PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I was back at the foundry again on Wednesday as I have been on and off with no notice in this journal. Immediately I was told there had been layoffs here and at the manufacturing plant in Waterbury. I had heard earlier that they had been hit hard by the sequester, that the work that had been done to bring in new contracts by adding a new alloy might be all undone by the stalemate in Washington. At least those were the rumors among the men.
Most of the men shrugged. A few said it was a good time of year to have some time off, but nobody knew if this was time off or time over - the last brass poured in Brass Valley. In any case, it was too immediate, too personal for anyone to think it might be the end of an epoch. Two billets were cast on Wednesday, and they told me the last two billets would be cast and pulled at 9:30 the next morning, Thursday. I was there, and it proved interesting in that the billets needed to be longer than usual.
I described the unusual manner of pouring the billets into rings rather than molds in an earlier post (http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/search?q=molds). The usual manner of removing the billets is to lower them beneath the rings and swing the assembly holding the rings to the side. This time the billets were too long to lower beneath the rings so instead, they were cooled to shrink and then, first pushed up a couple of feet through the ring far enough to get a chain on the end so the crane could lift each one up the rest of the way through the ring. A three-ton, singeing-hot billet dangling from a crane always looks precarious, but these were yanked up extra high in the rafters, and the chain was very close to the end of each billet.
There's a moment in this process that I'm always ready for and always surprised by. It is when the billet passes by, and I feel the immense wave of heat radiating from it; how easily it might slip! I'm always ready with an escape route, and I'm always surprised by how hot it is and must stop myself from pulling back and losing the shot. That this billet was gray rather than orange did not make it feel any cooler. That made it even more surprising.
The billets cast on Wednesday and Thursday will be trucked to Waterbury for processing while the factory in Ansonia goes idle and in Washington, D.C., Congress claims to know how to create jobs but remains deadlocked and goes on vacation. On Thursday morning, March 28, 2013, two extra long billets were cast. May they not be the last.