Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Slide Show of the Big L Blast Furnace in Sparrows Point, Md.

Photography by David Robert Crews

Start the slide show, and a button with four arrows on it will appear in the bottom right corner of the black box. That button puts the slide show into FULL SCREEN mode.

Most of the photographs are of the Big L Blast Furnace in the steel mills of Sparrows Point, Maryland. Not just photos portraying what the Big L looks like, but how some of us feel about it all. Some of us who have had, or still have, our own long personal relationship with those former Bethlehem Steel Company mills and Sparrows Point .

The Big L can be seen from long distances and numerous-various angles of Southeastern Baltimore County and City, Northwestern Anne Arundel County, and the Chesapeake Bay and Patapsco River areas surrounding Sparrows Point. And the damned Big L also dwells somewheres in the minds, hearts and souls of multiples of thousands of us who possess fond - mixed with not at all fond - memories of being, visiting, living and/or working days of our lives, " Down the Point."

On Friday July 23, 2010, the new Russian owners of the old Bethlehem Steel Mills in Sparrows Point, Maryland shut down their only blast furnace - The Big L. That white cloud pouring up out of the top of the Big L is a result of work being done as part of the process to shut 'er down right, so she can be more easily started up again.

Some folks fear, while others hope, that it may never be started up again, though. Steel workers want it, but some ecologically minded folks and others want the entire mills with it's steel making process, heavy pollutions gone.

Big L will be down for at least 90-fugging-days. And it is the American Steel Workers who are getting screwed the worst. Basically, though, all Americans are being screwed over here.

That''s sho-nuff how I see's it - anyways.

I am who I am, owing my very existence to the Bethlehem Steel Company's long gone Town of Sparrows Point, Md.. That was where my life began, and I enjoyed spending a good deal of time there, especially visiting my grandparents several times every month, till the town was torn down, in 1973, when I was 23-years-old. My parents grew up there, our family went to church in Sparrows Point, and my father's parents were some of the last residents to move out of the rental housing in the family oriented, nearly crime free, company owned town, when Bethlehem Steel tore their town down to erect the Big L Blast Furnace.

My only relative to work in the blast furnaces was my paternal grandfather. But other relatives worked in other departments Down the Point. Uncle Philip (Crews) and Uncle Lindsey (Hall) each worked there for around forty-five-years, till they retired. My father worked awhile in the Rod and Wire Mill, as an electrician. Uncle Nelson was a draftsman (?) there for some time. Aunt Donna (Crews/Walcott) and Aunt Martha (Thomas/Clarke) each worked in the main office for a bit. I gotta ask around the family in case others worked there too, and I forgot. Uncle Stanley (known as John Crews to some folks outside the family) was a volunteer firemen in the Sparrows Point Fire Department , but I don't recollect him working in the mills.

My Granddad Crews retired from "The Point" as foreman of the two largest, most powerful and toughest blast furnaces on The Point; - numbers 9 & 10. About ten years after his retirement, I went to work on the Blast Furnace Labor Gang. While there, older men would express to me their high regard of Granddad Crews, of his natural, big ol' West Virginia Mountain Boy strength, and how my Grandmom Crews used to make him great homemade meals for his lunches (each work shift, some men kept casserole dishes of homemade lunch warm on a blast furnace side rim). I also heard of Granddad's personal, even-keeled and thoroughly fair treatment of his blast furnace crew.

Every foremen on every blast furnace could do every single job on a furnace better than any man there - from pushing a broom, using the ever present-shovel, or driving the overhead crane - with it's dangling, oft partly molten hot, cargo being weaved past workers down on the blast furnace floor. I have Granddad Crews' white hardhat from The Point, and it has "Capt. Bob" hand painted with the quotation marks onto the front of the hardhat above the required presence of his name R.E. Crews, because blast furnace foremen are called Captains.

That has something to do with the blast furnace being controlled from a "wheel house", which has a large ship's like wheel (helm) which is spun round during the casting process - when the molten iron and slag are poured into railroad cars; and a blast furnace is something akin to a ship with a hard working crew - working hard at sailing through their work shifts with firm dedication and determination to make and deliver high quality loads of molten iron for various uses that support and enrich the world economy.

During 1973-74, before the Big L Monster ate the Town of Sparrows Point, when there were 10 smaller blast furnaces working Down the Point, I worked on the Blast Furnace Labor Gang. I loved the physical, mental, emotional challenges, safety-self-discipline-or-get-hurt-and-quite-possibly-die hard work; which requires intense common sense, plus a type of serious intelligence that cannot be acquired via any degree of college education. It broils my gizzards when formally educated individuals socially disregard, disrespect blue collar workers of the ilk I know of who work or worked dangerous, sometimes debilitatingly hot and nasty or cold and nasty, mills and factories of this world.

But, I'm more a former Maine Bear Hunting Guide, a current outdoorsman, photographer and writer than a worker in an Iron Ore black dirt and red dust, filthy, reputedly cancerous, steel mill.

But, oh man, it was often thrilling, death defying-hot-blooded-chilling and ever-so-satisfying to make it through a shift on the labor gang to go home knowing I had faced ordeals of steel mills and had helped to produce reliable product to be sold and used in making for a better, stronger, safer world we live in.

Myself, my family, my community here in, and surrounding, Dundalk, Maryland, once believed that those (now ailing, failing) steel mills would provide many people plenty of work forever. Once, tens of thousands of reliable hard workers held gainful employment in the mills. Now, it is down to two-thousand or so who hold jobs there.

The mill's barely working at all. The land it is on along with the water and air around it are terribly, dangerously, deadly polluted in places.

Unfortunately, the future of the steel mills of Sparrows, Point Maryland USA will be decided and delivered by some of America's former, deadly, communist enemies. Former Communists who are now extremely successful, cut-throat Capitalists of the highest order.

Nobody told me there'd be days like these.

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