Sunday, October 10, 2010


Just arrived back from four days in western PA, Ohio and West Virginia.    We stayed in Pittsburgh for three nights while we explored the surrounding areas.  Some observations - 
  • Thank goodness for digital cameras - I took 740 photos in four days
  • Not enough time to take in everything - could have used at least three more days
  • Holy railroading batman - forget even trying to railfan on this trip - so much railroad action will need a separate trip just for that
  • Pittsburgh folks can't drive for sh_t
  • Who OK'd working on every highway in the Pittsburgh area simultaneously?  It was beyond a joke and literally cost us probably three or four hours of lost time the entire trip.  We almost missed the Carrie Furnace tour due to three consecutive traffic jambs at 7am on a Saturday morning.  It wouldn't have been so bad if I actually saw people working, but I think someone just closed half the exit ramps and highway lanes to look like they are working.  
  • Still plenty of steel industry and artifacts to see.
  • Someone needs to write a guide book on photographing mills and railroads - shooting locations, times of day, ,...etc.  
  • The Station Square Mall hired the real life Paul Blart - the only place the whole weekend I got chased off for photographing - more on this later in blog.
  • Liked Pittsburgh, Cleveland was ok, liked Weirton, WV
  • Surprisingly good food throughout trip, and I am a snob when it comes to food
How it all started:
A few months back I spotted an internet post about the Hard Hat Tours of Carrie Furnaces, run by the Rivers of Steel Organization.  I promptly purchased two tickets without really looking at my long term schedule, but I knew I would find a way to make it there.  Coincidentally it had been awhile since my wife and myself had taken a romantic weekend getaway.  Forget New York City, or Vermont, or an island - why not Pittsburgh, PA.  (We did actually end up on an island)  
Taking a few days off work, we left early thursday morning.  After, creeping through Philadelphia rush hour traffic we settled in for the long drive across Pennsylvania.  My plan for Thursday was to break off south just before Pittsburgh, deep into the heart of coal and coke country and then follow the Mon Valley northward into Pittsburgh.  The initial objective was Shoaf, PA and the remains of the last operating bee hive coke oven in the US.  This was a pretty long detour to take.  I was armed with aerial photos as it is pretty hard to find without.  After driving almost to the West Virginia border and down a half dozen back roads I located the former coke works at Shoaf, only to be disappointed - the area is now well posted with no-trespassing signs and it appears that they are mining coal there again - trucks and people everywhere.   I thought about asking permission to enter the property but the day was getting late and everything looked very overgrown anyway.  I took a few pictures from the public road and then we headed north up the Mon valley.  
We first stopped in Monessen - the former Pittsburgh-Wheeling Steel Mill is gone, but the coke works is still in some sort of operation, although it didn't look like they were making coke.  You can get some half-decent photos of the coke works from the public parking lots along the main drag there.  You can't see the batteries unfortunately and one of there quench cars was right out in front, but blocked by a bunch of CSX Coke Express cars.   From Monessen we next stopped in Clairton.  There aren't too many good photo ops from the main road there so we drove up into one of the neighborhoods overlooking the works and shoot a few photos from up there.  Next was Duquesne.  The former USS plant is gone and they are reusing the mill property for an office park.  There are a few artifacts on display here - some ingot molds and an former mill locomotive.    Continuing up the valley our next stop was Homestead - the former USS works is now a large shopping center.  My wife wasn't really disappointed with this so while she shopped I took in the artifacts that they have preserved there.  By the Lowes is a 12,000 ton press - by Ruby Tuesday a Kling Hot Metal Car (I think it is a Kling)   - by the Marriot is a large shipping yard type crane,  in the shopping area a narrow gauge locomotive - 30inch gauge - and finally the smokestacks of reheat furnaces near the Longhorn Steakhouse.  There is also a narrow gauge (30") ingot car with a few ingot molds on the main square in Homestead too.
   It was getting late  and as we entered Pittsburgh we stopped at Station Square.  This is a retail/hotel complex on the waterfront across from downtown.  It has a few artifacts - the old P&LE Depot, some misc. machinery, and the famous Bessemer Converter.  Darkness prevented any good photos of the converter but my wife found a small shopping mall.  It was virtually empty.  There was a small bookstore and I purchased a book on Duquesne.  While my wife was busy making her contributions to various stores I started to looked at the structural steel work in what must have been an old mill or railroad related building.  I pulled out my camera and took a few shots of the framing for future modeling reference and like that a Paul Blart look a like security guard was yelling at me for photographing "the property"  -  Mind you I spent four days taking over 700 photos of transportation, petrochemical, and other "strategic" industries without being hassled once, in fact a nice young Weirton, WV police officer even suggested additional locations for taking good photos of the mill.   On top of this we were actually patronizing this semi-dead shopping mall that could use every bit of business they could.   Funny - I'll post one of the photos that got me "busted" as my wife says.
 As I mentioned earlier - I did book a nice hotel on and island for our stay.  From Station Square it was a 10 minute drive through McKees Rocks to our island paradise, Neville Island - now you local Pittsburgh folks are probably laughing already, but to those of you not familiar with the area, Neville Island is about 3/4s heavy industry, with a small town at the western end.  As we were driving onto the island and the flare towers from the coke works were lighting up the night I got a look from my wife, but the hotel, a Fairfield Inn, turned out to be quite nice and comfortable, although my wife didn't like the train blowing their whistles and rumbling up the Ohio River all night long - music to my ears...


Mary Jo said...

Jim - I found your blog through a link in the Steel Industry Heritage Corp newsletter. If you plan another trip to Pittsburgh, be sure to check out the model railroad and village at the Carnegie Science Center. It is a Pittsburgh tradition and has been delighting young and old for generations. Here's the link When you visited the Clairton coke works, were you on the same side of the river as the plant or across the river? If you are across the river from the plant, you can get a great view of the batteries. -Mary Jo

Mary Jo said...

Jim - Were you interested in photographing a working mill? There is still one near Pittsburgh in Braddock, PA. It's the Edgar Thompson works, part of US Steel. It was Andrew Carnegie's original mill in the area. Today it features a continuous caster. You can get quite close to the mill and you can also get some great shots if you drive up the hill overlooking the mill into North Braddock. -Mary Jo

Jim Musser said...

I did want to see the Carnegie Science center while in Pittsburgh but just didn't have the time with everything else I had planned - we will be back sooner than later and go then. Thanks for the info on the Clairton Works - again, only really had time for a quick drive by - next time we will check out the other side of the river. As to Edgar Thompson - if you see a later blog, we did get there. As an example of how rushed we were - in the three days in Pittsburgh we visited three working mills - ET, Warren, OH, and Cleveland - and four working coke plants - Clairton, Monessen, Neville Island, and Steubenville, OH - and finally - the remains, partial or less of Weirton, Mingo Jct, Steubenville, Homestead, Carrie, Duquesne, Monessen. Probably try to get back in early spring - before leaves on trees but after most of snow.