Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bread Yard

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: To me, it has always been the “Bread Yard,” though I’m quite certain there was never more bread here than it takes to supply a few workers' lunch boxes. The bread crane, with its vine-covered hook and its shantytown cab as photographed from above through that chain link fence in 2011, drew me to Farrel Foundry. (http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2011/06/farrels-hook.html) At the time I had no idea whether the Bread Yard was within Farrel or was on the property of the neighbor to the north, Ansonia Copper & Brass. 

After searching unsuccessfully at Ansonia Copper & Brass, it was one of the first places I tried to find when I briefly got inside Farrel Foundry in 2011, and I found it. However, it was so clogged with semi-trailors that I realized the best photo had been the one I took through the links of the fence, though I had thrown away thousands of pixels. 

Bread or no bread, it was a senseless place to put a yard for semis, hemmed in on all sides and at farthest remove from street or rail, a place only reached by bringing semis through the busy, dirty, danger-filled center of the foundry with cranes shuttling 60 ton castings overhead. 

The reason for the Bread Yard lies hidden beyond the tin building at the back of this picture, in a space like the secret compartment on an old desk, and accessible behind an unused building at Ansonia Copper and Brass. It was another year before I found my way to the long pool that lay between the buildings of Ansonia Copper and Farrel. Even when I saw it I was too dense to realize that the pool and pump house marked the aborted end of the old Ansonia Canal which still flows from the Kinneytown dam, a mile and half north, and which once continued south, before there was a pump house, through the Bread Yard and on along one edge of Farrel Foundry beside Main Street, then crossing under Main Street and the firehouse and flowing south, eventually looping back to the river. The eastern bay of Farrel sheds and the Bread Yard had been built where the canal once flowed.

Finally, last fall the semis were removed, all but the bread truck, and I took a number of pictures of the Bread Yard through which the canal once flowed, though the vine that had filagreed the hook was long gone. When the bread truck is gone, will there be cake? 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Big Hook

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I first began noticing hooks at Farrel Works. Even before I got permission to shoot inside in 2011 I was shooting through the chain link fence trying to photograph a vine-covered hook the size of a gorilla that once spanned Farrel's sunken courtyard beside Main Street. It seemed to say everything that needed to be said about heavy industry in the valley, though it resisted becoming a photograph. 

I’ve been noticing cranes ever since. Like silos on old farms, lingering long after the barns have blown away, cranes are often the last hint of the scale of what went on in a place after the looting is done. The large bridge cranes are frequently tucked up at each end, rusted in place. The big ones may have more than one trolley and more than one hook. And along each aisle, at every station, jib cranes mark the size and sometimes the nature of the work done there. Even in the most ruined sheds, one can still usually read, painted on the side, the load for which each crane and hook was built. From what still exists, 3 to 5 tons seems to have handled much of what had to be hefted up and down Brass Valley, even in big sheds. 

Inside the abandoned basilicas of Farrel Works there are probably twenty to thirty traveling, bridge cranes. The smallest is rated at 5 tons. Many are rated at over 40 tons. This is part of one of two bridge cranes that span the main foundry aisle and travel the length of the nave, a space in which half a dozen football teams might practice simultaneously. The large hook is rated at sixty tons. The bridge is rated for carrying ninety tons of load. Whatever it lifted had to be passed through the factory to reach the siding where it could be loaded onto a railroad car. The hooks here at the south end are shy, hiding up in a shadowy corner, hard to photograph, but they are the largest I’ve found. 

In a dark attic byway threaded through the roof trusses of two abutting sheds, in a space which happened to have its own crane, I came upon a spare hook. The space was high and narrow, and I had to point my flashlight into the shadows to be sure the massive shape wasn’t the carcass of a beast, but it was another 60 ton hook, lying on its side at the base of an attic crane-way, an inert remnant in a place once well prepared and humming. These are among corridors to be visited on a magical mystery tour of Farrel Works.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Orgblo

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: These are noble spaces, but it’s not only in their high vaulting, shadowed tracery and dark silences that these Farrel sheds resemble cathedrals. Here, in the side aisles behind the cathedral nave, a hose saddle waits like a minor altar inscribed, "Spencer Turbine Company, Windsor, CT, Hose Rack No. 2.”  It was one of various vestiges hinting that purposeful work once took place here, but nothing explained what part the Spencer Turbine Company’s rusting hose reel played in Farrel Foundry’s daily devotions and in the rites of those who came here religiously for long hours in service to the Foundry. It made me curious: Hose? Turbines? What did they do here beside the casting ovens? 

I went on a Google pilgrimage and learned that Spencer Turbine still exists in Windsor, CT, and an email inquiry brought a friendly reply from Janis, Spencer Turbine Marketing Manager. She explained that the company had begun in 1892 as manufacturers of the “Orgblo.” 

In an age when keyboard music in church, theater, or soon in silent movie houses may have been most people's major experience of professionally made music, the Orgblo, Janis wrote, "provided air to pipe organs – many are still in operation today – churches, theaters, universities, etc.” 

In 1892 practical electrical motors were still in their first decade, but they were already powering new trolley travel bringing people over greater distances to dance halls and skating rinks, to churches and theaters where the stomach rumbling organs could be felt, and Orgblo was giving organs new lungs at the dawn of that era.

It’s not clear what hose was wound here, but it’s not likely Farrel Foundry had a pipe organ. What they had was a lot of hot and dirty air, and the makers of Orgblo had a useful engineering expertise for moving it. Janis of Spencer explained further: “Today we manufacture multiple types of air and gas handling equipment including central vacuum systems for industrial applications and at a  few noteworthy landmarks (Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building, White House,etc.)” 

The saddle looks not too different in size from a saddle for garden hose, and I’d take a wild guess that pressurized air might play a role in cleaning debris from fresh castings. Whatever was done here, the hose saddle and the small crane behind it are relics of equipment long gone and labors long ceased in a world that is vanishing as I write. It’s good to know Spencer Turbine is still in Windsor, Connecticut.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Re: Flags

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:    I had thought to post this without comment, but I took it in 2011 before flags were in the news, in order to tell the story of High Rock, and so I add this footnote.

This is High Rock. Those who drive Route 8 know this stretch where the Naugatuck Valley narrows between Beacon Falls and Naugatuck.  Men with dynamite blasted into the hillside to let the highway through, but the valley remains rocky and narrow by High Rock. From time to time people plant a flag here, though few realize how fitting the display at one of democracies minor monuments.

From the highway today this region feels remote and wild. Few remember that in 1880, in the era before trolleys made people mobile, George W. Beech, Superintendent of the Railroad, created High Rock Grove, planted gardens and built a pavilion for roller skating. He built a platform by the tracks, and for a quarter century people came from up and down the Naugatuck Valley to picnic and party and row in the still waters behind the factory dam. There was always live music. What other kind? And people dancing, hiking, having fun in a variety of accents and languages. There were extra trains on the fourth of July, and the Valley mingled. Today it’s just a clearing at the end of a dirt road where waters tumble from a mountain gorge and trails lead here, to the top of High Rock. People celebrate elsewhere, and hikers know little of what happened here.