Sunday, July 8, 2018

A car, a boat ramp and a steel mill

This first photo was taken in 1985, give or take a year. At the time, I was covering Lawrence County, Ohio, for The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington. In 1984 and 1985 I claimed the title of World Sewer Writing Champion because at least three wastewater collection and treatment systems were constantly in the news those years.

One of those systems was being developed in Coal Grove, Ohio, just above Ironton. I had heard a new treatment plant was to be built at a small park along the river near the mouth of Ice Creek, so I went to check it out. It was a nice place.

Fast forward to 2018. Last Thursday morning, I went to the Ironton boat ramp to get photos of a tugboat headed down the Ohio. As I left town, I figured I would look for the park I had visited 33 years before — if it was still there.

I found a small sign pointing to a boat ramp, so I took that turn. Somewhere near the treatment plant, the road turned from asphalt to gravel. Eventually I found  the boat ramp. I didn't see a park there — just a parking lot, some weeds that had been cut, and the ramp.

The most noticeable thing was what I saw across the river. It made me sad.

This is the former Ashland Works of AK Steel, and before that Armco Steel. It's been shut down for a year or two. Back in the 1980s, hundreds of people worked here, and I remember the deep voice of company spokesman Bill Scaggs when we needed to get information for an article.

Back in the 1970s and for a while in the 1980s, the big triangular Armco sign glowed with orange light at night. It was atop this building. It was removed when some new equipment was installed. Whether it was for pollution control or production upgrades I don't remember. I just remember that it was there and now it's not.

This part of the Ohio Valley has lost plenty of manufacturing job in the legacy metal and glass industries in the past three or four decades. I'm used to seeing the silent steel mill when I drive along U.S. 23 in Kentucky, but seeing this idle facility from across the river on a quiet morning was different, and not in a good way.