Thank God, I'm Not Totally Weird

I have always liked factories -- in college, I used to accept certain job interviews (example: Pontiac) just to get the factory tour.  Years ago, my wife gave me a travel book called something like "made in the USA"  which lists fun public factory tours you can take in the cities you visit.  One of my favorite tourist memories was going to the Fedex facility in Memphis at midnight to watch a sort.

But perhaps what made folks think I was really weird was when I told them I though that oil refineries, at night, could be some of the most beautiful places on earth.  When I worked in a refinery for 3 years, I used to love being there at night -- not just for the aesthetics, but for the amazing site of miles and miles of plant operating and producing tens of millions of dollars a day of product without a person in sight.

Well, at least one person shares my aesthetics.  Via a link from Radley Balko, comes this photo spread called factories and industrial complexes, but which look mostly like oil refineries at night.


  1. Gorgasal:

    Of course, there being one other person that shares your tastes does not imply your not being totally weird...

    That said, my personal favorite are container terminals.

  2. EconGrad:

    I have always found oil refineries a very impressive sight to behold. The miles and miles of pipelines that some human somewhere had to design! I know I could never even keep it organized in my mind, let alone make it all work to do the conversions needed to get gasoline. Thank God for engineers! One of my favorite things to see is construction. There were a couple buildings built on my college campus while I was there and it was fun to go out and sit and watch them at lunch. It was amazing how it went from looking like a giant hole in the ground, to tons of concrete, to finally having form. Makes me happy that humans use their minds for productive matters.

  3. J:

    When I was younger my aunt took me on a tour of a Mrs. Beard's factory, it was awesome! They even let you sample bread that was freshly made...and gave you free food to take home.

  4. TigerHawk:

    I totally agree. In the summer of 1984 I travelled around east Asia with a couple of fellow Tigers. While in Japan we decided that we wanted to see a Japanese automobile plant, which then were considered the zenith of automation. We tracked down the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce, and after they got over their surprise -- no American students had ever made this request before -- they very helpfully arranged a tour at the Nissan plant in Zama. Very cool. So, naturally, I've worked myself into a job that allows me to take a plant tour pretty much whenever I have the time.

  5. Kyle Bennett:

    I used to do messenger delivery in Chicago, and got to go to all the coolest places. Among the best were the Caterpillar plant in Joliet - I got to wander around a parts yard and manufacturing floor full of the giant mining truck assemblies looking for a someone to sign for a box - and the US Steel yard in Gary - it was something like a 5 mile drive from the main gate to the delivery site, and the whole place looked like it was straight out of Mad Max or Terminator or something.

  6. rxc:

    The countries that succeed are the ones that actually MAKE STUFF, and we are about to learn that lesson the hard way. I think the last refinery built in the US was built in the 60s, and no one has built an integrated steel mill since then either. It is pretty much impossible to build such factories in the US any more, because of the NIMBY factor.

    As an engineer, I also appreciate them, and I have a bittersweet reaction to the plans to construct new nuclear units in the US - I spent an entire career trying to keep nuclear expertise alive in the US while waiting for this moment, and after I retired, it all started up again.

  7. dearieme:

    I agree about refineries, but the finest industrial sight I ever saw was the discharging of the coke ovens at a steel works: a waterfall of red hot coke through the night sky.

  8. Hammer:

    Those are just amazing! Thank you so much for the link.
    I remember after seeing pictures of a factory for the first time, I think it was some sort of steel stamping facility with pistons the size of trees, and just looking at them in awe. Ever sense, I have had a hard time caring about "hand made" items.

  9. Stew:

    I currently work in a refinery, and I understand and share you admiration. My first experience was when I work nights for a T/A, and seeing those lights and everything in actions is truly beautiful. It makes you appreciate the accomplishments of human ingenuity!

  10. bristlecone:

    rxc: Shell is building a refinery in Beaumont TX right now. A neighbor is one of the design engineers.

    I love refineries, but then, I grew up in Beaumont.