Smelter Tech: Walker Casting Machine

An automated casting machine at work

In the beginning, the finished copper from the Quincy furnaces were molded into ingots using a very labor intensive process. In essence workers would scoop out the copper with long handled ladles and then proceed to pour the copper into lines of waiting molds. The ingots would then be flipped out of the molds into vats of water to cool, before they were collected and brought down to the warehouse. This process could take hours, hours on top of the already extreme 22+ hours used by the smelting process itself. In an effort to save both time and money, companies increasingly turned to more automated systems as they became available.

One of the more popular machines adopted in the Copper Country was the Walker Casting Machine, a piece of equipment that several area smelters turned to in their later years – including the Quincy Smelting Works. The machine automated almost the entire casting process, from the tapping of the furnace to collecting up the ingots themselves for transportation to the warehouse. Above you can see a general overview of the machine, which consists of two major components – the casting wheel and the ingot conveyor.

The Quincy Smelter installed a customized version of the machine, which was designed specifically for use in the smelter’s casting plant. At its front end – the end facing the No.5 furnace – was the casting wheel. This rotating wheel supported a continuous ring of ingot molds held in place by a series of arms sprawled out from the wheel like spokes. Set in the center of the wheel an operators platform from which the machine was controlled. Behind the casting wheel is a sunken water bath, out of which rises an inclined conveyor. Covering the conveyor are several lines of water jets which spray down onto the conveyors surface. Rounding out the machines components is the conveyor motor attached to the conveyor itself.

The process starts at the furnace itself, where the hearth is tapped with a pouring spout set at its deepest point. The copper running out of the furnace is poured from this spout into a large ladle set on a pivot. When full of copper the ladle is tipped up and its contents are poured into a waiting ingot mold. The mold is attached to a pair of mold arms that are in turn attached to the rotating casting wheel. After the mold is filled, the wheel rotates to bring the next empty ingot mold into position. The process then repeats itself.

At the opposite end of the machine the ingot molds – now filled with copper – are rotated into position about the cooling bath. At this point each mold is tipped over by the action of a metal slide which forces the molds tipping handle to rotate 180º. The ingots are dumped into the cooling bath where they are snatched up by a continuous loop conveyor. The conveyor then raises the ingots up out of the water bath where they are subjected to a cooling spray from a series of water nozzles set along the conveyors length. Once at the top the cooled ingots are dropped onto a staging area before being taken away to the warehouse.

Here’s the casting wheel as it appears today. A few of the mold arms are still attached, though the ingot molds themselves are missing. Those molds would have sat between the arms, set within the pivot points seen at the ends of the arms.

Looking atop the casting wheel we can see what’s left of the operators platform as well. From here a single operator could run the entire process, from the lifting of the filling ladle to the turning of the casting wheel. To the right you can see the pipes from which a spray of water would have been forced down on the ingot conveyor.

Speaking of those water pipes, heres a look at the pumps and intake valves for the water which once ran through them. These pipes would have to supply a continuous supply of water not only to those spray heads, but to the water bath as well. Due to the ingot’s extreme heat, most of the cooling water would be instantly turned to steam and lost. The machine most likely required a great deal of water in order to operate.

Here’s a look at the conveyor motor, which powered the conveyor used to pull the ingots out of the cooling bath below. You can make out the top of the conveyor just behind the motor to the right side of the photo. The casting wheel sits to the left of the picture.

Here’s an opposite angle clearly showing both the ingot conveyor and the water pipes above the cooling bath. To the left of the ingot conveyor is a second conveyor (seen in the photos posts in yesterdays post) which would have brought the cooled ingots to a waiting tram car for transport to the warehouse – which is the subject of our next post.

The Quincy Smelter is private property and is open to the public only during special Quincy Smelter Association’s tours and events.

To learn more about the walker Casting machine and its history be sure to visit the Quincy Smelter Blog for their own virtual tour of the site.

To view more photos from the Quincy Smelter – including some awesome wide angle imagery – be sure to check out the Quincy Smelter Gallery at David Clark Photography!

And of course, if you have any photos of your own to contribute to the discussion, make sure to post them over at the Copper Country forum’s Quincy Smelter Thread.

Discuss…

  1. Great engineering drawings of the wheel…they go a long way towards explaining how it works!

  2. In the piture of the casting machine at the lower left hand corner next to the shovel there looks to be two rats posing for the piture.

  3. ROC…

    Didn’t catch that until you point it out. Its a little creepy but I’m not sure if its just our imaginations playing tricks on us…

    I bet in the winter months the smelter was a real popular place for all sorts of rodents, considering the nice heated buildings and permeable buildings.

  4. It’s so sad what winter and time does to these places. I remember going into the casting room when I was in 5th (ish) grade. The floor was wide open, the casting machine was in MUCH better shape, and the walls and roof were much more there then they are now.

    Of course that was in the days of disposable cameras, so no camera on me then. :(

  5. Took the tour of Quincy Smelter works last summer, the casting building is in much better shape now than when these pictures were taken. The roof has been replaced and the area has been cleaned up. Just happend that the group of people taking the tour that day included an older gentlemen that was a former employee of Quincy and ran the Walker Casting Machine. He was very interesting to listen to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *