Navy Blues

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Albany, Industrial, Institutional, Memphis

Once we got out of the power plant, the rest of Amsterdam was more or less a bust. Without cars, or a solid idea of where we were going, the best we could do was guess and look around, wandering from one seemingly derelict building to another without finding any of them quite dead enough. We eventually settled for a stop at a bar downtown, and waiting for our bus to Albany and onward.

The bus finally arrived about half an hour late, and thoroughly packed, besides being the last one of the day. The driver wanted to leave us, and a few other travelers, stranded in Amsterdam but with some palavering he agreed to let us on even though there were no seats. As soon as the bus started moving, we were serenaded to “Fat Bottomed Girls”, belted out by, well, a fat-bottomed girl. The next 45 minutes consisted of “only in America” weirdness that would make even less sense in the written word as it did at the time. Once that was over, we did get to Albany though, and went to a Thai restaurant I’d eaten at a few times before, then on a bus to Watervliet for a night explore at AlTech Steel.

As soon as we got to AlTech, something felt wrong. It was one of those explores for me where I just started going through the motions, didn’t even bother to take a single picture the whole time (all of a few minutes) that we were there, and as ennui as I felt, Ben was downright creeped out by the place, all he wanted was a few shots from the roof, and I couldn’t find the way up, all the paths between the buildings consumed by night and summertime growth. That and maybe I was a bit too sober for AlTech, I’d never been there even remotely close to sober.

So we disposed of the rest of the night waiting too long at the bus station, then going to New York, and from there to Newark, and a plane to Atlanta, and another plane to Memphis. This was supposed to be the highlight of our trip: a rare tour of Memphis Marine Hospital, a more or less untouched and unexplored complex just south of downtown on the Mississippi River. We arrived at the hospital to the typical Southern hospitality, a table set out in front to welcome us, and an open door to explore as we pleased!

And it was everything I could have hoped for, even if I found myself there with an inert brick of a camera, and a point and shoot I’d just bought in Albany…

It only took me a few minutes to discover that my camera woes weren’t over. As if I didn’t have enough trouble already, the battery on this thing lasted maybe 1/10 as long as my actual camera, and it started spontaneously shutting off after every shot.

And then, having seen just half of one building, that camera failed completely, and of course, being an abandoned building, there wasn’t a working outlet to be found.

I was reduced to a smartphone for my photo-taking abilities. Not exactly my brightest moment. I should be better at this living in the Instagram generation but I’ve never really tried to take serious phone photos. Some people can do amazing things with an Android — for that matter some people can do amazing things with a camera and I manage mediocre things. Oh well.

Given the situation, I felt like it was my obligation to take a selfie.

This must have gone over so well in a Navy hospital?

Power Struggle

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Albany, Industrial

I’ve heard it’s possible that sometimes everything goes according to plan. I say bullshit. We made plenty of plans, big ones, too big even — exploring Albany, Memphis and Chicago in one crazy jet-setting weekend, taking advantage of some deeply discounted Southwest tickets. I was ready to give just about anything a try, I had a chance to meet up with a real explorer, and one coming all the way from England no less, so I aimed to impress, as much as I could at my level anyway, and went along as the plans got bigger and bolder.

The trip could hardly have gotten off to a more inauspicious start. Still half (or more) drunk from overdoing it hashing the night before, dumbass me set my alarm for when the train was supposed to leave, without setting aside any time to get to the station. I hauled ass as fast as I could there, got to the station 25 minutes late, and somehow managed to catch the train that was 26 minutes late. About halfway between Utica and Amsterdam the sun came up and I wanted to get some pictures of the foggy morning, and my camera would not turn on! I thought it might be the battery and plugged it in…still nothing happened! So I googled away frantically for any possible resets, and nothing seemed to work. Defeated, an explorer with no camera, I wandered over to a park and contemplated taking the thing apart, and eventually settled for whacking it against a park bench a few times in case the old sledgehammer fix might do the trick. It didn’t.

Eventually Ben’s train came in, and we decided to walk to the nearest place that we might be able to get a camera, which took much longer than we expected, and all straight uphill to get there, on a surprisingly hot September afternoon, but I spent more than I would have liked and bought a point-and-shoot to at least get something out of the weekend, it seemed stupid not to with how much traveling I’d be doing!

We found our way from there to the Mohasco Power Plant, near but not quite on a massive mill complex currently being demolished. I was afraid to try, admittedly, with the workers being what seemed like so close, but there was a river in between, so I was convinced into going for it.

And it was everything I could have hoped for: rusty, crusty, greasy 19th century industrial steel!

Even the point and shoot was much less of a disappointment than I would have expected.

And it seemed at last we were on our way, we could pull it off and this would be the epic adventure we’d been dreaming of all summer…

Sunset Mills

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Industrial, North Country

We continued on to the North Country, a merry band of adventurers, overwhelming the Five Guys in Watertown for dinner and soon wandering along route 3 to Deferiet. This place has been something of a curse for me: it’s my fifth time there, and I’ve never once gotten to it more than an hour before sunset, so I’ve always seen little bits and pieces of it at a time. This time was no different, getting there almost too late to matter. But I wasn’t about to let all those gas masks we bought go to waste, and there was already question of whether we’d explore the next day or climb something, so into the toxic mess we’d go even if we couldn’t see it all.

The Newstech company, the last users of the mill, left abruptly in 2004, taking the village of Deferiet down with them. Out of 600 or so residents, a vast majority of working-age villagers worked in the mill, along with hundreds of others from neighboring towns and the city of Watertown. Ten years after closing, only about half of the village’s houses are even occupied, with no retail to speak of, and an abandoned post office, firehouse and credit union bordering the mill. Deferiet did, however, have one last literal blaze of glory on November 29, 2009, when Fort Drum tested a few bunker-buster type bombs on parts of the complex, leaving massive craters of twisted steel and burned concrete next to more or less intact buildings, presumably a successful demonstration of the surgical precision the Army boasted on these bombs.

The offices didn’t do so well around water. The mold and mildew here are extreme, despite only having been closed for 10 years, and the offices even being somewhat operational through most of that time in search of new buyers or developers.


We only got very slightly into the rest of the building before it (of course) got dark on us…

So we continued on from there to our camp at Paul Bunyan pond in a slightly unsettling rain which stopped just in time to set up camp. By the fire, with some liquid wisdom coursing through us, we confirmed a very, very bad idea: we would climb Mt Allen tomorrow after all, the most difficult of the High Peaks, and the 46th and last of my Adirondack adventure…

Sweet Science

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Industrial, North Country

This was one of those rare times that everything just happened to work out. It was unlikely enough that we managed to save the North Country trip at all, even if it’s a few weeks early and none of the people I invited actually showed up, Hayden pulled it off and got not only the biggest meet in a few years, but a way to get there too, and off we were! After a few stops on the way to pick up food, beer and gas masks (mostly intended for the paper mills later on in the trip), we found our way to route 3. It took some convincing to even try, but the 9th Sesqui-Annual Semi-Cold Urbex Camping Extravaganza started off with a wild guess of a location, something I’d heard was abandoned, and huge, but didn’t know if there would even be a way into. To our surprise, despite looking more or less solid from the highway, an entire wall was missing from a botched or forgotten demolition, and just like that, we walked right into the former Nestlé chocolate factory.

At the time of its first closure in 2003, the property was the world’s largest, and America’s oldest, working candy factory, and its closure came as a shock to not only Fulton but the entire industry, as production moved to Europe and a few smaller facilities in the Southeast, as a cost cutting measure. Demolition started this spring, but came to a screeching halt under legal and financial pressure from the city of Fulton, with the property suffering from tax foreclosure and an unforeseen asbestos problem. Unable to break ground on time, Aldi nullified their purchase of the factory, and now it sits in typical abandonment limbo, with no definite plans and nebulous, or no, ownership, and none of the potential owners wanting anything to do with it.

Immediately after entering, we realized we were onto something: not only had no one explored this place yet, but there wasn’t even much graffiti, and the smashy people barely even had a chance at it, except for the gaping demolition wounds.

Not to say it was pristine: much of the machinery was sold at auction, and what remains are the unsold lots, auction tags still hanging off, or the units simply too heavy to move or unsuited for any other location.

I think these were packing lines of some type, filling hundreds of bags (or bottles?) of product at a time through the grid of nozzles.

Nobody bothered to clean up on the last day of work. Some of the floors are covered in a thick, noisy layer of sugar syrup!

The scale of this place is truly incredible. There are nine interconnected, multi-level factory buildings, not even counting the substantial part that they did manage to demolish over the summer.

It was enough of a maze that sometimes we went in circles without even realizing it.

Unnecessary, ironic gas mask selfie? (I imagine this place didn’t even stink, let alone was toxic, but I’d just directed everyone else to buy them thinking we were going to the massively toxic paper mills!)

This was signed as the “bean hall”. I can imagine there being ceiling-high piles of hundreds of tons of cacao beans here, waiting for processing into chocolate… it did appear though that the bean-counters had been through, as unlike the sugary residue around most of the place, the floor was swept thoroughly clean of the deliciously bitter fruit.

…And then we got into pulling each other around on danger carts.

Yet Another Building — we didn’t even have time to try this one I don’t think

For some reason we crossed this little minefield instead

and tried to get lunch in the employee cafeteria but the kitchen was closed

We hurried out of this place having seen maybe a third of it. There wasn’t much choice, we’d found far more than we’d ever planned for, and we were barely even on our way to the North Country!

Charlie Says

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Buffalo, Concrete, Industrial

It took far longer than I imagined, but I’ve finally ended my exploring drought, going out to Buffalo (and trying to revive the old Concrete Collective) with Hayden, probably the most promising local explorer I’ve met in years) to see some of the ruins. Our first stop was Wildroot, the factory that put the grease in Grease. Active from 1936 into the early 60s, Wildroot made hair products from the (wild) lanolin root that were allegedly lighter and less greasy than the competition, though the goal was still the same greased-back rockabilly look. As the times changed, Wildroot Cream Oil went badly out of fashion and sales plummeted, although the brand remained (barely) alive and is still produced in Asia, the factory has been out of commission for 50 years, only used occasionally as storage since then.

Fifty years later, there is nothing left to show the once purpose of this space.

Like so many abandoned factories and warehouses, it has become a blank canvas for graffiti, without any other recognizable purpose.

The Fire Remains

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Industrial, Rochester

I’ve spent far too long wondering if Gary was meant to be my finale as an explorer after all. It was by far my most successful trip, at a time when everything was slowly starting to fall apart for me, one success nearly swept away by a rising tide of failure. I’d been talking about quitting exploring for months, but I knew it was a lie, and most of the people who actually knew me knew it was a lie, and I didn’t care — it made good marketing. I planned a big meet for the end of it all, to try to check off the last thing on my bucket list, to go to one of the events that I’d been specifically disinvited from over the years, even if I had to organize it all myself. But of course, when the time came, no one actually wanted to go, it was all just designed to keep me waiting and get me excited for nothing.

Then on April 1 things got much worse again: National Block Bill Day was no joke, there was an actual campaign with hundreds of people participating, with the specific purpose of spending a day bashing me and finally blocking me, so I’d no longer have any communication with these people. I did the deed myself on March 31 instead, blocking a few hundred explorers, against my beliefs, just so that they couldn’t have the satisfaction of being the one who hits the block button (and so on April 2 I could unblock them and add them back, if I felt so inclined).

I didn’t explore at all in April or May. I didn’t really want to either; I was still scarred by the Providence experience to the point that I didn’t want to travel anywhere to meet up with people (not that anyone was really there to meet up with, seeing as most anyone who was anyone blocked me…) and certainly didn’t feel like extending any sort of hospitality to them to come here and see our whole lot of local nothing. I didn’t miss exploring too much either that spring, I spent my weekends hiking with Christian, or camping at the Orchard with my friends, or doing really just about anything else, there wasn’t time for sitting around bored.

One invitation, if you could call it that, came up at the end of May, to go to Chestfest, one of the most renowned UE meets in North America. At first I couldn’t contain myself at the thought that this might happen (and I only got the chance because I’d already threatened to raft down the river next to the meet and drop anchor just over the property line, and someone thought that might be dangerous). But the invite came with a price: I would have to find my own transportation there (next to impossible), sign a painfully restrictive piece of legalese, and worst of all, I could only stay for part of the second day, and be there while everyone why belonged there was out exploring, so that I’d miss out on the day of exploring while I was at the camp, and miss out on the fun night in camp since I’d be home by the time the party really got started.

Then by June everything else started to slow down, and I’m spending more of my time watching soccer than anything, as the summer goes by, and I realize that I probably won’t get that far at all with any of what I planned or dreamed. Everything I plan goes nowhere, as one should probably expect around me, and all that ever happens is fail. So, when I get the chance one morning to go to the Rochester incinerator, despite it being far less interesting than most, and a place I’d been many times years ago, of course I took the opportunity.

The last few years weren’t exactly kind to this place since I was here last…

At least the giant claws are still here, even though half the place has been demolished and more has just fallen in on its own.

Hmmm… NOPE?

I climbed this entire mountain of trash thinking there might be something on the other side.

I was wrong, there was just a kind of mediocre view.

The basement ovens were surrounded with asbestos bricks. Smash these against the wall and they release unholy amounts of white dust.