Do You Know Why Steel Mills are Named for Women?

Because they’re both hot and temperamental.

Rivers of Steel offers tours of the Carrie Furnaces near Pittsburgh PA. You do in fact go over the river, but instead of through the woods, it’s over the railroad tracks. And you better have good suspension because those tracks are projectile and still active–without a RR Crossing sign/bell/arm-thingy. And then through the overgrown field with the furnace remnants towering over you.

Carrie Furnace

It’s ominous and beautiful. The disrepair is both shameful and symbolic. Yet I’m always drawn to rust and dilapidation.

Carrie Furnaces

Why is Pennsylvania Steel Country?

Steel is made from two primary ingredients: iron ore and coke. Coke is coal remnants, and Pennsylvania has coal everywhere. The river helps, too. Transportation for people and product in addition to the trains.

In the 1970’s there were over 50 steel mills in the area; now only 24. And most of those recycle scrap; they don’t create steel from raw materials. So how does the economy fare? Coal is still essential in the US and abroad.

My mind was flooded with the “history” learned from Billy Joel’s Allentown and anything by Bruce Springsteen–they sang of “closing all the factories down.” And with that reality, people moved across the country, taking with them pride in the Super Bowl-winning Steelers. Which now gives the team an amazing following nationwide.

Grass covered train track at the Carrie Furnaces

Where does Iron Come in to Play?

Iron isn’t used as an entity of its own–unless it’s decorative wrought iron. It’s simply not strong enough and is used only as a key to making steel. That was so interesting to me because of phrases like “iron-clad” and “iron-willed.”

The factory was a time intensive place–the furnace couldn’t cool off or it would contract and collapse, so shifts worked 24 hours a day. And once the iron was melted, it had 12 hours in the RR car before it solidified, so trains were coming and going to move “ingredients” from place to place before anything stagnated and became a ton of useless weight.

Carrie Furnaces Steel Mill

Carrie Furnaces Steel Mill

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What factory job have you or someone you know worked? What tales can you share?

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