It started with a hand written bill-of-sale scattering across an asphalt lot in Pittsburgh while branches of dry leaves swayed next to a sign offering Machining in Youngstown. In Flint, a chimney belched puffs of smoke that disappeared into a blustery squall.
We were drinking Bartles and Jaymes, oblivious.
The whirlwind strengthened; the unions weakened. A tornado spun to life; Republic Steel withered. As we played Hacky Sack, the storm grew into a roaring tumult that stretched from the shores of Buffalo to the iron ore mines of Minnesota. It picked up chisels and vises and benches. It picked up pumps. It picked up mills.
The cyclone sucked in a 4,700-pound turret lathe that was manufactured by the Warner & Swasey Company (East 55th and Chester) before you were born. It scooped up a hulking welding robot named Godzilla and a four and a half-ton radial drill named Carlton. It tore apart one shop after another and pulled the contents into it's swirling turmoil.
It lifted all of it into a clanging metal twister as big as the entire Rust Belt and then some, but we didn't hear a thing. We were going Back to the Future with Marty and Doc.
Perhaps tired from it's efforts or discouraged by our indifference, the massive vortex lost its will. It slowed and slumped and heaved a great sigh.
Then it came to a halt.
In one last grand gesture, however, the force deposited it's formidable collection ever-so-gently just south of Collinwood, across the street from the Euclid Cemetery. Behold HGR Industrial Surplus:
Here you will find the machines that threaded, planed and crimped housed within the 13 acres formerly known as the Fisher auto body plant. Here you are welcome to peruse the remnants of what fueled every tool and die man for the last 100 years--until the steel ribbing arching over the Great Lakes succumbed to an army of bytes that obey an omnipotent general named CNC.
I walked every single aisle of this miraculous place where they buy, sell and trade. I marveled at the gathering of giant optical comparators as they gazed over the horizon, searching for the Emerald city. The air was perfumed with machine oil as men bent down to wipe grime from specification plates, stroked their chins and murmured to one another. A constant stream of tow motors zipped to and fro. Gray light angled in through the clerestory windows as two Amish men ambled amid the forklifts and shearing machines, hands in their pockets. Salesmen whizzed by on bicycles, off to verify horsepower, check for parts, and get dimensions.
The space was conspicuously void of the high-pitch whirring the machines trill when they are doing what they were designed to do at the hands of men who know the secrets of their levers and dials and chucks. Instead, a classic rock station played on and on. Mick Jagger whispered to Angie.
Remember all those nights we cried?
And then there was me; a forlorn figure out of place with a camera, taking pictures of everything, as if I could embrace the whole of this place and never let it go: Maybe if you capture the images, Erin, maybe you can hold onto what all of it represents, what all of it means. Even if it's just one tenuous thread, it will still be something when everything is gone.
I mourned for the Bridgeport milling machines as they carved a jagged skyline over this splendorous field of iron and steel. I mourned for the lathes waiting by patiently. I mourned for the stoic presses, so many silent soldiers. Clients browsing grinders and cutters eyed me curiously, then looked away when I set my camera upon the bed of a 20,000-pound press brake, removed my glasses and wiped my eyes with my sleeve.
I mourned for all of it, but mostly I mourned for the men who wore heavy boots and carried their midday supper in a brown paper sack. They drank Carling's Black Label at Joe's Bar after a day spent machining things to a thousandth or better.
I squeezed hot tears. I pulled my fist to my chest. I exhaled.
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