“A small city doing business in a big way”
December 10, 2011
First Street, downtown Abbotsford
I take Hwy 29 west out of Wausau quite a bit and always pass by the exit for Abbotsford. One day, in late May, I decided to exit and take a look around to see what’s there. I left Abbotsford thinking, “Wow, they have packed a lot of business, industry and transportation in a fairly small space in this town!”
Now remember I am a city boy, so I get a kick out of a lot of things lots of people take for granted out here.
Abbotsford is in central Wisconsin, in Clark and Marathon Counties. The city boasts having over 160 businesses.
Don’t worry about reading the print, just note the colors. The map is current as of 2008. Yellow reflects residential, red commercial, white industrial, purple agricultural and green parks. The Canadian National Railway runs south-north through the center of the city in a north-northwesterly direction in that area in grey in the map’s center. The vertical line you see north-south through the commercial center is the Clark-Marathon County line, Clark to the west, Marathon to the east.
Here’s a look at a satellite view.
What surprises me about these views is how large the residential area is. The population in the 2010 census was 2,310, comprised of 817 households. I guess I did not drive around enough as I became so enamored at the industry and commercial properties, which as you can see in both views are packed in tightly. It is worth mentioning that Abbotsford is part of the Wausau, Wisconsin Metropolitan Statistical Area. That means it is in a geographical region with a relatively high population density at its core in Wausau and therefore has close economic ties throughout the area and with Wausau.
Abbotsford is strategically located at the junctions of Hwys 29, which goes east-west, and 13 which goes north-south, both of which are very good highways.
It is also located on the Canadian National Rail line, which goes almost directly through the middle of the city.
I was truly on a get lost ride inside the city limits. Being a guy, I was drawn toward the railway tracks and the industry. I found my way to this industrial area.
Meigs is headquartered in Portage, but operates terminals in Portage, Abbotsford and Eau Claire. It was founded in 1935 by Henry G. Meigs who had been involved in rail car sales of asphalt products. He then changed his mind and switched more toward using trucks to deliver his products which explains the terminals. His company serves Wisconsin. He set up the first one in Waukesha in 1951 after which he established a new location at Portage in 1953 because it was a rail and highway hub. The Abbotsford facility was opened in 1956, for roughly the same reasons.
The Abbotsford facility has changed and grown over the years, and can now handle 5.1 million gallons of, I believe, asphalt emulsions and petroleum.
Asphalt is produced through refining petroleum. It is a viscous adhesive that, along with aggregate, forms HMA pavement surfaces. Lots of jargon there. Let’s explore for a moment or two. “Viscous” essentially means sticky. “Aggregate” in this context has to do with a mixture of minerals. “HMA pavement” is one that is considered somewhat flexible; in other words, the pavement flexes under loading of the traffic on top of it.
Asphalt, or bitumen, is a sticky, black and highly viscous or semi-solid that is present in most crude petroleums. When mixed with aggregate particles, it creates asphalt concrete which in turn is used to pave roads.
Meigs specializes in emulsified asphalts used in pavement preservation. An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that normally cannot be blended. Asphalt emulsions are mixtures of asphalt binders, water and emulsifying agents. Basically, there are very small asphalt droplets in waters. The emulsifying agent keeps the asphalt droplets suspended in the water. As a result, lower temperatures are required when mixed with the aggregate and laid down to form the pavement.
I am assuming Meigs receives petroleum crude, refines it, and employs it to make asphalt.
Let’s return to a photo you have already seen.
Asphalt Technologies is headquartered outside Madison and tests asphalt. They measure asphalt performance, measure viscosity of asphalt binders, determine the fire point of petroleum products and perform other such related functions.
Megis trucking deploys from all three locations with about 40 trucks available to deliver liquid asphalt products to anyone in the industry. In good military fashion, they’ve got ‘em lined up and dressed up ready to go at the Abbotsford facility.
I want to return to the railway. Why? Because I’m a kid at heart.
I am not sure why, but I find this building intriguing, perhaps because you cannot see what’s inside. But I also love the way she is constructed and the weather-beaten color of the wood. I am told it belongs to the rail line and is used for storage. Up close, you see a manual track switch. I just love the broom standing tall and wondered why it’s there. After a little research, I learned it is called a switch broom, and as you can see there is a track switch off to the right. They are normally used to sweep off the snow and ice.
Told you I love this building. a closer look.
The other side. Maybe it was the “orange trim” against the wood that intrigued me. I think that is metal that has rusted!
There is a lot of rail stuff in this little area, You can see several sets of manual switches in the middle, and rails in the foreground and background. Way to the rear are stacks of rail ties.
You can see some rows of rails to the right. I believe the long steel bars with round ends are to be used to tighten the bolts to the ties, to wi, they are some kind of wrench. Those flat plates to the left with holes in them, I believe are rail plates. If correct, these are used to distribute the rail’s weight onto the rail tie. The rail sits on it, and it sits on the cross tie. Spikes are driven into it to hold it in place.
On nearby 1st Street in Abbotsford is Wisco Feeds. Can’t explain it, but I get a kick out of buildings like this. The company specializes in manufacturing dairy feed for customers in about a 50 mile radius. This is an important business. Feed costs represent 40 to 60 percent of the cost of producing milk on Wisconsin farms. There are those dairy farmers who prefer to produce their own forages and most of the grains needed, for economic reasons. Certainly this can be done, but doing this is no easy chore. The farmer must determine the nutrients required, convert their many and varied inputs to dry matter, the forage must be analyzed for dry matter protein, storing and retrieving the feed can be a challenge, and the farmer has to monitor closely the losses incurred in harvesting, storing and feeding of their home grown crops. Wisco Feeds does all that for the farmer, but of course, it might cost more than doing it yourself, though the risks of mistakes are lower.
Abbyland Foods, Inc is the largest business in Abbotsford. Harland Schraufnagel opened it in 1977 as a custom beef processing plant and retail store. He then added a sales forces to sell meat products to other retailers in the state, and by 1979 the company had 12 workers. Today, it has grown to 680 workers in eight divisions. The company describes itself this way:
If you are a citizen of Wisconsin, this is what you like to see, “Made in Wisconsin.”
Trucking is also a big business in Wisconsin, so seeing this lineup of Abbyland trucks at parade rest is a great sight.
Heading west on Hwy 29 just a bit you come across the town of Curtiss and the location of the Abbyland Service Plaza, the homeland of Abbyland Trucking. They do all manner of truck repairs and servicing here.
Inside, there is a retail shop presenting Abbyland products that is hard to leave without buying something.
The day I visited Abbotsford was kind of gloomy, with on and off rain showers. I have to get back there and do more exploring. My instinct is there are many other neat businesses to see