Steel Stories 

What follows are snippets based on personal experience while working in the 210" Plate Mill at U.S. Steel-Gary works.


CAN SOMEONE PLEASE FIND ME A HOLE TO CRAWL INTO?

This was before my time, but reliable sources have confirmed the truth of it.  The 210 Plate Mill opened in 1962.  At the time, and still to the present day, it was/is the "world's largest plate mill" (even though U. S. Steel no longer owns the facility).  Previous to the 210, a 160 was the largest plate mill.  The numbers refer to the maximum width of steel plate which can be rolled in the mill.

The rolling process involves reducing a slab to customer specs.  While slabs vary in size, common dimensions were 8' long x 6' wide x 1' thick.  After rolling that slab could be 120' long x 8' wide x 1/2" thick.

The slab is shaped in the rolling mill.  The slab is threaded between the upper and lower set of rolls, repeatedly, back and forth.  Each roll, of which there are 4 total, weighs 200 tons.  With each pass the gap between the rolls becomes tighter and tighter.  As the gap gets smaller, the slab gets more compressed (thinner, wider and longer).

Underneath the mill is a flume.  Think of it as a large, lined ditch.  Its purpose is to carry away waste water used in the rolling process.  During a pass the slab is blasted by high pressure water jets to blow away scale.

Not only the flume, but every piece of equipment, and every person, is there to service the mill.  The mill operator is known as a roller.  He sits at the right hand of God.

Prior to the formal start of operations a number of practice slabs were rolled, just to make sure all equipment and personnel worked properly.  Once everything had checked out, it was time to show off.  After all, this was the WORLD'S LARGEST PLATE MILL.

Everything was given a final coat of fresh paint, windows were cleaned, floors swept, etc.  The invited big wigs were in attendance.  They included, from Pittsburgh,  the then President of U.S. Steel, Roger Blough.  Not to be outdone, the President of the United Steel Workers of America was standing by his side on the viewing platform.

The charging crane retrieved a slab from the furnace.  It was placed on the roll line and run up to the mill.  The roller took control and began shaping the product.  It got thinner and longer, as it should.  As everyone looked on smiling, the roller began another pass.  Somehow the red hot plate threaded itself around the lower set of rolls and disappeared from the mill enitirely, taking a dive straight into the flume beneath the roll line.  100 feet of rolled plate simply vanished from view!

Talk about egg on one's face?  To compound the problem, the start of production had to be delayed for weeks.  This was due to a need to tear out the roll line, send welders down into the flume to cut up the plate, remove it and put the roll line back together again.


HOW QUICKLY WE FORGET?

One day a crane operator was stepping out of the cab of his overhead crane when it was bumped by another crane.  Tragically this incident resulted in the loss of crane operator Fred Miklovich's life.  The incident was recounted in the coming weeks and months.  With each telling the human factor became hazier and hazier.  For the first few months after the incident there was always the ending comment of, "Yeah, that Fred Miklovich was a great guy!"

With increased distance from the event the closing comment changed to, "Miklovich was a great guy!"  Eventually the comment was replaced with a query of, "What was the name of the craneman who got killed when his crane got bumped?"

The lesson I learned from this was that life in the mills can be, and sometime was, short, and memories fleeting


WHAT GOES ROUND, COMES ROUND!

Soley by reason of events beyond my control, when I hired in at U.S. Steel as a motor inspector (electrician) helper, I was the oldest helper on the turn.  The benefit of this status was that whenever a motor inspector was absent, for whatever reason, I got first shot at filling the higher paying job for the duration of the absence.  It meant big bucks to an 18 year old kid, let me tell you!

I also just happened to work with another motor inspector helper, Rich Simko, who was a hired a mere week after me.  I remember Rich well, as he hated my guts.  The reason for the animosity was that he was in his late 20's, and raising a family.  He bitterly resented the fact an 18 yr. old kid, still single and living at home, was getting the money he not only wanted, but which he felt he was entitled to solely because of his having lived on this earth longer than me.  Additionally, he thought he should have had a leg up on me since his brother also worked in the same mill, as a motor inspector.  Rich went out of his way to demean me, both personally and professionally, in any way he could to anyone who would listen (which amounted to a less than small number).

The nature of our job was one of  being on call.  While awaiting the call we were free to do whatever, so long as it was not illegal and we were immediately available to answer the mill whistle.  A two and a half (2 longs and a short) was the signal that sent us scurrying.

One night, working the midnight turn, I was promoted to fill in as the motor inspector.  My assigned helper was, who else, Rich Simko.  The shift was progressing routinely.  Rich proceeded to catch a few zzz's; an activity in which we all were known to engage.  Around 0330 hrs. the mill pulpit blew two and a half.  I nudged Rich, said that's us, and headed out the shanty door.

The mill was down.  Production would/could not procede until the needed repair was diagnosed and completed.  To make matters critical, the mill was down with a hot slab jammed between the rolls.  Not a good situation, to put it mildly!

I ventured atop the mill not waiting for, or worrying about, Rich.  I detected a drive shaft coupling problem and began the needed repairs.  Within a few minutes my foreman, John Krull, joined me atop the mill.  The first words out of his mouth were, "Where's Simko?"  I casually replied, "He is still in the shanty, sleeping."  John was a short, fidgety Pole, who did not handle stress well.  Rich's absence had increased his stress level to the boiling point.  That it did was obvious from the sudden redness in his face.  John scurried down 2-stories, to the mill floor and over to the motor inspector shanty.  Lo and behold, Rich Simko is soon up on the mill offering his assistance.  It was with great satisfaction that I was able to inform him it was not needed, as I had made the needed repairs.

While one can imagine that Rich's fondness for me did not increase in light of these events, I can say that Mr. Simko did learn (the hard way) that this 18 year old was not some punk kid to be treated lightly!


LET THERE BE LIGHT -

Sometimes, it is pure luck that protects us.  This, indeed was one of those times:

The 210 has a charging crane.  It is used to place slabs in a furnace for heating, and then to take them out when ready and place them on the roll line to send them to the mill for rolling.  It is able to accomplish these tasks because it has a long snout with a stationary pad and movable screw to grip the slabs; looking not at all unlike a large, massive C-clamp ( == |----- ] ).  A fellow worker has described the charging crane as, "Some mythological beast sticking its beak into the mouth of a volcano."  That is a pretty apt description. 

One gains a better appreciation of the process when they realize this cranes handles slabs weighing several tons and operates in furnace temperatures of anywhere from 1800 F to 2400 F!  The nose of the charging crane can take these temps for short periods of time with no problem.  Extended time in the furnace would reduce the nose to molten metal.  That molten metal would, in turn, contaminate the slabs inside the furnace.

In responding to a two and half, I was told the charging crane was stuck inside the furnace.  To investigate, I crawl atop the trolley.  Doing so is no small feat in itself.  To get there I have to walk on a piece of railroad track bolted to an I-beam, some 35 + feet in the air.  Also remember, heat rises.  Here, a mere 2400 degrees of heat was rising!

I determined a need to check out an electrical connection.  Now when I say electrical connection, do not picture a plug and outlet.  We are talking 440 V AC.  Connection is made by way of 3 sets of copper and silver tipped contacts shrouded by a formed asbestos cover.

Being safety conscious, I cut off the electricity, remove the formed asbestos cover, and manually push the contacts up to observe how they mate.  Well, the light is not the best, my safety glasses are not the cleanest, and it is simply hotter than blazes up there.  Bottom line, I am not sure if the contacts are mating as they should.  So, I decide to observe the contacts under power.

I energize the contact set with 440 volts of alternating current and yell down the crane operator to throw the controller that operates the trolley.  He does, and I observe the contacts mate.  All seems to be functioning normal, but the trolley still does not move.  Having seen what I need, I yell down to the crane operator to center the controller.

He does, the 3 sets of contacts disengage, as they should.  However, without the benefit of the asbestos formed flash guard, a huge fireball of light roars out of the electrical cabinet.  It not only is BRIGHT, BRIGHT, BRIGHT, it is WHITE HOT!  It was not unlike watching an A-bomb detonation from afar.

The consequence of this faux pas was that I was now 35 + feet up in the air and totally blind!  That I am now telling this tale says I was indeed smart enough not to move a muscle while so disabled.  Nor am I using a braille keyboard, so, eventually, all ended well.  After what seemed an eternity, vision began to return, in stages.  At first, everything was red.  Then an orange hue replaced the red, before somewhat normal vision returned in about ten minutes time.

By this time, my ever nervous foreman, good ol' John Krull, arrives.  He gets himself up on the crane and starts talking to me.  In the course of the conversation he says, "It is hot up here, and you look overheated.  Perhaps you better go down and take a break?"  I agree, and remain silent regarding my travails.

I get back to the shanty and assess the damage.  The lens of my safety glasses has embedded silver filings in it.  I look like a red racoon, as my face is burned red except for around my eyes.  They show white circles where the safety glasses were.  Additionally, there is a red/white line of demarcation across my forehead.  This was the space above my glasses, but below the headband of my hard hat!  Lastly, there is a prominent red V on my neck from my open shirt.

I am able to smile now, but in reality, it was a really close call, caused by nothing more than my sheer stupidity!


PASS THE SALT, PLEASE

In the mill there is a job called "Salter"  This individual works from a large platform right next to, and even with, the mill roll line.  The person is so close to the hot slab being rolled that there are two salters per shift, so they may spell one another.  On his platform are stacked bags of rock salt.  When I say stacked bags, think of a wall of 100 lb. bags 5 ft. high, 3 ft. deep and 10 ft. long in size!

With each pass of the slab through the mill by the roller, the salter throws a large metal scoop of rock salt on top of the slab.  The rock salt helps separate the scale generated in the heating process from the hot slab.  That scale is then blasted away with high pressure water jets.

One day I was commenting that if I thought I had a bad job, all I had to do was take a look at the salter.  You could not give me his job.  An older and wiser co-worker, with a gleam in his eye that I failed to notice replied, "If you think he has it bad, think about the guy underneath the mill who has to throw rock salt onto the bottom of the slab!"

Yes, I fell for it, for a while anyway ... .


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Created 11 Mar 2008 - 15:06:51 Hrs.

2008, G. David Yaros.  All rights reserved.