KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) — Sparks flew at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History on Saturday (July 20) as railroad fans of all ages got to practice an old form of art and design.
With the help of volunteers from Kennesaw State University, museum-goers watched as white-hot liquid iron was poured into molds they made by hand, creating metal souvenirs to bring back home.
Page Burch, a lecturer of sculpture who also runs the master craftsman program at KSU, fed a huge blast furnace pieces of cast iron salvaged from pipes, radiators and other pieces of machinery, along with piles and piles of refined coal called coke.
Burch said the university has two such furnaces, one that can be taken around for special events and one that stays on campus. The students learn to create art from cast iron, bronze and aluminum. Recently, they created some manhole covers for the city of Kennesaw using the same process on display at the museum.
"It's exactly like all the giant blast furnaces that they used back in the day, this is just a scaled-down version," Burch said. "So instead of casting like 3,000 pounds, we're just doing 100 pounds at a time, but it's exactly the same process they would have used back in the 1800s."
As the furnace heated up, the students attached a large blower motor, which fed the flames plenty of fresh air. After about an hour, the coke had gone from a red glow to white, and sparks could be seen flying from vents on the side.
When the iron inside had reached about 2,500 degrees, it was ready to be poured into the casts. Many had initials carved into them, while others had stick figure families, houses or self portraits.
Volunteers donned thick protective gear and welding masks to vent out the slag, the impurities that rise to the top of the melted iron before carefully pouring the iron out into a bucket.
The melted iron appeared to have the viscosity of a bucket of water, but when even a drop splashed out onto the grass in front of the museum, it instantly created a thick cloud of black smoke. Families gathered around the plastic barrier to watch the action could feel the intense heat of the liquid metal.
Back in the air-conditioned museum, there were other special events for guests, including the opportunity to board the General, the locomotive that took part in the famous Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War.
One family in the crowd included mom Anne Marie France, dad Todd Hoffman and their two sons Jasper and Sam, ages 6 and 2, of Decatur.
The Frances said their kids are really into trains and wanted to come see the General since learning about it on an earlier trip to Chattanooga.
"They've been very excited about coming here all week. We got to learn about the General and the Great Locomotive Chase, we loved that. And we got to see the model trains. This guy in particular really loved the model trains," she said, pointing at Sam.
The museum's executive director, Richard Banz, said this is the second year the museum has invited the artisans to come show their craft, though he said they have appeared at other events around the city for a while now.
He said many of the artifacts on display at the museum were made using the same process, and he hopes families will come away knowing a little more about the art world and the world of local history.
"People can come out and see the art side of things, but this is also really how this industry used to operate, so it's really the best of both worlds," he said. "From the wrenches all the way up to the wheels, parts of the boiler, this is the technology that used to be that drove the industry here."
Information from: Marietta Daily Journal, http://mdjonline.com/