And the Ladler Always Gets the Girl

Todd Eden is ready to begin work. He's wearing a thick leather apron, welder's gloves, ear plugs, safety goggles, and a heat-shield mask. Following company regulations, his feet are protected by heavy-duty boots, his torso clothed in long-sleeve, 100% cotton, and his legs in denim jeans. Last, he straps on a hot-palm, a sheath that encases the hand that bears most of the weight, and all of the heat, from a sixty-pound ladle full of liquid fire.

Over the next half hour, Todd will repeat a cautious, coordinated dance—about 45 times. There will be no audience. He stands alone, leaning on the massive steel ladle. It weighs in at 45 pounds, empty. In the semi-darkness, lit by red-orange light from the glowing furnace doors, he looks like an armed guard at the gates of The Fiery Inferno.

His cue to begin is a white light, connected to a timer, that signals the ladler and opens the furnace door simultaneously. It will illuminate every 40 seconds during Todd's shift. On cue, he hoists the ladle, left hand forward, and glides toward the heat, mindful of every step. The roar of the burners and the reverberation of giant blowers are lost on plugged ears. Todd works in imposed isolation, encapsulated by the equipment that allows him to function, for thirty minutes at a time, in a hostile environment.

Molten glass, as it is carried, casts off more than extreme heat. It sheds "stringers"—strands of burning glass fiber as thin as a wisp of cotton candy. Hot stringers burn through polyester before making contact, but roll off natural fibers, leaving a trace charred black. The hot-palm that protects his left hand is made of three heavy layers of rugged leather. When two of them have burned through, the hot-palm will be discarded and replaced.

We are making "307S," a product that consists of a 50-50 mix of clear glass and white opal. But Todd sees only slight variations of intense yellow and radiant orange. The clear glass is flowing on its own accord, down a 30-foot channel toward the sheet-froming rolls. This is the famous "continuous stream" at Spectrum. There's an open window in the channell—the ladling bay—where Todd will pour his molten white opal, every forty seconds, on cue. His action is not a "dump," it is a deliberate pour, starting downstream and issuing upstream, evenly, rhythmically. A "short pour" (too much, too fast), concentrates too much opal, makes the product too dense. A "long pour" (too little, too slow) spreads the opal too far, leaving the proportions thin, the product "washed out."

Todd makes his pour and then hefts the ladle, trailing bright orange stringers, to the third point in the triangle, a bin of treated cooling water. A gush of heady steam sighs forth when the hot ladle is immersed. With a practiced twist, leveraged and efficient, Todd lifts the ladle from the water tank and lets it fall to his side. Assuming the "armed guard" position once more, he enjoys a brief respite before the white light summons him again.


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