Saturday, February 25, 2012

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...?