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Edition #195  April 1, 2013

A Rusty Wonderland

Photographer: Kevin Scanlon

                                                                      Photo by Kevin Scanlon

A Rusty Wonderland

Have you ever decided to take on a project that is completely overwhelming and foolhardy, particularly from a spousal viewpoint? For the past couple of years Keith Clouse and I have been working as volunteers to preserve an historic steel mill, Carrie Furnace. Carrie is a former US Steel mill that supplied iron to the Homestead Works. It was shut down in the early 1980s. Most of the mill was demolished except for two 1906-era blast furnaces (#6 & #7), the hot blast stoves and a few support buildings. The site sits in the middle of a very large brownfield next to the Monongahela River. Even when it was running, Carrie was kind of an enigma, tucked away from main roads and hidden from view by the hills and other steel mills. For the past 30 years it has sat derelict and was a popular haunt for graffiti artists, urban explorers, vandals and scrap metal thieves. .

A Pittsburgh area nonprofit, Rivers of Steel, acquired the property with the intention of saving the place and opening it up to the public. At one time Carrie Furnace alone employed 4000 men. The steel industry touched every family in Pittsburgh during its heyday. When we were growing up here, the mills were everywhere. There were about 50 blast furnaces located around Pittsburgh in the river valleys. Today there are four: the two we are preserving at Carrie and two more still operating at the Edgar Thomson Works a mile upriver. The Edgar Thomson blast furnaces are the last ones operating in Pennsylvania, only 20 are in operation in the entire United States. Keith and I both saw the opportunity to be a part of saving this incredibly important piece of history. We wanted younger generations to be able to get a little taste of what was once common here and what drove the industrial revolution in the United States. We both love it. The work is hot, filthy and exhausting but the feeling of accomplishment when you step back at the end of the day is worth it.

On a pleasant Saturday afternoon in March, 2013 we find ourselves working at the steel mill. Our current project is to clear trees and brush that have taken root in the large ore yard next to the furnaces. Keith is using his electric saw to go through small saplings and brush like an angry beaver. Iíve just knocked over about 5 larger trees when my chainsaw seized up. My love/hate relationship with the chainsaw is all hate right now, so I decide to take a break. I grab my camera and climb the stair tower to the top of the blast furnaces.

Up on top of #6 Furnace I can see the Edgar Thomson Plantís #1 and #3 Blast Furnaces and basic oxygen furnace shop towering over Braddock just off to the east. An air horn sounds in the distance. A CSX westbound is heading down the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad mainline that sweeps past our mill site. It is an empty auto rack train. I snap a picture of it crossing the Monongahela River Bridge and heading toward the shopping area where the former Homestead Works site once was. The right side of the photo shows the tops of the hot blast stoves with the stacks of #7 Blast Furnace at the far end. You can see Keith way down below, a spec of white against the ore yard wall. I think about how lucky I am to be able to be a part of this. And I have to wonder if there are any other railroad photographers anywhere who have the opportunity to use a blast furnace as a their own 10 story tall shooting platform? As Iím walking back down I notice a bit of graffiti on some ductwork: A Rusty Wonderland. Yes it is. Come by for a visit sometime and weíll show you around, but only after you pitch in for a few hours!

Kevin Scanlon

Kevin Scanlon Photography

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