An HO scale model railroad layout based on a 1950's to 1980's era steel town


Trainworld City Steel Works and Duluth Works PT 1

Posted by [email protected] on April 7, 2016 at 3:50 AM

The Trainworld City Steel Works is an integrated steel producer and the flagship plant of the United States of Trainworld Steel Corporation. It was modeled closely, but not precisely, after the now long gone Duluth Works of U.S. Steel.  This article will help explain the similarities and differences between the prototype and the model.


The two logos of each company
The idea for my model steel layout came from the mill I grew up next to - the Duluth Works of U.S. Steel.  Operational in 1915 and closed in phases all the way up til 1987, I literally grew up in the same area the mill stood in. All hot side operations were gone by the time I was born, but the massive hulking mill still stood until 1998 when the last of it was torn down. It was this mill that served as the inspiration for my model steel mill.  (to read more about the Duluth Works  read Arnold Alanens book, "Morgan Park; Duluth, U.S. Steel and the Forging of a Company Town".  It's a must read for steel guys, I'm not kidding!   Also the wikipedia article:  The Duluth Works 

The layout of the mill, like the rest of the layout, is outside - static and seasonal, which is a blessing and a curse. Its a blessing because I can afford to make it about as big as it should really be. Its a curse in that its a pain to set it up, check the weather, wind, kids, etc - just like anything else you'd have outside.  Believe me - it's a challenge.  


Even though the outdoors provide me with a lot more space than most to build a scale replica of the Duluth Works, let alone any fully integrated steel mill, it wasn't enough space to do it all.  Some key buildings were eliminated for space constraints and other structures were moved for space.  The biggest losses are the wire mill and machine shops. There just wasn't enough space to model them, so the materials yard and coal cranes were modified to fit in their place. In addition, some creative levity was taken to make the ore yard ore boat accessible - something that was considered at the Duluth mill, but never actually done.  I took the liberty of creating one at the Trainworld City Works, although not in the same spot proposed by U.S. Steel at the Duluth mill.  Even still, without modeling the wire mill,  machine shops and by squeezing the ore yard closer to the mill, the space taken up by the model Trainworld City Steel Works is MASSIVE.  It's EIGHTEEN feet long and FIVE and a HALF feet wide.  That footprint alone is bigger than most ENTIRE model train layouts!

                      THE DULUTH WORKS OVERVIEW
The Duluth mill commenced construction in 1907 (at almost the same time as the Gary Works, which is why there are many similarities between the two mills - AND the company towns built for them, Morgan Park and Gary) and was completed in 1915 with first steel made December 15th, 1915. A few short years later, a by product cement plant (Unversal Portland - later Universal Atlas Cement) was built adjacent the steel mill and used it's blast furnace slag as it's primary ingredient.  The two combined operations were Duluth's largest employer from start to finish and fourth largest industrial complex in all of Minnesota. Overall, the Duluth Works (originally known as the Minnesota Steel Company until 1932 until it was leased to American Steel and Wire until 1964, when it became simply the Duluth Works of U.S. Steel.) initially made small shapes and semi finished products that it shipped to other finishing mills until 1922 when a new massive wire mill was made.  The wire mill was so large, that it supplied 12% of all wire made in the United States and 20% within U.S. Steel itself, at 300,000 tons of wire a year. The plant continued to be primarily a rod, bar and billet mill and made wire, fence post and fencing and welded wire mesh all the way until it's closing. 
                                                        Duluth Works in the early 1960's
The Duluth Works was a strange plant to steelmen, researchers, or steel mill modelers.  Besides being built with a genuine reluctance by U.S. Steel, the plant was very costly, both in construction and in terms of operation....and its profit loss. In fact, it's initial investment in building the plant and its cost of operations (as well as the dagger to the throat that the State of Minnesota held to U.S. Steel with the huge tax penalty) pretty much dictated it's operation at an overall loss of profit until nationwide poor economic conditions and plant and equipment depreciation and antiquation made it's continued operation unfeasible.  Yet, It was the largest integrated steel mill north and west of Chicago all the way to the West Coast (until Geneva Works was built in WW2).  Being built so far north, it was made mostly of concrete block, instead of standard corrugated steel walls like most other mills. It's two original twin blast furnaces were odd too.  They each had 5 Cowper stoves, unusual at the time and the offtakes were welded together into one giant stack for each blast furnace, making a rather unusual looking blast furnace.  In fact, the Duluth blast furnaces are among the most easily identifiable in the history of steelmaking because of this unique arrangement. This lasted until 1935 when one blast furnace was dismantled, and later replaced with an even OLDER blast furnace, dis-assembled and hauled all the way and re-assembled from Joliet Works in 1942. This "new" furnace looked very much like a standard blast furnace and remained in operation until the hot side went out in 1971. 

 The two blast furnaces are at lower left.  The Joliet furnace is lower left while the original furnace is at upper left.
There were other oddities too. Being only 70 miles to the Iron Range, a steady supply of year round  iron ore wasn't a problem.  But Minnesota had no large supplies of coal, limestone dolomite etc, and these had to be shipped in. The theory was that the ore boats that came up to Duluth empty to take iron ore to the lower Lakes mills could haul limestone and coal and such for the Duluth plant.  This was what indeed happened. It necessitated the construction of a MASSIVE materials yard for a plant it's size, as it needed to use these raw materials during the winter months. Strangely enough, the iron ore wasnt stored here.  It was brought directly from the Iron Range mines and thawed out (in winter or frost months) in a six stall steam fed thawhouse near the blast furnace and fed almost directly as needed into the furnaces. (A similar, yet smaller thawhouse was built near the coal conveyors for coal). So this massive ore yard stored almost no iron ore AT ALL! It in fact stored mostly coal and limestone and other additives to keep the mill running in the harsh winters.  Even more odd, the yard was constructed on the opposite side of the blast furnaces, coke ovens and open hearth - a complete opposite of standard practice. It was also thought at one point during early construction and operations, that the Saint Louis River might be dredged so that ore carriers could reach the mill (ore carriers and large vessels only got as far as the Zenith Furnace/Interlake Iron in West Duluth - about two or three miles towards Downtown Duluth from the mill).  This idea was eventually shot down by U.S Steel, despite Duluth city and MN State officials saying that the govt would even PAY FOR IT!  The dock was proposed to be on the slag line, jutting out into Spirit Lake - and not near the existing materials yard, which was even more odd still.
This poor hastily done Paint image of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the materials yard of the Duluth Works. I used this as a template for creating the ore yard and boat slip of the Trainworld CitySteel Works (which is still in progress) however this image wasn't so far fetched for the Duluth Works. Shortly after the plant was built, local leaders wanted to dredge the St. Louis River all the way up to the mill so that ore carriers would have direct access to the plant to unload coal and limestone and load finished materials. U.S. Steel felt it wasn't needed and the plans never made it past the drawing board (there was quite some formal research done on the matter). Had it happened, the actual unloading facility would more than likely have consisted of Hullet unloaders and dock cranes for loading finished materials, and it would have been located along the slag dump line, which again - was odd considering the materials yard was on the opposite side of the mill.  The proposal would have been cost prohibitive as in addition to the dredging, the Northern Pacific Line that ran along the river would've needed a massive bridge to put the slip next to the materials yard, Spirit Lake would've needed to have been dredged to allow ore boats to turn around and or navigate. 

Railroad operations also were strange, with open hearth slag being brought down a fairly steep grade on steel plant trackage, intersect Northern Pacific tracks on a diamond, and then be dumped into the Saint Louis River - on the very same piece of land that was proposed to be the ore carrier docking area.
This is a 1939 photo of the slag dump into Spirit Lake.  The yellow line is the slag line, which went down a steep hill and intersected the Northern Pacific line that rimmed Spirit Lake. This slag line jutted out into Spirit Lake and was made up of the slag it drumped. It eventually split into two rail lines. The area in orange would have been the proposed ore carrier slip. The Hullet unloaders would have been positioned along the yellow slag line rail area. Dock cranes to load finished material would have been positioned here as well, although there was some conjecture as to what type, but more than likely of a "whirley" type.  The likely contractor would probably have been Clyde Iron in Duluth, as they had direct railroad access to the plant along the Northern Pacific line.
Duluth's two original twin (and unusual) blast furnaces showing their strange combined stacks.

                                         The Joliet blast furnace in the early 1960's.
The Duluth Works, although a large sprawling complex at over 1,500 acres, was a fairly small producer of steel in the scope of U.S. Steel. At 973,000 tons of ingot production in 1971, it was one of the smaller steel producers within U.S. Steel (compared to top producer Gary Works at 8 MILLION TONS!)  It was also one of the oldest in terms of antiquity and was never fully modernized over the years with newer technology, despite being the most technologically advanced mill of her time when built (this "infamy" was rather short lived as newer technology quickly came and by the early 1950's Duluth was already antiquated).  Still using open hearth technology in the late 1960's and early 1970's, and facing stiff competition from foreign dumped steel and environmental regulations - both federal and state, U.S. Steel decided to close the hot side of the Duluth Works on November 12 of 1971. Despite assurances of remaining open from U.S Steel, the cold side operations followed a few years later in October of 1973, the Universal Atlas cement plant in September of 1975 and the coke works in May of 1979. Some smaller operations still remained until 1981 and the wire mill was ran by New Hallett Wire until 1987, making it the last steel operating tenant at the mill.  By 1998, the last structures at the former Duluth Works were demolished.
1950's Jeff Lemke photo of Duluth Works and cement plant from Twin Ports Rail History
Dan MacKey photo in 1986 of the shuttered Duluth Works (parts of the cement plant in foreground).
Site of the former steel and cement plants in 2011.

Categories: Operations

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