•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Starry Night


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The two silos are side by side and to casual glance, snug against the end wall of the barn. In fact, I found there was a narrow passage between them. It was strewn with debris and will probably be overgrown in a month. Once through this channel I found myself in a musty, triangular space between silos and the barn. To my left and right were narrow passages that hugged the barn wall and led back out. In front was access to the barn. When I turned and looked, I saw the silos had been outfitted on this side with iron levers and handles that worked wooden gates, the patented hardware of the Unadilla Silo Company. I had entered the inner sanctum.

I couldn't help but think of the back-breaking task of shoveling the silage from here to the cows inside the barn. At least the whole process had been designed to let gravity do a bit of the work. I have much to learn about how this really did work - a note for my next visit.

The appliances that operated the gates were rusted and decayed and too fragile to fool with. I could just about find space to poke my head in, and it took an awkward twist to look up and take in the space. This was the belly of the beast or at least one of them. I gazed in dank & awe and then quickly but carefully unscrewed myself. Definite possibilities! ...and impossibilities. I thought about the impossibility of doing "the silo twist," with a camera. Worse yet, it was dark and there was no way I could use a tripod. The camera would have to be rock steady. I reached deep inside, guessed at the trajectory, and braced myself against something smelly. Instant digital feedback at least allowed me to check that I got the shots I wanted eventually. I find, however, a few of the "rejects," seem to me now like great serendipities.

As it turns out, the silos are not so old as I had thought, but I would guess wooden silos had a relatively limited life. The Unadilla Silo Company which, by the way, still exists, kindly and amazingly took less than 24 hours to locate sales documents showing three silos shipped in 1950. I'm not sure what the working life of a silo is, but these were undoubtedly replacement silos. In 1950 it cost $45 to ship a large silo such as this from Unadilla, NY, to True Mt., Conn.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Sadly, jpg reduction lacks the great detail of the full-resolution original which clearly reveals the bolts and fasteners in the apex of the silo roof. In this reduction the structure itself is dim. If possible, view this image full screen and against a dark background. Turn down/off nearby lamps.