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Pouring “ahun” in New Albany

Melted iron at about 3000 degrees, not something one sees every day in New Albany

New Albany, MS-

Ahun? What is ahun — A-H-U-N ?

More than a few first-time readers of William Faulkner, especially those not from the American South, have gone in vain to their dictionaries to find the word. No luck. Not even in the big ten-pound unabridged Webster’s International Dictionary. It’s still not in the most recent edition of Webster’s.

Now, however, you can Google it and learn in a few seconds that Ahun is a farming area in France. It’s also the name of a village in Iran with a population of less than a thousand people.

Still, those definitions just do not make sense in the context of Faulkner’s 1931 novel The Sound and the Fury. In the story, Benji’s hands are cold on a sunny, but freezing, winter day in Mississippi, because he was “holding on to that ahun gate.”

“Ahun” was the featured item in a dramatic demonstration Saturday afternoon on the left bank of the Little Tallahatchie River in New Albany. Nothing cold about it though. The “ahun” (iron) Saturday afternoon  reached a temperature of about 3,000 degrees fahrenheit, more than 30 times hotter than the temperature on that last day of the 2016 Faulkner Literary Festival.

In mid-morning, while the BNA Bank/Baptist Hospital 5K races were still underway, the crew from Alabama Art Casting from Tannehill Ironworks Historic State Park in McCalla, AL, started putting together their portable foundry. They brought from McCalla, located about 150 miles away southeast of Birmingham, virtually everything they needed to melt and pour gray iron: the small foundry in several pieces, coke (a refined form of coal), a pickup truck-load of safety equipment, scrap iron (from old bathtubs, automobiles, railroad and implement parts, etc.), even a cubic yard or two of sand for safety purposes.

Melted iron flowing out of the foundry into ladle

Melted iron flowing out of the foundry into ladle

Iron, a metal represented by the chemical symbol Fe, is the most common element on Earth, forming much of the planet’s outer and inner cores. It melts at about 2,800 degrees fahrenheit and boils at 5,182 degrees F. Iron was smelted as long as 7,000 years ago in China, but was not used much in Europe until the Middle Ages. The basic technology for  melting iron has changed very little over the last 70 centuries.

Saturday afternoon the foundrymen from Alabama combined coke with scrap iron in their small cupola furnace to melt the iron to its liquid temperature. An electric blower “blasted” extra oxygen into the fire to make it burn at the required high temperature.

When the iron was melted, the foundrymen “tapped” the furnace and the stream of red/white iron flowed out at about 3,000 degrees F and into a small refractory-lined ladle handled by two workmen. The molten iron was then poured into 6 x 6 inch molds, formed from scratch blocks onto which designs had been carved by art students and other local people.

Seeing iron flow out of a furnace and poured into a mold at 3,000 degrees was a dramatic sight, one not previously experienced by most of the people there Saturday.

The demonstration by Alabama Art Casting was among the last of many events during the month-long Faulkner Literary Fest.

Among organizations and individuals who contributed to the success of the 2016 Faulkner Literary Festival were:

City of New Albany, BNA Bank, Rotary Club., Sugarees
Art classes of NAHS and NAMS, NAES
Lee Ann Thompson, Tracy Vanisi, Julie Eaton, Nina Beth Capaning
Museum Guild, Tallahatchie Literary Committee, Lynn Madden,
Linda Everett, Anita Buster, Union County Library, Anchor Club, Humane Society


(click to enlarge/download photos)



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