Don't Be Getting Ahead of Yourself
26. Make Your Own Steel
By Ian Frazier
My grandfather, Ray Frazier, worked all his adult life in a steel mill in Cleveland. Much of that time he was a foreman at the Jones & Laughlin plant by the Cuyahoga River in the industrial flats of the city. He worked six-and-a-half days a week, he never took vacations, and he telephoned the plant to check on the blast furnaces first thing when he got up in the morning and last thing before he went to bed. Through the Depression and World War II, he essentially worked himself to death at the mill, and he died in 1951, the year I was born.
I am so post-industrial that I have never set foot inside a steel mill, let alone worked in one. I have almost no mechanical skills, and often must ask for help with tasks like adjusting the position of the driver's seat in my rental car. Nevertheless, I would like one day to make some steel. If I had the time and money, here's what I would do: I would drive a small truck up to the ore deposits around Duluth, Minnesota, obtain (preferably by digging) a half-ton or so of iron ore, and take it to my friend Tim's house in western Massachusetts. He likes the idea of making steel from scratch, and says he thinks it can be done. We would build a small furnace, get or make some coke for fuel, build a smelter.... I haven't worked out the details. Mainly what I envision is a period of sweat and grime and minor burns culminating in the final product: an ingot glowing bright red, which cools to my own personal gunmetal-silver slab of raw steel. I would put it on my bookshelf as a totemic object, as an homage to my grandfather, and as a small laugh in the face of industrial decline and the all-conquering service economy.
Ian Frazier, a frequent contributor, is the author of Coyote v. Acme and four other books
27. Catch a Fish on a Fly You Tied
28. Release an Orphaned Bird of Prey You've Raised
29. Touch a Haggis
30. Fast for Two Days