Motorists driving along Interstate Highway 83 usually turned their heads for an instant as they zoomed passed Cloverville, Pennsylvania. Their attention was attracted by the tall, square brick chimney that leaned dangerously from the vertical.
Long ago in 1866, when it first belched dirty smoke over the sleepy Pennsylvania countryside, the rustic natives looked upon it with pride and admiration, for it had put their hamlet on the map with fire and flyash.
The good townspeople were as proud of its 122-foot, truncated shape poking up into the sky as were the ancient Egyptians of their obelisks. But the red brick now was faded and the grime had washed away. And for more years than the oldest inhabitant could remember, the chimney had been leaning ever so gradually from the vertical. Today, it seemed as though it was defying gravity.
“Trouble with Cloverville is that we’re fading into the setting sun,” expounded Mort Beaucamp to the city fathers in his law office one evening recently. “Sure enough, this town was booming in the seventies. But that was almost a hundred years ago. Cyrus Cooper built his plow works, Isadore Gouldschmidt put up his bicycle factory and Jeremiah Leadbetter erected the iron foundry. No money was spared in installing the latest equipment. Not only that, but each building was an architectural gem of the period, that’s how proud they were of building our town into a thing of beauty.”
“No argument,” cut in Jay Eckert the banker, “no argument. Too bad some of their wisdom and sterling qualities didn’t rub off on us.”
“Look at those buildings today,” continued Beaucamp, knocking the ashes from his pipe. “All gathering cobwebs and crumbling into dust. What we need is something to draw the tourists who whiz past us on their way down to Florida or up to Canada. They’ve got the money, and our job is to make them stop here and spend some of it.”
“Mort, you’re right as Emily’s pumpkin pie,” agreed Sid Jacobs, owner of the Penn Interstate Motel. "Now take that old bicycle factory. Her high brick chimney and powerhouse are museum pieces. So are her hand-fired boilers, and the steam engine with its flywheel roped to the factory line shaft. At least that’s what a science-museum guy who stayed at my place last week said. Why don’t we raise money to turn the place into a tourist attraction? We could add a few old steam threshing engines from around here, gather machinery of the period and maybe even fix up that old No.7 iron horse at the roundhouse and use it to choo-choo sightseers around.”
“Only one thing wrong with your idea,” cut in Roy Merritt, president of Acme Machine Works, who was a descendant of an early industrialist. “That chimney is slanting as badly as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Best thing to do with it is bring her down with a charge of dynamite before it caves in the power-plant building next to it. And isn’t that building important for Sid’s museum idea?”
“Floyd Rassmussen told me he found the chimney leaning forty-five inches from vertical when he surveyed around there last spring,” offered Ralph Sadler, the lumber yard owner.
“That’s correct,” assured Bill Thornley the car dealer. “But I think Sid is on the right track with his museum idea. That power plant is a period piece all right. And square brick industrial chimneys are rare today. Look at what Connecticut is doing to attract tourists: They rebuilt the old whaling town of Mystic Seaport and gathered famous whaling ships. And look what Henry Ford did by recreating the typical 1850 American town of Greenfield Village near Detroit. And don’t forget the tourists that Virginia is drawing to that rebuilt colonial town of Williamsburg. One reason so many places go to seed is no one does anything to create business. Complaining never put money into a town’s cash register, so let’s get off our beam ends and see if Sid’s idea can’t make us some money.”
The above meeting took place several months ago. Next day the Cloverville Bugle came out with the story. Soon it was picked up by the Harrisburg News, the Richmond Times and the Washington Post. By the week’s end, lawyer Beaucamp had received offers of two ancient steam threshing engines, one horse-drawn steam fire engine, one Fiske oscillating steam engine, one B&W hand-fired, inclined-tube boiler, one Ericsson hot-air pumping engine, a few windmills and various assorted industrial relics.
“Biggest thing since Cyrus Cooper built the plow works,” reported Beaucamp at the next meeting. “Now it’s up to us. We’ll form an organization, raise money and put the show on the road. Yes sir, Sid, by the time we get squared away, find a curator for the museum and open it to visitors at a dollar a head, you better double the size of your motel and dining room. And it won’t hurt you other merchants either.”
“Just had a brainstorm,” cut in Doctor George Thornton, principal of the local high school “That museum might be the lever we need to help Professor Watkins’ group purchase the forty-acre Hardy estate and start his Polytechnic Institute of Pennsylvania right here in Cloverville. Now wouldn’t THAT be something?”
“Great,” blurted the practical Sid Jacobs, “but first we better get someone to right that square stack of bricks before it flattens my potential customers and the professor’s embryo engineers as well,” he laughed.
Next morning Alex Martz, the local consulting engineer, was brought into the group and assigned the job of looking up the original drawings and specifications of the brick chimney. He found the stack to be 122-ft high, eleven feet square at the base and tapering to nine feet at the top. The four walls were three feet thick and the chimney was leaning 45 inches from true vertical at the top. Also, the entire structure weighed about 400 tons.
“BILGEWATER on mushrooming a few hours of work into a whole career.” Source: POWER
But gathering that data was the easiest part of the consultant’s task. Now he was confronted with the problem of righting the chimney. First he read up on the methods used for the two temples of the god-king Rameses II at Abu Simbel in Egypt, which were raised more than 200 feet above the flood water of the Aswan High Dam. Working with stone sections of the temple weighing up to 33 tons each, German, French, Swedish, Italian and Egyptian engineers used everything from huge cranes to hydraulic jacks.
Yes, the hydraulic jack had the power for righting the chimney. But it needed muscle—not for 33 tons, but for about half of the 400-ton deadweight of the chimney. Martz got busy finding jacks and working out plans for shoring up the foundation under which he could position them.
His efforts were most frustrating. Finally, he located a young contractor who thought he could do the job but who wanted $23,500. Most discouraging was the four months it would take to right the chimney because the jacks he located would not be available for seven weeks. And they had to be shipped from British Columbia in Canada.
“Mighty steep,” grunted Mort Beaucamp, when Martz presented his findings during a luncheon meeting at the Penn Interstate Motel dining room. We already have nine thousand dollars in the kitty, but we can’t afford that kind of luxury.”
“You say four months, Alex?” asked Sid Jacobs. “Our new curator phoned to say he’d like to have some of the exhibits moved in and the place opened to the public in six weeks while the work is going on. But in four months the tourist trade’ll slacken down. Not a very good time to open, even if we could dig up that much money.”
While the discussion continued, the hostess seated two men of impressive appearance at an adjoining table. One was a six-foot-four, powerfully built character sporting a steel brush mustache. He was Marmaduke Surfaceblow, senior member of Surfaceblow & Associate, consulting engineers of New York City, who had sailed the seven seas and operated in every type of power plant afloat or ashore. His companion was his brilliant son, Guy Newcomen Surfaceblow, clean-shaven and immaculately dressed junior member of the firm. The two men were on their way east, driving from Ohio where they had consulted on a new municipal waste-disposal system.
“Chief, let’s get back to that leaning brick chimney at the exit where we turned into Cloverville,” said Guy while scanning the menu. “Looked to me like it might topple any minute.”
“Roger,” rumbled the father as he lighted a long Ringelmann No.5 cigar. “Too bad it isn’t needed anymore. Tapered, square brick factory chimneys are a unique bit of early industrial Americana, and they’re vanishing like the Indians.”
“Good observation,” commented Guy, who was studying for his doctorate in engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn between assignments from his famous father. “And did you notice the surrounding quaint factory buildings? Every one seems to be an authentic masterpiece of early factory architecture.”
“Roger,” rumbled the older member again, his voice crackling like a rock crusher. “Just as a brain joggler while we’re waiting for service, Guy, suppose you had the job of righting that chimney. How would you tackle it?”
“First,” shot back the young engineer-scientist without hesitation, “I’d go back to basics. Remember what Archimedes said over two thousand years ago? ï¿½Give me a fulcrum and a lever long enough and I’ll raise the world.’ But I’m afraid the problem of shoring up the foundation under which to position the lever would stump me and take some research and planning.”
“BILGEWATER on mushrooming a few hours’ work into a whole career!” foghorned the father, stoking his cigar and producing a smoke screen. “That’s where you book engineers fall flat on your eggheads. If the solution isn’t spelled out in a textbook, you’re left high and dry.”
Guy seemed jarred by his crusty father’s meat-axe reaction, and the young scholar’s sensitive face showed it. “How would you go about it?” he finally asked the hard-boiled senior.
“I’d also go back to basics,” crackled Marmaduke, “but instead of using a lever to raise the low side, I’d use gravity to lower the high side, because gravity is there and free. And my method would take only about two days.”
Professional engineer Martz at the next table turned abruptly in his chair. “Couldn’t help overhearing your comments, gentlemen,” he began. “I’m Alex Martz, and my associates here are grappling with that very problem. We’re trying to save that factory complex and turn it into an industrial museum. And of course that ornate brick chimney will be the museum’s trademark and the icing on the cake. That is, if we can straighten it before it falls over. Did you say you can do the job within two days? I just got an estimate of four months’ time and $23,500. Why don’t you gentlemen move to our table so we can discuss this in detail.”
Chairs were quickly moved and introductions made as the waiter came for the orders. “We’ll talk business soon as I ballast my holds with corned beef and cabbage and top it off with a bottle of stout,” rumbled the famous consultant as the waiter scribbled away.
“Gentlemen,” enthused Martz, “we are in extremely capable hands. I’ve been reading about Mister Surfaceblow’s unique solutions to energy systems problems since 1948 in the bible of the industry—POWER magazine. If anyone can right that chimney, these gentlemen are the ones.”
“Thanks,” rumbled the big man, blowing smoke rings toward the ceiling. “But as Guy here said, this job depends on getting back to basics. And our first basic requirement is a fee of two thousand dollars. You pay for labor and all expenses, okay?”
“Okay,” cut in Beaucamp so quickly that he surprised himself.
“Full speed ahead,” crackled the salty marine engineer. “We’ll start today soon as we check into this motel and get squared away. That should be about two p.m. if you can round up help, tools and materials we need by then.”
“Just dandy,” agreed Beaucamp. “You just name the kind of help and equipment you need. Most of our local business people are members of our enterprise.”
Marmaduke reached for the menu, scratched a list on the back and handed it to the lawyer.
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” commented Beaucamp, passing the list to the professional engineer. “Alex, why don’t you get busy rounding up the men and materials these gentlemen need.”
“Guy, you’re the mathematician in this firm,” challenged Marmaduke, reaching for their luncheon check. “Exactly how much does that chimney have to be lowered at the base to bring it back to true vertical?”
“Simple problem in proportion,” sang out Guy, happy to take an active part in the unusual operation. Taking out his pocket slide rule, he calculated aloud. “Let’s see, now . . . 122 feet high, 11-foot base and 45 inches from true vertical. Just a fraction over four inches,” he concluded.
“Good, we’ll remove four and-a-half inches from the high side near the foundation, and taper it back to zero on the low side,” informed Marmaduke as the two consultants left the dining room.
After checking into their room and unpacking, Guy asked, “Chief, I’m stumped—exactly how will you remove only four-and-a-half inches of masonry without crumbling the chimney?”
The senior member sat down at the desk, pulled out a piece of motel stationery and a ball-point pen, and started sketching. “To bring the chimney back to true vertical, we’ll remove a wedge-shaped slice, cutting through three sides like this,” he explained.
“I know, 1 know,” persisted the young scholar, “but HOW?”
“Simple,” shot back the ingenious father. “First we’ll punch a hole twelve inches square through the middle of the high side, then wedge it tight with wooden blocks to support that section. Then we’ll punch another square hole on either side of the blocks and build a brick pier up to within four-and-a-half inches of the undermined bricks. Then punch two more holes on either side and wedge them with wooden blocks and so on around all three sides.”
At two p.m. sharp, the two consultants drove up to the leaning brick chimney. Two mechanics, one bricklayer and his helper were unloading pickup trucks.
“Everything’s here but the iron wedges,” informed a mechanic. “Archie’s milling strap-iron wedges at the machine shop—he’ll be along pronto.” Just then, the editor of the Cloverville Bugle drove up with an impressive camera dangling from his neck.
“Okay, men, here’s our plan,” Marmaduke started explaining as he produced the sketch. Outlining with chalk the exact area on three sides of the chimney, he directed, “Get busy with your air hammers and start here. Soon as you punch a twelve-inch square hole, wedge it tightly with wooden blocks to support that portion of the chimney.”
“Yeah, but what am I supposed to do if these guys build with wood?” asked the disappointed bricklayer, eyeing the editor preparing his camera for a shot of the first operation.
“Plenty,” assured Marmaduke, pointing to the sketch. “Soon as a hole is wedged with wood, they’ll punch another hole next to it. You get busy and build a brick pier in the hole, leaving a space of four-and-a-half inches between the top of the pier and the undermined brickwork, for the chimney to rest on when she settles herself. Remember, one hole filled with wood, one with brick pier, all the way around three sides, okay?”
“Can do,” enthused Salvatore the bricklayer, giving orders to his helper to start mixing mortar.
By five o’clock, several holes had been punched in the high side of the chimney and filled with wood. “Let’s knock off and be back here at eight o’clock tomorrow morning,” instructed Marmaduke.
Returning to the motel, he explained to Guy, “The next two sides won’t go so quickly, because Sal will have to carefully taper the gaps down to zero as he approaches the low side.”
That evening, the editor joined the consultants during dinner and jotted down details of the operation while they dined. Next morning at eight, the job was resumed. By four in the afternoon; three sides of the chimney were resting on wooden blocks and ready for the most critical operation.
“Now stand by and listen carefully, mates,” cautioned the salty marine engineer as he produced a shower of flyash from his cigar. “First, let’s make this place shipshape by cleaning up all the rubble. We might have to move fast with those torches and we don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Soon as the area was cleaned up, Marmaduke continued, “Take your torches and start on opposite sides. Play your flame on the wooden blocks until they start burning. Keep walking back and forth and make sure all the blocks burn evenly so the chimney lowers slowly and evenly.”
“Now, Salvatore,” rumbled Marmaduke, “take your hammer and a handful of iron wedges. As a crack appears near the base, drive in wedges to prevent cracks from forming above it.”
By that time, a crowd had gathered all along the roped-off section of the street. Many of the sidewalk superintendents had cameras to record the righting of their famous landmark—or, as some feared, its collapse.
The torches were lit, and soon the wooden fill started burning, the two mechanics walking back and forth to keep them burning evenly. Then came a slight groan from the chimney—but it was only a whisper. Then another, and another. Salvatore got busy driving in iron wedges as slight horizontal openings appeared.
“See that?” someone down the block cried out. “She’s moving, I saw her move.” Heads shot skyward and cameras clicked. The slow burning continued and the chimney moved toward the vertical, but ever so slowly. After about an hour, the last flame had died out and the structure was resting solidly on the new brick piers.
“She’s home,” foghorned Marmaduke. “We’ll finish the job by filling in the holes with new brick, but that can wait till tomorrow.”
Mort Beaucamp, Alex Martz and Sid Jacobs left the spectators as the policeman gathered in his rope, and the crowd came closer to rubberneck. “Can’t believe my eyes,” erupted the lawyer. “First time that chimney doesn’t remind me of our village drunk.”
“I’m sending the story with pictures to all the wire services, including Reuters in London,” smiled Chuck Shafer, the editor. “And we’re headlining the second part of the story tomorrow on our front page.”
“Here’s your fee,” said Beaucamp, handing over a certified check. “The publicity we’ll get after your ingenious solution gets into print will be worth many times this amount to us. Mister Surfaceblow, you not only righted our chimney, but you’re putting our new museum into headlines—just what we need for a successful start of our new museum.”