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An Interesting Film (Not for the Faint of Heart!)

Started by xylenol15, June 08, 2012, 01:29:00 PM

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A lot of you have probably looked at the AT&T Tech Archives. For those of you who haven't, there are some great vintage Bell System era films there. It's kind of funny because now that AT&T is no longer part of the Bell System, whoever writes the video descriptions actually pokes fun at the films-something I don't think would happen otherwise.

Anyway, given Western Electric's thorough reuse of parts, I was surprised to see what looked like lots of whole telephones make an appearance in this film:

Is anyone familiar with why phones would be scrapped wholesale instead of being refurbed or parted out? Was there some formula involving labor costs, scrap prices and new telephone demand? I'd like to hear from anyone who worked at the Nassau Smelting and Refining Works. The closest I've seen in a post is dpaynter1066, who worked at the Western Electric smelter after it had been moved to the Carolinas. Maybe some of our members are a little shy about their past work?   ;)

Greg G.

The guy at about 8:50 looks like Rick Moranis!
The idea that a four-year degree is the only path to worthwhile knowledge is insane.
- Mike Row


Hee, I agree, although it helps that those glasses were as common as WE 500s back in the 70s  :D


There was an identical facility in Gaston South Carolina, I worked construction there one summer putting in an expansion smelter.  And just as in this move, there was everything from Antique telephones to current models to PbX and switchboard equipment and miles of any kind of wire.  

All of it shredded and melted down into ingots.  

there is a post about it somewhere on the boards I posted earlier.

they resold the various scrap metals and plastic, and the ocasional gold ingot too.


As luck would have it, I arrived back at the film using a search yesterday and found this:

Interestingly, you can see the attitudes about the environment changing; right off the bat the narrator mentions the attempts to quell pollution at the plant. Note also how the discussion of lead includes a discussion of safety not present in the first film. The workers in the Gaston plant are also wearing full face respirators instead of (what looked like to me) simple dust masks as seen in the Staten Island film.
The plant itself also looks much more sophisticated than the one on Staten Island; I remember thinking that some of the operation looked sort of primitive, in particular the bits of the film where they were working with the precious metal recovery reagents, and the copper ladling. All in all a big leap forward in technology and culture in 5 years, though of course the Staten Island plant started in 1931. 

dpaynter, I did read you comment in the other thread. The parts that stuck with me were your recollections of piles of phones and the fuss made over the first gold bar from the smelter.  ;D

Any of this look familiar to you?  ;)


Wow, that film brings back a lot of memories.  I instantly recognised the distinctive buildings at that plant.  I was a teenager then, working construction during summer vacation from High School.  We were building large concrete forms for footings used  for mounting machinery at various levels.

The thing you can't really get from these films was the sheer size and scale of the operation.  Long trains of boxcars and open top gondola cars full of telephone scrap arrived at the siding and were unloaded constantly, being mounded up in a large field outside the building.  There was a constant swarm of forklifts moving things around.   It was full of life and movement swarming like ants. 

Most of that storage area wasnt shown in the film as it was untidy and looked like a typical junkyard untill you looked closer and realized it was made of telephones and snarled wads of wire just laying out on the bare ground.  the neat rows of bins full of scrap shown were inside the plant and ready for the smelter.   

A vast amount of materials were processed through those furnaces, they ran 24 hours 7 days a week for years.  I suppose AT&T was emptying out all their national wearhouses of new, old and obsolete stock telephones and equipment as the stuff I saw was pristine looking.

I passed by the area recently and it's nothing but an empty grassy field now,  no clue a vast enterprise was once there.   Much like the bell system I guess.


Here is what the Gaston site looks like now.   The photo of the plant in the film was looking from the opposite interstate side from this view. 


Not to beat this to death, but to answer your question of why did they do this,  read pages 34 to 42 of the pdf at this address
"What did AT&T Nassau know and when did they know it?"   (  The Nassau site is a toxic superfund cleanup site )


Beat it to death? Not at all! I thought that was a very interesting document, thanks.


Bumping this thread for those who missed it.

Still (below) from second link shows aerial view of just some of the huge Nassau crates containing Bell materials for recycling.
A collector of  'Monochrome Phones with Sepia Tones'   ...and a Duck!
Vintage Phones - 10% man made, 90% Tribble