YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Three Youngstown State University graduate students in history put together a study on coke plants in the steel industry and around Youngstown.
On Thursday, Hannah Klacik, Jacob Harver and Brian Pete presented their study at the Youngstown Steel Museum for what has been described as the worst place to work in a steel mill, by far.
For the presentation, they gathered a bucket half-filled with coke from the railroad tracks near what used to be the Campbell Works of Youngstown Sheet and Tube.
“Oh, hard work. Dirty, dangerous work, and still is,” Harver said.
The coke starts as coal, which is heated in a furnace at temperatures from 1,800 to 3,600 degrees to produce coke. The coke then fed the blast furnaces that once lined the Mahoning Valley.
“It serves two main purposes: producing heat and also the carbon needed to make iron,” Harver said.
The report included examples of coke ovens past and present, like the Cherry Valley beehive ovens near Leetonia. There was also a picture of the now-demolished Campbell Works coke ovens, and Harver took his own footage of coal being shoveled at Warren’s Cleveland-Cliffs coke plant.
“The hardest thing to shovel, believe it or not, was coke,” said Mike Hughes.
The study also included interviews with Hughes and Wayne Lewis, both of whom worked at the Campbell coke plant.
“It was so hot up there that you had your work shoes but you actually had clogs on top that were made out of wood and then you slip your shoes into them and tied yourself on so your feet wouldn’t melt,” Lewis said.
Also on display was a coke shovel, a pitchfork-like device used to move coke by hand.
“So that’s what they’re doing in the coke-making process, baking out the impurities and trying to be left with pure carbon,” Harver said.