Scraping the Runner Box
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: From behind the camera lens, removing the billets appears as mysterious as any alchemical incantation. With the flow of metal halted, Willy removes and cleans the distributer cups. The metal flows from the crucible to the cups which distribute and slow the flow of metal into the mold and give it time to harden. The cups must be removed before the fresh billets can be lifted.
At the Crucible, No.2
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I never dreamed such a place existed, and it is a privilege each time I step back in time and photograph here. It is a privilege for which many deserve thanks. Among them are the men who let me photograph them at work, who share stories, and who patiently explain what they are doing and why. There's much left to photograph. This image of the foundry was taken last week.
Casting was in process; molten copper was being poured into forms from which the billets will be pulled that resemble thick telephone poles, 12 or 15 feet long and weigh several tons each before they are cut, drilled, & lathed into blocks to be mashed through the extruder and processed into tubing. I imagined the forms into which the hot copper was being poured and how deep they must be to contain the long billets.
Today when I returned, the foundry had been taken apart, and I could see behind the magic to things previously concealed. Willie pointed to the tin dragon of the picture above, but I couldn't recognize it. Mike took me around and showed me the casting forms and tried to explain, but I didn't understand. Then he took me to another bay and showed me forms that looked like what I imagined, slick, black tubes into the floor that disappeared into darkness. "We don't use those any more."
The forms they do use, the pair he showed me, had, I think, become blocked by a half-formed billet, but the form was only a couple of feet deep. It had been hauled up on the floor so it could be cleaned. How could the long billet I had seen, come from such a short form? Mike was patient with the failure of my imagination, and he again explained how, as the first bit of billet cooled, it became solid and was lowered even as new molten copper was pouring from above. I finally got it, I think. Now, about that water that constantly gushes under the floor beneath the crucible...?
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The past is always here,always elusive,like a familiar smellthat lets you knowyou're home,
though you are a half world away,
and when you finallyget back tothe disfiguredplace that had been
you search for that smell,crave it,even as yousip mouthfuls of heartless dust andsavor mildew's inky sting.
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: We've learned how to slip through the gate soundlessly, in the shadows so as not to attract attention, but inside the fence we must follow the remains of the train tracks across the large loading plazas where we are easy to spot. Inside the gate is no-man's land. A busy city hums all around us, but nobody knows what goes here. The manhole covers were among the first things to disappear, and the plazas are booby trapped with shafts that end in darkness. Drop a rock, and one hears it splash.
Metal salvage is only one of the things that bring people here. In one of the plazas a couple of lawn chairs and a table have been set up next to a small, covered, storage trailer that has been plundered. The back gate of the trailer was miserably disfigured by the break-in. A broken TV, old scarves and pillows, a gameboy and other debris from the trailer lie strewn across the plaza to a three-legged sofa that has somehow limped to the bottom of a loading ramp. Over several months I've observed no changes to this oasis of domestic tranquility. I have no further explanation.
One day we found the gate wide open, and when we reached the entrance to the largest shed, we saw a car, clean and shiny, parked inside. We called out several times but got no reply. We continued our shoot, though staying close. Old factories are wind instruments, and on almost any day there are a variety of flaps and flappers rattling out tunes and making a buzz. Narrow stairs lead up to a warren of offices, and at the top floor there are views over the city and down on the roofs of some of the factory sheds. On this particular day the band featured a couple of soloists, and we watched as they sawed and banged to remove the large, rusty ventilation covers from the lower rooftops. It was one more insult to the old buildings that would speed their decay. I was pretty sure the metal thieves didn't want to be seen, and I was certain we felt the same. It's the Ruins Boogie-Woogie. On the way out we met the owner of the car. He told us he spent the night here because his girlfriend threw him out. He assured us that he had closed the gate when he drove in the evening before.
Most interesting of all the buildings is the powerhouse, a three-story high atrium filled with furnaces and boilers and pipes and ducts and turbines and electronics and things we didn't understand. In some places catwalks provided access to valves and gauges high on the sides of equipment and up near the roof. Behind the main atrium, a second building of equal height was divided into two floors. It took us several visits before we discovered the cave-like lower story. The entrance had been hidden behind slouching, plastic tarps that had once been thrown up in a desperate effort to keep out the elements after vandals had smashed the wall of glass that protected and ventilated the space around the furnaces.
The upper floor of this back building was like a gallery in a natural history museum. The equipment here stood on free-standing stages, like separate species of jungle cats rowed up for easy comparison and defying identification. In the corner was a large boiler with a coating of thick, white paint pealing and crackling and catching shadows magnificently. I had photographed it once, but I thought I could do better. When I finally got my chance to return, it was clear the metal thieves had been through again. They had begun removing catwalks. Here and there steps were missing from some of the ladders and stairs. I might have mistaken it for an effort at security had it not been so random. As I climbed the metal stair to the upper floor of the back building I had to step over the space where the third stair had been removed. I was glad the thieves had left enough treads in place that I could still get to the top. Once there, I saw the landing had been removed, and I had to go back down and find a board to bridge the gap. I climbed back up, I tossed down a board so I could get across the space where the landing had been, and when I got inside, the iron boiler that I had come to photograph, that had once stood two stories high and as big around as a silo, was gone. I gazed in amazement as I realized the only way they could have gotten it out was to cut it into smaller than door-sized pieces. The museum gallery had become a hall of empty, concrete pedestals.
The photographs in "Foundry" are a small preview of an exhibit of my photos coming up in March and April at the Sharon Historical Society entitled, "Brass Valley: Made in America." That exhibit will feature the brass mill photos that I have begun posting here taken at the last working brass mill in Brass Valley.
Pond Bottom Churn
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: We've rounded the cusp, but it's too soon to feel the days getting longer, and winter's deepest blasts are probably gathering somewhere in the future, beyond the reach of forecast. For now we oscillate between freeze and thaw, part of the constant churning engine that makes tomorrow.
It's been awhile since I've been out shooting, and I've missed some great cloudscapes, an afternoon of fog, a morning of snowfall and ice melting along the river. Today never comes back after the ice has melted, and I hope for other snow and ice.