Volunteers bring back ‘brass pour’ to historic Rices Landing foundry

June 1, 2016
Rick Rowland of Youngstown (Ohio) Steel Heritage Center pours brass into a mold at the W.A. Young and Sons Machine Shop and Foundry in Rices Landing. - C.R. Nelson/For the Observer-Reporter Order a Print

RICES LANDING – It was a fire and brimstone type of day last Sunday when the old brass furnace in the floor of the W.A. Young and Sons Machine Shop and Foundry in Rices Landing was fired up for its first pour in nearly 80 years.

Shovels of coke and soft coal stoked the flames and chunks of old brass pipes and fittings were put into the crucible and lowered in, and then kept there until the metal turned to liquid.

Rick Rowland and Nick Hovey of the Youngstown (Ohio) Steel Heritage Center brought it up and over to the molds to be carefully poured in to fill each cavity and create the brass parts. Rowland beamed as he ran a bead of industrial glue across one face of the sand mold that would be sandwiched together with its other half, then placed on the floor and weighted down in preparation.

“These molds are for vacuum brake parts for a steam locomotive project in Maine. A man in Texas made the wood patterns and we made these molds. Now we’re in Rices Landing to pour,” Rowland said. “We’ll be doing this quite often now that there is casting capabilities here.”

Greene County’s historic machine shop and its functioning machinery and brass foundry is a blessing for historical preservationists who need to make replacement parts for everything from World War I airplanes to steam engines.

Rivers of Steel, a nonprofit formed to preserve the industrial history in river towns along the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers, acquired rights to the machine shop from the Greene County Historical Society in 2011 and tackled the larger projects of a new roof and foundation stabilization. The building was in operation from 1900 until 1966, but abandoned for years until purchased by the historical society in 1985.

It takes volunteers such as shop caretaker Bly Blystone and the machine buffs and blacksmiths who come every Sunday from noon until 4 p.m. to make this old shop live again. Some fire up the forge and hammer iron and steel into functional items. Some tinker with the old metal planers, power driven hacksaws and hammers to get them ready to be used once more.

Industrial archaeologist Heather Adams who works with Rivers of Steel drives from Pittsburgh to inventory the machines and do oral histories of those who show up to volunteer or donate items to the foundry collection.

“It’s hard to record with all this noise today,” Adams said, laughing as the belt-driven hammer filled the air with staccato bangs.

Adams held up a faded photograph of three men sitting under a palm tree, dressed in suits, fedoras firmly in place. The handwriting on the back of the photo identified the man on the left as “W.A. Young of Rices Landing Pa, Key West Fla. January 30, 1935.”

“A woman stopped by this morning and give us this photo for the collection,” Adams said. “I think she was a great niece.”

David Williamson of the Society of Industrial Archaeology drove from Johnstown to be part of the action.

“I found a Greene County site online and saw this place mentioned. I’m into Fairmont motorcars and was a friend of Rick Rowland 20 years ago so I got in contact with him. I wanted to see what can be done here.”

Williamson and his family along with other machine loving visitors spent the afternoon exploring the shop as the furnace was heated then heated again for three separate pours.

Rowland and Hovey broke open a mold, critiquing the amount of brass that managed to get into this first attempt to pour a perfect part for an old engine.

“We almost had it with this one,” Rowland said, holding up a smooth piece of brass that came out of the sand.

But it still wasn’t good enough.

“The nice thing about brass is you can chop it up and re-melt it,” he said. “We’ll be back next weekend until we get it right.”

The shop in Rices Landing will be open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday when Rowland and Hovey will be conducting another pour. For more information about the activities, call Blystone at 724-710-4898 or search W.A. Young and Sons Foundry and Machine Shop on Facebook.

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