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Spectacular Uranium Atom Symbol Began as only a Few Sticks and Some Scotch Tape !
The striking stainless steel representation of an uranium atom that greets tourists and locals, as they drive in to the city of Elliot Lake started out as an inspired idea by students and staff at Elliot Lake Secondary School in the early 1970.s. The idea progressed to an eight inch model consisting of a few sticks held together by scotch tape.
Trial and error seems to be the underlying theme in the development of the statue-like symbol from sticks and tape to its current impressive presence.
In 1975, the idea and makeshift model was brought to the attention of Ed McAfee, then Plant Supervisor at Rio Algom Limited Quirke Mine, located approximately 12 kilometres north of Elliot Lake. McAfee immediately thought of the concept of a structure commemorating the significance of uranium to the then town was a great idea. But building the prototype, constructing the actual symbol and installing it in time for the opening of the 1975 Uranium Festival as the town requested proved to be a very daunting task.
Robert (Bob) Renault, retired master mechanic at Quirke Mine, recalls the saga of the development and construction of the uranium atom symbol in precise detail. McAfee handed the sticks and tape model over to Renault, who in turn consulted head draftsman Frank Merhar.
After many lengthy consultations and discussions among McAfee, Robert (Bob) Blewett (machinist) and Merhar, the idea was deemed viable and an order was placed for polished stainless steel tubing. However, the three could not decide on the exact design.
The team decided, as an interim measure, to build a model out of iron, since it would bend more easily than steel, and be easier to work with. The iron prototype consisted of spheres, four feet in diameter with several wooden balls attached.
“They played around with two spheres each having various numbers of balls, and this trial and error process went on from February 1975 until April of 1975 when I got involved with the project, once the final design was decided,” says Renault.
“By then there was a strong push just to get the job done in time to present it to the town and to Mayor Roger Taylor, on the occasion of the opening of the Uranium festival in late June,” adds Renault.
The next task was to go to the site and determine the exact diameter or the spheres and the balls as well as the height of the pole on which they would be mounted. “I can recall this phase as if it were yesterday,” says Renault. “We took a truckload of sixteen foot planks out there, several wooden balls and once again our MO was trial and error.”
“We cut and stood the planks up at various heights, drove back and forth on the highway, decided what height was most visible and offered the most effective perspective. After several attempts, we decided the spheres had to be 12 feet in diameter, mounted on a 12 foot pole with the balls being 5 inches in diameter. In looking back at the whole process, it was a lot of fun. But at the time, with the presentation date looming, it seemed kind of tense.”
Now that the team had a firm design, Ed Laflamme, welding shop foreman at Quirke set about making special machinery to bend the steel tubing for spheres, It then had to be welded and the four inch diameter steel pipe, 12 feet in height constructed.
In May of 1975, with just 2 months until the presentation, the pipe on which the steel spheres was to be mounted went in to the lathe and Renault recalls that machinist, Grenville Pierce, began the extremely time-consuming and arduous and exacting polishing process. Crocus cloth, a very fine emery paper and 20 pounds of jewelers rouge, ordered from Montreal were on hand for polishing the entire structure.
Now the search for the 5 inch stainless steel balls was on. Armed with a list of machine shops in Toronto, Renault set out to find a company to spin 1/16th inch steel in to the needed 20 balls. He got lucky, in that he found a shop that could produce them, but alas they said the process would take two weeks. “With a bit of persuading and overtime money, I managed to get the balls delivered in time. But they came in ‘rough’ and also had to go through the lengthy polishing process.”
“We had two lathes working the entire week with 2 machinists working non-stop just to polish them, as well as the cluster of smaller balls in the centre that represent the nucleus of the atom.”
Finally the components were ready to assemble. This process, lasting two weeks, took place outside the Quirke machine shop.
On June 27th the finished product was loaded on to a five ton truck and taken to the current site of the Uranium Symbol, from which a display Air Jumbo, a machine used for drilling underground , had been removed.
On the 28th of June, Ed McAfee, Superintendent of Rio Algom’s Quirke Mine proudly presented the shining new symbol to the town mayor Roger Taylor.
Renault recalls that, while some people regretted the removal of the Jumbo, the vast majority of citizens of Elliot Lake were very impressed with the new installation and were happy with the new and enduring symbol of Elliot Lake’s Mining Heritage.
Taken from Milestones and Memories of Elliot Lake