Asleep Beside a Steel Mill Night Light
Navigating by the flickering orange glow of distant steel mill fires, we could see the shadow of the factory. “That’s it,” someone said, as we waded through grass and battered fences into the darkness.
In the shade of the bricked beast, we saw nothing, but the same voice urged quietly, “Keep the lights out…”
Grassy footsteps gave to concrete echoes, and, far above somewhere, floating green blocks dyed those orange skies green with unknown layers of grime. This was our sky for the next few hours, and I was beginning to guess the dense chemical smells was the air; this is what green smelled and tasted like.
This was Firestone’s Hamilton tire plant, which in its day employed more than 2,000 workers on its 552,000 square-foot factory floor and office tower. Built in 1919, it cost about $2,000,000 and turned out 3,500 tires daily of every description. Firestone closed the plant in 1987.
Very little has survived the past few decades, except for those machines and accidents have indelibly carved their trace into the concrete walls; they will remain in place until a wrecking ball knocks on the front door.
I know that somewhere between the flooded locker rooms, wood-paneled offices and those green-glowing skylights there’s a story. Maybe it’s the narrative of one of the early workers making airplane tires for the Canadian buildup preceding World War Two, or a child who grew up in the company town Firestone built nearby.
Whatever the story is, it seems lost in the sound of humming transformers and heavy machinery.