Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Walk Thru Faust's Garden

Next Slide-Talk:
April 1, 2019 (no kidding) at 7:00 PM
Work in Progress: On Photographing Brazen Grit

Granby Camera Club
meeting in the Granby Senior Center, Community Room
15 North Granby Road, Granby, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It wasn’t exactly magnetism that drew the iron blast furnaces to the ore. When the forests were gone in Northwestern CT, and one could look across the hillsides, the ground shifted and iron ore was attracted to coal. Iron made from coke had qualities industrial manufacturers wanted, while charcoal iron lingered for those who cherished quality wrought iron, a niche market. The forests of the Berkshire Hills had been burned; in the West there were mountains of Coke yet to plunder.

We’ve arrived at what might be considered ground zero of American industrial enterprise. In the three-ring-circus of the industrial revolution, the feature acts were always energy transportation, and iron. A firm grip on any one of the three was a firm grip on the throttle. The names click into position like the reels of a slot machine: Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, and standing behind them, at the cashiers’ window, J..P. Morgan, the only one born to wealth. 

To travel from the 1847 Beckley Blast Furnace in East Canaan, CT, with its bucolic tombstone remains (recently posted), to wha’s left of Andrew Carnegie’s Carrie Furnaces, across the river from the infamous Homestead Works in PA, requires a half century leap. How many miles of rail had been laid? How many locomotives sent steaming over the tracks? And how many new steam ships were bringing newcomers, as the canal was being cut across the isthmus of Panama to reach Pacific waters from the Atlantic coast?  And how many tall structures scraped the sky, made first of iron and soon of steel in New York and Chicago, before the Great War came and we made more guns and tanks? And after the War we took to the roads in oily vehicles of iron and steel. 

Welcome to Faust’s Garden. Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie and Morgan left huge legacies, both for good and for ill that we still can’t reckon. 


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Ex Caliber

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Gallionella and Leptothrix live at the bottom of the bog where they make iron grow. Iron compounds dissolved upstream are freed downstream when washed with the peaty, acid-rich waters where this pond-bottom team of anaerobic bacteria live and consume and concentrate the iron particles into tubor-like buds. 

Medieval armorers relied on men with rods who poked across swampland to harvest the buds. A clever bog harvester preserved his resources by carefully replacing the peat and marking locations so a generation later his children might return and harvest his crop of iron tubors. 

And the magical arts of refining bog ore into workable metal belonged to genius alchemists, who knew the secrets of mixing the iron with charcoal and flux, of fanning the hot mix, feeding the furnace at the top so it bloomed at the bottom. 

There was bog iron enough for the armorers and blacksmiths, but the Faustian dreams of scientists and inventors required rock dug from hills.  And some rocks were barren while others bore ores. Rich veins of iron were discovered around 1730 near what was soon to be the town of Salisbury and then here in Canaan and elsewhere in the northwest hills of the colony called Connecticut. By the revolution a thriving iron industry flourished in the region and farmers and farm blacksmiths learned to make the tools needed to build and grow a nation.

Today the furnaces they built are unlikely tombstones along country roads in the frozen earth. They recall iron wills chained across the Hudson opposing English rule as they also represent axes and plowshares, hammers and nails. It was no picnic, making that iron. and a hungry furnace consumed forests for charcoal and branded circles on the forest floor still visible today, The forests have regrown, and this is no longer an industrial center nor even an especially busy picnic site.


Below, charcoal kilns in Wassaic, NY, provided charcoal for local iron-making and a lime kiln in Sharon baked limestone to make lime used as flux.