Pouring the Keel

The plan was to build a mold, melt the lead, pour it into the mold and have a beer while it cooled off.  Sounds easy enough.  But the logistics of melting seven tons of lead requires some thought.

The lead was to be melted with an open fire in steel drums split length-wise to form a trough.  I’m not certain how many of these they used but more than one.  Firewood had to be cut and stocked.  A mold was built from wood and lined with some sort of asbestos cloth.  A weekend was selected so that there would be a suitable crew of volunteers.  The fire was built, the drums halves positioned, the lead ingots loaded in.  They had some kind of ladling device to spoon the molten lead into the mold.  The trick would be to keep it moving so that the lead would cool as a single unit in the mold.  They did everything to prepare except consult their science textbook to discover the melting point of tin.  

Lead melts at 621.4 degrees Fahrenheit and tin at 449.5.  As it turns out the screw-in plugs in the ends of the drum were cast from a tin alloy.  It held up long enough for  for the lead to become molten but not long enough to ladle it into the mold.  The plugs let go and dumped most of their seven tons of lead on to the ground!

So the lead was collected.  The rocks and dirt picked out as well as possible and the plan was set for the next weekend.  Firewood had to be cut and stacked.  I presume they found plugs to screw into the drums made from black iron or something with a higher temperature rating.  The whole process started anew.  The drums held up fine, but this time the mold broke.  It’s funny now, but I bet they didn’t see the humor in it then.

So, the plan was moved back to another weekend.  This time they had to cut and stock firewood and dig a hole in the ground in which to place the mold so that it would have enough support to contain the lead.  This time around they had miscalculated on how much wood was needed and they ran out before the lead was thoroughly melted!  I assume now that they may have selected a different species of wood that did not have as many BTUs to offer or they were so worn out from digging holes and moving lead around that they cut too little wood.

Another attempt was halted when it started raining so hard that the molten lead was popping like hot grease in a frying pan and none of the workers could get next to it.  It took five attempts to get the lead poured into the mold!


Dooley told me this tale with his typical good natured humor.   I was not sure at the time of telling whether I was supposed to laugh or not.  I did anyway.   

The boat had to be jacked up far enough to position the lead so that it could be bolted on using heavy aluminum bronze rod to make the bolts.  This has to be a lot easier said than done.

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