Friday, February 27, 2015

Moving Force

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When the hydraulic pump was dismembered, for the first time I saw the immense, herringbone flywheel that turned the crankshaft, so that I could almost feel the steady torque as it leveraged the spin of the electric motor, even before the hydraulics added additional mechanical advantage to the push. It was Charlie who pointed out that the flywheel was cast in two halves and bolted together.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Red Rag

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: At the very back on the right is what the machinists at the factory called, “a vertical extrusion press.” Raber puts its date at 1917. Nobody remembers it ever running. Beside it is a deep pit into which, I'm told, it extruded tube. Behind it is a deep pool of PCBs.

The motor next to it is similar to the three that lined the north wall of the shop and were dated 1897.  I don’t believe the motor was connected to anything.

Only later did I think about the large wheel housing on the end of the pump and what it might contain and how it might link to the axis of the motor, deep in shadow, behind the railing.

Should anyone accuse me of staging the red rag, I promise that it is genuine rag and brilliantly red and had rested right there for, I believe, two years when I took this picture. It was there whenever the pump was running, and it stayed there nearly to the day the pump was scrapped.

Monday, February 23, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  There is grime, and there is obnoxious grime; the area around the hydraulic pump was second only to the casting house in grime obnoxiousness. Either grime overpowered our washing machine. Neither had met a solvent that was it’s equal. The floor around the pump and motors was a patchwork of greasy and slippery, metal plates that covered, I assume, raceways for hydraulic pipe. To slip was to be forced into grabbing an unsavory surface. 

The pump sat in an alcove where oil puddled on puddled water and where I wouldn’t walk. One of the previous posts below will make clear why. My last Subaru was scarred by the mess tracked onto the back seat by my tripod. And yet the pump repeatedly drew me to wade into its murky corner; it is the essence of Art Deco and a model of sublime finesse.

Note the brick arches in the wall behind the pump, ghosts where windows once lit the 1895 stair tower to a building long gone. The tower just behind the wall is now elegant housing for a tank of hydraulic oil.

For earlier photographs of the hydraulic pump:

Sunday, February 22, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Where do the grease monkeys, and cam shafts, the gear heads, and crankpins go, when their world dissolves in a cloud of data packets, and page servers, fibre optics, and free cache?

In 2007, when Raber Associates completed their report on the tube mill, the three electrical motors were no longer working, and the hydraulic pumps they drove were gone. Two new electrical pumps kept the old benches running. Wally says that the missing pumps looked very much like the one that remained, and the photo shows mounting bolts where a machine of similar size has been removed.

The surviving hydraulic pump has a brass plate giving its date: 1917. The Raber report describes it as, “an obsolete pumping unit.” However, Wally ran it for me several times, and I passed while work was going on and saw it cranking. My understanding is that it was still driving one of the benches. The wooden structure rising over it is what remains of an improvised awning to keep off the rain where the roof leaked. For most of the time I shot in the mill, the awning blocked successful photos of the motors and the pump.

It’s hard to look at this today and think, “cutting edge.” However,  Holmes, Booth & Haydens were known for riding and driving the edge of the technology curve. They were manufacturers of cameras and lenses and had patents for a new process for making metal photographic plates. With an extensive catalogue of oil lamps, by 1881 they were manufacturing lamps for use with electricity. In 1890 they were making electrical wire. The Raber report suggest they may, in fact, by 1905 have been too far ahead of the curve, and, the Raber report suggests, their collaboration with Benedict & Burnham on the tube mill may have been a financial necessity.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Last Tube Mill

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: If there is a place called Brass Valley lingering in time, then for awhile its center of gravity must have been here. Standing here, facing this way in 1905 would have looked little different than in this 2014 photograph. However, in 1905 all this would have been cutting edge. 

The giant hydraulic cylinder at the center of this shot is the muscle end of an expansion bench used to work cold metal as if it were taffy. Three expansion benches of graduated sizes lay parallel here. To see what the business end looks like while at work, click here: ( The benches could be refitted with different mandrils and dies to customize tube of all shapes, sizes, and gauges in alloys for every environment. I've read that Benedict & Burnham developed these technologies.. This seems to be the place.

The electric motors along the back wall are pioneers. The plans give their date as 1898. That is just five years from the lighting miracle at White City when the world first saw electrified night. Power generation was a very local affair. It is ten years from the dramatic opening of the first electric trolley network. Each of the electric motors here turned a hydraulic pump that could apply sufficient force to crack open the hydraulic cylinders.

The mergers that created American Brass began to be implemented in 1899. By 1917 the new American Brass had assembled a state of the art tube mill here, no doubt figuring it all out as they expanded, and the finished tube mill was all still functioning, turning out specification-critical tube for nuclear submarines, until 2014. On my first day photographing in this mill one of the men here referred to it as, “paleolithic.” The hook marks the spot where for more than a century men hoisted the parts needed to refit the expansion benches for the next job.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Attic View

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  A shrine is a place for special remembering. At the Shrine of St. Anne, in the upper right hand pane, they ask us to remember the sanctity of life through honoring motherhood. One might also stop there to remember the French-Canadian community that scrimped pennies from twelve and fourteen hour shifts in the mills in order to build and decorate their church, as they made their lives around it.

Across town in the first pane on the left is, I believe, the spire of St. John’s Episcopal Church at the head of the Waterbury Green. It is the fourth church of the Congregation that founded Waterbury in 1732. It was built after the congregation’s third church was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve, 1868. The families that worshipped at St. John's were leaders among those who created the town and the mills and ran both. It’s hard to regard it without thinking about the expanse of time and continuity, and remembering all that has been endured and accomplished and gained and lost. 

The tower in the next pane marks a different kind of shrine. How extraordinary it was! ...I’m still just grasping. The tower and patched together rooflines tell the story of mill expansion. They are duplicated beneath by large chunks of active mill technology representing all eras from 1897 through WWII and beyond. These were key processes that had been invented and perfected here, and they were all still in place and functioning, an elaborate time machine to the era when the large mills like this first electrified. Wally, head of Maintenance gave me a news article about the first electric bill in history being sent by the Edison Company to American Brass. What memories were lost here when this shrine was turned to scrap and salvage last summer?

It is the same tower as in the previous photo from Bank Street Bridge with the river flowing by. This photo is taken from the attic of the 1880s lampworks of Holmes, Booth, and Haydens that was still operating as they built the tower and the tube mill grew slowly and the river flowed by.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Back to the River: Winding through Brass

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From the Bank Street Bridge the river is closer and now feels almost lazy where it winds through the middle of the overgrown campus of American Brass Anaconda. It is a place that has become dear to me through four years of regular photo shoots there.  The river winds in front of the old chimney to the powerhouse, whose wall still carries giant letters spelling out, "Benedict & Burnham.” All the buildings on that side of the river closed down ages ago and have suffered the indignities of abandonment: gangs, metal thieves, leaking roofs, final cave-ins. When I go there I’m careful not to back up for a shot, as all the manhole covers have been stolen.

Meanwhile, on the west side of the river the old extrusion mill was still using processes and machines put there sometime after 1903 to produce specification-critical, metal tube for our nuclear subs. I’d photographed the last pour of the casting furnace in the fall of 2013, and I'd watched the last of that metal pass through this extrusion mill ( which closed two months later.

However, standing on the Bank Street bridge I wasn’t thinking of the men or machines I had photographed there, but of the stratified remains of 150 years of industrial adaptations which I had begun to learn to read in the awkward junctures of the extrusion mill architecture and read about in a Raber Associates report. Sections went back to the Civil War. An 1880s section began as Holmes, Booth, & Haydens lampworks. Changes in window details there whispered of carefully paced expansion, but south end truncation revealed itself where structure embedded in the brick end-wall itched like phantom limbs toward lost passageways.

The tower in this picture and the windowed wall on either side mimic the forms and detailing of the Holmes, Booth & Haydens’ lampworks, though also clearly different. I’ve read they were added in 1895. Inside the tower is a tank for hydraulic oil, though the shadow of a missing stair tiptoes up two walls. The walls flanking the tower were built to enclose motors, hydraulics and the long steel expansion benches and draw benches of a tube mill that was later expanded. It was still being used in 2013 ( when I photographed there, though the phantom stair in the tower and the place to which it once led were were a mystery to all.

WWI produced the biggest addition, expanding the capacity of the tube mill beneath a broad, sawtooth roof. That’s probably when the pylons were set in the river to carry a single branch line past the tube mill in the place where once the Naugatuck Railroad’s, double-tracked, trunk line had run before 1909 and the opening of Union Station. 

The extrusion mill was modified again in 1931 and again at the start of WWII. That was when the second extruder was added, the one that was still running when I shot there. It was the factory’s centerpiece, and at the end it became the reason for the factory’s existence: the last place in the U.S. where the sub's tube could be produced. The factory closed in December of 2013. I watched them scrap, and I saw the salvage leave for Mexico nine months later.

The story of the active Brass Mill is told in:
BRASS VALLEY: The Fall of an American Industry
Available as of September from most book sellers.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Back to the River: Tracking Waterbury, #2

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Looking downstream from the rotting bridge where we just looked upstream, the river winds east then south by the old stack, cracked at the top, that belonged to American Brass. Looking between ties the river is always grinning and moving faster than I expect. Pausing there, I can begin to imagine the roar and smoke of locomotives steaming down the track and into town from five directions. Electric traction lines called “trolleys,” were adding more options for travel and we were changing even if we weren’t going anywhere.

Downstream, beyond the Bank Street bridge (shown here), down in the river are two concrete pylons marking the area where the original Naugatuck Railroad entered town in 1849, and grew to be a busy, double-tracked trunk line by 1899. And when the trains came up through Derby and Ansonia from Bridgeport and New Haven, they still stopped at Bank Street Station where Bank crossed Meadow Street, before continuing up the Valley to connections in Winsted. The old Bank Street Station is pictured and marked on the 1899 map ( in the middle of industry and congestion.

The Naugatuck Line was owned by the Consolidated. The bridge I’m standing on carried the Boston, Waterford and Erie Railroad, more recently consolidated by the Consolidated. South of town the tracks turned west and passed through Hawleyville and Danbury before connecting to the Hudson River rail corridor. In the north they went on to Bristol, New Britain, Hartford and Boston.

The 1899 map shows another line passing here as well. It comes into town from the east, loops through the South End, and joins this line at the bottom of the map. Theres still a bit of trestle and track at the corner of Washington Street and South Main. That was the route used by the Meriden, Waterbury, and Connecticut River Railroad to bring passengers to a station variously at Meadow Street near Grand Street or at West Main Street, a few blocks north.

For a long time the Connecticut River Line was the region’s only competition to the the high freight prices of the Consolidated Railroad, and they hustled to keep the line rolling. They carried freight east to the Connecticut River to send it by boat south and west to New York City. It was a strategy to break the stranglehold of the Consolidated. It was a bitter contest. They say it never really had a chance. Before the new century had come the Connecticut River Line was consolidated into the hegemony of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. If it passed through New England, NYNH&H carried it.

Before the “union" station opened in 1909, Waterbury had multiple train stations: Main Street, Bank Street, Meadow Street, Dublin Street. The fire of 1902 provided opportunity. The time was right. The map of 1917 illustrates the change ( The angle has shifted, but there’s no difficulty in spotting Union Station where all lines meet. It is the largest thing on the map. Zoom in to see people arriving in their horse-drawn carriages and waiting on multiple platforms. Take a carriage ride up Grand Street past celebrated buildings that are still used today. Then follow the Naugatuck River left toward all the smoke stacks and you’ll find the Bank Street Bridge I’m standing on. If you look closely on the map you’ll see where this track must cross the river, though the area is mostly concealed by the perspective.

A bit further downstream at the spot where the pylons are is a metal bridge carrying a single spur of track through the vast new expanses of American Brass, created in a giant merger in 1899. Look again at the 1917 map and American Brass seems to have smokestacks everywhere, though not so tall as the station’s single tower.  On this day from this spot on the rotting bridge I know why the river grins, but I doubt I’ll remember it for long.

(Special thanks to Phil Benevento for information used in this series of posts. Information used in tracing these routes also came from additional online maps and Wiki)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Back to the River: Tracking Waterbury, #1

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: One track is active, used by the Naugatuck Division of Metro North. On the other I watch my step on a walkway of metal grid laid across rotting ties and spaces where a tie has fallen away, and where I see river like a toothless grin. Of course, we’re always following history’s tracks, but along this track the light has suddenly shown a more distant horizon.

In 1909 Union Station opened on Meadow Street. Once you know where to look in this picture, you can see the Union Station Tower directly behind the white, tractor-trailer truck on the Mixmaster. The track makes a smooth arc and ends at the terminal at the foot of the tower. Follow the riverbank and you might almost be able to imagine a crescent of meadow beneath the boscage between track and river.

Meadow Street! It’s a name with a memory to remind us why Waterbury was called Mattatuck, the treeless place. I’ve often walked by the grave stones set into the Meadow Street wall of Library Park, where the city’s cemetery used to be, and wondered where the meadow may have been. This view suggests an answer. It’s reinforced by the 1899 illustrated Waterbury map ( You can find this bridge where the railroad crosses over Bank Street at the bottom of the map. The crescent of open space west of the rail suggests it may still have been mostly open meadow then. 

Another set of tracks, the old Naugatuck Railroad tracks run along Old Meadow Street on the map. When those tracks were laid, there was no industrial development west of Meadow Street, and citizens of old Waterbury at rest in the town cemetery still had a clear view across the treeless meadows of Mattatuck to the flowing Naugatuck waters at their edge. In time the city would rise up. Then the cemetery would be buried. Finally, the Mixmaster would cross the valley and fracture Meadow Street with its giant feet.

(Special thanks to Phil Benevento for information useful to this series  of blog posts.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Meditation near Meadow Street Cemetery

William Blake: "Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead."