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Babcock & Wilcox Mill

 

 

B&W - Babcock and Wilcox Mill

Where: Beaver Falls, PA

When: 2003 & 2005

Status: Most of what is pictured here is gone.

 

This particular voyage takes me outside of the great state of Ohio and in to our neighbor Pennsylvania for an up close look at an abandoned steel mill. This isn't just any old decaying mill to me. The Babcocks and Wilcox Wallace Run building was a home away from home for my father and many others like him during an age when the American Steel industry boomed.

Finding an empty steel mill in those days would be like finding an empty Software company headquarters now. Today, mills all across the rust belt are slowly and sadly decaying in to their landscapes. They provide memories of a time when a man or woman provided for their family by means of physical labor in extreme conditions. The heat, noise, and danger are unlike nearly anything we currently have in this country.

A crane hanging in the main section.

Eventually the time came when many factors contributed to the demise of the mill. To avoid touching on the politics of the United States, let it simply be said that business went away to foreign lands. With the business went jobs. Lax government regulations made it more economical for mills to lay off their employees and have steel shipped across the ocean from mills where workers made very little.

Inside the main mill area. It is mostly empty now. Notice the large vents in the wall. My father explained that the guys used to hang out of the vents just to get some cool air... even on a 90 degree day the air outside felt cool compared to the temps inside.

One could spend much time discussing what was or wasn't done to help the American Steel worker, but I only have so much free space here and politics only piss people off. I suggest watching Roger and Me (Michael Moore) to get a feel for the emotion that came with the demise of the industry. Many people get heated at seeing the name Michael Moore, but the movie really does do a good job of capturing the emotion of those times. I lived much of it myself as the child of someone that worked in this mill and I remember the shock, worry, desperation, etc of the end of the industrial boom.

With all of that said, try to appreciate what went on in this mill just a short time ago. Hundreds of men and women worked day and night to produce what was then the heart of America, US Steel. The furnaces that once lit up the night have been removed. The roar that filled the air is gone. Many of the workers have moved on with their lives, but none will forget the days they spent in the mill.

My father put in over 20 years at this mill, most of which were in this building. B&W had mills spread out around the area, some are still running scaled down operations. Most of my extended family as well as neighbors and friends families worked at either this mill, or another close by mill. Some of my family members and neighbors are still working at the remote locations doing the scaled down operations.

Bag room. This was used like a filter for the smoke I believe.

 

The offices.

Engineering.

I think its impossible for anyone who didn't personally experience the 1980s in the rustbelt to fully understand how quickly and unexpectedly everything changed. Many families were able to recover to some extent, but things were never the same. It was the end of an era. Driving through any of the small towns around the mills will show you how horribly depressed they are to this day. There simply wasn't a back up plan because ultimately no one ever expected the mills to go away. Even during the dying days it seemed that everyone just trusted that everything would work out for the best.

These days we're used to the idea that we may change jobs 10 times during our life, but workers in these mills fully expected to retire from the mills and to live a modest life just like many generations before them had done. Within a period of about 4 years the way things had always been were gone.

 

By the time it was all said and done, I made two trips to the Mill that I had spent my childhood visiting. I wish I could have returned with my dad before they tore the main building down. As cliche as this will sound I don't think I ever really fully understood how much my father, my uncles, neighbors, etc went through for their familes until I visited the mill first hand.

Of all of the abandoned places I've been through, this one strikes the most personal note. This place, more than almost anything in our lives, impacted my family, my childhood, and my home town. Hopefully these pictures will inspire a few thoughts about people all across the states that worked to make build this country.

The new section of the building

I can't say enough thanks to my father and the other people like him that spent Christmas day working next to a hot furnace so that we could have gifts under the tree...

 

Wallace Run Mill

Wallace Run time clock room.
Across the old Wallace Run building.
The bumper sticker reads "Out of Work? Hungry? Eat your Datsun".
Crane
Main Entrance as taken from a side room.
Old section of the building with some of the new section visable on the left.

The Offices

1950s style architecture.
The door was wide open.
Stainless railings in perfect condition.
This was the entrance and exit gate.

 

Storage and Locker Rooms

1950s style architecture.
The door was wide open.
Stainless railings in perfect condition.
This was the entrance and exit gate.

 

 

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