Iron and Steel Today
there is an active iron and steel industry in Birmingham and the north
Alabama. U S Steel Corporation, USX, operates the Fairfield Works, with a
plate and tube mill. This is a fully integrated steel making mill, that
starts with raw materials and delivers finished steel plate and tubes.
For a great description of how a steel
mill works, and what the parts of the mill are, see this link from the American
Iron and Steel Institute, AISI, Learning Center.
The iron ore no longer comes from Red
Mountain, rather it is delivered by barge to Birmingport, Alabama, on the
Warrior River in West Jefferson County. The Birmingham Southern Railroad
delivers the iron ore, actually pellets of pre processed material, called
taconite, to the mill at Fairfield, located along I-20/59 several miles
southwest of downtown Birmingham.
This photo, taken from Bennett, Old
Tannehill, p. 128, shows the current No. 8 Blast Furnace at Fairfield, which is
the only active USX furnace today. The entire plant covers many acres
along the interstate.
There are several "mini-mills"
located in Birmingham which utilize scrap steel and electric furnaces to make
new products. This link can provide more information about Birmingham
Mini Mills, from Birmingham's SMI Steel company.
At Decatur, Alabama, a
was brought on line in the late 1990's, TriCo Steel. This facility has
received a great deal of press, and a certain amount of criticism since the
State of Alabama used public funds as an inducement package to lure TriCo to
come to Alabama.
At Gadsden, Gulf States Steel operated a fully
integrated mill, which is a former Republic property. Gulf States closed
this facility in the late 1990's. This closing seems to be driven by
the age of the facility, in spite of upgrade investments, the
"dumping" of Japanese steel on the U S market, and competition from
other newer facilities, ironically, such as Trico at Decatur, which received
incentives from the State to open a new plant. There has been a lot in the
news in about steel tariffs being lifted in late 2003.
Looking at the industry in abstract, rather than the
harsh light of international markets and accountants, its still a pretty good
show to watch. The facility at Gadsden was easily viewed from a relatively
safe vantage point along a highway overpass. The danger here is the
traffic, not the mill itself. Here is a view of that facility, and the
railroading here is front and center.
This view shows a set of spliced photos taken by the
author, about 1995 from the overpass above the rail tracks. The blast
furnace is at the right, and the coke plant is to the left of the tracks.
To the far left is the chemical recovery plant that recovers materials driven
off when coal is burned to make coke. In the rear, to the right, I believe
is the rest of the mill where products are formed and fabricated. The
locomotives here are lettered for Gulf States, and switch the yard which is
located behind the camera. The day these were taken was also the day for a
scheduled model railroad show in Attalla, nearby. Some days are just
better than others!