Darkness came hours ago. The city has fallen
Once the drinkers who scatter like
light-frightened cockroaches at closing time drive away, silence falls.
After the rusty mufflers fade into the distance, a quiet peace shrouds the city like a comfy quilt.
The big old house is very comfortable. The staircases which
never squeak. The cedar beams underneath. The moon through a stained glass landing
window is a "moon of color." In this place's eighty years how many eyes have looked through
that window at the moon? The house is warm and dark and not a sound is heard. It
is a sleeper's paradise. Why am I awake?
Nearby, acres of rusty, unused buildings sit quietly decaying under a fresh snowfall.
When this small city was a bustling center of manufacturing, a
whistle would signal the shift change at
the factories. The bray of the factory whistle at midnight could travel miles
across the city, warning sandy-eyed, sleepy spouses to get supper ready
at one in the morning. Those whistles are gone.
When raw metal arrived at The Stanley Works to be made
into tools and hardware, the train whistled its arrival. When iron and steel
in flat sheets arrived at the Fafnir Bearing plant, the train whistled its
arrival. Landers, Frary and Clark would turn their trainloads of raw metal
into gleaming kitchen appliances. The trains would leave with a whistle,
also, the freight cars filled with boxes marked "Made in New Britain,
Connecticut." The boxes contained not raw materials but finished work, good
work, the result of man and machine in harmony.
A futuristic-looking pleasure to behold, the MixMasters
and the meat mincers and the ice crushers made by Landers, Frary and Clark
had sturdy metal casings, with chrome trim. Inside, solid steel works
powered by quiet motors made fast work of their given tasks. A MixMaster,
with accessories, was something every household could afford and once
acquired would last forever (with a little oiling).
The Fafnir bearings will go into the automobiles now
being churned out to keep up with the post-war demand. And the Stanley
Works, the factory that started it all here, was working 24 hours to produce
tools and hardware to build new homes for the soldiers who came home and the
women who married them before they left.
Downtown on a Saturday night, the young men would whistle
when a lovely girl went by. A factory guy could drink his
fill (Rheingold, Pabst Blue Ribbon or Schlitz) for a couple of dollars.
Big spenders took whiskey; Fleischmann's, Four Roses or Seagram's; bet on
pool games and otherwise get into trouble for half a sawbuck. Big bands played the music everyone danced to in the dance halls and
the town's one supper club. "Pardon me boy, is this the Chattanooga
Choo-Choo?" The vocalist would sing and the band would imitate the whistling
of the trains.
Broad Street is where you go for the Polish food so dear
to the hearts of those who built this city. Great-grandparents came over to
work in the Stanley factory, to learn a trade. Today Broad Street is one of
the few things left of what the city once was, albeit tarnished and
Now the trains travel around the city and under the new
highways. No whistles any more from the trains that come through, but for on a
summer's day acknowledging the presence of the young men who dare to swim in the
filthy creek under the railroad bridge. So no whistles tonight.
It's a time machine I seek. I dismiss the comfort of the
big old house and walk down the hill and find a rusty door open or a huge
window ajar. The oil-soaked wooden floor still smells of the milling
machines which stood there majestically. Somewhere a chair sits in front of
a desk. I take my seat and wait. I inhale deeply of the aging scent of
machine oil mixing with the fresh air from outside. Now the moon is pure
white, seen through a window frame that hasn't seen glass in years.
The two o'clock freight will be here soon. I carefully
unpack my paper bag (a homely carrier for the instruments essential for the
creation of a time machine). I pour the Schlitz into the small
glass and put two quarters on the desk. A thick shot glass with a white ring
'round the edge is filled from the pint of Four Roses. I carefully open the
white paper wrapper holding the pickled Polish sausage and the pickled egg.
A sip of beer and I hear it; the train's approaching. An engine and perhaps
eight freight cars will soon pass just yards away.
The engine hums and I toast the train's arrival with the
whiskey, followed by some of the beer. The smell of the machine oil
pleasantly surrounds me. Then the train wheels, rattling and squealing against the
steel rails, are what turn the empty building into a vibrant factory for
just as long as it takes the train to pass. As the roar of the train fades
into the distance, I finish the beer and pour another, eating the sausage
and egg (like so many of the factory workers did mid-shift). My time machine
has worked yet again! So sad it works for but a few minutes' time, only once
Upon returning home, I ascend the three floors to my
bedroom. The solid, silent stairs don't disclose my arrival at this peculiar
hour. What would I tell someone who was awake upon return? Where had I been? Why, of
course; I'd been working in the New Britain Machine Tool Factory in 1945.