Botlek night expo - December 2002
I had prepared for a quiet evening at home with the TV when my telephone rang at 20:00. It was Ben: "Hi, Egons is here. Shall we go on an expedition?" This ruined my planning, and the next day I felt like a zombie, but it resulted in a nice adventure. 
Setting off - We met at Ben's place in Delfshaven. Egons - from Latvia - was staying at Ben's place for a few days and he would come and explore with us. (Egons: left, Ben: right)

We decided to visit the "mystery factory", the grain-loading dock and - time permitting - the Botlek-tunnel of the Betuwe-lijn. The tunnel is finished, but no trains go through it yet.
I also admired the place where Ben lives. They're demolishing all the houses around him and soon he'll have to move. In the meantime it's one of the better romantic spots in Rotterdam.
But it's not one of the best neighborhoods. The infamous Keilerweg (drugs and prostitution) is just over the (deserted) rail tracks. Ben lives behind the first door on the left.
 Discovery - We discovered the "mystery factory" during our "new camera trial expo". We went into the harbor and looked for things to photograph, so I could get used to my new Minolta.

We came upon this pipework, and it had a big sign saying that it was being demolished. We took some photographs, and admired the barbed-wire fence. We decided it would be climbable, but it was within full view of the busy Botlekweg.
Barbed wire fence
Rat poison
First expedition - It was this kind of fence.  Later we discovered that we could walk around the fence.
But we found no immediate entrance, just this old box of rat poison.
Mystery factory top Steel chimneys and stairs rising to a breathtaking height. We simply had to get inside, one way or another.

Not being able to get in over the side fence we walked to the back. Here we saw a featureless 2m high concrete fence. We would need a ladder.

I hung around here, filming all the heavy machinery while Ben took a closer look at the fence. Then I lost him ... he was gone a long time.

Mystery factory bottom
We still have no idea what was done in this factory. My guess - but that is not supported by any fact - is that it recycled road-surface - asphalt.
In the beginning everything was still accessible. Notice the stairs on the left. It was possible to go all the way to the top of the chimney.
This is what gave me the "asphalt" idea. Something is put into this pipe on the right. The horizontal pipe looks like it could rotate on it's axis. Gravity would transport the fragments to the other side of the pipe at the left.

Note: recently I got a nice email explaining this in more detail.

And of course the smell of polycyclic cancer causing carbonates that pervaded the site.

Then Ben called me on my mobile phone and disturbed my speculation  ... "I've found a hole in the fence here!"
Second expedition - But this night the dock was in full swing. One of the floating cranes was unloading a Russian ship. But the few people in and around the silo didn't care about us.  They don't care much about anyone - I've also met groups of fishermen who spend the night here. And another guy was collecting scrapwood. You can't do much harm here, it's all so huge and solid.
 This was the first time I made long exposure shots with my new camera. I'm quite satisfied with the result. Of course I selected the best shots.  But you can see that this is a magical place where I will return many more times (if the article that will appear in the NRC-newspaper won't spoil it).
The hole that Ben discovered was gone, but we climbed over the fence anyway. Immediately we set off for the stairways on the (far) left.

We climbed over several platforms and ended up on a wobbly flat roof. This was a  dead end. "At least we're safe if they let the dogs loose" said Egons.
Then we climbed down and took the large stairs up. A few moments later we were looking down from one of the chimneys.
Just then I realized that the flashbulb of my camera was "on" and that I had no idea how to turn it "off". It took some frantic experimenting - and a few flashes that must have been visible for miles - before I could start taking real pictures.

Mysterious alchemical machinery - most of it German made - was all around us. Huge reaction vessels, valves, pipes and chimneys.
In some places the landings and floors had been cut away, and the drops were marked by red-white plastic tape.
 The control room was lighted. An electric heater was running full swing inside. We didn't find a way to get inside, behind the glass door.  We tried to determine what that strange biological smell was. Fertilizer? Rubber? Pigeon droppings? This also looked like a dead end.
Ben almost got electrocuted when he opened this box with pneumatic actuators and put his hand inside. "Look out - the current is still on here!"
 "Oh, I was just searching for the date of the last inspection - to see how long this has been abandoned."

Now we were in the bottom of a silo. A rectangular hole was filled with a few centimeters of rainwater. At least that's what we thought. We dropped a broomstick in it and discovered that it was 2 meters deep. Good that we didn't step in!
 The few light sources resulted in these magical pictures. I love artificial lighting. A toolshed was brightly lit and we were afraid there would be people inside - but all was safe.  At the back of the silo we found stairs going ten floors up. Here we rested a while and enjoyed the view. In the distance blue flames were rising from chimneys. In another direction lights were dancing in a rising column of hot air - more heavy industry.
 Looking down on the site of Paktank / Vopak. Until late in the night huge cranes had been moving heaps of stuff around the site. But now the crane lights were off, the guard at the entrance was the only person around. And here we were on the 10th floor, feeling like secret agents while Egons was smoking weed ... I always have my 10*50 binoculars with me, just for situations like these.
 On the right one of the huge containers - disguised as a hatbox. I can hold 10.000.000 liters or so. Anyway it's a number with a lot of zeros. And those light in the distance are Air Products and other chemical factories. Just to give you an impression, during the daytime these things look like this (this is the Esso refinery):
 Then we decided to look inside the train tunnel of the Betuwe train line. Ben discovered it. It's not operational yet, but it is finished, lit and inviting. According to Ben it is easy to crawl under the fence that blocks the entrance (well for him ... probably not for me with my 82 kg).
But we had chosen the wrong moment. Even at 1:00 AM the train yard was in full swing. The train drivers were looking at us from their cabins and hooting their horns. No way we could cross these tracks unoticed.

So we left this adventures place for tonight, but were determined to come back another day. And we did - with three cars, 10 people, a newspaper reporter, a photographer and a radio reporter. But that's another story ...
Strange places
Deserted Buildings
Urban Adventure Home



I was browsing your site when I noticed this picture and your description of it. You aren't far off. It does indeed rotate. But it's not a pipe.

It's a rotary dryer, used for dewatering powdered or ground materials. It's slightly tilted, so that as it rotates, the material can gradually roll to the far end, from where it is carried off by conveyers. Horizontal flues travel along the inside of the pipe, dispensing either heated air or hot gasses evenly along the length of the dryer. The inside of the pipe is lined with shelves, so that as it rotates, material is carried up and then dropped down into the hot airstream.

Normally these huge dryers are actually inside the building, but older factories keep them outside for some reason. They are a VERY old method of drying anything, the first ones came into use during the 30's. So that factory could be a lot older than it might look.

Normally they are used in plants which deal with cement and concrete, or other aggregate based road laying/building construction materials. I've worked in plants which use them for drying kaolin too.

Looks like an interesting site to explore. I hope you find the information I've given you useful. :)

Best Regards, G