Friday, August 21, 2015


As a teenager I saw photos of the preserved Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama.  Along with the Model Railroader article on the the Severna Park model railroad steel mill they sparked my life long interest in steel mill and industrial archeology.   Needless to say they have been on my to-see list for quite some time.  Finding ourselves with a free weekend, we flew down to Birmingham and had a great weekend in the "Pittsburgh of the South".  
USS Fairfield Works
We flew in late Friday night and after a early breakfast hit the road.  I quickly realized that a fair number of my scratch building projects were based on structures in the area, thanks to extensive HAER documentation work in the early 90's.   We were staying in the Homewood area which is over Red Mountain from the city proper.  We headed south along the rear of Red Mountain (more on this later)  and into Bessemer, Alabama.  Bessemer has seen better times - the downtown town was beyond depressing.   US Pipe has it's plant in Bessemer, although it's a hard facility to photograph or see much of - several structures on my former module we based on structures from here.    Going north from Bessemer we drove by the operations US Steel Fairfield Works.  This facility is soon to close - November.  I was able to get a few photos of the blast furnace and some railroad equipment from a nearby highway bridge.
Blast Furnace at Fairfield

North of here we passed the overgrown ruins of Tennessee Coal and Iron's Ensley Works, later USS.  I could make out through the vegetation the Ensley mixer, another of my almost complete scratch building projects.   Shortly thereafter were at the Thomas Coke Works, again overgrown and inaccessible, however, I could see some of the structures from my coke works I have been building.   Everything is close together in Birmingham, so this took us only an hour or so to visit all these sites.
Thomas Coke - both structures are found on my model railroad.  
By then Sloss was open (10am).   Sloss was better than I expected, by far.  The tours are self guided so you can look at things at your own pace - in mine - extremely slow.   Access to the site is excellent.  The blast furnace stacks are about the only locations you can't climb up to.  

Stoves at Sloss
Under the stock trestle - tracks for the scale car
Inside the blowing engine house
150 Ton Hot Metal Car - Pollack 
Next installment - Red Mountain


chuck said...

Jim, thanks for the posts. Your progress helps me stay motivated, plus mine will have some Sloss touches too. Is Sloss still having a Halloween event?

Jim Musser said...

Hi Chuck,

Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure of the Halloween event at Sloss, although, it looks like they did do something in the past. There are objects throughout the furnaces that look like they are left over from some sort of haunted event. Sloss is a nice set up to recreate in HO scale - would be perfect if you wanted some blast furnaces and a pig caster to generate lots of inbound and outbound traffic without having to model an entire integrated mill. Technically Sloss only produced iron so wasn't really a steel mill.