Sparks flew at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History on Saturday as railroad fans of all ages got to practice an old form of art and design.
With the help of volunteers from Kennesaw State University, museum-goers watched as white-hot liquid iron was poured into molds they made by hand, creating metal souvenirs to bring back home.
Page Burch, a lecturer of sculpture who also runs the master craftsman program at KSU, fed a huge blast furnace pieces of cast iron salvaged from pipes, radiators and other pieces of machinery, along with piles and piles of refined coal called coke.
Burch said the university has two such furnaces, one that can be taken around for special events and one that stays on campus. The students learn to create art from cast iron, bronze and aluminum. Recently, they created some manhole covers for the city of Kennesaw using the same process on display at the museum.
“It’s exactly like all the giant blast furnaces that they used back in the day, this is just a scaled-down version,” Burch said. “So instead of casting like 3,000 pounds, we’re just doing 100 pounds at a time, but it’s exactly the same process they would have used back in the 1800s.”
As the furnace heated up, the students attached a large blower motor, which fed the flames plenty of fresh air. After about an hour, the coke had gone from a red glow to white, and sparks could be seen flying from vents on the side.
When the iron inside had reached about 2,500 degrees, it was ready to be poured into the casts. Many had initials carved into them, while others had stick figure families, houses or self portraits.
Volunteers donned thick protective gear and welding masks to vent out the slag, the impurities that rise to the top of the melted iron before carefully pouring the iron out into a bucket.
The melted iron appeared to have the viscosity of a bucket of water, but when even a drop splashed out onto the grass in front of the…