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Chapter 15. The Fete Of The Casting
During the eight months which were employed in the work of excavation the preparatory
works of the casting had been carried on simultaneously with extreme rapidity. A
stranger arriving at Stones Hill would have been surprised at the spectacle offered to his
At 600 yards from the well, and circularly arranged around it as a central point, rose
1,200 reverberating ovens, each six feet in diameter, and separated from each other by an
interval of three feet. The circumference occupied by these 1,200 ovens presented a
length of two miles. Being all constructed on the same plan, each with its high
quadrangular chimney, they produced a most singular effect.
It will be remembered that on their third meeting the committee had decided to use cast
iron for the Columbiad, and in particular the white description. This metal, in fact, is the
most tenacious, the most ductile, and the most malleable, and consequently suitable for
all moulding operations; and when smelted with pit coal, is of superior quality for all
engineering works requiring great resisting power, such as cannon, steam boilers,
hydraulic presses, and the like.
Cast iron, however, if subjected to only one single fusion, is rarely sufficiently
homogeneous; and it requires a second fusion completely to refine it by dispossessing it
of its last earthly deposits. So long before being forwarded to Tampa Town, the iron ore,
molten in the great furnaces of Coldspring, and brought into contact with coal and
silicium heated to a high temperature, was carburized and transformed into cast iron.
After this first operation, the metal was sent on to Stones Hill. They had, however, to deal
with 136,000,000 pounds of iron, a quantity far too costly to send by railway. The cost of
transport would have been double that of material. It appeared preferable to freight
vessels at New York, and to load them with the iron in bars. This, however, required not
less than sixty- eight vessels of 1,000 tons, a veritable fleet, which, quitting New York on
the 3rd of May, on the 10th of the same month ascended the Bay of Espiritu Santo, and
discharged their cargoes, without dues, in the port at Tampa Town. Thence the iron was
transported by rail to Stones Hill, and about the middle of January this enormous mass of
metal was delivered at its destination.
It will easily be understood that 1,200 furnaces were not too many to melt simultaneously
these 60,000 tons of iron. Each of these furnaces contained nearly 140,000 pounds weight
of metal. They were all built after the model of those which served for the casting of the
Rodman gun; they were trapezoidal in shape, with a high elliptical arch. These furnaces,
constructed of fireproof brick, were especially adapted for burning pit coal, with a flat
bottom upon which the iron bars were laid. This bottom, inclined at an angle of 25
degrees, allowed the metal to flow into the receiving troughs; and the 1,200 converging
trenches carried the molten metal down to the central well.