The Iron Puddler: My Life in the Rolling Mills and What Came of It

Contents:
Author: James J. Davis

CHAPTER XV
THE IRON BISCUITS

In the Sharon town band I played the clarinet from the time I was thirteen until I left that town several years later to chase the fireflies of vanishing jobs that marked the last administration of Cleveland. A bands-man at thirteen, I became a master puddler at sixteen. At that time there were but five boys of that age who had become full-fledged puddlers. Of these young iron workers, I suppose there were few that "doubled in brass." But why should not an iron worker be a musician? The anvil, symbol of his trade, is a musical instrument and is heard in the anvil chorus from Trovatore. In our rolling mill we did not have an anvil on which the "bloom" was beaten by a trip-hammer as is done in the Old Country. The "squeezer" which combines the functions of hammer and anvil did the work instead.

When I became my father’s helper he began teaching me to handle the machinery of the trade. The puddling furnace has a working door on a level with a man’s stomach. Working door is a trade name. Out in the world all doors are working; if they don’t work they aren’t doors (except cellar doors, which are nailed down under the Volstead Act). But the working door of a puddling furnace is the door through which the puddler does his work. It is a porthole opening upon a sea of flame. The heat of these flames would wither a man’s body, and so they are enclosed in a shell of steel. Through this working door I put in the charge of "pigs" that were to be boiled. These short pieces of "mill iron" had been smelted from iron ore; they had taken the first step on their journey from wild iron to civilized iron. There isn’t much use for pig-iron in this world. You’ve got to be better iron than that. Pig-iron has no fiber; it breaks instead of bending. Build a bridge of it and a gale will break it and it will fall into the river. Some races are pig-iron; Hottentots and Bushmen are pigiron. They break at a blow. They have been smelted out of wild animalism, but they went no further; they are of no use in this modern world because they are brittle. Only the wrought-iron races can do the work. All this I felt but could not say in the days when I piled the pig-iron in the puddling furnace and turned with boyish eagerness to have my father show me how.
Six hundred pounds was the weight of pig-iron we used to put into a single hearth. Much wider than the hearth was the fire grate, for we needed a heat that was intense. The flame was made by burning bituminous coal. Vigorously I stoked that fire for thirty minutes with dampers open and the draft roaring while that pig-iron melted down like ice-cream under an electric fan. You have seen a housewife sweating over her oven to get it hot enough to bake a batch of biscuits. Her face gets pink and a drop of sweat dampens her curls. Quite a horrid job she finds it. But I had iron biscuits to bake; my forge fire must be hot as a volcano. There were five bakings every day and this meant the shoveling in of nearly two tons of coal. In summer I was stripped to the waist and panting while the sweat poured down across my heaving muscles. My palms and fingers, scorched by the heat, became hardened like goat hoofs, while my skin took on a coat of tan that it will wear forever.

What time I was not stoking the fire, I was stirring the charge with a long iron rabble that weighed some twenty-five pounds. Strap an Oregon boot of that weight to your arm and then do calisthenics ten hours in a room so hot it melts your eyebrows and you will know what it is like to be a puddler. But we puddlers did not complain. There is men’s work to be done in this world, and we were the men to do it. We had come into a country built of wood; we should change it to a country built of steel and stone. There was grandeur for us to achieve, like the Roman who said, "I found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble."

The spirit of building was in our blood; we took pride in the mill, and the mill owners were our captains. They honored us for our strength and skill, they paid us and we were loyal to them. We showed what bee men call "the spirit of the hive." On holidays our ball team played against the team of a neighboring mill, and the owners and bosses were on the sidelines coaching the men and yelling like boys when a batter lifted a homer over the fence. That was before the rattle heads and fanatics had poisoned the well of good fellowship and made men fear and hate one another. Sometimes the Welsh would play against the Irish or the English. At one time most all the puddlers in America were English, Irish or Welsh.

In these ball games, I am glad to say, I was always good enough to make the team. After telling of being a bandsman at thirteen and a puddler at sixteen, I would like to say that at seventeen I was batting more home runs than Babe Ruth in his prime, but everything I say must be backed up by the records, and when my baseball record is examined it will be found that my best playing on the diamond was done in the band.

Contents:

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options


Title: The Iron Puddler: My Life in the Rolling Mills and What Came of It

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: The Iron Puddler: My Life in the Rolling Mills and What Came of It

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: James J. Davis, "Chapter XV the Iron Biscuits," The Iron Puddler: My Life in the Rolling Mills and What Came of It, ed. Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945 and trans. Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853- in The Iron Puddler: My Life in the Rolling Mills and What Came of It (London: Smith, Elder & Co., November 1909 - December 1910 (14 issues)), Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CP46YH4WQ31C7UZ.

MLA: Davis, James J. "Chapter XV the Iron Biscuits." The Iron Puddler: My Life in the Rolling Mills and What Came of It, edited by Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945, and translated by Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853-, in The Iron Puddler: My Life in the Rolling Mills and What Came of It, Vol. Volume One, London, Smith, Elder & Co., November 1909 - December 1910 (14 issues), Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CP46YH4WQ31C7UZ.

Harvard: Davis, JJ, 'Chapter XV the Iron Biscuits' in The Iron Puddler: My Life in the Rolling Mills and What Came of It, ed. and trans. . cited in November 1909 - December 1910 (14 issues), The Iron Puddler: My Life in the Rolling Mills and What Came of It, Smith, Elder & Co., London. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CP46YH4WQ31C7UZ.