The big gray polygonal tank stood for 79 years in the Jones Falls Valley, exuding the smelly-sock smell of vinegar – or so people mistakenly thought – and serving as a North Baltimore landmark on the west side of I-83, near the Cold Spring Lane intersection.
It only took a couple of seconds for the Melvale gas holder to come down with a BOOM-BOOM today.
First, charges circling the tank flashed orange. Then a puff of smoke blasted upwards. Then the whole thing toppled like a blown-over house of cards, falling away from Jones Falls Expressway, just as the demolition company intended.
We know what they intended because we had the good fortune to find ourselves standing on the 41st Street Bridge with a friendly employee from Controlled Demolition, Inc., the Phoenix, Md.-based company in charge of knocking down the former home heating gas tank for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
Not a Vinegar Tank
We chatted with him and stood with a crowd that ultimately swelled to about 50 people, come to watch the Sunday morning implosion of “the vinegar tank.”
(In fact, a vinegar factory, on the other side of the JFX, has been the source of that vinegar odor – and decades of confusion over what smells were coming from where.)
They’d been working on the implosion for weeks, he said, pointing out the holes to the left of the ladder where some of the 400 explosive charges had been positioned.
Riding over on bikes, pushing strollers, gripping cameras and travel mugs, spectators waited for an explosion that was reportedly scheduled for 7 a.m., but took place closer to 7:30 a.m.
Countdown to Collapse
Part of the reason for the slight delay was the early morning cloud cover, which would trap the sound and make it seem louder, we were told. But along with waiting for the haze to lift, the demolition crew of about a dozen also had their hands full keeping curious people with cameras from getting too close to the blast.
“We got two people behind Dopkin [a plumbing supply company]. They won’t leave,” someone could be heard saying on the walkie-talkie. Another person responded: “Do you want me to get the police over there?”
“I got somebody on the roof of Poly that wants to take pictures from there,” someone else reported.
There was also a lot of discussion that appeared to be about somebody from City Paper who had set up a remote camera inside the area considered unsafe, which they hoped to be able to trigger with an 85-foot cord.
When all was clear they started the safety cameras rolling and counted down: “10, 9, 8, 7 . . .”
Doomed by Technology
Why did the 258-foot-tall tank have to come down?
Like so much of Baltimore’s industrial past, it was doomed by the advance of technology.
There are apparently more efficient ways to store gas now and it was costly to maintain the structure.
BGE said the tank hasn’t been used since 1997.