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Museum exhibit explores casting trade

July 05, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -Before Pittsburgh became the steel producing center of Pennsylvania, much of that industry was in Franklin County, which in turn gave birth to related industries, according to Bill Helfrick, president of the Waynesboro Area Industrial Heritage Trust.

"With foundry and casting and pattern making, of course, you need a source of metal," Helfrick said Sunday at the Waynesboro Industrial Museum. "This area had a lot of early furnaces, 13 of the 21 in Pennsylvania at one time."

This year, the museum is hosting an exhibit on casting and pattern making in the area, a trade that has been diminished over the decades, but still exists.

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Samuel and Daniel Hughes, brothers who cast cannon for the Continental Army, built an iron furnace on the site of the Penn State Mont Alto campus in the early years of the 19th century, he said. A few years later, what became known as Old Forge was built a few miles away.

Pig iron ingots from Mont Alto were hauled to Old Forge, where there was more hydraulic power to run machinery. There, the pig iron was reheated, hammered to remove impurities and rolled into plate or cut into nails, among other products.

Before the Revolution, Helfrick said nails were so valuable that people burned their homes to retrieve them before moving.

"Then two years later, someone invented the claw hammer, I bet," said Ed Ingels, another member of the trust.

Blast furnaces require a source of energy, and two centuries ago that was charcoal with huge amounts of wood consumed to produce iron and steel, Helfrick said.

"They were consuming whole forests," he said of the industry. The availability of iron ore and coal in the Pittsburgh area eventually led to a westward shift in the industry, he said.

The 19th century saw the creation of industries that required foundry, casting and pattern making operations, such as Geiser Manufacturing Co., Frick Co., Landis Tool and Landis Machine, Helfrick said. With the advent of steam power, they no longer needed to be near a stream to power machinery and often had their own in-house casting and pattern making shops to make parts for the machines each produced.

"These people were real craftsmen. They had to be able to take a drawing, interpret it and come up with that," he said, pointing to a black and white photograph of a valve casing that dwarfs the two men next to it in the picture.

Different manufacturing processes and foreign competition have led to a shrinking need for casting and pattern making jobs in the area, Helfrick said.

"That's a lot of highly-skilled jobs that aren't there anymore," Ingels said. Like Helfrick, he is retired from what was known for years at Landis Machine Co., now Landis Gardner.

Three pattern makers still operate in the area, however, as does one casting operation, which was purchased from the former Landis Machine in 1987, he said.

The exhibit will be open today from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Labor Day, as well as by special appointment, Helfrick said.

The Waynesboro Industrial Museum is at 235 Philadelphia Ave.

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