About 350 employees work around the clock, operating the gigantic machines and going about the hard work of turning old junk into new steel. “It’s almost more scientific than you’d think,” Rhodes says. “They’re in these little pulpits pressing buttons and reading things to make sure everything’s running properly.”Yes, and fewer people are exposed to the hazards, and they're much more productive, than their forebears in the Mon and Mahoning Valleys ever were.
Everything about it is hot, loud, and dangerous. It starts with giant dump trucks dropping 350,000 pounds of scrap into an enormous bucket. Workers add lime, and then a crane pushes the bucket into a 9,000-degree electric arc furnace for two hours. “It’s a weird buzzing, like what you think electricity would sound like,” Rhodes says.
Rhodes found photographing the factory harder than he expected. Beyond the heat and soot, which he said stays in your nose for days, he had difficulty conveying the enormity of it all. He used an ultra-wide 16mm lens, but still feels he didn’t quite show the scale. And then there’s the danger. Working in a steel mill requires constant vigilance (one worker died last year), even as you try not to miss a shot. “There’s no pause button when they’re dumping a ladle full of steel,” he says.Where does the hot metal go in the event of a breakout? Anywhere it wants.