Fresh out of tech school with wide-eyed aspiration, Ol Man Raymond invited me on a Saturday visit to the foundry. I love a good adventure and was honored actually. “They’re one of our last domestic vendors before all our castings go to China someday,” he conjectured, “and they’ve dabbled in a little of everything over the years: dutch ovens, pot-bellied stoves, wagon and auto parts, stuff for NASA and the oil patch.” This trip was the last step in bid selection for our South American contract, and we hoped they’d cast a shipment of valve bodies up to the size of a Smart Car. Old Ray’d already worked with them before so he knew they checked out, and the 3-hr drive was a welcome recess from heat-island city, by the way.
Tucked behind a stand of pines on a private gravel drive way up in the eastern thicket, Big Iron was 4 acres under one roof, maybe more. Roger met us in the parking lot for quick greetings before heading straight for the bay doors some 30 feet high. Wide open-air ventilation, it was a balmy morning already and our eyes still had to adjust. On first account, stray holes in the metal roof sent beams of light through fumes and haze, beckoning a “look here!” They were laser pointers spotlighting partitioned zones off the central aisle where two or three craftsmen worked as teams in each grotto. Gowned in coveralls, protected by leather aprons and tinted masks, donning gloves and shields, the whole place was slate-grey. Tekton nearly indiferentiable from implement from stockpile, yet still conveying the surety of orchestration over chaos. A solitary wave gestured the human element where welders and fabricators dwelt, and the torsion grinder wore a filtered re-breather with bellows piping fresh air up into a shrouded hood. “Finn there looks more like an x-wing fighter pilot than a metal worker today. Why am I thinking of Jawas and droids? Stay focused in here!” Sparks launched skyward like notes from the angled plasma sprinkler, drawing attention to a gantry crane high above delivering a 3-yard bucket of raw stock to the converter 40 yards up, “That’s where we’re headed.” I imagined the floors were dirt as we made the procession, before detecting a concrete slab ‘neath a shallow bed of cooled sparks, chipped slag, and carbonized dust. “We sweep it out every night,” the foreman assured as I still smile over my naive questions perpetually.
The heat was already inescapable, lord! And we stopped at the firebox next. This old relic was the object of our pursuit that day, an electric arc-induction furnace, 40-ton capacity if I remember. Raw material’s lowered into a blazing seed pool of pre-melt before turning on the juice. “We don’t use ore, just scrap steel: reclaimed rail bars and old engine blocks if we can; the chemistry’s more predictable that way.” Three graphite electrodes fixed to the hatch were lowered into the bowl, charged, and the shootin’ match lit up to 3000° F. There was humming and buzzing, overheads lights flickered, and the dancing magical brightness made it even hotter than before. It was like a seizure, a sustained lightning strike, a political storm, or Frankenstein’s laboratory. “Stand back” no one had to tell us even once, it was instinctual. This place was otherworldly. It looked like over-loaded circuits burning out the path of least resistance. So violent, or destructive it seemed, but we knew something was happening, something.
Meanwhile the meek metallurgist advanced. Cloaked in a shimmering metallic robe, the sight door was cracked open, and a test pot of glowing metal ladled out. Huh? So intential, so confident, the calm-under-fire type of control. It almost seems like someone actually knows what they’re doing!? From here, the chemistry’s analyzed real time to determine if the recycled mishmash is good enough for industrial use. How much do we need to tweak the alloy: do we fold in carbon powder, zinc pellets, metallic briquettes, or chromium grindings? Changing the recipe makes the steel stronger, lighter, more ductile, or stainless even, depending on the application. When sufficiently mixed, the entire crucible is tilted backward to pour off slag, then rocked forward to decant the scalding liquid metal through the tap spout into the mold. It’s time for cooling, but work’s not completely done either. When set, sand is broken off, cutters and grinders go to work, everything get palletized for delivery, and a whole new crew takes over from there. It was intense for sure, and to step outside into the hot afternoon Texas sun was actually a relief. Who’da thought!? In the stillness there, we learned that even the slag is re-purposed as aggregate for mortar or road base. Give us a minute, we’re still processing.
In a far off dreamlike way it reminds me of the political cycle that’s curiously paired with the Olympic rotation every four years. We get so worked into a turbulent frenzy and suddenly go on break three weeks. All that training: it’s behind us. The trials, team formation, party primaries, all the refining, everything rapidly tapers. We rock back, to synchronize the advance. Olympians rest to rebuild strength after deep excruciating conditioning, then advance to the Games. Epileptic patients care for sleep quality more after a debilitating seizure, then brave another step. The storm takes it’s toll, and now it’s time to build new dendrites and birth new axial connections, together. Thank goodeness for pause and cause for equatorial relief. Who makes for the equator to escape the heat though?
The Olympics unify us in a way that’s still competitive, but elevated. Each athlete is focused like a laser within a grand choreographed light show of purified global teamwork. When we arrive home after day 21, following all the metal rounds and trumpets, we’ll still be Americans with the same political election between the same 2+ candidates, before us. We’ll be a little different after the healing process of myelination though. For ‘true rest’ is not idleness they say, but jubilee rather, four by four by three, omni-dimensionally.
“they’ll be divided” – Luke 12:52
Epic of Gilgamesh
Tablet 11, Stazas 2 & 3
Get yourself inside and close the hatch!
I saw the signs of morning in the sky.
Abundance will rain down, more than enough!
I got myself inside and closed the hatch.
To Puzuramurri the caulker, who, outside,
caulked up the hatch with pitch,
I gave him my house.
In the early hours of the next morning dawning
there was the noise of Adad in the clouds
that rose and filled the morning sky with blackness.
Shullat the herald of the dread Adad
moved out over the mountains and over the valleys,
bellowing; Hanish the herald of the dread
Adad moved over the plains and over the cities;
everything turned to darkness as to night.
From time to time the Annunaki blazed terrible light.
Then rain came down in floods.
Acoustic: Southern Cross
Artist: Crosby Stills & Nash, Daylight Again (1982)
“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” – Frederick Buechner, Alphabet of Grace