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Edition #268  April 15, 2016

Steel Town Slag Dump

Photographer: James Ruffing

                                                                                 Photo by  James Ruffing


Steel Town Slag Dump

Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1960's and 70's, one was surrounded by the steel industry.  It was everywhere you looked and one could often hear and even smell it.  Being a railfan, railroads like the Union, the Bessemer, the MonCon, and others were intriguing.  Their operations were harder to understand and more mysterious than those of the Class I railroads around the city.

Most intriguing of all may have been the dumping of slag, a waste product of the steel making process.  The molten slag was loaded into what we called slag dump cars and transported from the riverside mills to the slag dumps in the South Hills of the city.  There the short trains were run onto barren, almost moon-like, expanses of previously dumped slag.  A pit would have been dug earlier and the train was positioned on tracks along the edge of it.  One by one, the ladles on the slag dump cars would be rotated to pour the slag into the pit.  The sight, the sounds, and the smells were all astounding.  Never more so than at night!

During my high school years I would sit in my parentsí car late in the evening near the slag dump and hope a train would arrive.  If it did, I tried my best to capture the spectacle on the precious film I could afford with my earnings from working in a mill during the summer.  After a number of attempts, I started to get a feel for the proper exposure and for the timing of the pour/shot.  The photograph above was from one of those memorable nights. 

The site of one of the slag dumps I photographed at is now a shopping mall. As well as are a couple of the former steel mill sites.  Others are high tech industrial parks.  I may not be as interested in photographing those, but at least they're providing jobs for the children of the former steel mill workers.

James Ruffing

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