Nueva Rosita, Coke & Abraham Darby Times 3Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Coke is a solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal. The volatile constituents of the coal, including water, coal-gas and coal-tar, are driven off by baking in an airless oven at temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Celsius so that the fixed carbon and residual ash are fused together.
Making coke, at least back in the mid 50s was a polluting endeavour but I never gave it much thought. In the mid 50s I lived with my mother in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, a mining town where ASARCO (American Smelting & Refining Company) called the shots. I remember the first day I ever saw Nueva Rosita. We had landed, the day before in a DC-3 in a desolate airport (an airport because it had a dirt landing field that happened to have a shack with a revolving sock on the roof). This was Monclova, Coahuila which was the centre of the Mexican steel industry run principally by a company called Altos Hornos (high ovens). From Monclova we took a bus to Nueva Rosita. We arrived in the middle of the night but I remember seeing some lights and smoke that glowed in the dark cloudless sky. This was a high desert and I soon found out it rarely rained. When I woke up the next morning it was already around 38 degrees and I was bathed in sweat. I got up and looked out of the window. What I saw is what you see here even though I took this ancient Ektachrome and the b+w negative about three years later.
My mother explained that in Nueva Rosita they mined zinc and made coke. I never did ask what coke was but soon after I found out that coal was burned in an almost oxygen free oven and the coal was converted into a porous substance wich was used to make steel. I never did make the connection that our Nueva Rosita coke helped industrialize Mexico by contributing to the steel production of Monclova.
It is only yesterday that I made the complete connection thanks to an English Rose, Abraham Darby, that has begun to bloom in my garden. This 1985 introduction by David Austin does not smell of myrrh like so many of my roses. It has an intense perfume of fruit and old roses. I should have obtained this lovely rose a long time ago. I finally did.
I looked up Abraham Darby (1678-1717). It seems that by the end of the 17th century England was running out of forests to cut down to make the charcoal that was then used to smelt iron. It was around 1709 that Darby successfully used coke as fuel to smelt iron at his ironworks in Coalbrookdale in Shropshire. England had plenty of coal, from which coke was made.
Darby's process helped usher in England's industrial revolution. Darby's grandson, Abraham Darby III (1750 - 1791) constructed the world's first iron bridge, over the Severn river at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire in 1779.
When I crossed the iron bridge in Shropshire I did not give it much thought nor did I stop at David Austin's rose nursery. This was 1987. I might have run into Rosa 'Abraham Darby' at Austin's nursery. But I didn't know much about roses then. I wasn't even interested in them.
Last night when I brought in a couple of my Abraham Darby blooms, the intense perfume cleared my mind like Keen's Mustard and Nueva Rosita (small new rose), coke, iron, steel, the old iron bridge I had crossed back then, and David Austin's rose all came together and made a lot of sense. Pity my mother is not around. "You know mother, there is this rose and........"