Vis­it­ing a Bustling Foundry

Passage Maker - - Contents - Brian K. Lind


JJust as you get to Port Townsend on Wash­ing­ton’s Route 20 there is a turn off for the Glen Cove In­dus­trial Park, where tucked around a bend in the road are two unas­sum­ing build­ings that house the Port Townsend Foundry. Un­til I vis­ited the foundry for the first time this year, I had al­ways as­sumed it sat in the his­toric build­ing on Port Townsend’s wa­ter­front at the head of Point Hud­son Ma­rina. That is where I had al­ways found Pete Lan­g­ley and his crew dur­ing the an­nual Wooden Boat Fes­ti­val.

When Pete Lan­g­ley first opened his busi­ness in 1983, it was in down­town Port Townsend, amid the splen­dor of the well­p­re­served Vic­to­rian era build­ings. In fact, his first lo­ca­tion was just a few blocks from where the orig­i­nal Port Townsend Foundry once sat. Opened in 1883 and em­ploy­ing some 250 work­ers in its hey­day, the orig­i­nal foundry pro­duced street­cars, steam en­gines, and build­ing parts, along with sev­eral boats.

Port Townsend has a long history as a ship­build­ing town, and the pic­turesque down­town—fea­tur­ing much of the iron work pro­duced by the orig­i­nal foundry—was largely built on the spec­u­la­tion that it would be­come a ma­jor port city. As the city grew rapidly dur­ing the late 19th cen­tury, Port Townsend seemed poised to be­come the largest port on the West Coast. But when an eco­nomic de­pres­sion hit, it ended the planned rail ex­pan­sion re­quired for the town to thrive.

A cen­tury later, when Pete’s new foundry started fir­ing up the fur­nace, Port Townsend was known mainly as a des­ti­na­tion for artists and hip­pies, with its his­toric down­town host­ing film, mu­sic, and arts fes­ti­vals, as well as the an­nual wooden boat show. To pay homage to the orig­i­nal Port Townsend Foundry, Pete set up shop as close as pos­si­ble to where the orig­i­nal foundry was lo­cated. To ac­com­plish that with­out vi­o­lat­ing any city or­di­nances, he built his first foundry on the back of a flatbed trailer parked on prop­erty just a few blocks from the his­toric site. More than 35 years later, Pete’s Port Townsend Foundry (af­fec­tion­ately called “PT Foundry”) now sits on the edge of town. There is no cop­per-topped cupola, no view of the wa­ter­front here. But as I en­tered through the doors of this much sim­pler and much newer in­dus­trial build­ing, I learned that th­ese unas­sum­ing walls con­tain plenty of history.

The Friendli­est, Salti­est Sailor Pete Lan­g­ley is full of en­ergy, burst­ing with sto­ries and knowl­edge. I met him in the warmly clut­tered front re­cep­tion area and of­fice where he quickly launched into the history of his foundry and what drew him to this pro­fes­sion. Through­out the day, Pete wove tales that mixed the tech­ni­cal de­tails of run­ning the foundry with anec­do­tal sto­ries from a life spent on the wa­ter from his ear­li­est days. Rich with sto­ries of the sea, Pete’s child­hood is the sort that could prob­a­bly have only ex­isted in the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of eight chil­dren, he grew up on the wa­ter; he was prac­ti­cally born right out of the salty brine of the Pacific. The Lan­g­ley fam­ily—Pete’s par­ents and his five brothers and two sis­ters—spent time up and down the West Coast, liv­ing in Mex­ico, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and Port Townsend at var­i­ous points, and trav­el­ing most of that coast­line and be­yond by boat.

In 1957, Pete’s par­ents bought a his­toric Pacific North­west ves­sel, M/V Cat­a­lyst, still in ser­vice to­day as a char­ter boat. For sev­eral years they lived aboard, and it was clearly a for­ma­tive pe­riod in Pete’s life. He tells har­row­ing sto­ries of life aboard Cat­a­lyst, in­clud­ing the time his fa­ther taught the fam­ily sur­vival skills by an­chor­ing just in­side Coos Bay, Ore­gon, and or­der­ing them all to strip down, put their clothes in a bag, and swim through the icy Pacific wa­ters to shore. And this wasn’t just some cruel char­ac­ter-build­ing ex­er­cise de­signed by his fa­ther. It was all part of learn­ing to live a life at sea, and the whole fam­ily par­tic­i­pated. Pete says he re­mem­bers par­tic­i­pat­ing even though he was just a small child (“yeah, big,” he says jok­ingly as he holds his hand about three feet off the floor). He re­calls jump­ing in, grab­bing his dad around the neck, and hold­ing his bag of clothes as the whole fam­ily swam—and his fa­ther towed him—to shore.

Through­out the day, more sea sto­ries come up. There was the time they were caught in the Colum­bus Day Storm of 1962, 90 miles off Cape Men­do­cino and Cat­a­lyst had bro­ken a steer­ing ca­ble. They rolled for seven days in the trough, with Cat­a­lyst go­ing to 65 de­grees on ev­ery roll. Pete laughs as he re­mem­bers be­ing tied un­der­neath the gal­ley ta­ble with his sis­ters, their sur­vival gear, and sea ra­tions, as their fa­ther went out in the storm to chop out the steer­ing ca­bles so he could find and fix the break. With lim­ited suit­able ma­te­ri­als on board, his fa­ther man­aged to jury-rig the steer­ing just enough to give them a few de­grees of steer­age. It was barely enough to spin the boat in cir­cles, but it al­lowed them to get the boat out of the trough and out­last the storm.

The Magic of the Foundry We be­gin our tour of the foundry in what you would think was the store­front, which seems like an odd thing for a made-to­order foundry to have. But as Pete ex­plains, many of the pat­terns they use to cre­ate their cast­ing molds pro­duce mul­ti­ple pieces. While some pat­terns cre­ate a sin­gle cast­ing, oth­ers may pro­duce 10 to 20. The ex­tra pieces end up here, on dis­play and avail­able for sale, mostly through the foundry’s web­site. The pieces range from port­lights to bowsprit stars and beau­ti­ful fair­leads to tiny dec­o­ra­tive an­chors. The room is a salesroom, stor­age room, and

mu­seum all wrapped up into one.

This is the room where the sto­ries re­ally be­gin. For starters, there is the story of Lyle Hess, de­signer of the well-known Bris­tol Chan­nel Cut­ter and other ac­claimed cruis­ing boats. Af­ter Hess re­tired, he moved to Port Townsend and met Pete and his mo­bile foundry while walk­ing through town. Cool­ing on the edge of the street was a piece cast for a Bris­tol Cut­ter, prompt­ing Hess to ask why his sail­boat parts were ly­ing in the street. It turns out Pete was build­ing a com­plete set of hard­ware for a client on the East Coast. He had ac­quired the cast­ing pat­terns from Sam L. Mor­ris, who ran the yard that pro­duced Hess’s boats af­ter he re­tired and closed the yard.

Then there are the nu­mer­ous parts Pete has built for Ea­gle, the 295-foot sail­ing ship that the U.S. Coast Guard uses to train cadets at­tend­ing the United States Coast Guard Academy in New Lon­don, Con­necti­cut. For Pete, Ea­gle has al­ways been a fun at­trac­tion. His mother took him aboard when he was seven, dur­ing the ship’s first tour to the West Coast in the 1960s. The man­ual ex­plain­ing how the ship was sailed was some­thing he read and reread through­out his child­hood. Years later he met a bo­sun who served on the ship (not as a cadet but as part of the per­ma­nent crew); they be­came friends and one day the bo­sun took him aboard and asked him how they could fix some of the is­sues they were fac­ing. Pete be­gan to en­gi­neer and pro­duce re­place­ment parts and new parts that matched the look and use of the orig­i­nals.

For decades, Ea­gle used steel jib hanks that ran along steel stays. The hanks would rust when the sail was at rest and then the rust would be pol­ished off as the sail was raised. This led to two is­sues. Not only did it streak the ship’s $30,000 sails with rust marks, but the rapid wear on the hanks re­quired an or­der of new jib hanks ev­ery other sea­son. Pete de­signed an alu­minum nickel bronze jib hank re­place­ment that he was con­fi­dent would ad­dress both con­cerns. But based upon their past ex­pe­ri­ence, the Coast Guard still in­sisted on pur­chas­ing spares. A decade later, Ea­gle still has the same bronze hanks that Pete first cast, and they have yet to re­place any with the spares they ac­quired. An en­tire cor­ner of the foundry’s front show­room is ded­i­cated to parts built for Ea­gle, in­clud­ing hanks, shack­les, blocks, and other as­sorted hard­ware.

The Re­nais­sance Staff As Pete starts to ex­plain the process of pat­tern­ing, mold­ing, cast­ing, and ma­chin­ing, it is ap­par­ent that run­ning the foundry re­quires a highly skilled crew. Al­most all of the work is done by hand. “It’s real crafts­man­ship,” Pete says. “Th­ese guys have to be en­gi­neers on the fly.”

Un­like the orig­i­nal 19th-cen­tury foundry, Pete’s shop em­ploys only six peo­ple, him­self in­cluded. And to make it all work with such a small crew, ev­ery­one is cross-trained on all the steps of the cast­ing process. While each team mem­ber main­tains a spe­cialty, each is also able to fill in wher­ever is needed, mak­ing the whole

process more flex­i­ble. When the foundry pours, ev­ery­one is in­volved. But if some­one is out sick, pro­duc­tion doesn’t stop. The Port Townsend Foundry crew are crafts­peo­ple, en­gi­neers, and artists all at the same time.

The Process When we en­ter the floor of the foundry, two staff mem­bers, Jesse Thomas and Daniel Burgess, are pre­par­ing molds for cast­ings. Pete dives into the in­tri­ca­cies of sev­eral of the parts that are cur­rently be­ing molded, parts that I mis­tak­enly as­sumed were fairly sim­ple, like a bronze cap for the end of a spin­naker pole. But as Pete ex­plains the process, I start to see the com­plex­ity of the work. Not only is a mold needed for the out­side of a cast­ing, but pieces like this spin­naker cap that fit over some­thing like a bowsprit, spar, cap rail, or comb­ing re­quire a core as well to cre­ate the space in­side the piece.

And, of course, every­thing must be ex­tremely pre­cise.

The Pat­tern Shop and Li­brary Pre­ci­sion ex­ists through­out the en­tire process, start­ing with the pro­duc­tion of the pat­terns from which the molds are built. In the loft over­look­ing the pour­ing floor there is a wood­shop where the pat­tern cre­ator, Lind­sey Moore, works. As Pete shows us through the pat­terns, Lind­sey pores over a CAD draw­ing on her lap­top. Parts that need to be re­pro­duced and mul­ti­ple pat­terns in var­i­ous states of con­struc­tion dot the ta­bles and work­sta­tions. Some parts are be­ing fin­ished, mea­sured, and tweaked, while oth­ers are in an ear­lier stage, be­ing glued up be­fore they are spun on the lathe or carved down to their fi­nal shape.

As I walk around ad­mir­ing her work, Lind­sey re­mains in­tensely fo­cused on build­ing a new pat­tern for a large rud­der gud­geon. There aren’t fancy CAD-con­trolled routers or lathes in this shop, just a tal­ented pat­tern cre­ator with an out­dated lap­top and a sense of spa­tial rea­son­ing that far ex­ceeds that of most mor­tals.

One of the in­tri­ca­cies of pat­tern mak­ing in­volves cal­cu­lat­ing for shrink rate. The pat­tern must be made big­ger than the fi­nal prod­uct. When the pat­terned mold is filled with liq­uid metal there are ris­ers that al­low for ex­cess metal to be stored and flow back down into the mold as the metal starts to cool. But once the metal so­lid­i­fies it will con­tinue to shrink as it goes from a hot solid to room tem­per­a­ture. The pat­terns have to ac­count for this shrink so that the fi­nal prod­uct is the cor­rect size.

Ad­ja­cent to the pat­tern shop is the pat­tern li­brary. Through a non­de­script door you en­ter a room packed with pat­terns. Many are stacked against the shelves and walls, some are filed away in boxes, some are piled on ta­bles, and oth­ers are mounted to the wall. To a ca­sual ob­server, the li­brary ap­pears min­i­mally or­ga­nized and trending to­ward over­stuffed. And Pete ad­mits he’d love to have a ded­i­cated li­brar­ian to keep the pat­terns or­ga­nized. But he thinks they have a rel­a­tively good sys­tem for keep­ing track of the pat­terns. I’ll ad­mit I was a bit skep­ti­cal, but as Pete walks us through the li­brary he finds what he is look­ing for with ease, pulling out his­toric pat­terns they have ac­quired from other com­pa­nies and prized pieces they have cre­ated on their own.

The li­brary con­sists of over 6,000 pat­terns, but not all are orig­i­nal cre­ations. Some have been ac­quired from his­toric boat builders and de­sign­ers like Lyle Hess and Sam L. Mor­ris. Pete has ac­quired other li­braries of pat­terns, in­clud­ing the pat­terns from Hugh An­gel­man’s Wilmington Boat Works. Pete also has pat­terns for Her­reshoff de­signs; some are orig­i­nals, some are pat­tern recre­ations that they have pro­duced, and some are orig­i­nal pat­terns for parts they cre­ated for a cou­ple of Her­reshoff de­signs.

As Pete moves through the li­brary pulling part af­ter part off the shelves, I start to get the sense that ev­ery pat­tern in here has an in­trigu­ing back­story. He picks up a pat­tern for San­tana, a Spark­man & Stephens schooner built at Wilmington Boat Works. The story quickly leads to Frank Si­na­tra.

AAt one point, San­tana had be­longed to Humphrey Bog­art. As the story goes, one night when the boat was an­chored out at Catalina Is­land, Si­na­tra came aboard for a visit. As the evening wore on, Si­na­tra wouldn’t leave, and he wouldn’t stop singing (of course). So (nat­u­rally) some­one went be­low and lit the boat on fire just to get him to shut up and leave.

Now on the East Coast, San­tana re­cently went through a ma­jor restora­tion at Rhode Is­land’s East Pas­sage Boatwrights. Dur­ing the restora­tion, Port Townsend Foundry helped pro­vide nu­mer­ous parts cast from the old pat­terns they had ac­quired from Wilmington Boat Works. You might think the fact that they had ac­cess to all th­ese old pat­terns was the rea­son they got the job in the first place. But San­tana’s cur­rent skip­per, Con­nor Wal­lace, who was head­ing up the restora­tion, was un­aware of their con­nec­tion to those pat­terns when he called up the foundry re­quest­ing a re­place­ment for one of the orig­i­nal parts that had dis­in­te­grated when they tried to strip off the chrome. All they had to go on was a part num­ber, and Con­nor thought it was go­ing to be a long shot. But when he ex­plained his predica­ment, Pete asked what boat he was restor­ing. When Con­nor replied, “San­tana,” Pete laughed and said, “I’ve got that ex­act part, and all the hard­ware I’ve al­ready sent you was cast off the orig­i­nal San­tana pat­terns from when she was built.”

Green Foundry Floor Once pat­terns are com­pleted or called upon for pro­duc­tion, Jesse and Daniel pro­duce the molds and lay them out on the pour­ing floor. Port Townsend Foundry uses an olivine green sand, a vol­canic sand mined in Wash­ing­ton State that has some unique prop­er­ties. Be­cause it is vol­canic in com­po­si­tion, it can with­stand the in­tense heat of the pour­ing process. When 2,000-de­gree molten metal is poured into the sand molds, the heat does not dam­age the sand par­ti­cles, al­low­ing the sand to be re­pro­cessed and used for mul­ti­ple pour­ings. To cre­ate the molds, the sand is bound with two types of ben­tonite clay and wa­ter. Us­ing ben­tonites in­stead of chem­i­cals like sil­ica helps re­duce the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the process and min­i­mize the po­ten­tial health im­pacts on the foundry’s em­ploy­ees.

The pat­terns are molded in a va­ri­ety of ways, but once a

pat­tern is molded it then must be re­moved to cre­ate the void that the metal will fill. This is ac­com­plished with two-part molds that al­low for pre­cise align­ment of the im­pacted sand so that the mold can be sep­a­rated to re­move the pat­tern and then re­aligned in the same way. Of­ten pat­terns are de­signed to be split in two via a part­ing line. This al­lows for two halves to be molded and then the molds to be re­aligned be­fore the pat­tern is re­moved. For Pete and Port Townsend Foundry the mantra is clearly that form fol­lows func­tion, but it fol­lows very closely. The beauty of their pat­terns and cast­ings is not lost in the process.

When it comes to pour­ing the cast­ings, it’s all hands on deck. The cru­cible is hot and re­quires two op­er­a­tors. Dressed in re­flec­tive fire suits, the op­er­a­tors tilt and man­age the large cru­cible to pour the metal into the molds. An­other op­er­a­tor man­ages the large move­ment of the fur­nace around the floor by op­er­at­ing a me­chan­i­cal bridge crane that car­ries the cru­cible full of liq­uid metal. Two more peo­ple man­age the molds, mak­ing sure they are prop­erly aligned and ready for each pour. They then check the poured molds to make sure they’ve filled cor­rectly. A fi­nal crew mem­ber over­sees the whole process to make sure every­thing is be­ing done prop­erly and safely. The fur­nace at Port Townsend Foundry can hold 300 pounds of ma­te­rial, al­low­ing them to pour molds as fre­quently as ev­ery 90 min­utes when needed, or mul­ti­ple al­loys in a day.

Master crafts­man­ship is not the only thing that makes cast­ings from this foundry ex­cep­tional. The other com­po­nent is the qual­ity of the ma­te­ri­als they use. Pete in­sists on us­ing only the purest met­als for strength and in­tegrity, and his mind­ful­ness ex­tends to most parts of his prac­tice. He buys all his al­loys from a cop­per re­cy­cler, which means the cop­per al­loys they use aren’t be­ing mined from the ground but in­stead are com­ing from above­ground re­cy­cled sources. They also re­cy­cle ev­ery bit of scrap they pro­duce, from the ex­cess metal at the end of a pour to the cut-off pieces and even the bronze dust cre­ated dur­ing grind­ing. They return the scrap metal to their sup­plier to be re­cy­cled and re­ceive credit to­wards new ma­te­rial for fu­ture projects.

As Pete ex­plains, “Foundries are the nat­u­ral re­cy­clers; they take old and used parts and ma­te­ri­als and con­vert them back into new raw al­loy in­gots. That has kind of been our em­pha­sis. Why would we want to pol­lute our environment? [Min­i­miz­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact is im­por­tant] not only for the health of our em­ploy­ees but also for the health of our cus­tomers and the health of our whole com­mu­nity.”

Fi­nal­iz­ing the Cast­ings Once the cast­ings have cooled and have been bro­ken free from the sand, the cooled parts head off to the grind­ing room. Here the ex­cess metal from the mold is cut off, re­veal­ing the shape of the pat­tern. The parts are sand­blasted, ground down, and pol­ished. This is where they start to look more like hard­ware and less like odd ab­stract pieces of metal. In the grind­ing process, the seams from where the part­ing lines or molds met are re­moved, and the rough, dim­pled metal starts to shine like the ma­rine hard­ware you’d see at a chan­dlery or on a clas­sic yacht.

Once the pieces are ready for fine-tun­ing they head out across the yard to the ma­chine shop. In­side the shop you won’t find any

com­put­er­ized CNC ma­chines or jet cut­ters. As Pete says, “You still have to do all the math by hand.” He points out that is just how his shop runs; he could in­vest in the ma­chin­ery to do that work but in­stead he prefers to in­vest in the skilled la­bor, folks that can work with the me­chan­i­cal tools on hand. The foundry’s ma­chin­ist, Kyle Reed, has been with the com­pany the long­est, over 15 years. He started work­ing at the foundry as a ju­nior in high school and has gone from push­ing the broom to over­see­ing the ma­chine shop.

In the shop, holes are reamed out; grooves are cut, cleaned, and pol­ished; turn­buck­les are tapped and their ter­mi­nals threaded. Even here all the metal shav­ings are col­lected and re­cy­cled. Kyle dou­blechecks mea­sure­ments and tol­er­ances, mak­ing sure the hard­ware leaves his shop the way it was de­signed. From the ma­chine shop, the cast­ings, now beau­ti­ful hard­ware, go back across to where we started our tour in the show­room. Or­ders are or­ga­nized, packed, and shipped, and any ex­tras join the ever-ex­pand­ing dis­play of parts in the show­room.

The Foundry Founder How did Pete learn the skills of run­ning a foundry? He jokes, “As my mother would say, it’s a ge­netic curse.” Both his grand­fa­thers were in avi­a­tion man­u­fac­tur­ing. But Pete at­tributes most of his de­vel­op­ment to Morro Bay High School, which had a tremen­dous wood and metal shop pro­gram. The metal shop had a foundry in it, and Pete got along with the teacher quite well. He quickly picked up the skills and be­gan to take metal shop classes three times a day. He even be­came his in­struc­tor’s metal shop as­sis­tant. When asked if he re­mem­bers build­ing any­thing spe­cial in shop class, he says, “Oh yeah, sure, it’s still be­ing used here in the shop.” He walks over to the wall and pulls some­thing off it. “I built this tap wrench.”

And while the Port Townsend Foundry of to­day won’t ever be the Port Townsend Foundry of yes­ter­year, Pete has carved out a healthy niche, serv­ing not just the North­west but boats and ships across the coun­try. The fo­cus of the Port Townsend Foundry to­day is to pro­duce cast­ings for his­toric restora­tions and cus­tom needs. His hard­ware is de­signed to with­stand in­cred­i­ble pres­sures and forces, mak­ing it the per­fect fit for the sort of hard­core cruis­ers and rac­ers who count on their boat—and its hard­ware—to get them from point A to B.

And in that vein, Pete has cre­ated a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship with many of the tall ships and his­toric boats along the West Coast, in­clud­ing Martha and Ad­ven­turess, two lo­cal his­toric schooners. In the pat­tern shop he shows us a de­tailed man­hole cover they made for Ad­ven­turess to help the boat meet a new USCG safety reg­u­la­tion. In­stead of mak­ing a sim­ple cover, the foundry de­signed a new wa­ter­tight cover that fea­tures the yacht’s name, the year she was built, and the de­signer (B.B. Crown­in­shield), as well as the foundry’s name and logo. It fits within the de­sign and age of the schooner as if it had been there from her chris­ten­ing.

Pete ex­plains that for him it is im­por­tant to keep th­ese his­toric tall ships sail­ing. And they work with him, pay­ing what they can, when they can, and he pro­vides what they need, when they need it. It is a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship, though. He can of­ten write off part of the ex­pense as a do­na­tion when needed, and it also al­lows him to show off his work, the qual­ity and the beauty of it. The schooner Martha is also a big bene­fac­tor of the foundry. Af­ter be­ing dropped and bro­ken by a travel lift sev­eral years ago, Martha was fully re­stored and now com­petes in lo­cal re­gat­tas and more no­table races like the Transpac, where de­spite be­ing over a cen­tury old, she re­mains com­pet­i­tive.

Pete’s un­der­stand­ing of com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially the sail­ing com­mu­nity, might be what re­ally sets him apart. He runs a suc­cess­ful busi­ness that keeps him and his em­ploy­ees paid. But he doesn’t get caught up in ev­ery penny of man­ag­ing the busi­ness. He sees the big­ger pic­ture: how his busi­ness fits into his com­mu­nity and the world in which he lives. This drives his phi­lan­thropy, pitch­ing in to keep his­tor­i­cal boats afloat, and his en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship, the sourc­ing of his ma­te­ri­als and the re­cy­cling of every­thing he can. Pete also sees the big­ger pic­ture when it comes to his cus­tomers, who he pro­vides with unique, qual­ity parts. And above all, he sees him­self as a his­to­rian and a keeper of nau­ti­cal knowl­edge, not just of his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence grow­ing up on the wa­ter and work­ing in a metal shop most of his life, but in a much broader sense. He is a stew­ard of tech­ni­cal know-how and the cus­to­dian of a vast li­brary of pat­terns—and of the sea of sto­ries they con­tain.


The show­room in­side Port Townsend Foundry high­lights the shop’s eclec­tic and high- qual­ity work.

The foundry’s gleam­ing work on dis­play.

The fur­nace heats up for an af­ter­noon pour.

Man­hole pat­tern for the 1913 schooner Ad­ven­turess

Pete Lan­g­ley coils a davit line on a Monk de­sign at Point Hud­son.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.