Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Cinder Buggy - part 7; iron blast furnace; pig iron; (chapter V)

Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

Chapter V of the Cinder Buggy describes the creation of the iron industry in New Damascus and the roles played by Enoch and Aaron. Garrett explains how Aaron and Enoch built the first blast furnace in the United States:

Hitherto iron had been produced in this country, as elsewhere in the world, by primitive methods. Ore was wastefully smelted in rude charcoal furnaces unimproved in design since the Middle Ages. The process was of great antiquity. It was uniform in India at the time of Alexander's invasion. Its origin even then was lost in myth. Tubal Cain, "an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron," was master of it in the city of his distinguished ancestor, Cain, which was in the land of Nod.
(pp. 28-29)

While others had advanced beyond the use of the forge method to using blast furnaces, a blast furnace had never before been built in the United States. Garrett goes on to discuss iron in a way that has been lost to the 21st century students of the anti-industrial revolution:
The prize in both cases (forge and blast furnace) was a nugget of glowing iron, the most useful non-digestible substance yet discovered by man. It is tenacious, ductile, easily tempered, malleable at red heat, marriageable at white heat and possesses one miraculous quality. It is magnetic. It calls electricity out of the void, snares it, delivers it helpless into the hands of man. Without this blackhearted substance, fallen from the sun, natively pure only in form of a meteorite, lightning could not have been captured and enslaved on earth.
(p. 29)

While blast furnaces had been used in Europe before this point, those furnaces were heated with bituminous coal or wood. The blast furnaces of New Damascus were the first to use anthracite coal.

I had heard the term "pig iron" before reading Cinder Buggy. But I did not know how the name originated until Garrett explained the process in Chapter V (pp. 31-32). The term "pig" refers to the separate pools of iron that run off from and drain the main lake that flows out of the furnace.

Garrett does not simply provide a science lesson in Cinder Buggy. The plot advances while the reader appreciates these descriptions of iron and the furnace process. The partners' differences are shown, as Enoch focuses on details while Aaron appreciates the beauty of the process. Garrett compares that process to the creation of the Earth:
A blast furnace even then was what a blast furnace is, - the most audacious affront man has yet put upon nature. He decoys the elemental forces and gives them handy nicknames. Though he cannot tame them, he may control them through knowledge of their weaknesses. He learns their immutable habits. From the Omnipotent Craftsman he steals the true process. In the scale of his own strength he reproduces in a furnace the conditions under which the earth was made, and extracts from the uproar a lump of iron.
pages 32-33

Garrett is not afraid to describe nature as something that man can defeat. Any industrial process is the story of man defeating nature. It is no coincidence that as modern literature reverses this theme by showing nature as superior to man, western industry declines. Garrett's approach, despite its age, is refreshing.

Garrett goes on to describe how Aaron remained popular and helped build the business through his contacts and the parties that he hosted, at which the business leaders of the country came to be entertained. At the same time, the lenders came to trust the word of Enoch in business matters. "The instinct that preferred Aaron in friendship and the instinct that preferred Enoch in business could exist, and did, in the same people." (p. 35).

In this way, Garrett further explores the different personalities of the two main characters. Garrett creates an uneasy balance between Enoch and Aaron that - I believe - is leading to the confrontation that will define this story. As the boys' iron business becomes stronger and more profitable, their differences become more important and the stakes are increased for the final conflict.

Old Creveling Furnace - Danville, PA

Click here for Part 8 of my review.


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