Ever pass a building, time and again, for years, and wonder exactly what goes on inside? There’s a seemingly quiet, little factory by the train tracks on North Cherry in Hammond, LA that holds a bold secret – it’s one of the largest manufacturers in the USA of welding consumable storage ovens. What began as a sheet metal business in 1923 as Henkel Enterprises has developed into a leader in welding flux and welding storage ovens supplying local, regional and international aerospace, construction, petroleum, nuclear and marine industries.
During the holidays and summers in college, I worked for a drilling company in Houma and noticed the welders would keep their welding rods dry in a gutted refrigerator fitted with a couple of light bulbs. Compromised welding rods can endanger the integrity of welding seams and endanger entire projects. Keen Ovens evolved in 1972 from a request by a New Orleans distributor in dire need of a way to properly store their welding consumables at a job site that was shut down by a welding inspector.
Over the years, Keen expanded their welding rod and flux oven business to include custom ovens with myriad uses, like heating up and expanding a propeller to be pressed onto a ship’s drive shaft. And some of these ovens are quite large! One photography assignment involved a custom oven fitted with counterweights to assist in opening huge vertical doors – this oven had an overall length of fourteen feet and weighed well over a ton. Their smallest ovens might fit in a gym bag, and all are designed, fabricated, painted, assembled, tested and shipped out from their facility in Hammond, LA.
It was exciting to receive an invitation to photograph these impressive ovens for Keen – after several years and dozens of photo shoots, they are my favorite commercial client. I’m always impressed by the ingenuity of their designs, the clever fabrication techniques and the high quality of their products. They’re just great folks to work with – and I finally found out what goes on inside that old building by the tracks.