The Blockplant

I already mentioned the Blockplant in a couple of my earlier posts – it was a broken down old factory about a quarter mile behind our house.

It was our backyard playground growing up.

To be precise, it was what was called a block and redi-mix plant. They made bricks, gravel, bags of cement, that kind of thing. We just called it the Blockplant for short. The guy who started up the Blockplant also built the house I grew up in. You could actually tell that there was once a straight road between the house and the Blockplant, but that had long since been covered up to join to farm fields together into one big field (our house and the Blockplant were surrounded by over 200 acres of farm field).

To get to the Blockplant you thus had to follow a long gravel road along the far side of the farm field until you came to the first building – a double garage meant to store two 18 wheelers side by side with a pit in the middle of each garage for working on the undersides of the trucks. The road then curved and went down a little hill, at the bottom of which was the office, and kitty-corner to that, the main building – with a concrete storage garage built onto one end that we called the “Red Room” because someone had spread red dry mix everywhere in the room, making it look like a dried-up murder scene, and two more garage bays (which were both pitch black and full of bats, we found out) inside the main sheet-metal building. Inside the main building was a huge mixing pit, conveyer belts, a second story, a bathroom, and access to the main tower built onto the top of the building – a three story steel squarish tower that was basically just a giant hopper that could fill a boxcar with gravel if need be. My brother and I called this building the Butler Building because the name at the top of the main entrance said, “But ler.” There was supposed to be an “e” after the “t” – Buteler was a company that made sheet metal buildings in the 60s and 70s. But the “e” had been erased by time, so we called it the Butler Building. Behind the Butler Building was a two story silo full of gravel. I know this because one day my brother and I found a lever on the side of it that still worked, and so just had to pull it, of course. The lever released a couple of tons of gravel out onto the ground. OOPS. We were barely fast enough to get out of the way of the cascading gravel. Did I mention that this was a broken down factory, and that my brother and I practically spent whole summer vacations playing in the place? Not the safest place for a kid, not at all. But that was the kind of childhood I had – basically a non stop adventure, and that, after all, is the reason for this blog.

Beyond the Butler Building was a road that led to more farm fields and then to a large swamp and the woods behind our house.

The place was actually still operational when we moved there in 1972, though the owner obviously no longer lived in the house – the house I grew up in was originally meant as the owner’s house for the Blockplant – it was going to have a paved drive and an iron gate – a real manor for those days, if you will. But for reasons that I do not know, that dream was never to be realized, the road was left unimproved dirt, only the concrete posts for the gate were ever installed, and the basement of the place (which would become my brother’s and mine room) was 3/4 unfinished. Our house, and ultimately the Blockplant, was someone else’s broken dream.

As I said, the Blockplant was still in business when we moved in in 1972. I remember cement trucks and gravel haulers would come and go all day – I was only 3 or 4 years old at this point – and the place would get quiet at night with only a night guard on the premises.

That all changed forever in a single afternoon one summer day in 1974. And although I was only 5 at the time, I remember it vividly. They were digging near one of the buildings with a backhoe tractor. Suddenly, the tractor was shut off, and there was a lot of yelling. Then everyone left.

Forever.

They just left. Everyone shut everything down, got in their cars and trucks, and left. That day was the last day that factory ever made even a single brick. Tens of thousands of dollars of equipment – cement trucks, a gravel hauler (trailer) for a big rig, the conveyer belts, parts and supplies for the trucks, and bags and bags of cement, to say nothing of all of the stacks of bricks – unsold inventory – all just left to rot. On that first night two dump trucks came in real late and dumped a few tons of gravel where they had been digging. Most of that gravel pile was still there when I left Wyoming.

Almost all of that equipment and inventory sat there for over 10 years, unused. The inventory – the bricks and bags of cement, had a funny way of disappearing, and by the end of that 10 years, all of that  was gone. (It was not unusual to see a car go in there late at night and load up on inventory and drive off – a car loaded with bricks and bags of cement doesn’t look quite right going down the highway, at all.) Right around 1983, they came in and hauled off the heaviest of the equipment – the tires had rotted off – it was all nothing but scrap metal by then. About that same time the main tower fell over and demolished the entire second floor of the Butler Building. Nature was beginning to reclaim the Blockplant. After that the Butler Building was an even more dangerous place. By the time I left Wyoming, the two inside truck bays and the Red Room had also collapsed.

The night I graduated from high school, the Rock and Roll Gang (see two posts ago) managed to get up on top of the Butler Building and we drank California Coolers (a now defunct brand of wine cooler) all night. If we had fallen through the dangerously dilapidated roof, we would have been badly hurt or killed.  Oddly, none of us, nor my brother, ever got hurt playing at the Blockplant, and all things being equal, that’s pretty surprising.

Now what’s left of the Butler Building is just a roofless shell, most of it has been hauled away. The last I heard, the office was still there with all of the paperwork and logbooks from 1974, like a blue collar time capsule, still in unsorted piles on the counter tops and on the floor. The first building – the garage – has been reinforced and is now used by local farmers for storage. The Butler Building was once used for this too – for a short time around 1981 it was used to store some modern tractors and an International dump truck that I had a fondness for. One night around two am I walked down to the Blockplant, got in that International truck, and played trucker. The keys were in it. I started her up, turned on the radio and the lights, and played interstate trucker. I would have been about 12, and wasn’t big enough to work the massive clutch and get the thing in gear (I don’t think I would have actually tried to drive it anyway) so I just played trucker for an hour, the big diesel engine idling and revving in the night. That night was a total blast. After that, I found out, the keys were no longer left in the trucks. OOPS.

The Blockplant today, except for that front building that seems to have been adopted, is more memory than material. Where a factory once stood is only sheet metal and ruins, and that odd little forgotten office.

What happened to the Blockplant? What happened on that sunny summer afternoon in 1974? Your guess is as good as mine. I was never able to find out.

I do know a few things. The records showing that the same person who built the Blockplant also built the house I grew up in are missing from the County Courthouse. Our family is the first family on record there, even though the house was 10 years old when we bought it.

You tell me. – it’s a mystery.

I can tell you one thing though, although I think this should probably be another post – laugh at me if you want, but there is no question in my mind about this whatsoever – the house I grew up in was really quite haunted.

 

To be continued…….

 

 

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