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Forging Steel at Finkl & Sons in Chicago

Forging Steel at Finkl & Sons in Chicago

One of the the great things about riding a bike is that you interact with your surroundings more than in a car, and you tend to ‘see’ your surroundings more.  Biking is not the same as walking,  mind you – I  have time to observe a lot more  when I’m walking than when I’m biking  – but I’m much more a part of my surroundings for good and bad. I  notice more, when I’m on a bike as opposed to driving a car.  It’s also easier to stop and check out your surroundings when you are on a bike.  This was especially true this past weekend when I was running errands and cut across the city on a common east-west bike route, Cortland Avenue.  Due to the north branch of the Chicago river,  there are few east-west route options open to cyclists trying to head west from the Lakeview, Lincoln Park or Old Town neighborhoods.  Both Webster Avenue and Cortland Avenue are popular, but Webster can be a bit dicey on the east side of the river (Movie theater traffic + Barnes & Noble + crappy pavement + crazy intersection) .  Cortland on the other hand, has a wide bike lane on one side of the street, less traffic, somewhat slower traffic, and it runs right through the middle of a steel mill!  I always see  one or three cyclists when I’m riding, walking, or driving down  Cortland.

A. Finkl & Sons

It was no different this past weekend, even though it was a bit chilly (low 20s) with a strong wind blowing out of the west.  I saw cyclists riding the other direction and was passed by at least one rider as he/she moved by me when I stopped for a light.  As I approached one of the giant bay doors that line the A. Finkl & Sons steel mill on the north side of the street, I saw that one door was open and sparks were flying.  I’ve always enjoyed the fact that you can sometimes catch a glimpse of a real working steel mill while you’re riding through the city, so I slowed down and pulled up on the sidewalk.  It was my lucky day because this time they were welding or forging something right inside the door.  As soon as I got off my bike, they stopped the welding or forging whatever it is they were doing.  I thought my luck had turned from good to bad  until I saw an enormous hook moving across the mill. It was holding a giant pipe, which after some time I understood to be a carrier for a recently forged piece of metal.  They moved it into place, slide the new steel out, and started working on it right there in front of Oma and I.  I had to stand back since I was not wearing any protective gear, and I didn’t want my groceries to start on fire from a spark,  but I could easily stand on the sidewalk and still have a ringside seat to something I just don’t see everyday.

Finkl & Sons- Cortland Avenue Chicago

Finkl & Sons- Cortland Avenue Chicago

Finkl & Sons- Cortland Avenue Chicago

Finkl & Sons- Cortland Avenue Chicago

Oma and I just stood and watched through the open door while they moved and positioned the steel into the exact location.  The guys inside were certainly not feeling the cold wind and the heat from the mill made it a little easier for me to stand there in the cold and watch them work.  Once the new piece of steel was in place they got back to work welding or forging just like they had been when I first pulled up.

Finkl & Sons- Cortland Avenue Chicago

A quick search on Yelp shows that I’m not the only person to enjoy riding down Cortland with the hope of catching a glimpse of the steelworkers melting or forging steel. However, there were an equal number of posters that will be glad to see A. Finkl & Sons leave the city and take their pollution and toxic chemicals with them. Yes, the company was sold in 2007 and word is that they will be moving this plant, one that has been in this location for over 100 years, to another location, possibly also in Chicago.  I enjoy the gritty, work-a-day, industrial parts of the city, probably because I like to see what’s behind the facade, what makes everything go. So, I’ll be sad to see  this odd steel mill, sandwiched between a neighborhood of million dollar townhouses and another of gentrified two-flats, move away. Even if it is probably better for my health.

I”ll have to be sure to keep riding this way though, because I’ve also heard, but can’t confirm, that the city periodically trucks in loads of confiscated firearms to this mill so that they can be melted down.   You just never know what you’re going to see when you are out on your bike.

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