WEATHERSFIELD – Breanna Bube’s grandfather called the old Ohio powerhouse chimney Edison the “Big cigarette”.
“He was like, ‘Yeah, the big cigarette and the two cigars’,” Bube of Niles explained, pointing to the comparatively smaller 300-foot smoke stacks emerging from the 12-story building. Bube vowed that she would record the demolition of the largest 400-footer stack for her grandfather, who couldn’t come out to watch it.
The pile was due to be demolished at 9 a.m. on Friday, but the first explosion – delivered via 85 one-pound sticks of dynamite, each in its own respective hole around the foundation – only tilted the pile.
“We wish it broke the first time,” Brian Baumann, president of the Cleveland demolition company, B&B Wrecking, admitted in the interval between the first and second explosion. The first explosion pushed the stack past a critical point, but the stack settled at an 11-degree angle.
Baumann said the next explosion must be bigger.
When the event finally took place at around 4:40 p.m., a crowd of around 200 gathered on a hill at the dead end of Clearfield Avenue to watch the show, while others watched from Belmont Bridge Avenue and other places around the township.
“The community that comes to watch this – I think it’s great, because it’s history,” Weathersfield Fire Chief Tom Lambert said. He recalled the beacon on the chimney – which had been disconnected before the explosion – and the way people looked at it during a storm or when they returned to the area after a long absence.
“When you saw the flashing light, you knew you were home.”
“It’s sad. It’s really sad,” John Cooper of Florida, formerly of McDonald’s, said.
Cooper began working at the power station in 1954, a year after it was built. He was 17 and had just arrived in the region from England.
“I started out as a janitor and worked up to yard supervisor,” Cooper said of his 38-year career at the plant, which was first operated as Ohio Edison, then First Energy, then GenOn, and finally NRG, according to Cooper.
Cooper retired in 1991 and moved to Florida, but returned home to visit family on Thursday – just in time to see the demolition.
He traded stories with Dominic Smaldino of Austintown, who worked in operations at the plant early in his career when it came to GenOn and NRG. Smaldino was one of the last people to come out when it closed for the past decade.
“We organized a plant closing party and signed the turbines”, Said Smaldino.
Smaldino and Cooper agreed the factory was a great place to work.
Before the demolition, Lambert warned the children of the crowd to cover their ears because “It was going to get noisy.” A horn sounded the five minute warning, then a second sounded at one minute.
A first puff of dust blew from the bottom, then from the middle and from the top. Then came the monumental boom, a sound that could be felt in the stomach.
With the top of the stack smoking again, it really looked like a big cigarette.
It took about 10 seconds for the battery to drop. A second boom shook the air as the ground shook. Car horns honked and people cheered. Families sitting on their four wheels and off-road motorcycles are five years old.
Weathersfield and Lane Life Trans firefighters had been on the scene since around 8 a.m., keeping safety measures in place, especially as demolition crews worked around the Leaning Tower after the first failed explosion.
Lambert said the demo team had done an amazing job and made safety a priority, which is why the second explosion came so late today.
The rest of the building is slated to be demolished in October after the asbestos is removed, according to Baumann and Lambert. This explosion is expected to be bigger than Friday’s – and will likely draw an even larger crowd of people wanting to say goodbye to the local monument.