Friday, May 30, 2008

The trail begins, sort of...

Here it is late Friday, early Saturday, the day we are due to leave on the first leg of the Iron Trail to the Arctic, and...well some of us will indeed leave tomorrow/today and some won't. Donnie and Forrest Goodhue will go to Clarendon, TX to pour the first iron pour of the trail, I will still be here, finishing up stuff, making molds, etc. Donnie and Forrest will pour on Sunday evening as planned, then they turn around and come back to Houston. The Clarendon pour will be the first test of the new, 10 inch diameter furnace that will continue to the arctic.

The first refractory lining didn't set-up. After a reline with a ramable refractory instead of the castable, it has been burned in, maybe... the coke is still lit, and a small blower is on overnight, backburning the furnace to try to get the well area burned in better. It is always better to have the well of the furnace burned in completely or you get cold metal until it burns itself in.
The Clarendon crew will have all the charges broken and weighed. An evening pour on the prairies of panhandle Texas should be pretty spectacular. I hope all goes well.

When Donnie and Forrest get back, Donnie ships castings from his last pour, we finish all molds that go to Wiseman, AK in the arctic, load and pack and then set off once more with the complete complement on the road to Denver for the Western Iron Conference (info,, I need to ask someone abut that acronym). The plan is to get there for Wayne Potratz's keynote speech, pick up the students who flew in, bivouac at my sister's house, participate as much as possible, and join in the group production pour next Saturday. We're not really a production machine, but its what we have.

And the news of the blog itself is that Pat Garley from Palmer, AK will be posting the progress from the Alaska end. It has the advantage that we all know whats going on and where we stand time-wise, who has made it to various gathering points, and also keep anyone who is interested abreast of the project. No pictures yet of much of anything, perhaps later.

Until next time, may your botts stick.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Iron Trail to the Arctic

“Iron Trail to the Arctic”
Arctic Circle Iron Pour: Summer Solstice 2008

The Project

What do you do with 24 hours of daylight? For the participants of the “Iron Trail to the Arctic”, we pour cast iron sculptures north of the Arctic Circle; something that hasn’t been attempted on the North American continent, as far as we have been able to ascertain. The team of sculptors and commercial foundrymen will pour sculptures in cast iron using a small version of a traditional coke fueled cupola furnace. The pieces will become a permanent installation at the Wiseman Village, Alaska site. Taking advantage of the extended daylight period, the sculptures can be cast, cooled, surface finished, and installed in a single “day”.

Sculptors Wendy Croskrey, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Patrick Garley of Arctic Fires Bronze Sculpture Works in Palmer, Alaska, and Meredith Jack, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX will be under the direction of Donnie Keen of Keen Foundry, Houston, TX to produce the commemorative cast iron sculptures. Students from the participating universities and other participants may be added as the project continues.

The Beginnings

As is usual in unusual events, the project germinated following a chance meeting. Pat Garley and Donnie Keen were both participating in an academic iron pour event at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM. The Alaskan sculptor and Texas commercial foundry owner found that they had a mutual fascination with both iron casting and the arctic. Subsequent conversations and general planning sessions brought Wendy Croskrey and Meredith Jack, who have been casting iron in academic venues for a number of years, into the group. It was decided that the only truly appropriate day of the year for such an event would be a summer solstice.

One of the primary impediments to such a project is the prohibitively high freight charges for bulk materials such as coke fuel when shipped to Alaska. Our solution is to bring it with us from Texas in sufficient quantity to supply both the project and a number of academic and sculpture studios in Alaska. Final costs to these venues will depend on the prevailing price of coke fuel at the time and transportation expenses for the coke fuel and the project participants.


Obviously the primary objective is to successfully cast and install cast iron sculptures north of the Arctic Circle. However there are several other facets to the program; one is to spread the use of cast iron as a sculptural material and to train participants from the workshop areas to make their own sculptures in the media. The inclusion of students from various institutions into the project furthers their educational experience; and the availability of the coke fuel that we will transport will spread the use of cast iron as a sculptural material

Another major facet of this project is to demonstrate that casting iron really isn’t rocket science and that any reasonably competent person can build and operate an iron casting facility, anywhere.

The cast iron that will be used to create the art pieces will be cast iron scrap from local sources. This iron will be melted and recast into objects of art both functional and conceptual.


The project will be presented at academic and industrial conferences. Both Meredith Jack and Donnie Keen have been involved with the past International Conferences on Contemporary Cast Iron Art and the biennial Southern Iron Conferences, where the project will be presented. Modern Casting, the journal of the American Foundry Society, has indicated an interest in printing an article about the project. Other media outlets are being explored and we expect extensive local coverage around the workshops. There will be exhaustive documentation from beginning to end.

Scope of the Project

The operational plan is to drive a truck from Texas to Alaska with the coke fuel and any necessary materials and equipment. The trail will begin in Houston, TX on Sunday May 31, 2008. Our first stop is in Clarendon, TX where we have scheduled our first iron pour; however, there is a “burn-ban” in place right now that may postpone that pour until after Alaska. From Clarendon we travel on to Denver, CO where we will take part in the new Western Cast Iron Conference from June 3-7. Both Donnie Keen and Meredith Jack will participate on panels for the conference and we may do a demonstration pour; that hasn’t been ascertained yet. From Denver the trail leads to Bellingham, WA, where on June 13th the truck and passengers board the coastal ferry to Haines, AK.

The ferry arrives in Haines on June 16th, and then the trail becomes a driving trip once more with the run towards Wiseman, with a stop in Fairbanks to pick up participants who have flown there. Also the truck participants meet up in Fairbanks with the group that has started from Palmer and Anchorage. We estimate that the last drive to Wiseman from Fairbanks will take one to two days.

Wiseman is 50 miles north of the arctic circle, a journey 300 miles north of Fairbanks up the Dalton Highway. Upon arrival, we set up the equipment and materials for the iron pour on Saturday June 21st. On Sunday we clean up the site and Monday begin the long trek back down the Dalton Highway, through Fairbanks where those participants who are flying out of Fairbanks will leave the trail.

Further travel gets us to Wasilla, AK, northeast of Anchorage, to do a second iron pour and workshop. The iron pour will be on Saturday June 28th at the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry in Wasilla. This pour will be part of the “Art on Fire Festival” which will also feature artists demonstrating other art forms that use fire as part of the process such as blacksmiths and raku fired ceramics. Arctic Fires Bronze Sculpture Works and the Valley Arts Alliance are the contacts for this event. Prior to the Wasilla Pour, there will be mold making workshops held at Arctic Fires Bronze sculpture works in Palmer, AK. Those participants who are flying out of Anchorage will leave the trail after the Wasilla workshop.

The final event will be a workshop and iron pour in the city of Kenai, AK, 200 miles south of Anchorage, on July 4th. Presented by Arctic Fires Sculpture Workshop and Metal Magic Custom Metal Fabrication, the pour will be part of the City of Kenai’s Fourth of July celebration.

Those participants who are flying out of Anchorage can leave the trail after the Wasilla workshop or the Kenai Iron Pour and the vehicle will begin the long trail back to Houston.

Meredith Jack and Donnie Keen will be available for lectures &/or workshops while in transit to the arctic and back. Everything from a complete iron casting foundry to plans and specifications for a cupola furnace and ancillary equipment are available.

Meredith Jack and Donnie Keen have over half a century of iron casting experience between them. Keen Foundry was founded in 1959 by Donnie Keen’s father. Donnie has operated the foundry since 1987 and has iron and aluminum capacities to 5000 pounds.

Meredith Jack has been casting in academic venues since the 1970’s and has worked with Keen Foundry since 1994. He has built and demonstrated furnaces with capacities from eight to 450 pounds. He and Lamar University have the unique distinction of having built &/or operated cupola furnaces at all five of the International Conferences on Contemporary Cast Iron Art, beginning in 1988 in Birmingham, AL, through the Ironbridge, England conference in 2006.

Contact Information:

Donnie Keen
Keen Foundry
1518 Mesquite
Houston, TX 77093

Meredith Jack
5219 Cochran
Houston, TX 77009

Patrick Garley
15615 Outer Springer Loop
Palmer, AK 99645

Scott Hamann
Metal Magic custom metal fabrication
P.O. box 934
Kenai, AK 99611

Project Sponsors

At this point in the project we have sponsorship from:

Ashland Chemical Co.
Through their local distributor in Houston, Porter-Warner SW.

ABC Coke Co.
Birmingham, AL

Keen Foundry
Houston, TX

Arctic Fires Sculpture Workshop
Palmer, AK

Village of Wiseman
Wiseman, AK

Metal Magic Custom Metal Fabrication
Kenai, AK

City of Kenai
Kenai, AK

Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry
Wasilla, AK

Valley Arts Alliance
Wasilla, AK
Jacksonville, FL

Further sponsorship is actively solicited, contact Patrick Garley, Meredith Jack, or Donnie Keen for details and opportunities to participate.