Ivy Tech Fort Wayne welders repair a piece of history

An old portable jail made by E.T. Barnum Wire & Iron Works sometime in the late 1800s is currently sitting in the Ivy Tech Fort Wayne welding lab. The jail, with its four apron bunks and flat bars, was created to temporarily house prisoners until they could be transferred to the county jail.

How did it get into our lab? Until recently, the jail was sitting in the Fort Wayne History Center. But with time, the jail started to fall into disrepair. In January, the History Center reached out, and Ivy Tech Fort Wayne stepped up to help!

The refurbishment team is made up of two welders who are passionate about history—Chuck Smith and John DiFlauro. Chuck is a welding instructor at the College and a Veteran who retired as a Command Sergeant Major E-9. John is also a Veteran who retired as a Sergeant First Class S.F.C. and an alumnus of the college who earned four certifications including associate degrees in Machine Tool Technology and Business Administration. He’s currently working as a tool crib attendant with the College.

The refurbishment has been happening on and off since the beginning of the year (with a break due to COVID), and it’s not an easy task. Especially because the team is determined to refurbish the portable jail with some historical accuracy. First, they consulted Cait Cramer, Assistant Program Chair of Mechanical Engineering Technology, to help determine the kind of metal originally used. After determining that it was a low carbon steel, John and Chuck have been slowly making the necessary repairs.

According to John, the most challenging part is “keeping an original look and feel to the jail cell. The cell should not have any welds on it, as this is a somewhat modern technique for joining metal. We’ll have to remove the welds made in earlier repairs, ‘square up’ the cell, and set over 150 rivets using hand tools to bring it close to what it should look like!”

Chuck and John hope to have the jail finished in the next couple of months. Once it’s completed, it’ll go back to the History Center to be used for charity “jail” events and will travel to different locations.  View photos of the jail’s progress with descriptive captions.

*Photographs at top of this article were taken in Feb. 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Chuck and John now wear PPE and practice social distancing while on campus.

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