The foundry lights against the blackness of the sky were an unusual sight in the town of Taylor. The men had worked through the night on the advice of Jim Martin. They were comfortable with him in command in Mike’s absence. This government job was expected to be their last as a functioning unit and they wanted to put it out in time as a way of keeping the contract. The core box was packed with black sand, while overhead a silent crane poised, waiting to take it to the furnace for the liquid metal. Off to the side, some men paused from their work and drank coffee and ate sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, safe from their grimy hands. The men were weary, acutely aware of their desolate futures, but they laughed and talked in the camaraderie of foundry men.
A bell clanged and reluctantly they put the red lids on their thermoses, closed their lunch boxes, and gathered around the core box. It had been the largest project in the last few years. If they were going out of business, they were doing it in style. Two men readied the massive chains for the crane, which began moving slowly forward. More than the usual number of men stood around the perimeter, it was the last order to be filled, and it seemed only fitting to give it a good send off. For some of the men it meant relocation. For others it meant early retirement, food stamps, unemployment checks, and a changing way of life. Few held out hopes that a new company would continue foundry production.
The crane ground to a halt directly over the flask. The bell stopped. A few of the men handled the links that were to go under the box. Now all that was to be done with everything in place, was to pour.
Jim stepped out of the small office and talked to the head molder. “That’s a big baby, Henry. Make sure there’s enough chain on it so when we get it in the air it doesn’t swing around. I want this to go down as a good job. It has to go right for Mike. He’s at home imagining all the problems and pitfalls that could happen.”
The block was lowered from the crane and the hook swung expertly to within an inch of the chain. Henry fitted the cable to the hook, satisfied that the pull appeared even. The flask lifted off the floor with the clang of the bell. One of the men put up his index finger, and the load lifted off the floor. Some of the workers picked up their lunch boxes and prepared to leave. Others stayed around for the memories.
The crane moved slowly. Several times it stopped completely, then started with a slow groan. The box swayed and the customary bell sounded to alert nearby workers. Jim looked up and wrung his hands. He saw the sweat on Henry’s face. His own sweat trickled down his sides. Time seemed to stand still. The giant flask was finally in position for the pour of molten metal. The pour was over in a few seconds. The vents in the core box hissed as the escape rods fulfilled their duty.
Then there was a spray of sand above the mold cavity, and a swearing and throwing of anything within reach, as a loud groan rose above the work in progress. Jim doubled up and Henry thumped on his black shirt. He was suddenly pale and shaky. It had gone wrong in spite of all their precautions. There was no time left to fulfill the contract. Some men wept openly. From the rear of the large space Mike walked slowly to stand by Jim. His face was anguished. His hand shook as he reached out to Jim.
“What are you doing here, Mike?” You’re supposed to be home resting.” Jim took his arm to steady him.
“This was more important that any rest, Jim. I had to be here to finish off what my family started thirty years ago. They would have hated this and put the blame on me where it belongs.” He leaned heavily on Jim. One of the men who stood watching hurried to the office for a chair and they sat Mike into it as gently as a baby.
“How did you get here,” Jim leaned to catch Mike’s answer.
“Emma drove me.” he gestured.
“This was no accident, Mike. I saw every step of this job myself, and it was done to perfection. The men will back me. We were set up. I’d stake my life on it.”
Mike’s blue eyes watered. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a failed pour?”
One by one the workers assembled in a line and waited their turn to shake Mike’s hand. Henry was last, “Tak.e him home, Jim, I’ll close up.”
Jim thanked each man as they had passed. He practically lifted Mike from his chair and led him to the outside, where the chill air did little to ease the end of an era… “How the family would have hated this. I’m really finished,big time,” he croaked