Invariably, the most interesting and rewarding jobs are the most challenging. For years, we had driven past the badly-damaged fence at Martin’s Point Health Care and said “I sure would like to fix that fence someday!” Someday finally came in 2006.
This was the sight that greeted us when we did the initial site walk:
Over the years, this fence had been vandalized, hit by cars, and pushed around by tree roots. It was in a sad state.
One of the greatest things that happened as we were doing our inspection was that employees of the hospital kept pulling over on their way into the parking lot and threatening to have us arrested for trespassing. That might not sound like much fun, but it sent us a very clear message that everyone, down to the pharmacy workers and custodians, felt attached to this lovely antique fence, and had a stake in its well-being.
There is always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area, and despite the discouraging first impressions, we found some pretty good news: much of the fence was salvageable. Most of the bottom rail (an unusual old casting) was completely underground, where it had been partially protected from the elements. It was broken, but repairable.
Digging further, we found several cement piers that were buried, indicating that the fence had extended much further than anyone thought. By the time everything was tallied up, there was enough salvageable material to completely restore about half of the fence, and enough spare parts to partially complete the rest. We removed the fence, leveled the grade, and repaired and leveled the cement piers to give a good base for reinstallation. Our job at the shop, at least for now, was to rehabilitate, repair, and restore the usable parts while the patterns were made for the casting of new parts.
Anything that couldn’t be repaired or reused was sent to the casting company to be used in making the new pieces. In all, we would need 500 pickets, 9 posts, and 5 bottom rails to complete the restoration.
It was apparent that the fence had been repaired before, at least twice. At some point, replacement pickets had been cast, probably using an original for the mold. This meant that not only were there two different-looking pickets, there were also two different-length pickets (due to shrinkage in the casting process). We reused the second-generation castings, but decided to have a proper pattern made for our new castings using an original picket as an exemplar. This gave us pickets more similar to the originals in both detail and size.
After a long wait, it was time to reinstall the fence. And that’s when the job got really challenging.
As it turns out, 450 feet of five-foot tall cast iron fence is really, really heavy. For some reason, it seemed heavier putting in back in than it had been taking it out.
Perseverance prevailed, and after a long installation process, we were done. Sort of. I have always been of the opinion that cast iron restoration jobs should receive their final coat of paint after installation, and I almost changed my mind when I looked at the fence and realized that I couldn’t see the other end of it.
So we painted…and painted…and painted…and painted. And finally, we got to the other end, the very last brushstroke:
In the end, we survived, and we’re very happy to have had the opportunity to restore this beautiful piece of Portland history.