Oompa-Loompa Doopadee-Doo

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

Apologies for the title — but you deserve just as much of a constant torment coursing through your head in an impossibly lilting and plodding e minor as we were both stuck with as we wandered around an abandoned chocolate factory. At one time Nestlé, then based in Fulton, NY, manufactured about 40% of the chocolate eaten in the US, including even franchised production for Cadbury and Hershey’s, in this one enormous factory. Open from 1899-2003, it briefly played the role of Oswego County’s largest employer, after the Miller brewery closed, but like so many other American factories, foreign production became so much cheaper that the operation moved to Mexico and Spain, leaving behind yet another massive industrial hulk. There have been some plans, and a botched demolition that took out some of the newer sheet-metal construction and left the brick behemoth largely untouched, but it has been the ruin of one developer after another, ranging from another chocolate factory to Anheuser-Busch to razing the entire thing for an Aldi and a Dollar General.

Until then, it’s just like you’d imagine an abandoned chocolate factory, right down to puddles of sticky syrup on the floor!

Necessarily for the nature of their product, this factory kept up with maintenance and cleanliness much more than, for example, a paper mill. Even though decay has obviously started, it’s notably more modern than many industrial sites that closed a few years later in the recession era.

The device to the left was some kind of bulk nozzle, capable of filling 192 bottles at a time. A likely guess for the product would be Nesquik chocolate syrup, but other than the sugar floods, no trace of finished product or packaging remains in the factory.

Notice anything wrong with this phone?

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but all the specks in this sugar-glacier are writhing maggots. Blechhh!

Quoth the spiders, “Never More.” April 9, 2003 was not in fact the day the chocolate died. But it would go to logic that the plant closed gradually, one product at a time. According to the New York Times, May 2 was the final day any product passed through the loading docks, and the last day at work for 474 upstate New Yorkers.

This time, they WERE all full…

Emphasis on WERE… Next time we should wear white. This was just one can each.

What is it with racks of keys?

There was yet another building, but we were out of daylight and the glassy syrup mirror was just too pretty to shatter.

So we left across the rubble field, and caught the end of the Bills game on the ride home instead. For the 9½th time in a row, North Country was all we could have imagined and more. Can’t wait to go back in the spring!

Fallen Champion

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

Deferiet is everything you might expect a company town to be, when the company leaves. From the potholed entrance road off the highway, to the complete lack of businesses on the village’s three streets (which wrap around one side of the mill), this is clearly no boom town. Even the bank, the post office and the fire department closed, all of them maintained by the Champion Paper Company of St Regis, just like the enormous industrial hulk that is still the focal point of Deferiet, even in its inglorious death.

The houses aren’t all empty, at least — the town borders Fort Drum, and is only 8 miles from Watertown, so especially with the undoubtedly plunging real estate prices, enough people still live here. But they only live here, with no jobs in sight. Most of the people left probably don’t even remember the mill, even though it only closed 9 years ago: those of working age would have moved to another mill town or left the paper business entirely. Even fewer care about the mill. The gates are wide open, no one is watching. The last action on the property was in the fall of 2010, when the Army tested some demolition explosives on the main building, leaving a crater of shattered brick and twisted melted re-bar. The result is too broken to salvage, and too solid, not to mention isolated, to ever be worth demolishing.

Like everywhere we’ve found in the north country, getting in was beyond obvious: follow the gaping hole, this time larger than a football field, directly into the factory, taking a short detour through the firehouse.

Like most places in the chemical business, laboratories were all over, at least one in every building, with most of the toxic fun stuff still intact (and the rest spilled, shattered and fuming the place up)

At the edge of the “demolished” section, you can start to imagine the sheer power of what broke half the massive factory apart

Looking the other way, you can see just how much is still left, AFTER half of it met the bomb!

Compared to Lyons Falls, it’s nowhere near as photogenic, being of more recent renovation. Lyons Falls was built in 1918-38; Champion has had a mill on this site since before 1900, but most of the surviving buildings date from just after World War II.

The last paper left the mill in January 2005, giving it plenty of time to reach the information age. The control panels of Lyons Falls were long since replaced by electronic terminals like this on many of the columns, each controlling one or two processes.

Most of the machines, presumably of tremendous scale, were salvaged when the mill closed, leaving gaping holes into the basement and sometimes even sub-basement

Adding to the carnage the Army inflicted on these ruins, winter (maybe aided by a blast wave) took down a few sections too.

These confuse me. Not just here either – Bensons Mines and Sykes have them too. Electrical outlets hanging from conduit, 4 feet above floor level, and not on a wall. Any idea what these might have been for?

I think this is my favorite sign I’ve found in an abandonment. If it were a little bit smaller and not nailed to the wall I’d have to admit it would be on my office wall.

This was just about the only graffiti in this place. Or in the whole north country for that matter.

Do as you ought’er:

After the mill, we went through the office, one of the more interesting parts in 2011 but now hopelessly water damaged with mushy floors and moldy just about everything inside… The hallway was the only worthwhile shot in the place, and we had better things to get to anyway after Deferiet.

Gould’s Mills

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

Even though we didn’t see all we could have in Utica, we had to get to our next destination, the paper mills at Lyons Falls. Just from the one building we could get into last year, we knew it would be well worth a return trip. A whole building went missing since last time, but the demolition seemed to have stopped with that, at least for the winter if not forever, with some of the fencing and one excavator left but no signs of immediate work going on. The one remaining scaffold gave access to a historical plaque that seemed to take more effort to remove than the demolition crew were willing to spend.

We entered from the hole left by the missing building, into what was originally a basement, now open to the outside. Shelves of lab equipment and chemicals rot away into the miasma, seeing a few spots of daylight for the first time since the mills closed.

There was no adequate explanation for all these keys in the basement, nor did we find one in the rest of the mill. There simply aren’t that many doors in the remaining parts, nor evidence of corresponding room numbers. Maybe there were lockers or something in a missing section?

This section had its own special little control room, for the sulphate section. Even now, the air smells and tastes of sulfur…

As we continued, we figured out we missed the main building last time, and only saw the two ends of the mill. Which wasn’t such a big loss after all, most of the factory floor was cleaned out, except for the side rooms. These were probably more common mechanical machines that could be auctioned off and used in another mill, as opposed to the idiosyncratic processes and tanks in the chemical plant.

It seems to be the case in many industrial sites that the last of the product never got shipped as the business went under.

The last to-do list remained on the board too… it doesn’t look like directions to shut a mill down, but just another day at work. It makes me wonder just how suddenly these factories closed, whether the employees even knew time was up, or if there were just a few vague rumblings then one Monday morning they show up and the doors are locked and the machines are silent?

No, it doesn’t still spray.

ACME Corporation

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

Out of all the buildings I’ve explored so far, this one might win the prize for most varied history. Starting as a textile mill in the 19th century, G.C. Charles and Co., no single industry has been able to prosper here for more than 20 or 30 years at a time. Facing economic woes, G.C. Charles left their mill behind in 1913, eventually selling the distressed property to the US Government for production of submachine guns. Savage Arms, a local gun manufacturer, took over in 1920, using the entire complex and building more additions, at the time becoming the third-largest arms manufacturer in America, behind Colt and Remington (each based in a massive factory in Connecticut), producing well over a million arms every year for the American and European market. After World War II, however, demand for guns dropped sharply for both civilian and military use, with the glut of surplus guns on the market, and Savage relocated to a smaller plant in the Berkshires.

In 1951, the factory found a new use as the headquarters of Sperry-UNIVAC, makers of one of the first viable business computers (this in the era when vacuum-tube-based electronics were still relevant, and a computer would occupy multiple rooms). By 1975, seven of the 10 largest technology and computing companies in the US were headquartered in upstate New York: IBM (Binghamton), Xerox (Rochester), UNIVAC (Utica), Sykes Datatronics (Rochester), NCR (Ithaca/Seneca Falls) and Coleco (Amsterdam). Unfortunately for the region, just a few years later California and Japan caught up, and as the computer industry left, so did the remains of the Sperry corporation, whose UNIVAC was hopelessly out of date, and VAX-32 well on its way out.

By 1985, optimistic real estate developers, bolstered by state funding intended to stop upstate blight, began repurposing the complex as an outlet mall, creating stores, artists’ studios and restaurants out of the former factory. Partially due to location, these businesses struggled, and their fortunes continued to decline with modern, car-friendly outlet malls opening in Waterloo and Watertown, and the retail phase sputtered to a halt through the late 90s. The developers desperately tried to hold on, attracting any and all businesses that would relocate into the increasingly decrepit building, with the last ones, a screen printing shop and a chiropractic pain clinic, closing in 2008.

Using still more state and county money, demolition started on (only) the Herkimer County portion of the building, an effort given up in futility by 2012, with Utica’s portion still fully intact and awaiting another developer who will probably never come to the rotting factory.

The entrance was, as you might expect for a building missing its other half, obvious and easy: most of the doors are unlocked, and failing that, you can just go in at the county line where the demolition ends. We chose the front door of the pain clinic, and found mostly gutted rooms reeking of rot and festooned with black mold. Not exactly the best start to a place, so we moved on quickly from there…

The mold stopped almost immediately, along with the drop ceilings and flimsy drywall, and we found ourselves in an old, nonspecific factory.

Bits and pieces of just about everything ended up in this basement. There were an exceptional proportion of Christmas decorations, screen printing equipment, and rotting little league sports jerseys.

Upstairs seemed to have changed very little since the textile mill or gun factory days, other than the machinery being removed, and maybe one or two more coats of paint in the last century. Judging by the institutional green, it’s been a while…

They must have had some leftovers from Adler?

And from Sykes… ever seen a rhomboidal doorway before?

Looking out at the county line, and the missing Herkimer portion of the building… as huge as it is, it used to be almost twice the size!

Headed toward the intact part of the building, we wandered into the former mall area. To help those who inevitably get lost in the place, the hallways were designated yellow, orange, and red routes, and decorated as such — the missing part of the building may have had the green and blue sections. Advertising signs like this for stores and restaurants within the same mall appeared at most of the hallway intersections.

There were also outer (service?) corridors, which are more exposed to the elements

This office was one of the last survivors in the building, with Google Analytics reports continuing into 2009.

Someone played paintball in the mall section. It needed a bit of color.

The Yellow Corridor lived up to its name…

The restaurant looking out over the green swampy miasma appears to have been the aforementioned Charlie’s. We didn’t get to check it out because scrappers were hauling heavy equipment out into a fleet of pickup trucks, and we wanted to keep our distance from that scene.

This space was either a storage unit, a thrift store, or a hoarder’s apartment before this place closed down. Or maybe some combination of these things.

And finally, a discount shoe store dumped its wares. Looks like mostly sneakers and basketball shoes from at least 20 years ago…

I’m sure there was more to see, but we had places to go and more north country wrecks to explore… I’d certainly like to come back here again though!

The Mountain Wins Again

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Concrete, North Country, Outdoors

I woke up the next morning to Jake shaking my tent, reminding me that we had a lot of climbing to do. Everything about the day was odd, from the unsettling rain coming back over the pond, to the sudden gravity of what was about to happen (after I’d already given up on it once just two weeks ago, I was actually on my way to #46?!), to an uneasy feeling of confused, incompetent leadership. I’m not one to value experience much when it comes to exploring, but the facts were there, I’d climbed more peaks than the entire rest of the group combined, and done it all in such unorthodox and epic ways, not to mention having spent so many summers in the Adirondacks, that they started looking to me, like it or not, as a knower-of-things.

We cleaned up as quickly as we could and went to Tupper Lake looking for breakfast, something of a lost cause on a Sunday morning in September with all the touristy places closed for the season and all the local places still closing Sundays in a town that size, so we ended up at the McDonalds in lower town, and then the Save-A-Lot next door for trail food. No one believed me at first just how much of said trail food (not to mention water, none of us had really brought containers appropriate for a 24-mile hike) we might need, but eventually we left with enough for a day on the trail, and the Adirondack skies cleared into that wonderful bluebird blue, and we were on our way to the Upper Works Trailhead!

Little did we know that that would be just the very beginning of our adventure. A few miles out of Long Lake on route 30, at least an hour and a half drive from Canada (and facing in the opposite direction, no less), we came across a border patrol checkpoint. They let half of us through right away, but our other car was behind us, and never followed us out of there. After about 15 minutes waiting on the side of the highway, we decided to go back and see what happened, and of course they were still stuck at the checkpoint. We told the Feds that these were our friends, and what was going on?, and they asked us to go back through the checkpoint then we could wait for them.

Of course it wasn’t so easy to get through this time. They had a drug dog looking for, and unsurprisingly possibly smelling, contraband, and just like that, we were stuck on the side of the 30 too, waiting for them to finish processing our friends! Luckily, they were rather helpful, having much bigger fish to fry than a bowl or two, which we had the opportunity to toss into the lake to just sting a little, and save everyone the paperwork. But the entire scene must have looked so suspicious – camping gear, cameras, gas masks, a bunch of mostly college kids wandering around (and Allen, of all peaks to claim to be going to – did we not even research our alibis?) While they searched us, of course, the other car left, not realizing we’d come back for them, and wanting to get as far from the checkpoint as possible, so by now we were in quite the hurry too, trying to get back with our friends AND escape without any tickets.

Did I mention these cops were the very model of Super Troopers? They apprehended us, and searched us, in the most farcical, condescending manner one could imagine, either making light work of us since we weren’t what they were looking for, just a few violations at most, or perhaps hoping to disarm us with humor and make us reveal something, even though we had no more to show. One of them insisted, all through this, that I was tripping, shroomy or both. I could hardly imagine going through that experience on mushrooms… although I really could have used some once we got out of there!

We went on all the way to Upper Works not entirely sure if the other car was following ahead of us at all, or if they’d gotten lost, or given up altogether (consisting of mostly non-climbers to begin with). The way to get there isn’t exactly intuitive either, involving a few county roads and a notable lack of signage at every important turn. Somehow, miraculously, they showed up at the exact trailhead, only about 30 seconds behind us! We were almost ready to go on without them too, it just seemed impossible that someone who had never been would find this place… so we had a huddle, after losing two hours to the Super Troopers, about what we should do, and decided that some of us would attempt Allen, and everyone else, a carload of people, could climb the much shorter Mt Adams, which, mind you, were the only two destinations possible from this trailhead, but a more or less perfect fit.

We started hiking in surprisingly cooperative weather, an easy, mostly flat logging road to the Allen/Adams split, where we took a group shot before we went our separate ways.

Getting to the base of Allen, climbing it aside, is quite an adventure in its own right. Just like finding the trailhead, there is an extraordinary absence of signs, not the least bit helpful to us when the climb was such a last minute decision we didn’t even think to bring a map! We guessed our way through bush roads and cairns and finally found the hand painted “ALLEN” sign that leads to another trail register and the start of the SECOND approach to Allen. Yes, really. After 6 miles, there is literally another trailhead to let you know you are STILL just beginning.

Seeing this, and realizing that #46 would be an epic on its own, even just being one peak, I started having some serious second thoughts of going any farther. I think I was sending all sorts of mixed messages to Hayden and Jake at this point. I didn’t know if I wanted to climb it, and I didn’t know if I could climb it — well, I knew I could (although I’d read more than enough about the “red slime” to be psyched out about the slides at the top) but it wouldn’t be nearly as quickly as two ex-cross-country-runners could manage it, and time was starting to become of the essence, as the distance to the peak went from long to simply incredible! And here I was, almost within reach of #46. Almost within reach of something that it had taken me only 11 days to go from promising I would never do until Christian came back east, to just as suddenly betraying my best friend of ten years, with whom (or at least, attempting to be with whom, as you might have noticed from my recent writings) I’d climbed nearly all of the first 45. Needless to say, around mile 11 or so, as the climbing got steep, I got to be a real mess, struggling disastrously to keep up with a much more athletic group, while intensely questioning whether I should be doing so at all, whether it was even right for me to go to #46.

It became a moot point after a while, as I let them get too far ahead to ever catch up with, and for some reason I kept going through the motions of the climb (probably the half of my brain that wanted #46 in the first place), making it to about 3900 feet before meeting up with them again in the opposite direction, coming back from a more successful, less dubious battle with the Bastard Peak. This settled it, even though I really already knew: I would be a 45er, and I would be a 45er for quite a while, probably.

Deflated and confused, that first mile off the mountain was far more of a struggle than it should have been, and this time I was legitimately slow, and not even sandbagging at all. I had already lost, or won, or whatever you wanted to call it. A physical defeat, a moral victory, a failure on the same levels as it was a success. But existential messes aside, the fact remained that it was getting dark, and we were still 9½ miles from the car. Or something like that, from what I remembered of reading the one ambiguous page in the Adirondack guidebook that described it, in insufficient detail so to preserve the mystery of the 46ers’ just dessert, the one everyone rightfully saves for last.

As soon as we lost the sun, we gained the rain — pouring, thundering sheets of it.

Finally, I was in my element. This was the kind of hike that I was meant for, the kind of struggle that got me and Christian to 45 in the first place!

I think this is something that one would have to experience at least once to understand, but once things get this hairy, when it’s just you, one or two friends, and the dark, wild mountains, there is something transcendent about it. The closest I’ve ever managed to come to describing it, and this doesn’t even do it justice, is that we become part of the forest, that we are transformed, for as long as we need to be, into wild humans. It’s not precisely the savagery that would come with a survival situation; not an adversarial feeling at all, but a feeling of belonging there, of it being a natural thing to do to hike for 20, 30, 40 miles at a time. Or maybe I’m just some kind of freak, and those of you who know what I’m talking about are too.

Anyway, the climb up felt so intensely wrong, but the endless, logically miserable slog through the mud was completely right, and whatever is wrong with me that it was exactly where I wanted to be? They wanted to get out, of course, and on a purely rational level so did I: I had work at 8:30, less than 12 hours away, and I’m still in the mountains! But I enjoyed every minute of that hike out, and even started going faster and faster (see, it wasn’t bullshit when I said I do my best 12+ hours into a hike… that’s just my normal, when I do it, I do it “right”)

And that was that, I’d managed to save two of my friends from ever having to climb Allen again, and here I am, still a 45er. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever go back for #46. The mountain made it vastly, abundantly clear that I shouldn’t — if the Ledge wasn’t a sign, if the Super Troopers weren’t a sign, if the struggle halfway up Allen wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what else I missed.

I’ll admit, I sandbagged this one. Whether out of self-doubt, or moral obligation, or both, I didn’t give it my 100% when I probably could have made it to the top. We all probably could have together, if we didn’t get stopped by the cops and had more time on the way up, and just a tiny bit less of a hurry. Someone, somewhere, will judge me for what happened on that mountain. I’m not even sure I did the right thing. I’m not sure if, or when, I’ll ever climb again — even less sure I ever want to go back to Allen. What matters the most though is we all went looking for adventure, and that’s exactly what we found.

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.

BOOM!

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…