MA­CHINES OUT­LAST EM­PIRES

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Letters - NIGEL APSEY CEN­TU­RION

No sooner had I com­pleted read­ing the late WL White’s book in his ca­pac­ity as a war cor­re­spon­dent, Re­port on the Rus­sians, pub­lished in 1945 and based on an eye­wit­ness re­port on a six-week visit by a party headed by Eric John­ston, then-pres­i­dent of the United States Cham­ber of Com­merce, to the Us-spon­sored Soviet war in­dus­try in 1944, than, on set­tling back in the bath to read the March is­sue of Pop­u­lar Me­chan­ics, I was met with an amaz­ing co­in­ci­dence.

Your page 39 makes ref­er­ence to a 15 000ton ex­tru­sion ma­chine from Duis­burg, built for the Luft­waffe in the 1930s and now in Can­ton, Ge­or­gia, that squeezes metal like Play-doh. White’s re­port makes ref­er­ence to a drop forge from Duis­burg that has a 10 000-ton ca­pac­ity that was then, and prob­a­bly still is, in Sverdlovsk ( Yeka­ter­in­burg).

I find it in­ter­est­ing that truly great marvels of en­gi­neer­ing sur­vive the rise and fall of em­pires and con­tinue to serve mankind. Brows­ing through sec­ond-hand book stores brings the past to the present. I quote this ex­tract from the book, down­load­able from the In­ter­net:

“Now we start out to in­spect the plants. Sverdlovsk is the Soviet cen­tre for the man­u­fac­ture of heavy ma­chine tools. In one big shop we see a gi­gan­tic drop forge, made in Duis­burg, Ger­many. I can well be­lieve that there are only four like it in the world. It can ap­ply pres­sure of 10 000 tons and we watch them pound­ing into shape a huge piece of white hot metal, which will be­come the roller for a mill. There is near by a row of rel­a­tively tiny drop forges fash­ion­ing crankshafts for tank mo­tors.

“But the plant it­self is the same old Soviet story we have so far seen no light, dirty, bad floors, and in this one the roof leaks.

“Out­side there is a sum­mer shower and we watch the wa­ter pour down from the high ceil­ing onto the hot steel and get soaked our­selves as we walk through. But we no­tice they have mended the roof over the most im­por­tant ma­chines.

Now we start down a tank assem­bly line, and at the point where they are weld­ing the frames, I drop back from the party and ask an old man who is a welder’s helper where I can get a drink of wa­ter. Al­most never do you see a drink­ing foun­tain in a Soviet plant. He starts to lead me to­wards a room that, from its smell I recog­nise as a toi­let, but thinks bet­ter of this and bids me wait. In about ten min­utes he re­turns with a glass, and a bot­tle of car­bon­ated wa­ter that ob­vi­ously came from the di­rec­tor’s room. Noth­ing less would do for a guest. The kindness of the peo­ple is touch­ing.”

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