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Elgin Sweeper Dealers Generate Reproduction of Company's First Model

Elgin Sweeper

Thanks to Janelle Walker, The Elgin Courier-News, for the photo of this 1/3-size model of Elgin Sweeper Company's first-ever sweeper. The reproduction was placed outside the West Bartlett Road factory recently. The model was manufactured by Acme Design, Inc., also of Elgin.

Only a few grainy pictures remain of the very first street sweeper model, which was built by Elgin Sweeper Company in 1914. That didn't stop the Elgin dealers from building a replica to celebrate the sweeper manufacturer's 100th anniversary.

There are no remaining models sitting in a museum and no original plans tucked into a file at the Elgin Sweeper Company. When Elgin's dealers decided they wanted to have a replica of the original Elgin sweeper built to commemmorate the century milestone, the available photos became the guide for building a 1/3 scale replica for display at the Elgin factory.

The plan to re-create the first sweeper as a monument began in 2014, said Mike Higgins, vice president and general manager of the Elgin-based sweeper company. Elgin's dealers collectively said "Lets do something to commemorate (the anniversary)," Higgins recalled.

A few other ideas were bounced around before the dealers settled on doing a monument. The next challenge was finding a shop that could fabricate the monument within their budget and in the right size. Jerry Donlon – president of Standard Equipment in Chicago and the monument plan's originator, was put in charge of finding the right maker for the monument. On such a monumental occasion, Donlon said, "We should do something monumental."

Elgin Sweeper

A search brought Donlon to an association of monument makers and he reached out to some of its members. He then started looking at bronze and faux bronze memorials and found the same name on many of them. "All of them pointed back to [a company called] Acme Design," Donlon said.

While the original street sweeper seemed like the perfect subject for a sculpture, Donlon knew the limitations. It didn't make sense to make a full-size reproduction. "[I knew a full-sized] machine would look like an elephant out there on the plant's front lawn," Donlon said. Plus, they also didn't have anything more than pictures to go by. Fortunately, the photos were sufficient for the chosen monument maker to reproduce the sweeper in its entire detail.

Only having photos didn't daunt the staff at Acme, says owner Clint Borucki. "The crew here are good at interpreting photos. It is a part of what we do," Borucki said.

The Acme crew used the pictures to graph out what the original model looked like, its original size and how the moving parts worked. Donlon assisted, as well, meeting on and off with the staff at Acme for several months in order to finalize the plan. The actual construction of the 1/3-size model took nearly two years "because [Borucki] wouldn't accept unless it really looked good," Donlon said.

Acme's Jon Olimb made orthographic photos – putting the two-dimensional pictures into a three-dimensional plan – to allow them to see the sweeper from all sides, Borucki said. Those plans allowed them to "connect the dots" and interpret how the chains and gears worked to run the sweeper. "We had to figure out what would have been connected to what," he said.

Elgin Sweeper

A model of Elgin Street Sweeper Co.Ős first machine, manufactured by Acme Design, Inc. of Elgin, was moved and put in place at Elgin Sweeper by a crane. (Acme Design / HANDOUT)

Today, the machine would be a regulator's nightmare, since it was outfitted with open chains and gears. "It wasn't uncommon for a street sweeper operator in those days to be missing two fingers on his right hand," Donlon said.

Although computers were used to make the model into a 3-D image, it is still an art to determine how the final piece would look. The production team also didn't want the sweeper to look like it just came off the production line. Rather, they wanted the machine to look like it had put in some years of service on cobblestone streets.

"It needed to look like a workhorse, not a trailer queen that never gets ran," Borucki said. For those in automotive show circles, a trailer queen is a vehicle that gets pulled from place-to-place on a trailer but never gets out on the road.

The final model is 80-percent steelwork and ironwork with some hard-resin foam as an outer coat. The wheels are aluminum foundry castings that were made in Batavia, Illinois. The scale model sweeper weighs in at 1,200 pounds and sits on top of a plinth made to look like the cobblestone streets it would have cleaned.

"[This project was] fun for the shop to work on," Borucki said. "The fact is that there is this whole history of the company; employees at Elgin Sweeper have no idea of what happened here [so long ago] and the impact the company has had."

The reason the sweeper dealers wanted to do the monument, Donlon says, is that it will remind customers and other visitors what a strong company Elgin Sweeper is and how long [it has been in operation]. They have been doing it for 100 years. Our competitors can't say that. We will still be building sweepers for 100 more years."

Donlon's father started their dealership in 1969; the oldest dealer has sold Elgin-built machines since 1947," Higgins said.

Thanks to Janelle Walker, a freelance reporter for The Courier-News, for some of the material used in this story.

Elgin Sweeper is a subsidiary of Federal Signal Corporation's Environmental Solutions Group. For more information, visit

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