It was barely rush hour on a recent Tuesday morning, but Pat Maietta was already at work, a fire burning in his large, blackened oven. A small mound of coke (blacksmith’s coal) sat smouldering, with sparks shooting out at random intervals from a hole at its base. “It’s shaped like a mini volcano,” Maietta said. It was time to fix some streetcars.
The TTC’s 247 streetcars run on 12 lines throughout the city. When they need repairs—to their motor, electrical wiring, or upholstery—they come to Harvey Shops. Located on Bathurst, just north of Dupont, the five-acre facility houses the blacksmith shop where Maietta works alongside another blacksmith and an apprentice.
Harvey Shops looks like a Midas franchise on steroids. The floor is bisected by a long set of tracks and a large platform that glides along them. Vehicles are loaded onto the platform and dropped at various locations, depending on the work they require. Streetcars are then positioned over pits so that mechanics can stand beneath them while doing work.
Maietta’s corner of the building is essential to the whole enterprise. Because warranties on vehicles eventually expire—and because it’s usually cheaper to make parts for buses and streetcars than it is to replace them—the TTC often does its repairs in-house. With enough fire and force, Maietta can make just about anything out of metal. He can stick steel bars into his forge until they reach 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, then shape them into the crowbars required to shift streetcar tracks; he can cut and curve tubed steel into wheel wells for buses. There’s a heat-treating oven, too, used to strengthen metal components by heating them to extreme temperatures and then quenching them in oil. Blacksmiths once used sperm whale oil for the process, he explained, but today, it’s synthetic.
Maietta spends lots of time making steel tow bars that connect a functioning streetcar to an immobile one in order to push it along the tracks. To shape a tow bar, he and a colleague hold a pair of blowtorches, powered by a mixture of oxygen and acetylene, over the bar. Once it’s glowing the colour of a traffic cone, Maietta brings the tube to a nearby $7,000 industrial hammer. He lays the pole on a small metal plate, depresses a foot pedal as a piston descends on the pole, flattening it into the shape he desires. The tube is later painted a glossy black—in-house, naturally.
29.5: Years Maietta has spent working in Harvey Shops.
~29 years: Age of Maietta’s trusty hammer, which he made from raw steel. (The handle is relatively new.)
~1,500° Fahrenheit: The temperature to which Maietta must heat forged steel before shaping it.
~2,000° Fahrenheit: The approximate temperature in the middle of Maietta’s mini volcano.