Researching and Modeling Blast Furnaces, Iron & Steel Mills, and Coke Plants
Jones & Laughlin's Pittsburg Works in Pittsburgh, PA
Steel Industry Experiences:
The high point in my 'steel-fanning' (?) was a ride in a remote controlled EMD SW switcher at Rouge Steel in Dearborn MI, in the mid '90s. We rode the cab as it switched torpedo cars under the 'C' furnace, then ran around the boat slip with a few cars of molten iron, to the BOF building, where we watched a 'blow'. Mighty impressive at night ! (sorry, no pictures)
I've also seen BOF blows (up close), continuous casting, and sheet hot rolling at Great Lakes division of National Steel (now USS), and toured the Detroit River waterfront of Zug Island in a friends boat. That is where Great lakes Steel has 3 furnaces under blast, 2 large coke oven batteries, stock yards, and other primary steel paraphernalia.
A surprising event happened in 1985, after I stopped for dinner at a bar in Portsmouth Ohio, while driving to the C&OHS convention in Lewisburg WV (the slow way !). I had a nice meal and some beers and then slept in the station wagon back in the parking lot. When I woke up in the morning, the air was heavy with Ohio river mist, as it slowly cleared I saw the ghostly shapes of half destroyed blast furnaces ! This was the Detroit Steel iron smelting facilities in the midst of demolition. I got some great photos, some of which you can see in my Steel Mill Photo Gallery
I started some library research in 1969. But it wasn't until the mid 1970's that I got into high gear in steel industry research. There was a lot of steel manufacture and processing in the Detroit area, including 3 Ford, 5 Great Lakes, 2 McLouth Steel blast furnaces, and a J&L Stainless operation. I combed the libraries in the area making hundreds of copies of text, plans and layouts of blast furnaces, steel plants and by-product coke ovens. I have since collected a lot more info. See my Steel Reference page.
Steel industry Modeling:
I was first captured by the blast furnace when I saw the pictures of Michael Rabbitt's model in the March 1959 Model Railroader magazine. As I'm an avid modeler of the C&O, ARMCO's Ashland works was a natural focus for modeling, since it sits on the C&O mainline along the Ohio river just west of the West Virginia/Kentucky state line, and is the only 20th century steel mill on the old C&O.
The time period I'm most interested in modeling is 1940-1950, although I have to admit to a strong liking to the blast furnace designs of the later twenties through the thirties.