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Hellfire and Brimstone - Foundry Laborer

Updated on May 13, 2014

If this is hell, I've already been there.

One little spill and it's sparks everywhere!
One little spill and it's sparks everywhere!

The whole operation ran to a one-day cycle.

Welcome to Hellfire and Brimstone.

Many years ago I worked for a few weeks as a laborer in a small iron foundry. It was quite an experience. The whole job ran in a one day cycle. I my case it was shovel gritty sand from the floor and spade it into a machine with a mix of water and other ingredients. This concoction, once semi-dried, would be fabricated by mold into shapes. These shapes were to later hold the molten iron. The iron, running white hot, would be ladled or poured by hand into these molds and, on cooling overnight, would become the iron parts for various machines such as water pumps, or simply barbell or dumbbell weights. It was all quite unsophisticated.

There were some horrible, monotonous jobs.

Actually, the day would begin by breaking open the molds from the evening before. The molds would be discarded, the iron parts picked up and taken to various buffing machines where the rough edges would be ground off. Horrible monotonous job. Then came the labor of piling them up, ready for pickup by truck. The truck would drive these pieces away to other places for further manufacture.

Then came that long, arduous job of shoveling. So it was breaking molds, shoveling dirt, grinding, lifting pouring…breaking, shoveling, grinding – I think you get the picture.

Liquid iron - not to be treated lightly.

Our guys poured liquid iron directly from pots into molds.   It took a lot of physical strength and once started, had to be competed until it was all used up.
Our guys poured liquid iron directly from pots into molds. It took a lot of physical strength and once started, had to be competed until it was all used up.

shovelling dirty, gritty sand was only part of it.

Of course, it wasn’t simply a matter of shoveling dirty, gritty sand. One was also obliged to stoke up the actual furnace ready for its firing. This involved more back-breaking work shoveling coke, iron ingots and limestone into buckets which were then poured into the top of this dreadful funneled contraption of a furnace. Once done, the fire beneath it would be ignited. A more experienced hand would then shape a semi-tubular funnel down which the molten metal would flow when all was hot enough. When it was ‘tapped’ ready to flow.

Direct from furnace to ladel, ladel to mold.

Ah, this is more like it.  No safety gear; lots of sweat and grunt.
Ah, this is more like it. No safety gear; lots of sweat and grunt.

Fire and Brimstone - Foundry Laborer.

As that furnace heated up, roaring away, the whole inside of that corrugated iron factory would make you feel as if you were standing a little too close to an big, open oven door. The sweat would run down in rivulets. But you couldn’t strip off. More clothes, more safety from burns.

When I look at pictures of foundries on the Internet today, I realize that nowadays people actually wear quite a few items of safety ware. Not back in the 1970s where I worked for those three or four weeks. No, all I had was a pair of overalls, stout boots and fireproof gloves. And when we were actually pouring, a pair of safety goggles would miraculously appear in the foreman’s hands.

“Put these on, mate. Those sparks have metal chips in ‘em.”

A luxury we never experienced in our 'dark satanic mill.'

Pouring in the open seems much more conducive to a happy life as a foundry man.
Pouring in the open seems much more conducive to a happy life as a foundry man.

I'd come home with just the whites of my eyes showing.

And that they did. Many’s the time I’d have to beat out a small fire which had erupted somewhere on my legs as my old blue overalls caught fire. At least the goggles saved one’s eyes.

You may recall that old film, ‘How Green Was My Valley’ with Walter Pigeon, about the coal miners of Southern Wales. Well, that’s how I used to come home from that foundry. They didn’t have shower facilities, just a hand basin wash up. So I’d come home looking like Al Jolson when he used to sing Mammy as a Negro – just the whites of my eyes showing. Black, sooty stains would ring the bath just above the water line. Yes, it was the real bit. Hard labor. It paid quite well. But it was hardly a life career. Still, the job tidied me over when I was desperate, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful to for all the other, far more congenial work I’ve undertaken over the years. But that’s what life’s all about really – experience!

Hope you enjoyed reading Hellfire and Brimstone – Foundry Laborer.


Submit a Comment

  • Don Bobbitt profile image

    Don Bobbitt 

    6 years ago from Ruskin Florida

    Great Hub. My wife worked in a Foundry in Lynchburg Virginia in the 70's and 80's. So, I am familiar with the whole mold and sand process. Hard Job,my man! And, there aren't many easy jobs where you pour Iron!

  • Paradise7 profile image


    6 years ago from Upstate New York

    That is really the job from hell...I know there were far fewer safety measures then and very little corporate concern for the worker's safety. I hope that situation has changed in present-day foundries, or that the work is automated enough NOT to put people at risk!

    I found your attitude very good. It was hard, dirty and dangerous, but you needed the job, so you did it. And you aren't really whining about it now, you're just telling us what it was like.



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