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.


Ginnie said...

You NAIL these images, Ted. I'm so envious of you! :)

Emery Roth II said...

You do just fine, Ginnie. Hoping to find you out and shooting any day now.