Sunday, July 24, 2011

FIELD TRIP - Griffin Pipe/Roebling Steel/Pemberton Railroad Station

After dinner out this past friday night, we took the long way home, driving down along the Delaware River from Roebling to Burlington, NJ. On the way I noticed that, unfortunately, the Griffin Pipe Foundry is being demolished - only a year or so after the hot side of the US Pipe Foundry in Burlington met a similar fate. (more on this later) Despite my sadness at the demolition of Griffin, the process does present some opportunities. As the building come down, frequently their interesting contents become exposed. It's a tricky business catching things in a partial state of dismantling and I will probably have to be vigilant in visiting the site for the next month or so. With horrible heat on Saturday I waited until this morning when things cooled down slightly, and also my son and partner on steel outings had returned from Boy Scout camp.

We started out in Burlington, although I have many photos of the US Pipe facility, it never hurts to have a few more. I was especially interested in photographing some of the original McNeal Pipe Foundry stone buildings to the south of the US Pipe Facility. McNeal became part of US Pipe, although, interestingly, when US Pipe started to manufacture pipe using centrifugal casting they essentially abandoned the older stone buildings and built new structures just to the north. I assume some of these stone buildings took on other functions, but even to this day it is very clear where the old plant ended and new began. I shot a few photographs of the original McNeal cupola building for my talk I am giving at the upcoming Steel Mill Modelers Meet. As stated before, the hot end of the US Pipe Plant was shut down maybe four or five years ago and demolished last year. All pipe is now made in their Alabama facility, although, this site still serves as a distribution and storage center. I did take a long distance shot of their GE-45 tonner - a photo I took of this loco in 1988 was published in Railpace.

Just north of US Pipe, following along the banks of the Delaware there is a large Sheetrock factory still in operation, receiving raw gypsum from ship. I had never photographed this plant before, but with the rate things are disappearing around here I took the time. Just a bit further north and we hit Griffin Pipe. Took some nice photos here - will have to stop back every few days. From Griffin we drove through Florence and then into Roebling.

The town of Roebling was built by the John A. Roebling's Sons Company and is probably the best preserved company town left in America. The Roebling's bridge building and wire rope business had been based out of their large plant in Trenton, NJ, however, they lacked the ability to manufacture their own steel at that location and after US Steel and Bethlehem increasingly shafting them on steel costs they purchased land on the Delaware River about 10 miles south of their Trenton Plant with the intention of building an Open Hearth Steel Mill and additional wire mills.

As there was no nearby town or city, the Roeblings built the entire town to house workers for their mill. The entire town was built of brick and included stores, a hotel, boarding houses, a school, a theater, parks, community gardens,...etc... Workers lived in neighborhoods based on their ethnic backgrounds, with their associated churches and social clubs. The worker with families were offered brick row houses (each with a fruit tree in the rear yard), supervisors and foremen, duplexes, and managers, large single family homes. Rents were affordable and all exterior and interior maintenance was included. The streets, lawns, and parks were kept immaculate. As opposed to some of the predatory practices of coal mining companies, there was no company script - all transactions were in cash and the company store, restaurants, theaters,...etc. all had pricing in line or less than elsewhere. When the Roeblings sold the mill to Colorado Fuel and Iron in the 1950's, everyone had an opportunity to buy their houses at very reasonable rates - I think the row homes sold for $500.

The mill was closed in the early 1970s and stood empty for years - first awaiting a buyer and then as a superfund site. In the past ten years the entire mill has been demolished, with the only structure remaining, the gatehouse for the plant, recently turned into a museum. The museum is fairly small and the focus is primarily on the bridge building aspects of the Roebling Company and not much for us steel mill folks, except for the exterior exhibits in the "mill yard" - actually an old crane way, one of many. They have outside - A Brownhoist rail crane, a GE-45 ton critter, ingot cars or maybe for scrap trays, a mill flat car, a Kress-carrier type machine, a slag pot, a teaming ladle, a scrap bucket, and a huge, 124 ton 28' diameter flywheel from a 5000hp Corlless engine that drove the blooming mill. Except for climbing into the locomotive, crane, or Kress Carrier, you can pretty much get up close and personal to any of these artifacts - photograph them, measure them, hug them, whatever.

From Roebling we took back country roads over to the Pemberton Railroad Museum. Two additional engines from the Roebling plant are located here - a GE 100 tonner and another 45 tonner. This museum is located in the old train station along the abandoned right of way that ran from Camden, through Mt Holly, and on to the shore. The line still sees heavy use from Mt Holly to Camden but the rails and ties have been long removed beyond that. The folks at this museum set up some nice displays inside and managed over the past ten or fifteen years to acquire the two previously mentioned locomotives and a half dozen or more pieces of rolling stock. They put down a few hundred feet of rail to store this equipment and ultimately wanted to lay a few miles of track westward and run excursions. Unfortunately, they didn't actually own the property or station - the town did. After a recent change in local politics, the new administration viewed the museum as a "junk yard" according to the new mayor and started to try to evict them. To compound things, the town recently transferred title of the property to the county who are equally as unenthusiastic about the museum. The museum wasn't open, although some folks were moving displays out of the station while we were there - I didn't have the heart to ask them if they were pulling out, or what will be the fate of the rolling stock.

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