Resume of the Kent Iron Industry

Two ox teams and men with two wheel dump carts were in constant daily use, removing iron and slag from the casting house. Incidentally slag made excellent road beds and was applied to considerable extent on the nearby highways. The stack above the hearth was lined with fire brick, much better heat resistant than the stone with which the stack was built. The stone hearth, although two feet or more thick, and the fire brick lining had to be replaced about every two years, during which period of a month or two the furnaces stood idle. Cast iron melts at 2450 degrees and the temperature in the bottom of the stack was probably 3000 degrees or more and neither stone nor brick, with erosions due to the melting process, could stand these high temperatures for any length of time.

The air supply was created by a water wheel about 12 feet in diameter and 10 or 12 feet wide. Water came to this wheel from the dam in the river a short distance away, through a flume which delivered the water against the “breast” of the wheel at half its height. The weight of the water in the buckets of the wheel turned it down and the water was released at the bottom and returned to the river nearby.

A long beam attached to a crank on either side of the wheel drove a piston back and forth in two large wooden cylinders one on either side of the wheel, all built of wood but the piston was undoubtedly covered with leather making it a tight fit. A large metal air duct connected the cylinders with an oven built above the Top House floor and charging space in the stack.

The oven was built of brick 20 feet or more high and square, the air passing through U-shaped cast iron pipes assembled in the oven. The heated air was then led down to the bottom of the stack and was blown into the stack just above the hearth, through four small openings. All these openings had to be protected by coils of one-inch pipe bent into cone shape, through which water pumped to the furnace from the same cranks as furnished air, and the waste water ran back to the river. There is a phase of this wheel and water operation that is little understood by most people, but was a constant menace to furnace operation in cold weather. The “flume” is about 16 feet wide and 6 feet deep, with only a slight current towards the wheel house. At certain stages of the winter when the ground gets very cold a “mushy” ice will form on the sides and bottom of the flume.

This is called “anchor ice” and is literally half frozen ice, which detaches from the ground under water and floats to the top. Should this occur in great quantity the flume next to the wheel and the wheel buckets might become a frozen mass of ice in which case the wheel would stop turning and no air would be supplied to the furnace. In order to avoid the stoppage of melting in the furnace for lack of air, “blank” charges of charcoal are dumped into the stack omitting lime and ore so that all melted material can be drawn off before complete stoppage occurs. This same course is followed whenever it is found necessary to stop the furnace for any reason.

The “bank” was the dumping ground for loads of charcoal, ore and limestone coming daily except in winter at the rate of 40 to 50 loads per day. Charcoal was brought to the bank in the wagons built especially for the purpose which would hold 120 to 140 bushels of charcoal. The bottoms of these wagons were made of wood slats 8 or 10 in number running the entire length of the wagon.

The team drawing the wagon was taken off the front end, pulled out the slats one at a time and by the time the last slat was out in less than ten minutes, the entire load was on the ground. The Bank Superintendent and Teamster then appraised the contents of the load and the amount agreed upon between them was credited to the Teamster and to the Collier.

Charcoal was made on all the mountains around Kent even to Warren and Merryall on the east side of the river and all over the Dover Mountains and Nodine Hollow on the west. The best charcoal is made from the harder woods, hickory, oak, maple and beech, but as chestnut prevailed on these mountains at that time, chestnut wood was chiefly used. The wood cut in traditional four foot lengths was staked up endwise in a closely assembled conical shape on a pit prepared for the purpose at ground level. Size of a cone ready to “coal” was about 20 feet in diameter and 12 feet high.

Air passages were constructed all through the bottom of the cone with a vent at the top, and the entire cone was tightly covered with sod in order to keep drafts of air from burning the wood instead of “charring” it. This was carefully watched during a month or more until the charring process was completed, when the sod was removed, any fire was put out and the “coal” was ready for delivery at the furnace. Great care was taken in handling charcoal to prevent undue breakage, small pieces would be worthless.

The Colliers who were specialists in making charcoal were nearly all foreigners who learned their trade across the water before coming here. Four names occur to the writer, Beauchetti, Pleasants, Xavier, Cribley, and there were others. A few natives made charcoal on their own land and delivered it at the furnace. These Colliers constructed log cabins to live in while “on the job” and they lived principally on salt pork, beans and potatoes, probably with an occasional deer or other game.

Mt. Algo and the Dover Mountain was especially infested with rattlesnakes, so that “medicine” had to be kept on hand with the natural result that snake bites were frequently anticipated by several days. On the whole, however, these men and their crews were competent and reliable and eventually made good citizens. [The “medicine” was a shot of whiskey, and the men would help themselves, using the excuse that they might get bitten soon.]
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