of his machines even though it could not operate alone. The Tournapull could not balance or carry itself on its two wheels without the aid of the attached rear section of the machine.

Figure 3. R.G. LeTourneau. 1946. Two-Wheel Tractor. US Patent 2,454,070, filed April 22, 1946 and issued Nov. 16, 1948.

Figure 3. R.G. LeTourneau. 1946. Two-Wheel Tractor. US Patent 2,454,070, filed April 22, 1946 and issued Nov. 16, 1948.

LeTourneau called the area around Lake Louise “Tournapull,” Georgia because he showed pride in this plant. The LeTourneau plant was located three miles north/east of the center of Toccoa and Lake Louise was another half mile. During the opening celebration of the new plant the atmosphere was energetic as “(m)any visitors at the LeTourneau plant, as they watch ’R.G.’ go about his business, come to feel they are seeing a man who is developing a new ‘Utopia’ to show the entire nation how a Christian ideal can become a concrete fact.”[4] While LeTourneau did not set out solely to establish Tournapull as “utopian,” underpinnings of a utopian ideal were certainly present as they were perceived by the visitors. LeTourneau’s communities shared common beliefs in family and Christianity, solidarity of work, a technical education, and a striving toward the use of technology to produce machines that would make work and life easier – often at the push of a button.

The community of Tournapull, Georgia would be shaped not only with LeTourneau’s earthmoving equipment but also with his patented steel building panel. The Tournapull Housing Corporation was formed to provide employees housing at an affordable cost in 1941.[5] The panel would form parts of the plant as well as several different housing types as well as LeTourneau’s own home (Figure 4). R.G. LeTourneau’s wife Evelyn LeTourneau would contribute to the ultimate design and location of their own Tournapull home. Mrs. LeTourneau was adamant about protecting the large pine trees around the home as she knew the large earthmovers that prepared the ground for the new home were capable of damaging the trees with little effort. Their house featured a welded steel mantle above the fireplace and curved glass block wall. The metal panels could be welded together on-site as well as prefabricated at the plant and then delivered. The larger construction projects would use the portable welding equipment whereas the smaller homes would be prefabricated and delivered to the site. Since the panels were rigid construction they did not require a secondary structural system for support. The sandwiched steel panels were the structure and the finished skin of the interior and exterior.

Figure 4. R.G. LeTourneau’s own all-steel home. The home has been demolished. Albert W. Lorimer, God Runs My Business, the Story of R.G. LeTourneau: Farmhand, Master Molder, Garage Mechanic, Laborer, Inventor, Manufacturer, Industrialist, Christian Business Man, and Lay Evangelist (New York: Revell, 1941).

Figure 4. R.G. LeTourneau’s own all-steel home. The home has been demolished.
Albert W. Lorimer, God Runs My Business, the Story of R.G. LeTourneau: Farmhand, Master Molder, Garage Mechanic, Laborer, Inventor, Manufacturer, Industrialist, Christian Business Man, and Lay Evangelist (New York: Revell, 1941).

An all-steel hangar that housed an engine shop and school was formed adjacent to the plant at the R.G. Letourneau Field in 1940 to house LeTourneau’s planes which he used to travel from plant to plant and to his numerous speaking engagements (Figure 5). LeTourneau appreciated the luxury of the airplane because it saved him time. He believed he could always regain lost money but it was impossible to regain lost time.

Figure 5. All-Steel Hangar at R.G. LeTourneau Field. Toccoa, Georgia, circa 1940. Courtesy of the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

Figure 5. All-Steel Hangar at R.G. LeTourneau Field. Toccoa, Georgia, circa 1940. Courtesy of the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

Dedicated all-steel educational facilities were created at Toccoa Falls Institute after the earth was cleared, leveled, and shaped with LeTourneau’s earthmoving equipment (Figure 6). The simple modern lines of the architecture stood apart from the traditional construction at the time; the flat roof, white color, and minimal style mimicked the International Style’s simple logic. The only decorative elements present were the inherent patterns produced by the formation of the steel panel which repeated throughout the interior walls and exterior facade. The pressed pattern while appearing decorative in reality provided structural rigidity to the panel. The larger dormitory buildings require a taller parapet that resembled a continuous band at the top that allowed for the flat roof to have a slight slope to provide drainage.

Figure 6. All-steel dormitories at Toccoa Falls Institute – Toccoa, Georgia. Postcard circa 1940s, collection of the author.

Figure 6. All-steel dormitories at Toccoa Falls Institute – Toccoa, Georgia. Postcard circa 1940s, collection of the author.

Another tool that illustrates R.G. LeTourneau’s philosophy of “making the tool to make the thing” was the Tournapull Apart-Home roll-over jig (Figure 7). The jig allowed for metal panels to be held securely in place while they were connected by welds; this was LeTourneau’s preferred method of connecting the assembled 12-gauge steel sandwich panels to one another. The jig allowed the floor and roof welds to be connected without welding directly overhead because the entire building could be rotated with the jig. Once the Apart-Homes were welded solid they were essentially a monolithic unit. The prefabricated Tournapull Apart-Homes were built at the LeTourneau plant and delivered to the site as prefabricated apartments using a flatbed truck and a Tournacrane. The Tournapull Apart-Homes were delivered by rail to other locations such as the LeTourneau community in Vicksburg, Mississippi which had a railroad tracks leading directly to the plant situated near the Mississippi River. Some of the first homes at the Vicksburg LeTourneau plant were the Apart-Homes; a cast concrete Tournalaid home community would be developed later. LeTourneau’s plants were sited close to rail-transportation as can be seen in the background of the Tournapull Apart-Home jig in Figure 7. This allowed for materials, machines, and even finished homes to be loaded, unloaded, and delivered with ease.

Figure 7. The Tournapull Apart-Home roll-over jig in Toccoa, Georgia, photograph, 1942. Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

Figure 7. The Tournapull Apart-Home roll-over jig in Toccoa, Georgia, photograph, 1942. Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

The small Apart-Home plan allowed for easy transport, but it was essentially a one-room apartment (Figure 8). The design used a roll-away Murphy bed that was stored in the closet so that the multi-purpose living room could be used. The integrated kitchen was a prefabricated Murphy Cabranette Kitchen made of enameled steel. The kitchen unit included a sink, electric refrigerator, electric stove, and storage. The hygienic surfaces of the Apart-Home and kitchen appeared as one unit since the white all-steel home’s walls and ceiling were steel like the kitchen unit. The interior space was less than 300 square feet, and the plan design was more comparable to a hotel room than an apartment. The roof and floor panels were thicker versions of the wall panels and they were also filled with vermiculite insulation. A patented system was designed to keep thermal bridging from occurring.[6] Steel being a good conductor would have let the exterior temperatures radiate through the panels if they were directly connected to one another with steel.

Figure 8. First Tournapull Apart-Home (caption). Plan detail. NOW vol. 6, no.39 (February 13, 1942).

Figure 8. First Tournapull Apart-Home (caption). Plan detail. NOW vol. 6, no.39 (February 13, 1942).

The Tournapull Apart-Homes were originally designed for a single worker or newly married couple. A community of larger all-steel larger homes had already been established when the smaller Apart-Home arrived by truck to the community site. A Tournacrane can be seen to the right of Figure 9 and it was positioned to lift the home off the truck and place it on its constructed foundation. Since the home was monolithic, a continuous footing was not required to support the structure. The Tournapull Apart-Homes were delivered with an electric power pole attached at the roof and plumbing ready for quick connections as can be seen in Figure 10. The efficient Apart-Homes were used in several different applications from homes, hotel units and even the Toccoa Chamber of Commerce.

Figure 9. Photograph of a Tournapull Apart-Home in Toccoa, Georgia, 1942. Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas Robert G. LeTourneau Collection. Note the dimple-like ten-square panel design which brought the visual scale of the home down as opposed to the larger pattern.

Figure 9. Photograph of a Tournapull Apart-Home in Toccoa, Georgia, 1942. Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas Robert G. LeTourneau Collection. Note the dimple-like ten-square panel design which brought the visual scale of the home down as opposed to the larger pattern.

Another prefabricated structure created with the panel system was an all-steel radio station with the call letters WRLC which stood for the “Robert LeTourneau Company.” The radio station, spear-headed by Mrs. LeTourneau, went on the air May 1, 1941 and promoted as “the only all-steel radio studio structure in America.”[7] The six-inch space between the pressed panels was filled with vermiculite like the previously constructed all-steel structures. The station was equipped with a Gates transmitter and studio equipment; an adjacent 175 foot tower was used to broadcast the signal.

Figure 10. Tournapull Houses Toccoa Chamber of Commerce (caption). “Toccoa’s Chamber of Commerce organized last year is housed in a LeTourneau one-room steel dwelling leased from Tournapull Housing Corp. In photo are Henry Hunt, chamber secretary, and Mrs. Josephine Andrews Edsall, stenographer. The office is located on the Sage and Tugalo streets corner of Courthouse Square.” NOW, vol. 10, no. 41 (February 22, 1946).

Figure 10. Tournapull Houses Toccoa Chamber of Commerce (caption). “Toccoa’s Chamber of Commerce organized last year is housed in a LeTourneau one-room steel dwelling leased from Tournapull Housing Corp. In photo are Henry Hunt, chamber secretary, and Mrs. Josephine Andrews Edsall, stenographer. The office is located on the Sage and Tugalo streets corner of Courthouse Square.” NOW, vol. 10, no. 41 (February 22, 1946).

The footprint of the radio station measured 36’ x 40’ and formed a 1400 square foot building (Figures 11 and 12). After the assembly of the prefabricated building at the factory, it was then delivered and fitted-out on site with exterior architectural elements, windows and doors, and equipment. The curved glass-block wall, overhang, and columns were installed after the building was positioned. The curved glass wall reflects the design of LeTourneau’s own all-steel home. The call letters were later changed to WLET which reflected the “LeT” logo the company used at the time.[8]

Figure 11. Toccoa’s Radio Station WRLC was welded together at the LeTourneau plant and carried to its site by crane.

Figure 11. Toccoa’s Radio Station WRLC was welded together at the LeTourneau plant and carried to its site by crane.

Figure 12. The all-steel Christian Radio Station WRLC being delivered to the site with LeTourneau cranes. “An All-Steel Station in Georgia,” Broadcasting: The Weekly News Magazine of Radio, broadcasting advertising, vol. 21, no. 21 (July 7, 1941): 41. Washington D.C.

Figure 12. The all-steel Christian Radio Station WRLC being delivered to the site with LeTourneau cranes. “An All-Steel Station in Georgia,” Broadcasting: The Weekly News Magazine of Radio, broadcasting advertising, vol. 21, no. 21 (July 7, 1941): 41. Washington D.C.

In 1938, when the Toccoa, Georgia plant was established, LeTourneau quickly began developing a conference center for Christians to gather in a natural setting. This was LeTourneau’s first dedicated religious structure to be designed and built with his machines (Figure 13). He created the conference center to sit at the edge of the newly formed Lake Louise. R.G. LeTourneau’s wife Evelyn LeTourneau is credited with the design of the Lake Louise Hotel which was also referred to as the Christian Conference Center.[9] This building was designed to be a star-shaped all-steel structure with a 120’ self-supporting steel dome at the center. The dome enclosed the auditorium and seated 1,700 people. The Lake Louise Conference Center and Hotel grounds remains a large master planned Christian venue; most of LeTourneau’s other projects were additive in their conception and not master-planned from the beginning. LeTourneau sculpted the mountains and valleys for the hotel site with his large earthmoving equipment. He used large presses to create modular double-skin steel panels for the radiating arms of the hotel and curved panels for the central dome structure.
The plan for the hotel and conference center was designed as if eight bars were symmetrically radiating from the center dome with one of the bars removed creating an asymmetrical seven-pointed star and the missing bar forming the entrance to the dome.[10] The hotel was welded together on-site with steel sandwich panels that were assembled in the plant. LeTourneau created special welding vans in order to weld on location as well as repair and fine-tune equipment. The Tournapull, Georgia site allowed for a sprawling development because there was much undeveloped land and little existing infrastructure. The conference center plan evolved slightly over the years and the remaining steel panel bars have been roofed with conventional roofing. It exists today as the Georgia Baptist Conference Center.

Figure 13. Caption: Camp Lake Louise Opens - Sunday June 2, (1940), opening services were held at the new hotel at Camp Lake Louise, Toccoa. Visitors had a chance to see the many new developments, as well as hear many inspiring messages. The completed building is shown above; the audience is shown below seated in the central lobby of the hotel.  Photograph from LeTourneau’s in-house publication NOW vol. 5, no. 3 (June 7, 1940).  Note: R.G. LeTourneau is seated in the front left row fourth from the right. When LeTourneau was racecar mechanic in Stockton, he was involved in a serious wreck on a racetrack and broke his neck which left his head with a permanent tilt.

Figure 13. Caption: Camp Lake Louise Opens – Sunday June 2, (1940), opening services were held at the new hotel at Camp Lake Louise, Toccoa. Visitors had a chance to see the many new developments, as well as hear many inspiring messages. The completed building is shown above; the audience is shown below seated in the central lobby of the hotel. Photograph from LeTourneau’s in-house publication NOW vol. 5, no. 3 (June 7, 1940). Note: R.G. LeTourneau is seated in the front left row fourth from the right. When LeTourneau was race car mechanic in Stockton, he was involved in a serious wreck on a racetrack and broke his neck which left his head with a permanent tilt.

Shown in Figure 14, between the radiating all-steel arms of the convention center / hotel, are four buildings that were added by the United States military as the facility was used as a convalescent home for military personnel after World War II. The military additions have been removed and the facility has been renovated, but the overall plan of the facility remains in-tact. In the Figure 14 postcard, the aerial reveals LeTourneau’s fondness for documenting and understanding his plants and communities from a bird’s-eye view. His planes were machines for viewing as well as transportation. He photographed his plants and his namesake colonies from his airplanes. He and his wife discovered the site for LeTourneau University as they were circling the site for the Longview, Texas plant. The site for new university was adjacent to the plant. The ability to view the earth from above allowed LeTourneau to understand spaces from his own perspective and expand his own perception of space. LeTourneau taught himself and create through his own developed practice and theory. He would self-publish and distribute the photographs of the plants in his newsletter he named NOW.[11] LeTourneau was a proponent of self-education; he would study technical or biblical information until he could apply it to his own life.

[12] Note: The NOW publication is an in-house publication begun by LeTourneau for internal distribution and evolved to become distributed externally by mail for those who requested the publication. The publication is carried on by LeTourneau University (1936-present). The name of LeTourneau’s self-publication NOW is derived from 2 Corinthians 6:2 “Behold, NOW is the accepted time; behold NOW is the day for salvation.” Note: NOW emphasis is LeTourneau’s.

Figure 14. Postcard caption: “Hotel and Conference Grounds on Lake Louise, Toccoa, Ga.” Circa 1945, collection of the author.  Caption on reverse:  “Hotel Lake Louise and Conference Grounds: World’s only all-steel hotel, nestled in 5,000 acres of Georgia’s most beautiful pine-covered hills, on the shore of an artificial lake, made and owned by R.G. LeTourneau Company, Swimming, boating, fishing, tennis. Accommodations and Christian environment for approximately 300 guests. Located on Highway 123, Toccoa, Ga.”

Figure 14. Postcard caption: “Hotel and Conference Grounds on Lake Louise, Toccoa, Ga.” Circa 1945, collection of the author. Caption on reverse: “Hotel Lake Louise and Conference Grounds: World’s only all-steel hotel, nestled in 5,000 acres of Georgia’s most beautiful pine-covered hills, on the shore of an artificial lake, made and owned by R.G. LeTourneau Company, Swimming, boating, fishing, tennis. Accommodations and Christian environment for approximately 300 guests. Located on Highway 123, Toccoa, Ga.”

Much of LeTourneau’s earthmoving equipment was designed to work with his patented two-wheeled Tournapull. He was continually inventing new ways in which to make work easier and faster; he believed that his employees should work faster but not harder. He would often create machines and then fine-tune them by reshaping them with a torch and welding machine as new situations arose. LeTourneau’s first attempt at casting concrete homes began with a mold in a form that resembled an igloo. The patent design for the igloo had a double concrete skin with a hollow cavity that could be filled with insulation.[13] After concluding that the curved home would be impractical, he proceeded to design the Tournalayer which was an all-inclusive house-casting system. The house itself would be carried to the site with a Tournalayer which was a large form-moving machine that attached to a Tournapull (Figure 15). While LeTourneau was filing for the patent in 1946, the Tournalayer was busy casting the LeTourneau housing community in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Tournalayer was designed to be disassembled and loaded onto both a train for long distance delivery. A Tournalayer was loaded onto a train and a ship for delivery to Argentina in January of 1947.

Figure 15. R.G. LeTourneau. 1946. Mobile Form and Transport for Cast Structures. US Patent 2,593,465, filed May 17, 1946 and issued April 22, 1952.

Figure 15. R.G. LeTourneau. 1946. Mobile Form and Transport for Cast Structures. US Patent 2,593,465, filed May 17, 1946 and issued April 22, 1952.

The collapsible inner molds can be seen behind the outer molds in Figure 16 as the two are being aligned to cast a home. The Tournalayer lifted the outer mold and placed it over the inner mold after steel reinforcement and frames for the openings were installed. The Tournapull would provide the power to run the electric motors, pulleys, and cables that lifted the molds. While the Tournalayer “automated” the construction process of homes, the sequence of operations necessary to form the home was actually quite complex.

Figure 16. Tournalayer No. 2, photograph, 1946.  Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas, Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

Figure 16. Tournalayer No. 2, photograph, 1946. Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas, Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.

The posed photograph in Figure 17 reveals the backside of a Tournalayer while the Tournapull is concealed by the Toccoa welding van. The forms are shown lifted and being transported within the Tournalayer frame. A large Tournalayer community was not created in Toccoa, but Tournalayers were demonstrated and created several houses there. The first Toccoa, Georgia Tournalaid home was painted the same bright yellow color as LeTourneau’s earthmoving equipment.[14] LeTourneau’s earlier all-steel homes in Peoria were also depicted in the same equipment yellow in LeTourneau’s brochure The Carefree Home.[15] Later homes would be painted white, but the first ones were depicted as being equipment yellow. LeTourneau created earthmoving machines side-by-side in the same plant as the homes which were pragmatic machines for living. The craftsmen who made the Tournapull also formed their own all-steel homes in the same plant, using the same tools. While many of the tools used to create the machines were modern, the complex machines were essentially hand-crafted.

Figure 17.  R.G. LeTourneau Co. of Georgia, Toccoa, Georgia, photograph, custom welding van in front of a Tournalayer at the  LeTourneau plant circa 1945. Courtesy of the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas, Robert G. LeTourneau Collection. A detail of this photograph is located in Figure 1.

Figure 17. R.G. LeTourneau Co. of Georgia, Toccoa, Georgia, photograph, custom welding van in front of a Tournalayer at the
LeTourneau plant circa 1945. Courtesy of the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas, Robert G. LeTourneau Collection. A detail of this photograph is located in Figure 1.

While LeTourneau was not an architect, he did design the Tournalayer as a flexible tool to be used by architects as it could create numerous forms. LeTourneau was influenced by the architectural ideas of the time. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian house, for example, would permeate the construction industry as it rationalized flat roofs, simple geometric forms, and radiant heating in the floors. R. G. LeTourneau’s son Richard L. LeTourneau would be chosen to lead the Tournalayer division in Toccoa, Georgia and then Longview, Texas. The paper that Richard presented to the New Mexico Society of Professional Engineers at the University of New Mexico Engineering College on April 2, 1948 listed qualities that the Tournalaid architecture could represent. He wrote that architecture “must be recognized (and) that contemporary architecture represents a way of living that has transformed the home from its role as mere shelter into the center of existence. Thus, architecture has become more functional, more utilitarian and more casually beautiful.” [16] Richard’s view was focused on the construction method as he saw the machine and the forms as components that architects could use to their own ends. Richard stated that “(W)e have developed an extremely flexible building method in order to permit unlimited freedom of architectural treatment.”[17] The ability to remain flexible was designed into the mechanical reproduction of the prefabricated homes.

The Tournalayer was not an attempt to dictate a specific style, but rather a machine to produce shapes that could be used as architectural components. The recommended designs were modern in that the flat roof was emphasized to lessen wasted space with the ability to provide a recreational space on the roof as a sun deck, roof garden or terrace. Richard L. LeTourneau was aware of the Usonian home and mentioned it as one of the “extremely modern” “architectural trends” that the buyers demand. While the flat roof was recommended it was not the only option presented. Prospective homeowners could choose from “the cape cod, the modern colonial, the Spanish or the extremely modern Usonian-type house” according to the paper.[18]

The “Toccoa plant was used as the experimental plant for the company, and as such could not be expected to show a profit similar to the Peoria operation.”[19] The steel housing panels would be similar in Toccoa as those in Peoria, but the form of the application of the panels in the housing design continued to evolve. LeTourneau described them as: “all-steel construction, hermetically sealed and air-conditioned, with a six-inch insulated space between inside and outside walls, providing almost perfect protection against the heat of summer and the cold of winter. These houses are fire, earthquake, termite, and almost bomb proof. The walls both outside and inside are painted, and the appearance is modern and attractive.”[20]

Figure 18. LeTourneau’s Baby Tournalayer, 1951, Toccoa, Georgia, photograph, courtesy of Dale Hardy of LeTourneau Technologies and R.G. LeTourneau Heritage Center.

Figure 18. LeTourneau’s Baby Tournalayer, 1951, Toccoa, Georgia, photograph, courtesy of Dale Hardy of LeTourneau Technologies and R.G. LeTourneau Heritage Center.

LeTourneau manufactured the next building construction tool named the Baby Tournalayer in the experimental Toccoa plant and used his nearby hotel site to demonstrate it to clients. LeTourneau first established the hotel site by with the placement of Tournapull Apart-Homes, but decided to cast 3 small concrete homes at the site in order to show the process to contractors who purchased one of the two Baby Tournalayers to construct small homes for North African Arabs in French Morocco (Figures 18 and 19).

Figure 19. “LeTourneau’s Baby Tournalayer Under Way to Motel Site,” 1951, Toccoa, Ga., photograph, courtesy of Dale Hardy of LeTourneau Technologies and R.G. LeTourneau Heritage Center. LeTourneau’s Baby Tournalayer is shown traveling to the motel site to cast the three rooms.

Figure 19. “LeTourneau’s Baby Tournalayer Under Way to Motel Site,” 1951, Toccoa, Ga., photograph, courtesy of Dale Hardy of LeTourneau Technologies and R.G. LeTourneau Heritage Center. LeTourneau’s Baby Tournalayer is shown traveling to the motel site to cast the three rooms.

The LeTourneau Company would publicize the two new Baby Tournalayers by sensationalizing the cast room structure as being “atomic-bomb-proof” (Figure 20). Close to the Toccoa plant, earthmoving equipment cut the earth; the Tournalayer would lay the room units and the earth would be replaced atop the cast concrete structures. The rooms were ventilated through the earth creating cross ventilation through the front door. Windows were left out of the front of the concrete structures to support the concept of the buried hotel rooms as being “bomb-proof.” The low construction cost was promoted as being less than ten percent of standard construction costs.

Precedent for LeTourneau’s desire to have exceedingly strong buildings can be traced back to his earlier experiences. LeTourneau, while living in San Francisco, witnessed one of the most significant earthquakes in history on April 18, 1906. He was in a building that was shaken to the ground and rendered uninhabitable. This experience influenced his thoughts on construction methods as he wished to create buildings that were not just durable, but would far exceed standard construction standards. He designed his homes as did his equipment by creating industrial strength buildings.

The LeTourneau Company understood that it could control what the press reported by forming press clips that highlighted the machines capabilities as well as the products created with the machines. The press clip in Figure 20 highlights how LeTourneau’s machines could sculpt the earth by moving a mountain and rapidly construct durable shelters. While the Cold War is reflected in the atomic nature of the press coverage (figure 21), it was unlikely that the bomb-proof aspect of the concrete construction would have been put to the test. The concrete rooms were created primarily as demonstrations of the machine’s capabilities.

Figure 20. “Nation’s First Atomic-Bomb-Proof Tourist Motel,” circa 1951, Toccoa, Georgia, press clip, courtesy of Dale Hardy of LeTourneau Technologies and R.G. LeTourneau Heritage Center.

Figure 20. “Nation’s First Atomic-Bomb-Proof Tourist Motel,” circa 1951, Toccoa, Georgia, press clip, courtesy of Dale Hardy of LeTourneau Technologies and R.G. LeTourneau Heritage Center.

R.G. LeTourneau changed the shape of Toccoa, Georgia with both his industrial technology and his ideas about how to live in the first half of the 20th century. Utopian underpinnings were perceived by the visitors at the “Tournapull,” Georgia plant opening. While LeTourneau did not directly define what he understood utopia to mean for himself, it is clear that his Four-Point System was intended to develop community by providing and creating machines, promote self-sufficiency, establish a community of “Tournapull,” and promoted Christianity. An inseparable aspect of LeTourneau’s life was the connection between business and religion as it became a motivating factor in many of his decisions. R.G. LeTourneau’s early Christian roots and his experience with materials and processes formed a synergy as he built communities with his machines. LeTourneau’s professional affiliations included the Christian Businessmen’s Committee International, the National Association of Evangelicals, Business Men’s Evangelistic Clubs, and Gideon’s president for the year 1940. LeTourneau actively blended economic conservatism and religion; as he believed, they belonged together and strengthened one another. On September 27, 1940 LeTourneau was interviewed by Robert Ripley of Ripley’s “Believe-it-or-not” for a radio broadcast. The interview reiterated what R.G. LeTourneau stated early in his career: that he donated 90 percent of his profits to charity. The foundation that he established “supports a number of foreign missions and employs twelve evangelists, who travel over the country and speak in churches. We send out 1,500,000 pamphlets every month. And we have a publication called NOW which is mailed, free for the asking, to 80,000 people weekly.”[21]

R.G. LeTourneau represented a unique balance between industrial equipment manufacturing, utopian architectural endeavors, and evangelical pursuits. His legacy in “Tournapull,” Georgia remains a source of interest for Georgians as well as historians.

Figure 21. Andrew Sparks, “You Rest in Peace… Six Feet Under… in Georgia’s First Atomic-Bomb-Proof Tourist Court.” The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine (September 29 1951). Three covered Tournalayer units were laid individually then covered with earth and faced with a concrete masonry wall to retain the earth infill. Vegitation was intended to take over the earth infill.

Figure 21. Andrew Sparks, “You Rest in Peace… Six Feet Under… in Georgia’s First Atomic-Bomb-Proof Tourist Court.” The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine (September 29 1951). Three covered Tournalayer units were laid individually then covered with earth and faced with a concrete masonry wall to retain the earth infill. Vegitation was intended to take over the earth infill.

Endnotes:

[1] Lorimer, 126.
[2] Richard L. LeTourneau, “An Advanced Method of House Building: A Paper Delivered to the New Mexico Society of Professional Engineers and the University of New Mexico Engineering College” (April 2, 1948): 5. Courtesy of the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas, Robert G. LeTourneau Collection.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Robert Haralson Selby, “Earthmovers in World War II: R.G. LeTourneau and his Machines” (PhD dissertation, Case Western University, 1971), 122. Note: Selby worked closely with LeTourneau on this dissertation and would later work at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.
[6] Lorimer, 96.
[7] Andrew Sparks, “You Rest in Peace… Six Feet Under… in Georgia’s First Atomic-Bomb-Proof Tourist Court,” The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine (September 29, 1951).
[8] The Carefree Home: Enduring Quality in Small Houses (Form No. H-400-E – 8-38, August 1938). Courtesy of Dale Hardy of R.G. LeTourneau Heritage Center, and LeTourneau Technologies, Longview, Texas.
[9] R.G. LeTourneau. 1943. Building Construction. US Patent 2,469,603, filed Feb. 15, 1943 and issued May 10, 1949. Note: This experimental system was tested in Vicksburg, Mississippi where two of these houses were constructed.
[10] Donald F Ackland, Moving Heaven and Earth: The Story of R.G. LeTourneau: Inventor, Designer, Manufacturer, Preacher (New York: Iverson Ford Associates, 1949), 144. Note: The building would be used by the United States in World War II as a military convalescent center for returning servicemen.
[11] Note: The plan of the bars remains, but one more of the arms has been removed to provide access and parking. An early pressed steel panel dome system was designed and patented by LeTourneau in 1940.
[12] Norman B. Rohrer, The Remarkable Story of Mom LeTourneau (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985), 81. Note: Mr. And Mrs. LeTourneau would be called Mom and Pop by the students of LeTourneau Tech which is now LeTourneau University.
[13] “An All-Steel Station in Georgia,” Broadcasting: The Weekly News Magazine of Radio, broadcasting advertising, vol. 21, no. 21 (July 7, 1941): 41. Washington D.C.
[14] R.G. LeTourneau. 1939. Insulated Panel Brace. US Patent 2,252,012, filed Aug. 23, 1939 and issued Aug. 12, 1941.
[15] Lorimer, 96.
[16] Lorimer, 121.
[17] R.G. LeTourneau, Mover of Men and Mountains: The Autobiography of R.G. LeTourneau (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1960), 136.
[18] R.G. LeTourneau, Mover of Men and Mountains: The Autobiography of R.G. LeTourneau (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1960), 250.
LeTourneau’s Four-Point Program would later be developed for his colonies in Tournavista, Peru and Tournata, Liberia as well.
[19] Albert W Lorimer, God Runs My Business, the Story of R.G. LeTourneau: Farmhand, Master Molder, Garage Mechanic, Laborer, Inventor, Manufacturer, Industrialist, Christian Business Man, and Lay Evangelist (New York; Revell, 1941), 97.
[20] R.G. LeTourneau. 1938. Steel Building Panel. US Patent 2,180,830, filed Jan. 7, 1938 and issued Nov. 21, 1939.
[21] E.C. “Ish” Loflin phone interview by Everett E Henderson Jr. 13 August 2011. Ish worked for R.G. LeTourneau at the Vicksburg plant as an engineer after the Tournalaid homes were placed.

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The Machine and the Craftsman: The Hope for Technology in Prefabricated American Architecture

Everett E Henderson Jr
University of Florida School of Architecture

Nexus: Handmade to High Tech Southeastern College of Art Conference
Sarasota, Florida/ Ringling College of Art and Design
October 9, 2014

00001 My direction in the presentation of this paper is threefold. These three foci can be studied independently, but I have chosen to weave them together to gain a new perspective. The three perspectives are: The machine and the craftsman is where the artist is able to make a contribution. The hope for technology is the desire to make life easier and more pleasurable with new tools, machines, and technology. Prefabricated American architecture has the ability to be comprised of thoughtful, meaningful, and significant design. These three topics are woven together in order to gain a new insight. Currently, modern prefabricated architecture is re-presented as a new idea as it is being marketed as green technology, efficient use of space, high style, and flexible design. The truth is, is that prefabricated housing is not a new idea. It has been contemplated by many highly-publicized architects and designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Buckminster Fuller for over a century. Prefabricated homes, for example, have been marketed and sold by Sears and Roebuck starting in 1908. The prefabricated homes sold by Sears were not designed by Sears, but the company did streamline the production and delivery of the precut pieces. The construction of the home was similar to a barn raising. While it may at first appear in today’s era of specialization that constructing a home by the average consumer seems daunting, yet to maintain a rural farm in the early 20th century carpentry and blacksmithing were necessities. The American public did not have the mindset that they could not erect their own shelter yet. The physical appearance and design of the Sears homes is nearly indistinguishable from the conventionally stick-built homes of the period. Prefabrication in the last ten years has been taking on a new life and is being marketed as: Smarter, Faster, Cheaper, Good Design, High Style and Flexible Design. It has been represented as a green way to create new home. The efficient use of space and therefore materials is one of the greenest aspects of prefabricated housing. 00002 The silent film One Week featured Buster Keaton as the groom and Sybil Seely as his new bride in 1920. The newlywed couple received a build-it-yourself house as a wedding gift. The house can be built, supposedly, in “one week.” The movie recounts Keaton’s struggle to assemble the house. What is missing from the construction process is a craftsman. While the kit-of-parts is complete – expertise, experience, and skill was and is still required to successfully assemble the parts. In 1919, Keaton viewed an industrial documentary named Home Made, which became the inspiration for One Week. One Week was essentially a parody of the film Home Made that was produced by the Ford Motor Co. The movie explained the concept of prefabricated homes, which buyers assembled themselves by following a set of instructions. 00003 This sequence of stills are from the 1938 cartoon All’s Fair at the Fair. What is enlightening about the cartoon is not the house that is being produced. The product of the house resembles the prefabricated homes that Sears produced- which looked as if they were produced by hand. What is thought-provoking is the depiction of the machine that produced the homes. The machine that produces the houses was manufactured to make exact copies much like a factory assembly line. The new technology introduces speed to the production of homes while bringing the factory to the site. The new technology does not change the style of each home. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright wrote the article “The Art and Craft of the Machine, for the magazine Brush and Pencil in 1901 where he cautioned that schools had not bound science and art by truly introducing the artist to their tools. He noted that artists were disconnected from their tools and therefore disconnected from their craft. He wished for materials to show their inherent beauty as he exposed concrete, stone, brick, cast concrete block, and the natural grain of wood. He did not design a flexible system, but instead created different Usonian designs. Usonian was Wright’s word for American. 00004 The James Mcbean residence in Rochester, Minnesota is a style No. 2 prefabricated Usonian home that was built in 1957. The language of Wright’s earlier non-prefabricated Usonian homes is reflected in the later Marshall Erdman Prefab Houses. The prefabricated homes were designed in 1954 using standard dimension construction materials such as the 4 foot by 8 foot materials. There were three Usonian house types designed by Wright, but only two of the types were put into production and sold. The architect Buckminster Fuller dreamed that new technology was going to solve Americans housing needs as it gave humans an advantage against the elements and minimized drudgery. He approached the housing shortage as a design problem to be solved through engineering. Fuller’s designs were connected to the new technology of the aviation industry as can be seen in the material choices and riveted connection details. Fuller often asked the question “How much does your house weigh?” His question would have been moot if new technology had not produced lightweight and strong materials. 00005 The design for Fuller’s Dymaxion house was based on his 1927 plan for a mass-produced house called the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine. The word Dymaxion was created by a marketing wordsmith to help advertise Fullers house design. The three blended words are dynamic, maximum, and tension. Buckminster Fuller designed the “Wichita House,” in 1946 and it was erected near Wichita in Rose Hill, Kansas, in 1948. The Beech Aircraft Company constructed the house to demonstrate affordable, prefabricated housing that would take advantage of World War II surplus materials. The structure was made of aluminum and designed to withstand the elements, including a Kansas tornado. This model was one of only two prototypes ever produced. In 1991 the William Graham family donated it to the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. The architect Walter Gropius transformed the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar Germany into the Bauhaus. The intent of the Bauhaus was to combine art and craft often with industrial applications. His own house in Lincoln, Massachusetts would follow the Bauhaus principles and reflect an International Modernism that showed a desire for maximum efficiency and simplicity. As early as 1923 at the Bauhaus in Germany, Gropius had been working with standardization of building blocks for prefabricated houses. Gropius formed the individual building units with the intent to create variety. 00006 Both Walter Gropius and Konrad Wachsmann moved to the US after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus. They both formed the General Panel Corporation (the name reflects not only the name General Motors but also the intent of assembly line production). Wachsmann worked on the connection details and the corporation was subsidized by the US government. Part of the reason for the failure of the system is that “Wachsmann never stopped designing the connection details. Wachsmann was delayed at each stage by this search for the ideal, it took much too long to move from initial concept to the final stage of actual production.” 00007 The General Panel Corporation panels were designed to be a kit-of-parts that could be used to make site-specific housing. This interior drawing shows a two-story design using the panel system. This reflects Gropius’ fascination with the Japanese house. It makes sense that Gropius wrote the forward to Heinrich Engel’s 1964 book The Japanese House: A Tradition for Contemporary Architecture. 00008 The General Panel test house was a single level home. With the exception of the recessed entry, there is little articulation on the surface of the exterior. 00009 Charles and Ray Eames opened an office in Venice California where they created films, toys, furniture and architecture. Charles went to Cranbrook and studied under Eero Saarenen and would be friends with Eliel Saarenen. Charles was trained as an architect and Ray was trained as a painter. Charles and Ray designed and built the Case Study House No. 8 in Venice, California in 1948. Case Study House No. 8, was one of roughly two dozen homes built as part of a program that was spearheaded by John Entenza, the publisher of Arts and Architecture magazine. While the house was not technically prefabricated, it did take on much of the language of a prefabricated system through the use of off-the-shelf materials. 000010 The direction will now shift from prefabricated housing to making tools to make things. The machine and the craftsman are integral to creating not only the end product but the selection and creation of the tools. These artist’s tools are handmade. The rhythm of the kick-wheel, the shape of the hand tools and the shape of the salt-kiln all contribute to the final product. The tools selected and created have an impact on the final products of bowls, cups, teapots and vases. The selection of tools and the making of tools by the craftsman is of great importance. The artist, artisan, architect or craftsman should be as close to their tools as possible if they wish to control the outcome. When creating pottery on a wheel for example, the hands directly connect to the clay and the simple tools are the hands. These are tools and not machines, but together they often form a mechanized process. The artist often crafts with simple tools in order to have control over the end product. The machine often enters into the crafting of the products as well. While there is much control attempted, many mechanized processes enter into production such as the mining of the clay and the minerals for the glazes. Machines can elevate some of the time-intensive and laborious tasks. 000011 The making of tools and selection of tools the by a craftsman is of great importance because the tools selected directly connect with those that use the resulting product… in this case salt-fired cups. One of the directions of this thesis was to express the multiplicity of production, not machine-production but rather craftsman-production. 000012 While multiplicity does not automatically translate to artful expression, it is difficult to connect with those that you are producing for without the feedback loop of producing, experiencing, and fine-tuning. While a lip of a drinking cup may, for example, be appealing to the eye, if it dribbles liquid on the user, it quickly becomes a pencil holder and fails at its intended purpose. 00012 As I spoke to my parents about my prefabricated housing research, they noted that we lived in a prefabricated house. My father was a welder for R.G. LeTourneau creating large machines. Note the little white houses in the background behind me as I sit in the Ford Falcon in front of house No. 21. I had always assumed that they were constructed of concrete masonry units aka concrete block. After research, I found that they were each created in a single pour of concrete.   My father worked for Robert Gilmore “R.G.” LeTourneau and learned to weld, craft tools, and make machines there. LeTourneau created the largest earth-moving equipment in the world, forestry machines and offshore oilrigs which he created with welding machines and torches as he liked to form them in situ. He also was the first to put large rubber tires on earthmoving equipment instead of the then ubiquitous steel wheels. He worked with Firestone to create the molds for the tires he needed. 000013 The 1922 Mountain Mover was designated A Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. This steel-wheeled machine was an early piece of his equipment that reflects LeTourneau’s kit-of-parts which consisted of the welding machine and the torch. There were no rivets used in LeTourneau’s machines. His tools also included not only physical constructions but also correspondence courses in metallurgy as well as learning through his experiences. He built upon his knowledge as he fine-tuned his machines. Most all of his machines were designed for earth-moving and there was always continued experimentation. If a machine did not work as planned, he would put it aside and approach it later when a new task presented itself. 00014 The patented Two-Wheel Tractor was named the Tournapull. LeTourneau used the prefix “Touna” to name things in which he had pride. This machine was invented as the prime-mover for other pieces of equipment, some of which had yet to be invented. The Mobile Form for Cast Structures was a house laying machine that he named the Tournalayer. LeTourneau designed and built the Tournalayer as a machine to form houses in a single pour of concrete with the steel reinforcement, electricity and plumbing embedded within the walls. The first two communities were for his employees in Vicksburg, Mississippi and Longview, Texas. 00015 Tournalayer No. 2 was handcrafted in the factory and each of the components was hand fitted to work with the other components. The sections are hand-crafted rather than manufactured because each one of these machines was hand-made as essentially a one-off that was fine-tuned with new each iteration of houses. There was a feedback loop of creating, making, and using the homes. 00016 LeTourneau’s welders crafted the Tournalayer in order for others to create homes and form communities. The welders were essentially making a tool that made homes in locations that had yet to be decided. There was an efficiency in numbers and creating one-offs with this machine was not a resourceful use of materials. In effect, the Tournalayer was not a house making tool, but a community forming tool. 00017 The Tournalayer consists of many parts that cast, deliver, and place the house. The main parts are the Tournapull and the Tournalayer. The Tournalayer consists of a frame, inner and outer molds and a base upon which they sit. The cast concrete house has an integral footer, inner and outer walls, and a roof/ ceiling. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist who created cartoons that expressed the idea of completing a simple task in the most complicated way. Most all of his drawings were machines that had many components that created a complex sequence of events. Robert Gilmore earned the nickname “R.G.” at his Peoria, Illinois plant when one of his foremen thought “R.G.” better stood for Rube Goldberg. 00018 The Vicksburg community was shaped by the earthmoving equipment and the building structures were created with the Tournalayer. A community laundry, around 100 homes, a grocery store/ post office and a swimming pool were created with the Tournalayer. Many of the craftsmen in the community were men who had lived in homes with no running water, plumbing or telephones. In several instances, this was the first time many lived in homes with these services. The homes also provided heated floors. Modern not only reflects the clean exterior skin of these minimal homes, but modern also reflects the amenities that were within. 00020 The members of the community simply called it “LeTourneau.” “LeTourneau” was a place. The community was formed with machines by the LeTourneau employees. There were several Tournalayer Communities. Each had very different site plans as well as building configurations. 00021 Two-story Tournalaid houses were constructed in Beer Shiva, Israel and were created on lands that were previously occupied by nomadic people. They were arranged on a rigid grid. The homes survive but have been incorporated into larger structures. French Morocco homes were designed for the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and the lower floor is open in the event of rising water. The main living area is on the upper level. 00022 These Tournalayer homes are likely part of the Peron 5 year plan and are most likely located in Argentina.  The plan occurred from 1947 to 1951. The base structure that the Tournalayer provided was adapted and supplemented. The homes have larger overhangs of about a foot and a parapet has been added with an inset medallion of the face of the home. The roof has become occupiable through the addition of a set of stairs at the rear of the home. While these houses were likely constructed as low-income housing, the amenities had evolved from the first houses in Vicksburg and Longview. A feedback loop was used by reflecting on the previous houses and apply the new information. 00023 Philosophies of premanufactured homes was diverse in the 1950s as different materials and different construction methods were used. Frank Lloyd Wright designed with lineaments and was rooted in the arts and crafts. Site-specific designs were important to Wright. Buckminster Fuller was rooted in engineering, technology and manufacturing. His systems were non-site specific and were derived from aviation technology. Walter Gropius was interested in the arts and crafts and introducing them into manufacturing. He helped create a system that could be applied to different locations to create a site-specific design. Charles and Ray Eames both worked not to produce a mass-produced system, but rather formed a language of ready-made parts. R.G. LeTourneau moved the factory to the construction site with the creation of the Tournalayer. He had a hands-on approach by creating a machine that was used by others to form communities throughout the world. He was intent on providing durable homes with modern amenities for the members in the communities.

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“Pouring 24-Hour Concrete House” ACME Photo

I received a photograph yesterday from an eBay purchase. While I have spent many hours visiting archives, I am amazed at the technology involved with eBay and the search tools. I had purchased a few LeTourneau postcards of the Conference Center in Toccoa, Georgia through eBay a few years ago and eBay “has my number” so-to-speak. When I went to search for an obscure Evinrude part (which I found, but that’s another story), eBay showed me this “Pouring 24-Hour Concrete House” press photograph (ACME PHOTO to be exact).

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ACME photo: “Pouring 24-Hour Concrete House” (note: all photos can be enlarged for details)

I know this may come as a surprise, but almost none of the information on the back of this press photo is correct (see the reverse side below – verso). The photo was taken in Vicksburg, Mississippi and the Mississippi River can be seen in the background. The Loess Bluffs are clearly seen in the elevation change. The elevation change is being taken advantage of as the concrete mixer is located higher on the bluff. The Tournalayer is seen from a perspective that I have not seen in the past. The Tournalayer is in the center of the photograph and the men are pouring concrete in the molds and the steel reinforcing wire and ceiling electrical boxes have been placed. The photo also reveals that many men were needed to create a house even thought the Tournalayer was automated. The main drive system of the Tournapull is obscured by the photo angle. The two cylindrical forms mounted to the top of the inner forms are the access points to release the inner molds. The rebar was welded to the steel cylinders; the steel cylinders would be used as ventilation for the housing. The conduit was installed alongside the rebar. The concrete mixing machine to the left is definitely not a LeTourneau invention as all of the connections are permanently connected with rivets; LeTourneau took pride in not using rivets because they did not allow for the machines to be easily constructed or re-tuned in-situ at a later date to meet site conditions.

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Verso of “Pouring 24-Hour Concrete House”

The Tournalayer did not pour the house in its final location, there was a central construction site (seen in photo) where the Tournalayer was used then the whole concrete house was carried to its home-site with the Tournalayer hence the term “house-laying.” The press clip also states that the Tournalayer used “hydraulic lifts” to hoist the forms; LeTourneau instead of relying on hydraulics preferred to use electric motors, gears, and steel cables to operate his machines. The text also states that the houses in the background are “samples of the machine-laid houses.” The houses in the background while non-traditional with their flat roofs and simple white appearance are not Tournalaid homes. The homes appear to be prefabricated in sections or possibly constructed on-site. They do appear to have been built in stages or sections by the appearance of the “T” plan shape with an added porch of differing material. There is also a distinct overhang that suggests an early mobile home design that was not originated by LeTourneau, although LeTourneau at this time did have quite a few patented all-steel panel houses already being manufactured in Peoria, Illinois and Toccoa, Georgia.

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Detail of ACME photo: “Pouring 24-Hour Concrete House”

The “T” shaped houses cannot be seen in the aerial of LeTourneau Court at “LeTourneau, Vicksburg” called: Old Courthouse Museum Archive Research – LeTourneau, Vicksburg but there is a reference to these houses in an early cartoon that LeTourneau made to show his booming community: The Culture of a Machine Crafted Architecture: The First Tournalaid Communities The detail of the published cartoon (below) shows that the “T” shaped houses were located on LeTourneau Court before the Tournalaid homes were created. It also shows the all-steel Apart-Homes that remained well into the 1970s as they visually stood apart from the smooth all concrete white houses with their dimpled appearance of pressed sheet-steel.  

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Detail from the in-house publication NOW Caption: “LeTourneau at Vicksburg” September 1, 1944. Vol.9, No.16.

The “T” shaped houses must have been demolished or relocated as the community consisted of around 90 Tournalaid homes. The cartoon does show the experimental “Igloo” home to the left of the plant with the mold to the right of the plant as it is suspended from a “bomber crane.”

 

The photograph reveals the early construction process of the Tournalayer. It was still new at this time and LeTourneau would replace the other manufacturer’s concrete mixing equipment with his own invention the Tournamixer. The Tournamixer could pour large quantities of concrete to heights up to around twenty feet.

 

If anyone has information on these “T” shaped houses, please do feel free to contribute.

 

 

 

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R.G. LeTourneau’s 125th Birthday

LeTourneau University celebrated R.G. LeTourneau’s 125th birthday on November 30, 2013. To celebrate, the University invited students and faculty to “see through the eyes of R.G. LeTourneau.” To see through his eyes, the University sent facsimiles of R.G.’s glasses to those interested so they could be photographed in them and share their perspective on R.G. (click on image to enlarge)

RGLet001

I have been researching R.G. LeTourneau from a different perspective than most. LeTourneau was known for his strong religious convictions as well as his innovative earthmoving machines and there are many writings on his accomplishments regarding these two motivating factors in his life.

My research started when I began researching the prefabricated systems of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller and Walter Gropius. I discovered that I lived in a prefabricated house from around 1967-1971. My father was a welder who worked at the Vicksburg, Mississippi Plant and we lived in one of “the little concrete houses.” I thought they were constructed of concrete masonry units and laid block by block, but my father informed me that they were laid by a machine in a single pour of concrete and the whole community was established very rapidly around 1945 with a machine called the Tournalayer. After much research and visiting the LeTourneau archives in Longview, Texas for three days in 2010, I discovered the many housing systems of LeTourneau.

While researching LeTourneau, I have read his many biographies and autobiographies and have found that the houses, as artifacts, were direct products of his religious and mechanical passions. The houses and communities that R.G. created (directly and indirectly) continue to have affects on future generations of people in positive ways. R.G. was famous for his ‘Rube Goldberg-like” machines and his passion for the word of God.

While R.G. is not well-known for his prefabricated buildings, there is still much to be learned from the systems, houses, and communities for which he created. The all-steel houses and the Tournalayer house system would not bring a great profit, but they do offer much insight into the thinking processes in the mid-1940s.

As LeTourneau wrote about his (new in 1937) all-steel house system, he made the following observations.

“Between heavy grading equipment and houses there is no very definite connection, but the continuing success and the reputation of R. G. LeTourneau, Inc., in the former field is a guarantee of equal reliability in the latter. In house building we work mainly with the same materials and tools as in grading equipment manufacture, employ the same sound structural principles, design as painstakingly, and as intelligently supervise workmanship. Our reputation for leadership, for reliability, for service must be maintained in this new department to support our reputation in the older one.” – R.G. LeTourneau

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Tournalaid Town No. 1 (Almost named Tournalayer, Mississippi instead of Glass, Mississippi)

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The caption reads:

“Looking north, down on America’s first Toumalaid town. House under tree is occupied by family of John Ginter, then from left on first row: F. Breuleux, R. Jacobson, G. Whitehurst, G. Wallace, Tom Conn, D. Harper, C. Strahan. Next row below, D. Chamblee, W. Gray, C. Young, C. Stampley, W. Holder, H. Gilliand, P. Byrd, Fred Johnson. Houses in distance at right are not yet ready for occupancy.”

The main article in NOW dated September 13, 1946 reads (The grammar has not been corrected):

“Y ES, I know where it is. I’m going right there; climb in and I’ll carry you. It’s getting to be a big town. We’ve been talking about incorporating.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have said I knew where Glass is. I should’ve said I knew where Glass was. It isn’t any more. We changed its name. Why? Well, Mister, names are important. Not only in politics and perfumes, like Roosevelt and LaFollette and Witchcraft, but in most everything. Troy Laundry, Main Street, Yellow Cab, First National Bank. Used to be Star, Globe, World were about the best names to tack onto newspapers. Ben Franklin gives the thrift idea. So does Scotchman. Palace for movies-Butternut for bread- First This-or-That Church.

Towns need good names to grow on. Bet you asked a dozen folks how to get to Glass before I came along. Maybe a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but give a dog a bad name – Not that Glass was a bad name; clear, easy to say, but hardly a name to set alongside of Vicksburg, Birmingham, Chicago or New York.

We’re not even near Vicksburg for size yet, but you should’ve seen us five years ago. Two churches – white and colored – with services sometimes; a few scattered houses. A railroad waiting room just about big enough to carry the name “Glass”. Fact is, it is still the same size. No stores, no service station, no power plant, no bank, no restaurant-nothing.

No, we didn’t begin to grow as soon as we changed the name. To be honest, we started before that. Fellow came to town and put up a steel works out of odds and ends of steel and lumber. Tar paper sides, flat roof. Put in a few diesel engines to make his own power. Built a shack up on the hill for his family and threw up several more for the families of some of the other boys working with him. It wasn’t until several months after the dedication service that brought about 8,000 folks out from Vicksburg and all around that we changed the name. By then we had a power plant at the factory that supplied juice up on the hill, too, for lighting the homes. We had water. Something like a street, and a growing population.

AFTER a bit that fellow-he’s always fussing with strange contraptions that nobody ever saw before, like an outfit of several rigs to chop down trees, saw ’em to length and take their bark off out in the woods-that fellow began fooling around with a machine for laying houses like eggs. First ones really looked like eggs some, but not much like houses wimmen would want to live in. After time, though, he began laying some real good ones. Roofs were flat, but you could divide ’em up inside like regular homes.

Then his gang brought that egglaying machine up on the hill and began setting down homes. We’ve got about 50 of them already and they’re laying 25 more, they say, in the same lot. No telling how many houses he’s going to set down on the hill. That one machine can set one a day. And as soon as a house is finished one of the steel families moves in.

Know what our population is now on the hill alone, not to mention some of the older families scattered around town? It’s 132, or was a few weeks ago when they took count: 46 adult males, 41 adult females, 25 boys, 30 girls. Five years ago this heap of mine was the only car in the village. Now we got 29: Fords, Chevvy’s Plymouths, Oldsmobiles, a Buick, Packard and Hudson.

The boys put two of those eggs together and made a building for a general

store and service station. They’re talking, too, about a postoffice and a soda fountain. They turned one of those 24′ by 30′ eggs upsidedown and made it into a septic tank. They’re going to put some others two or more together to make bigger houses for large families; maybe set some on top of each other to make two-story homes.

We have a big Sunday School-80 to 100-down at the steel works cafeteria and up in the house on top of the hill that the big fellow’s wife built for their family-she’s moved away now to the newest works over in Texas-they have a Bible Class for the ladies on Thursdays. They call the preacher “chaplain”.

The power plant, with three big generator sets running full time on natural gas, puts out so much electricity that’ you can blaze all the lights in the houses, run all the electric gadgets, while they’re using them big presses and welders and drills and lathes and everything at the works, and the lights never even flicker. We’ve got bus service to town – I mean Vicksburg-seven days a week. Beside the concrete egg houses we have the first frame shacks they built on the hill, some Pullman-type steel houses that come from Georgia, and -till they can find a better place to live-a trailer camp for a few folks.

THEY say at the office-and, Mister, you ought to see that office; nothing in Vicksburg any prettier there’s a waiting list of about 125 families who want to move into egg houses -all working at the steel works. Going to have a playground for the kids. Got a little volunteer fire department on the hill. Children who skin their knees now don’t run home to mama – they chase down to First Aid at the works. Cafeteria is open for hill folks nearly 24 hours a day-whenever the works is running. Building a 55,000- gallon water tank to put alongside the first 16,000-gallon tank. The settling basin by the well holds another 22,000.

We’re almost there, Mister. Road off this highway to the left runs to the big new airport they’re carving out of the hills with them big rigs. They aren’t pretty, but they sure move dirt. They’re slicing several million cubic yards off the hill tops and putting it into the valleys to make two cross strips that’ll land almost any ship made.

This road to the right takes us through our little city direct to the steel works. See those houses on both sides of the road: everyone of ’em was laid like an egg. There’s the hen that did it ain’t she a whopper? She sits for about 18 hours after she gets filled building: ever see anything prettier? They served barbecued beef, ice cream, pop and speeches to all the countryside when it was near ready to move into. There’s the power plant; the works; the cafeteria.

No, sir, this isn’t Glass, Mississippi. This is LeTourneau. Some folks seem to have trouble with that name, but it doesn’t bother us. Probably Minneapolis, Worcester, Philadelphia and San Francisco were hard for outsiders to pronounce when they were getting started. Only thing is, if we had waited a while longer we could have honored the bird that is hatching the future metropolis by naming our town Tournalayer.”

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