National Geographic : 1961 Jul
Where the Lech Valley widens to the north, I passed an airport with sailplanes waiting for updrafts along the moun tains. I drove through the town of Reutte to a factory em ploying more than 1,000 of Reutte's 4,000 inhabitants, the Plansee Metalworks, pioneers in the wondrous business of powder metallurgy. Happily some metals, which won't combine in molten state, make useful alloys when mixed in powder form. Powdered metals produce fine finished parts when pressed into shape and baked at 2,500° C. "An American-built car carries about two and a half pounds of powder-metallurgical parts," said Dr. Walter Schwarzkopf, who did graduate work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His father, Dr. Paul Schwarzkopf, plant founder, as early as 1910 used powder-mixing tech niques to produce tungsten filaments for light bulbs. "Now we are mixing tungsten with a bit of iron, or nickel, or copper, and one of the results is a dense metal we call Densimet," said Dr. Schwarzkopf, pointing at a silvery block the size of a brick. I tried to pick it up and broke a nail trying to get a grip. The thing weighed 53 pounds! Who or what on earth could possibly use this stuff? "It saves space in shielding atomic reactors. In a self winding watch a tiny piece fixed to a wheel makes the wheel turn a bit whenever you move your hand. Similar material is used in stabilizing mechanisms of many aircraft...." Enough. Doctors Take to Helicopters In the following weeks I saw more of Tirol's striving to improve life in the mountains. I joined Gendarmerie offi cers surveying lofty landing sites for helicopters, so that doctors might fly in when roads are blocked by avalanches of snow or rock. I visited a mountain laboratory studying plants to learn which can grow high up. Object: to hold snow in place and prevent avalanches. I attended the opening of a stud farm for Haflingers, sturdy yet graceful Tirolean horses with chestnut bodies and straw-blond manes. Haflingers, especially suited to mountains, are exported as far as the United States. Gradually my muscles accustomed themselves to the mountains. I crossed glaciers with steel spikes strapped to my new, made-to-order boots. I spotted furry marmots sit ting upright in the sun and closed in on them until they would whistle, like a boatswain piping an admiral aboard, and herd their young to underground safety. I clawed my way to an edelweiss growing high on a slope that was near ly vertical and completely grassy, and all the more slippery for that (page 113). For a long time I looked at a lone flower trembling in the wind. Then I plucked it. Why not? The law permitted me to pick five. But at once I was sorry. The spot looked be reaved, laid waste, as if nothing would grow there any more. Now I felt ready for a supreme experience, the hunt for the chamois, the mountain antelope. From the back of the male's winter coat come long, silky hairs, a favorite trophy when gathered in a silver holder and stuck in one's hat. This is called the Gamsbart- literally, and misleadingly, the 130 Weissenstein Castle, relic of the feudal age, hugs a promontory in the rugged Tauern Valley. More than 500 castles once studded the Tirol; to day many crumble into de cay or stand as roofless, win dowless shells. The farmer's creel holds leaves for his compost heap.