The Compressor Foundation

At the beginning there were no compressor houses, due largely to the fact that there were no need for such machines considering air drills hadn’t been invented yet. Mines from this period relied on the rather archaic mining method of using chisels and sledgehammers. It wasn’t until the introduction of the Rand company’s air powered drills around the mid 1870’s that mines began purchasing air compressors and adding them to their surface plants. Since these machines were late additions to the mines, companies would often erect new separate buildings to house them. Surface plants for new shafts, however, were built with the use of air drills in mind and the compressors were then grouped up with the hoists and housed in the same building. This way the mine would reap significant savings in construction costs as well as allow for a much simpler surface layout. This was the case when Mohawk 6 was erected, and this is why the building’s hoist shares space with the mine’s compliment of compressors.


From our vantage point atop the hoist foundation we could see where those compressors had been once located. It was a second foundation, one that looked to span the entire width of the building. It was smaller then the hoist foundation, but far more massive in scale and scope. Unfortunately standing between us and that second foundation was a large canyon which cut its way through the building’s waste. While originally a wooden floor would have covered this opening, today it was long gone leaving no way to traverse the opening. We were forced to climb back down into the catacombs and look for a way up from below.


Once on the ground we headed over to the foundation – which was nothing more than a towering concrete wall that stood several feet above our heads. High up we could see the top, but it was far too high to climb too.  Our best bet would be to find the old steam inlet tunnel, the tunnel through which steam pipes from the neighboring boiler house would have made their way up to the now missing compressors. Those tunnels should lead us up to the foundation’s top.


It didn’t take us long to find the steam tunnel in question, its square opening rather obvious along what is generally nothing more then a sprawling face of concrete. Like Ethan Hunt in some Mission Impossible movie we pulled ourselves up into the opening and crawled our way inside.


After just a few feet the narrow tunnel opened up into this long narrow hall cutting its way through the compressor foundation’s center. We had seen this narrow tunnel before, gazing down its length from a window at its opposite end. The tunnel was only a few feet wide but stood about seven feet in hight. Its walls were rather plain save for a series of small openings found alongside the floor.


A look inside these openings revealed them to house bolts, most likely the bottom end of the anchor bolts used to tied down the compressors to the foundation.


Looking upward we could see a series of openings in the roof. These originally would have provided egress to the compressors for steam pipes, but today would help us make our way on top of the foundation. Lucky for use someone had the same idea, since there was already a make shift ladder leading up through one such opening. We took the invitation and climbed the rather rickety ladder up through the large opening above our heads.


Once on top we found ourselves looking out over a sprawling concrete slab punctuated with three large rectangular openings. Those openings would have provided space for the compressor’s fly wheels, each opening marking the location of a single air compressor. From the trio of openings it looked like the Mohawk featured three air compressors at its peak, two paired off to the right and another set off to the left.


Here’s a closer look at one of those compressor locations. Besides the rather obvious fly wheel slot you can also make out the outlines of where the machine itself once sat. I believe the bottom set would have supported a pair of steam cylinders (one on either side of the slot), while up to the top would have sat a pair of air cylinders (once again one on each side of the slot). It was within those air cylinders that the compressed air would have been created. (for a look at what these machines would have looked like, check my air compressors post for an overview).


Mounting this machine to the foundation were a series of iron bolts, just like these two. The other end of these bolts sits seven feet below here, protruding into one of those small openings we explored earlier.


Nearby we find another open slot – this one having been our egress point for getting up here in the first place. Looking down into is maw you can see the makeshift ladder that we used to climb up here. At first we thought this opening was just a ladder way and not a third fly wheel opening, but along its perimeter can be found the same rough outlines in the concrete as was found around the other two fly wheel openings. This was Compressor No.3.


Stepping back we take another look at the three compressor locations sprawled out at our feet. That third location – the one with the makeshift ladder peeking up out of it – is a rather odd creature compared to its brethren. Not only does it face the wrong direction, the foundation outlines surrounding it looking quite different. That’s because that third compressor was a later addition, the building originally only housing the two compressors seen in the foreground above. But compressors can only power a finite number of drills, and as the mine deepened and work expanded underground more drills would have been required. With more drills comes an increased need for air, air that these two guys couldn’t fulfill. So another compressor was added to the mix.


Turning around we take one last look out across the rest of the massive complex. Just to our right was the remains of a doorway, which when the building was in operation would have led directly onto the main floor. Now with the floor gone it would lead to a quick drop down into a hole.


Looking our across the way we see the hoist foundation sitting just beyond the canyon. Far past that the building’s massive walls fade into the surrounding forest, as that end of the building had been demolished long ago in order to remove the massive steam machinery once found here.


Meanwhile gazing out the window by our side we see the neighboring walls of the boiler house as well – half shrouded in the surrounding forest that was slowly enveloping the complex. The darkness of that forest was becoming more pronounced thanks to the setting sun ducking behind the tree line. With that it was time to call it a day and make our way back out of the massive structure. As we made our way through the thick forest that surrounded it we wondered if the building would still be here years from now, or it too will succumb to the ravages of time and fall like so many others have. I guess we’ll have to wait and see….

The remains of the Mohawk No.6 surface plant sit on private property and are not open to the public


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