Old Time Town
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
88Trip End Feb 01, 2005
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Having heard from a guy on a bus that the old meat extraction plant at Fray Bentos was an interesting tour, I put it on my list of things to do. So I headed to Fray Bentos solely to see this old factory.
I arrived to a woman sweeping the verandah of the entrance to the complex and was told that I was early for the tour as it didn`t start until 10:30am. Curious as to whether my watch (with the big hand on 6 and little hand between 10 and 11) was wrong I asked what time it was. 10:25am was the answer. I`ve always thought that being 5 minutes early is the same as being on time but in Fray Bentos they are obviously more of the same Time School Theory as my mother: the thing says a time but really you don`t need to be there for at least 10 minutes after this, even then, that is early.
The bonus was that I got a personal tour, being the only tourist rocking up to be shown around (actually I was probably the only tourist in town). We passed some buildings that were being used by other companies as laboratories and pasta packing lines and saw the slots where the workers (up to 5000 in its heyday) would insert their metal coins with their employee number stamped on them to indicate that they had arrived for work.
Between about 1860 and 1979 the factory spewed out thousands of meat products from every kind of animal. Cows, sheep, pigs, and a whole other list which even included rabbits. They used every single piece of the animal in the process and at peak times they would slaughter 2500 head a day. The animals would come off a truck, boat or herdsmans staff and wade through the cleaning tank (how did the rabbits cross is a question I forgot to ask) and then were disinfected and walked up a catwalk to the abattoir where they were slaughtered and various bits popped into various chutes within a matter of minutes.
After processing the products were put into a 6 story coolroom to await the ships arriving at the wharf out the back and sail across to Europe. When the European Union was formed in the 1950`s, the factory started to go into decline as they had lost their valuable European customers.
It was all very interesting, and we also visited the offices which were preserved in their pre-email settings (I can`t really imagine someone wanting to preserve my old open plan office at VECCI for a museum). On the floor in front of one desk were two big dips in the floorboards. Apparently this is where an employee of 190cm sat for 30 years and in his effort to find a comfortable sitting position, scratched footpads at least 2cm deep into the floorboards!!!
We also visited a brass steamfire pump which would have excited my father no end. I then finished the tour with a bit of a looksee at the old wharf which used to be 200m long and able to handle any type of ship (except probably the Titanic).
Things I Learned
* 40% of the workforce in the factory were women
* People who try to spread the word of the Lord often have their own personal agenda
* Gum trees are special