The way Grafton was

You’ve probably heard that Google is now hosting the photo archives for “Life” magazine. Maybe you’ve even gone and Googled for classic images and famous people.

But have you looked for Grafton? Surprisingly, it’s here.

LIFE Magazine image

LIFE Magazine photo

This was shot in 1952 in North Grafton by Life photographer Al Fenn, part of a series of North Grafton factory shots. All it says is “Air Force Heavy Press at North Grafton, Mass.”

LIFE Magazine photo

LIFE Magazine photo

Part of the same series…

LIFE Magazine photo

LIFE Magazine photo

I’m guessing these are what they were actually making for the Air Force?

LIFE Magazine photo

LIFE Magazine photo

There are several pages from this series, many just small variations on the same scene. Really fascinating.

There’s just something about black and white photography. Sigh.

The smell of the darkroom chemicals! The experience of seeing the image float to the surface of the paper! The feel of that slippery paper in the tray! The flirting with the cute musician as you hung out by the dryer!

OK, that last one was probably just me. But trust me, setting Photoshop to “grayscale” just isn’t quite the same experience.

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4 thoughts on “The way Grafton was

  1. I have a great uncle (In his late 80’s now) who was an engineer for the U.S. military during WWII. He would always tell me stories about flying into the North Grafton airport (Now Airport field) to pick up “Special” parts for planes flying “Secret” missions during the war. He is still sharp as a tack…I saw him a few months ago (Sadly enough at my mother’s funeral) and he started in with the same stories…”Oh you’re Bobby from North Grafton, did I ever tell you about…” I could listen to these same stories forever. God bless him.

  2. Those, I believe, are shots of the “largest steel press in the world” at Wyman-Gordon. When I was in school at GHS, I remember our science teacher (Mr. Wheeler) telling us about when the pieces of the 50,000 ton steel press were brought to the North Grafton plant on a special train, and about the rigging equipment built just to move it from the tracks behind the building, and into the building. All hush-hush, very secret stuff, too! At that time, he said, they were making huge aeronautical parts, and even parts for NASA.

    I have no idea how much was propaganda (early 1960’s) or fact, though.

    The only other part of the story I remember was that he claimed “the russians tried to make a bigger one, but failed.”

  3. I suspected it might be Wyman-Gordon — my dad always commented when we had a soccer game there that it was surprising to be allowed past the gates, which simply wouldn’t have happened in Cold War times.

  4. This is from the Air Force Heavy Press program, which had its genesis in the discovery of very large, forged aluminum parts in German aircraft. The forgings were so large that they could not have been made in the United States at the time. It was suspected that this meant that the German metallurgical industries had extremely large presses for their forging and extrusion needs, and indeed this turned out to be correct. A crash program to develop a large press resulted in a 17,000 ton press being installed at Wyman-Gordon in Grafton. After the war a 33,000 ton press was discovered in Germany along with a 17,000 ton one. We obtained the 17,000 ton press (along with a 5,000 ton press), but the 33,000 ton press was installed in the USSR.

    As the Cold War got underway, fears of the Soviet press along with rumors of a larger one in construction (a 55,000 ton press) prompted the United States Air Force to implement a program for a much larger press. The Air Force heavy press program was instituted, and at the cost of $279m (1955 dollars) two 50,000 ton presses by the Mesta Machine Company of Pittsburgh were built. One was installed in the Cleveland area to be operated by Alcoa, and the other was installed in Grafton to be operated by Wyman-Gordon. Both presses are still in operation, the Wyman-Gordon press has forged many components for large aircraft including the 747 over the years. The Alcoa press is currently employed in making the aluminum alloy bulkheads for the new F-35 fighter jet.

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