HOMESTEAD AS SEEN BY ONE OF ITS WORKMEN

BY L.W.

IN Mr. Hamlin Garland's article on Homestead, printed in the last number of McClure's Magazine, the reader will find vividly presented the fresh, sharp impressions derived by the author from a visit of a few hours. The impressions and observations of one who has himself worked in the mills, and shared the lot and life there, may be of interest also.

 On first viewing Homestead, two thoughts are forced upon a mind of mechanical bent: namely, the immense wealth necessary to build, equip, and run a plant of such magnitude; and the ingenuity and skill required to devise and manage it. The plant now has almost seventy-five acres of ground in actual use, and employs from thirty-five hundred to four thousand men. It is equipped with the finest machinery that human invention can devise, and money buy. It is managed by men of great ability, and worked by a force of skilled laborers second to none. 'I'he policy has been to spare no expense in the matter of equipment; and to do or spend anything, from money to human life, in order to have a large product. The result is that to-day any single mill in the whole plant at Homestead has, probably, a larger possible output than any other mill of the same class in the world.

The thirty-five-inch mill, for example, has a possible output of three hundred and fifty tons of beams every twelve hours, or seven hundred every twenty-four. One would think that this was enough to supply the whole United States; yet the thirty-three-inch mill is nearly as large.

Even when one makes inspection only of the fine steel buildings with their huge engines and hydraulic cranes, and with the great piles of crude material and finished stock, he is impressed with the mountain of cold cash they represent. Yet the Carnegie Steel Company and its allied interests include vastly more than these. Across the river the Edgar 'J. Thompson plant is nearly as large, and includes the finest rail-mill and blast furnaces in the United States, if not in the world. The mill at Duquesne, for blooms and billets; the wire and nail mills at Beaver Falls; the structural mills in Twenty-ninth Street, Pittsburg, and those in Thirty-third Street; the Isabella Furnaces; the Lucy Furnaces; the Keystone Bridge Company; the immense coke industry consolidated and managed by Mr. H. C. Frick, together represent an amount of capital and ability equaled in but one other organization in the country. The company has branch offices in all the large cities of the United States; it has its own private telegraph lines to all important points; it has its own gas territory, and drills its own wells and pipes its own gas for all the mills. The office force is enormous. In the central office in Pittsburg, at the beginning of the present dull period, it is said, one hundred and fifty clerks were suspended at one time without crippling the force. The company has in its employ, all told, probably twenty-seven thousand men. If we consider the small average of five souls to a family, we can see that this company alone controls the happiness and prosperity of at least one hundred and thirty-five thousand people.

Proofs of skill and inventive genius are displayed on every hand. The processes are the result of a gradual and wide-spread development; but the magnificent machinery employed for rapidly and surely handling the immense masses of metal is largely the conception and achievement of men who are, or have been, in the employ of the company as workmen in the mills.

When I went to the superintendent and asked for work, he said, " What can you do?"

"Anything. I am large, strong, active, and willing. I have been about machinery all my life, and want work badly."

He touched a button, and a boy appeared. " Show this man down to the converting-mill and ask Fred if he can do anything for him. Good morning," he said, and my interview was over.

I put on my new overalls and jumper, and followed my guide down through the mills. We made our way through piles of stock, raw material, rolls, etc., and came at last to the huge converting-mill. The superintendent was found, and the word delivered. He glanced at me a moment; then said, not unkindly: " You look good and strong; jump in and help those fellows there on those vessels."

I hardly knew what he meant; but through the smoke and steam I saw some men beneath one of the vessels, or converters,* working with sledges and bars to get the bottom off. The mill with its ponderous and massive cranes, the immense vessels all covered with black scale and soot, the flying sparks, the roaring flames, the lights coming and going, the air filled with steam and smoke, and, finally, the shrill and deafening noise, awed, confused, and even disconcerted me more than I should have liked to acknowledge.

I seized a sledge lying near and "jumped in." We at last got out the "keys," as they call the wedges which hold the converter together, and by the help of a hydraulic ram took the bottom off. This left a white-hot opening eight feet in diameter and about six feet from the ground, under which we must work. It seemed to me as though the skin on my neck and hands would burst with the heat. My clothes even steamed and smoked. How I wished I had been anywhere under the sun (good old Sol), rather than under this fiendishly hot sun hanging so very near us !

When we had the new bottom on, we went up to the platform above the converters, and drove the keys home more securely, and stopped any small hole there might be with "ball stuff."**

A shrieking engine passed by me and swiftly poured into the converter a "heat" of iron. Then the blast was turned on, and a cloud of yellow and saffron flame, mixed with sparks and small particles of metal, rushed out of the mouth of the converter into the air. One of the men caught me by the arm and pulled me away just in time to save me from being seriously burned; for I was not expecting the flame.

By noon I was so tired I could hardly stand, but I stuck to it for all I was worth. During the afternoon I frequently fell down because my knees were too weak to hold me up. My hands were burned and blistered, and my new overalls were filled with holes burned by flying sparks. About four o'clock in the afternoon, while working under the platform, I was startled to see a stream of red fire run over the edge of the platform and strike in the midst of some workmen. As it touched the wet ground it exploded with a report like that of a cannon. The molten metal flew in every direction. Many workmen were burned more or less severely; and in the case of one poor fellow--it makes me sick still to think of it--the steel came down directly on the head and back. We got him out of the steam and smoke, and carefully and tenderly cut his burned clothing from him. As we placed him on the stretcher the burned flesh dropped from his bones. Yet they told me such an accident was liable to happen any time. The man lived, but at what a cost! Burned so as to be hardly recognizable, he lingers out a miserable existence, a burden to himself and his friends.

When I was relieved at six o'clock, it seemed as if it would have been utterly impossible for me to live in that mill another hour. I dragged myself to my room end went to bed at once. All that night I tossed and turned my aching bones, trying to get into some position less painful than the last. I was tortured by a thousand grotesque fancies, and by the picture of the poor fellow who was burned so badly. At last I got into an uneasy drowse, but I felt as if I had not been asleep a minute when my alarm clock announced to me that it was 4.45 and that I must get up to my 5.10 breakfast. Oh, the misery of that rising and going to the mill! Every bone and sinew seemed as if made of red-hot iron, and the joints as if rusted together.

It was a dark, foggy morning, I found when, having desperately got up enough will-power to dress, I tumbled out to my boarding-house. The Pittsburg smoke and fog are proverbial, but I really think that on that particular morning one might have cut tangible chunks out of the black wet air. The board walks in Homestead are never in repair, and on the way to the mills I stumbled along through mud and stones, over boards and into holes, carrying in my hand my tin dinner-bucket, which contained my mid-day meal.

On my first Sunday we relined the converter, and it became my duty to stand up in the inverted vessel and hand up ball stuff and limestone with which to reline it. The vessel had been left to cool simply overnight, and I suppose the temperature of the dry air inside of it stood at about one hundred and forty degrees. I worked as hard as I could, but near noon I fainted, for the first time in my life.

My experience at Homestead was the experience of the majority of workmen there. The working hours are from six A.M.. to six P. M. one week, and from six P. M. to six A.M. the next. The nature of the work, and of the consequent life, will be best indicated by a little tour of the mills. I will start in the converting-mill.

A Bessemer converter, with its twelve tons of molten iron under full blast, is the grandest display of pyrotechnics that man has yet achieved. The thunder of the blast deafens you; the ever-brightening flame, flashing up finally as high as fifty feet, blinds you; sparks fall everywhere; smoke and steam confuse you; your mind and senses are in a whirl. Yet, however confused, a sense of the majesty and glory of the display is never absent from your thoughts. The blast finished, the converter tips downward, while a huge crane places before it a ladle of the capacity of fifteen tons. The converter is tipped a little more, and the white, fiery liquid runs into the ladle. The ferromanganese is then thrown in, to recarbonize the steel, and this is attended with a violent reaction. Flames leap up, and not infrequently the metal boils over the edge of the ladle.

From the ladle the metal is poured into ingot moulds of sizes differing according to need, and placed on cars. When the moulds are filled the cars are drawn by a puffing, screeching little engine, called a dinkey, into the rolling-mills, where the ingots are to be used. There an ingenious device called a "stripper" takes off the mould, and leaves the ingot, now a red mass of steel, ready for the "soaking pit," in which it is to be heated to a soft white heat throughout, before being rolled. Then a huge crane, of twenty-five tons capacity, wheels deftly around, picks up the ingot with a pair of heavy tongs, and swings it off smartly to the mouth of the pit. The cover is rolled back from the pit by men with bars, and the ingot is lowered into place. When, in the " heater's " opinion, it is hot enough, the men roll the cover back again, and the crane carries the piece to the rolls in the manner described by Mr. Garland.

Sometimes the tongs of the crane slip, and the ingot falls against the side of the pit and gets wedged tight. Then is the time to see men working in the heat. They struggle and strain at their bars, now pushing, now pulling, working with a strength and desperation the stranger cannot understand. A minute lost means so much less pay to every one of them, for they are "tonnage" men, and are paid entirelv in proportion to the product of the mill. The sweat pours from their faces and arms, their clothes smoke and steam, their eyes are blurred with the steam rising from their faces, and the cords stand out on their brawny necks.

The " bottom-makers " at work are a spectacle of terrific labor, too. See them wielding their heavy tools--lifting, punching, pulling, and scraping over that awful hole which fumes forth consuming heat. You find it too hot for you, and you stand at least four feet from the pit. But the "bottommakers" are directly over the pit's mouth. The shoes they wear have soles an inch and a quarter thick, and yet the heat often blisters their feet. A man at such work drinks probably six or seven gallons of water a day, and most of the time has a heart action of about one hundred and twenty-five to the minute.

The "heater" must be a workman of great skill and judgment. One might think it would not be hard to tell when the ingots were hot; but look into the pit. Very likely you will say it is empty when in it are two ingots nearly ready to roll. Your eye has not been trained to such a bright light, and you cannot distinguish the ingot from the incandescent walls of the pit. The "heater" must know the grade of steel he is handling, and heat it accordingly. A high carbon steel would be made of no value whatever if heated to the heat which a low carbon steer receives. He must heat to the limit, and not one degree over. If the piece is not hot enough, it will probably break a roll. If it is too hot, it is ruined by being "burned." The "heater" must be saving of his gas and careful of his pits, and he must get from his pits and from his men the most work possible.

The "roller" also must be a man of unusual skill and judgment. There is in use in the thirty-five-inch mill a twenty-six hundred horse-power engine with a forty-foot fly-wheel. But such is the pressure required to squeeze the beam into shape, that I have frequently seen this engine stalled and the ingot stuck in the rolls. Often under the pressure the rolls, though they are nearly three feet in diameter, snap in two. Therefore the man in charge, the "roller," cannot be too careful. A mistake of only one-sixteenth of an inch in his draught may mean a broken roll. And as a roll costs about one thousand dollars, the loss of one or two may cost the "roller" his place. His weights must be accurate. The beams must be delivered straight. If the rolls are not exactly over each other, the beam will curve, and the "roller" must not only see that it does not curve, but also know the reason why if it does. In short, he must be on the alert at all times, and he must be able to manage his men.

The men are changing rolls now. Note that wrench--a piece of iron and steel weighing three thousand pounds. It is not much like the familiar monkey-wrench. See the cranes working swiftly and lightly, handling rolls, boxes, bearings, and rest-bars. The men are covered with grime and grease from the bearings. A seventy-five pound "S" hook hanging above in the chain falls, and strikes a man on the head. Two others run for a stretcher, and the poor fellow has many a long week in bed. He is lucky to have escaped with his life. Yet they work on just the same. The loss of a finger or toe is a matter of common occurrence. That big wrench swinging round in the air is the source of much danger, and many and many a time have I seen the man on top of the rolls jump over it and heard it crash against the housing behind him. Suppose a roll chain breaks, as they often do! The doctor's report for Homestead for the last year records over a thousand accidents and at least a dozen deaths. Yet there is no lack of men. The managers have applications from twice the number they can give positions to.

The plate-mill--a mill capable of rolling plate as wide as one hundred and nineteen inches--is perhaps the most picturesque of them all. The furnaces are placed in a circle, and a man sits on his crane and swings with it from furnace to rolls. The furnaces are of the horizontal type, differing therein from the pits.

The throwing of salt on the plates to cut off the scale causes a tremendous roar and explosion, like a volley of musketry. When salt crystallizes it does so by the aid of moisture, and when it is thrown on the plate the rolls crush it; the moisture is at once vaporized, and the explosion blows the scale loose, to be washed off by the water which is sprayed on the plate. The "roller," or "screw-down" as he is here called, stands upon a platform nearly over the work, and the steam and scale are very bad for the lungs. The operation is very simple; but the rapidity of action, and the play of light and shade, combined with the roar of the exploding salt, give a fascination to the scene.

We come next to the open-hearth furnaces. These are almost the only basic open-hearth furnaces in successful operation in the United States. Each furnace holds about thirty tons of metal, and it takes about eight hours to charge and finish a "heat." The process is more exact than the Bessemer; the carbon is more certain; the steel is purer and more homogeneous, and is tougher. The process is used for the finer grades of work and for the armor-plate work.

Each furnace has its own melter and two helpers. Here is one that they are charging by hand. The long, flat iron shovel is called a peel and is managed by the first helper. Obedient to a shout, the boy at the levers raises the door; the helper slides the bar with the metal on it into the furnace, and, at the right spot, turns it and leaves the pig iron in the furnace. By the time they have loaded in twenty-five or thirty tons of metal in this way, they are ready to stop.

Of the heat at a furnace door one can have no conception unless he has done the actual work. Four feet away the heat is sufficient to make your clothes smoke; and there are times when a man must work directly up at the door. The skin contracts and seems about to burst; a steam rises from it, and the salty perspiration gets into the eyes and pours in streams from the face. After such work a man can sometimes actually wring water from his clothes and even pour it from his shoes.

In a furnace at my left they are patching the lining. The operation is very much the same as that of charging, save that a ladle is used instead of a shovel, and the shovelful of dolomite must be thrown into exactly the right place. The melter and helper both work in this case, and a great deal of care is exercised to fill all hollows and pits in the lining. If great care is not exercised, the heat may burn through and all go to the bottom of the pit together. When an accident of this kind happens, dynamite is often used to break up the chilled heat.

Here is a furnace with a "heat" ready to pour. The ladle is in place, and the stopper set and dried. Dryness is absolutely necessary in all this work, for when melted steel touches moisture there is an explosion, caused by the sudden evolution of steam. The "heat" is tapped with a long iron bar, and twenty-five tons of boiling white liquid fire flow into the ladle with a great flutter of sparks and flame. The helpers are kept busy keeping the tapping holes clear. As soon as the "heat" is out, they set to work to clean the furnace of slag and prepare it for another "heat." 

The ladle is lifted by a crane and placed on a truck. A "dinkey" pushes it down to a large crane in the centre of a huge pit. In this pit are the moulds, all set and ready for the steel. The crane gently picks up the ladle, moves it easily and accurately to the appointed place, and the stopper is pulled. Most of the moulds here are poured from the bottom and not from the top, as with the Bessemer. A central sprue is set, with pipes leading to the moulds and entering them at the bottom. This insures a better ingot, as there is less occluded air and less action of boiling.

The large moulds here are built up in sections and clamped together. After a "heat" has been poured the men must get down into that hot hole, knock the clamps off, hook the cranes onto the pieces, and set the sprues, after sweeping the stools, to prepare for another "heat."

It is frightfully hot in the pit. A man can only stay there an instant. One man jumps down, strikes a couple of blows, and is pulled out again; another takes his place, and he in turn is succeeded by another. All are sweating profusely, and with the hot sand on the feet, and the fine, hot dust in their eyes, are miserable. Yet nobody falters or hangs back; each one jumps in, in his turn, and is hauled out laughing but exhausted. Think of getting down into a pit where the "heat" which has just been poured is standing on each side of you, while behind and in front are the walls so hot that they would char wood were it put against them!

Amidst all this toil and danger the men are not without their sports. It is, let us suppose, two o'clock in the morning, and word has come to the rolling-mills that the converting-mill has broken down and that there will be no more steel for at least three hours. The waiters dispose themselves for rest or play as best they can. There is one who has fallen asleep in spite of his efforts to keep awake. He sleeps the sleep of utter exhaustion. But creeping stealthily toward him is a fellow-workman, who has in his hand a piece of freshly burnt limestone and a cup of water. He places the limestone on the sleeper's leg, and pours the water on it. The limestone begins to steam and smoke.

Still the man sleeps on. But in a moment he stirs uneasily, then springs to his feet with a cry of pain, only to be greeted with a howl of laughter from a crowd of men who have been watching the fun (?). He holds the hot burned cloth of his trousers away from his blistered skin. Any wrath he may have he best keep to himself, for a man caught sleeping is a fair mark for any joke, however hard. I have seen a shovelful of hot sand put on a man's shoe. No matter how quickly the victim may get his shoe off, in such a case, he has a large blister to warn him not to sleep again.

There is Bill, the greatest wag in the mill, asleep in plain sight on a pile of sand. In Bill this looks suspicious; but a confiding fellow-workman, Jinx, who has been his victim in many a trick, steals up to "bug" him, as this burning a man with a bit of lime is called. Bill, however, has a flexible jointed iron pipe concealed in the sand, and a confederate at the valve. As Jim is about to place the lime, Bill raises his arm with the nozzle under it; his confederate turns the valve, and a stream of water one and one-quarter inches in diameter, driven with a force of five hundred pounds to the square inch, strikes Jim squarely in the chest, lifting him clear from the ground. Bill coolly keeps the nozzle pointed at him and completely drenches him, though he crawls away as fast as he can.

A man lying down, but obviously wide awake, is approached secretly from behind by another, who places a hot brick convenient to his grasp. Then the second, with much parade, makes an attempt to "bug" him. Tile lounger springs to his feet with a cry of rage, and looking about for something to throw, seizes the hot brick, and gets a blistered hand to nurse along with his wrath.

Such are their jokes. Rough? Rather; but then, the work is rough, too! And what is the life of the doers of such work when the work is done?

It is Saturday. All day long lines of men have been going to the office for their pay. After a long wait the precious pay is secured, and they return to the mills to work. When they get home at night the first thing three-quarters of them do is to change their clothes and start for Pittsburg to have "a time." Out of the three thousand five hundred men who receive their pay, how many do you think put the bulk of it to any good use? Very few. After a hard week's work the relaxation is tremendous. The man feels that he is free again; that he has been a slave--yes, worse than a slave--for two whole weeks; and now he will enjoy the money he has so hardly earned.

 He not know any better; he cannot look ahead and see that he is throwing away the best years of a very short life in a wild riot. He only feels that he must have a "good time." Such a time as he has, too! A hard worker, he is also a hard drinker.

How do they stand it ? How could any human being stand it? No one knows. They all die young. Very few men well along in years are found anywhere about the mills. Yet these men go on for a number of years, and any one of them could do twice the work in the heat that any man could who had worked as the men work in the East..

 Of course there are exceptions. Many of the men have happy families, and those of the better class are very well off. The company houses are very good, and have all the modern conveniences, and the men who are sober and care for their families, besides being prosperous, live comfortably. But the average mill-man is a reckless daredevil. Independent and prodigal, he combines many good with many bad qualities. He is generous to a fault, yet he forgets or neglects to care for his family. He lives upon his animal nature, and then debauches it by the wildest excesses. He is not as a rule a man of a high order of intelligence, but still he is quick and skilful in his work. A strange character surely; a creature who seems to be made by the work, and not for it. 

*The conversion of iron into steel by the Bessemer process consists of blowing a large quantity of air through the bottom of the vessel containing the iron, which is called the "converter"; and in the process this bottom is impaired and has to be constantly renewed. The iron is decarbonized and refined through the combination of the oxygen of the air with the carbon, silicon, and manganese of the iron. During the oxidation enough heat is generated to keep the metal in a liquid state. Usually the carbon is all burned out, and the decarbonized metal is then recarbonized by the addition of spiegeleisen, an alloy of manganese, iron and carbon, or by ferromanganese, an alloy richer in manganese. Coke dust is often used in high carbon steel.

* *Ball stuff is Canister ground in an edgestone mill and mixed with water to the consistency of dough. When heated it becomes very hard and is much used for lining vessels and furnaces.


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