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Edition #258 November 15, 2015
No More Hammer Song
Photographer: Kevin N. Tomasic
Photo by Kevin N. Tomasic
No More Hammer Song
Stand on River Street and you hear them, two blocks away and you hear them—bang, bang…… bang. No particular rhythm because there are not one but two hammers thumping away in the big blue building, making parts for chains. Each hammer works at a different speed depending on the motions of the men attending to them, the parts they are making (some require a couple “hits”, some just one) and the timing of the steel heating in the furnaces. We are in Cortland, New York a quiet little hamlet south of Syracuse and the home of Apex Tool, formerly Cooper Tool.
The plant started as The Brewer Harness Company back in 1834 and was dedicated to the manufacturing of harnesses for horses. The company kept this name for some fifty years and then became the Cortland Harness and Carriage Goods Company. Forging was the main process done at the plant and they became famous for making steel bow sockets which supported the top canvas for buggies and later automobiles—it was said that 80% of the bow sockets used nationwide were forged in Cortland! The plant became Brewer-Tichener in 1917 as product moved from carriages to autos. Of course, by the 30’s and 40’s the plant began forging for the war effort and once this was complete the company moved into chain and chain fitting manufacturing for which it became well known. Just about every engineer, designer and draftsman in the country had a Brewer-Tichener catalog at the ready. As with most industrial companies, Brewer was acquired by another company, Campbell Chain and then by McGraw-Edison which in turn was swallowed by Cooper Industries. The last move was another merger and acquisition by Bain Capital--leading up to a consolidation which doomed this facility.
On the second turn, you find yourself wandering through the shop, among big machines towering over you and small furnaces throwing a soft orange glow onto anything nearby. Air compressors thump away and despite two levels of hearing protection it is still loud here—you need to yell to be heard. In every corner is some machine, some furnace, some unknown apparatus designed to do who knows what. This is a marvelous place to get lost in and a place to soak up a lost time in our land, a time when hands and sweat and craft made things. Talk to the old white bearded forge operators and they smile at your interest in their craft, they tell you about their kids, their town, their jobs and their pensions. A common refrain was that most saw it coming, “I lost jobs before. I’ll just go do something else.” Or “That’s okay; we locked our pensions up on the last contract in January.” The next thing you see is that man at the press the glow of hot metal lining his face, intent on making a great product, just working himself out of a job. Sad and beautiful at the same time
I’m sure the neighbors, on hot nights with the windows open, in this quiet town, curse the hammers as they bang away through the third shift, but I’m sure they’ll also curse the silence when the hammers don’t sing anymore. That’ll be the night when no one gets to sleep.
Kevin N. Tomasic
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Revised: 11/15/15 09:05:10 -0500