PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In the WWI shed, the extrusion crew works to right the push-die behind the block, and copper tubes soak in vats of blue acid, and buckets of scrap sail downstream on the hooks of cranes. Everyone there wears ear plugs, but up the dark back stairs of the older, brick factory, where the floors are gritty, only creaky risers and my shuffling footsteps bestir the quiet.
On the abandoned second floor, the filtered, gray window-light is a pall over reality which lives in the shadows. I strain to hear the source of distant buzzing, perhaps the complaint of an errant electrical circuit, back from the dead. Further up, beyond the broken clock with the crippled fingers, the world is increasingly pigeon-haunted. It's best to creep when traversing time. Up there, other than pigeons, there's only drafts, drips, and the creaks of age; then on the third floor, a flash, the flapping of black wings flying at light.
It is like crossing to the other side. The sawtooth rooftop beyond the windows rouses shadows in offices where clerks with fine hands kept accounts for Holmes, Booth, & Haydens. Dutifully they enter into ledgers the sales of planished, copper-silver photographic plates that will capture the daguerreotype faces of a generation (HB&H were the first to make them). Their flowing letters also record production and sales of crisp, brass oil burners whose delicate gears, touched by countless fingertips, control the glow of lamps round the world (Hiram W. Hayden held more than 30 oil lamp patents). And later, when fine and flowing were obsolete, typewriters spit orders faster and stayed abreast of new products and new demands. One can almost see the shadows of clerks flicker in the broken, glass cubicles of some subsequent reform to achieve new, strategic efficiencies, and you can hear their whispers in the rustling of feathers and occasional murmurs, clucks and coos. A rusted Addressograph stands amid a scattered heap of stamped address plates spilled from file drawers, the forgotten contact list of Anaconda Copper, never to be re-alphabetized.
The conveyor system that feeds blocks to the extruder begins at a four track bin and might double as pretty good electric trains. A swing bridge that pivots around one corner carries blocks across an aisle and aligns them to sidetracks that feed three ovens. It's an intriguing system, but it has apparently been abandoned. However, the trip from ovens is still pretty good railroading.
One at a time each hot block is sent down the conveyor from its oven. My Lionels never carried glowing hot metal. At right turns the blocks become 300 lb. wheels rolling to the next conveyor before advancing again. On the way to the extruder the hot block is first lowered and then raised and turned on elevators, until it is finally positioned between the extruder's maw, more politely called the container, and its giant ram, The ram is powered by 50 feet of hydraulics that make a throbbing, sad, metallic whine as they crush. Play-Doh, anyone?
Fred has momentarily stopped the extrusion press as it is lifting and rotating the next block into position to be plunged through the press's cutting die. The steel push-die (commonly called the dummy) that is supposed to protect the mandrel has fallen over. Someone must go in beside the block and the constantly dripping, cooling water and right the push-die with a crow bar before the process can continue and the ram mandrel do their tubular work.
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: ...but they don't make kettles here. They make tubing in various alloys of copper and in large diameters and lengths according to order, and they make it seamless, without welds. It's another of the brass-makers' tricks.
Tubing made with a seam along the side is tubing with a scar, a weakness, a place to fail. On a submarine in the salty depths, on a cruise ship full of people, in a nuclear cooling facility near towns and cities seamless tubing is the required spec. This is the only place in the United States where it's made. The process and the remaining extruder have been passed down to current operators from American Copper and Brass (successor company to Holmes, Booth and Hayden) through Anaconda (once a tyrant of industry and now a bad debt carried by Atlantic Richfield Corporation).
The lathe in the background is one of many abandoned relics rusting and collecting dust amid the slowed flow of shiny blocks. These blocks, cast and milled to various specifications, are all of the exact diameter for the ancient, monster extruder that has been moaning and mewling from the other end of the factory since the beginning of time. It is the last of its breed.
STEVE JOBS quoting STEWART BRAND from The Whole Earth Catalog: "Stay hungry. Stay foolish."
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Touch it. Freshly lathed and drilled blocks are irresistible. Run your hands over the crisp edges and across the smooth, gently rippling surfaces. Rap one with your knuckle to hear its damped resonance. Try to lift it (They weigh about 300 lbs ea) to feel its heft. They seem thoroughly solid, but the brass men who formed Holmes, Booth, and Haydens had a much deeper understanding of copper, and they used it to make simple things better, cheaper, faster.
Hiram W. Hayden was an inventor and held more patents for manufacturing processes than anyone else in the industry. On Dec. 16, 1851 he received his first patent revolutionizing one of life's most ubiquitous essentials, the common, copper kettle. The traditional way of manufacturing a copper kettle was on a machine that stamped a disk of metal between a succession of dies, gradually stretching the bottom and compressing the sides up and in until the final set of dies stamped the kettle into kettle shape. As Hayden explained in his patent renewal, the old method is always trying to knock the bottom off the kettle, damaging the metal and making it thin at the bottom where it needs to be thick, and thick at the top where it should be thin. The metal is pounded and damaged at precisely the points where it must take greatest stress.
Hiram Hayden's patent calls for spinning a disk of copper and a succession of forms together on a lathe-like machine while an appropriate tool gradually presses the metal and draws it into the desired kettle shape. This method reduces the number of steps in the kettle-making process and the number of times the metal must be annealed between tooling, and it produces a kettle thick at the bottom where it takes punishment and thin at the top where it should be light. The metal is not abused while being processed and the resulting kettle is better, cheaper, and more durable. Hiram Hayden understood the fluid nature of the his metals, the value of spin, and how to engineer a machine that would take advantage of these. Was this the spirit that gave American industry its early vitality? If so, it is also the spirit exemplified in the life of Steve Jobs who died yesterday and whose work touched each of us profoundly and changed the world.
You can see the drawings and read the patent application for Hayden's kettle-making machine here.
I've been making photographs since childhood. Photography has become a way for me to explore the place I live and places I visit, but I know there's much to be seen in my own back yard. My favorite travel is through time.
This blog is a discipline and challenge to myself. However, I always welcome hearing how these posts touch those who visit.
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