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Refractories Review: Remembering Refractories Week in Bedford Springs

April 1, 2002
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Between the 50s and 80s, the Bedford Springs Hotel in Bedford Springs, Pa., was the common site of Fall Meetings for the Refractories, Glass, and Materials & Equipment Divisions of the American Ceramic Society. Despite the popularity and reputation of the hotel for more than a century, it is now closed, although there are plans for a long awaited restoration ($60 million). The golf course is still in operation.

Known as Refractories Week, the Fall Refractories Meetings (The Refractories Institute, American Society for Testing and Materials, and ACerS Refractories Division) at the Bedford Springs Hotel provided a forum for technical interaction, business activities, many fond memories, and lifelong friendships for the people who attended. But the refractories industry has changed dramatically since then. For example, Refractories Week is gone; most of the well-known companies have changed or disappeared; and the number of students with education, experience and interest in refractories is significantly less. There are people involved in refractories now who don’t know about Refractories Week, and never had the yearly opportunity to experience five days of technical and social interaction with refractories colleagues, friends, competitors, customers, students and others. Hopefully this brief column will convey a small sense of Refractories Week to the uninitiated, and refresh the memory of those who were fortunate enough to participate.

Refractories Week History

In 1951, 225 people attended the Fall Refractories Meeting in Bedford Springs, which included a program of seven technical papers and social activities, including golf. In later years the meeting attendance grew to 400 and more, reaching 535 in 1967 and decreasing thereafter. Typical meetings included a technical program of up to 20 papers; a companion’s program; and co-ed activities such as golf, tennis, trapshooting and a 6K fun run. The Fall Refractories Meeting was last held in Bedford Springs in 1987.

All segments of the refractories community were represented at these meetings, including manufacturers, users, suppliers, academics (professors and students), consultants, companions and others. The location of Bedford Springs was ideal, because a high percentage of the attendees could drive to the meeting. The relatively isolated location near a small village, without the distractions of a metropolitan area, promoted more personal interaction, which contributed to the ever-increasing spirit of camaraderie.

Especially important was the opportunity to make valuable contacts and build relationships with refractory users (customers) for purposes like learning what refractory improvements, innovations and services were needed, and for promoting and selling products. And students, who are the lifeblood of the industry, were afforded the opportunity to meet and talk with people from all segments of the refractories industry. It was common that ceramic engineering students from up to six universities would attend. Foreign attendees also liked the Bedford Springs meeting, especially because they could meet and interact with people from the whole U.S. refractories community at one isolated location.

Selected Memories

The technical program at Refractories Week always included timely coverage of current topics, such as castables, basic (or alumina) refractories, steel plant applications, new energy systems, refractory properties and applications, quality control, panel discussions, etc. The forum promoted discussion of the talks, which at times was very lively with detailed probing by questioners.

In one technical session, the projector destroyed the slides of several speakers. Each slide initially projected, but within a few seconds a burn spot appeared in the center, which progressively increased until the film was gone. A hotel worker had forgotten to re-insert a glass plate that protected the slides from the direct heat of the bulb.

In the evenings, people gathered in the main lobby, where there was a roaring fire, before ascending the split stairway to the dining room. After dinner, people returned to the main lobby or lounge, and later dispersed to the penthouse on the hill to sing and socialize until the wee hours.

For many years, Ms. Jo Gitter attended the Fall Refractory Meeting and took pictures of all attendees, which were compiled in annual scrapbooks that provided an interesting historical record. (It is thought that these scrapbooks are still available at the American Ceramic Society headquarters.)

Still today, some refractories people, when driving to other destinations in or near central Pennsylvania, will drive by the Bedford Springs Hotel, just to rekindle the memories of this important chapter in U.S. refractories history. Current views of the Bedford Springs Hotel can be seen online at www.bedfordsprings.com.

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