BG

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Steel Works

The Steel Works was constructed in the early 1900's and quickly became one of the largest such steel facilities in the world. During WWII, this facility was quickly converted, months ahead of schedule, to the production of wartime munitions and set numerous records for their enormous output of the various types of metals produced here which were of the highest quality. The blast furnaces, whose temperatures reached 3,000 degrees or more, and of which there were several here, each produced thousands of tons of metal per day. They conveyed the molten metal through channels dug into the floor to train cars which had a capacity of 100 tons each. Production here, like in most other steel plants, was high throughout the years following the war but competition from other markets, notably Europe and Japan, began to cut into their business. By the 1970's, the steel industry in the United States had fallen on hard times. The Steel Works struggled throughout a few various ownership changes over the past few decades before the main plant finally closed in the early 2000's. Much of the remaining buildings have since been demolished.

Now that I have reached this, the 7th and final post from the 2,600 mile road trip, I will relate the story of our expedition..

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Disclaimer #1: Everything on this site is a lie.

This trip started out with one long drive through the night. We left Saint Louis around 9:30pm and the plan was to drive all the way to the first location, engage in shenanigans all day long, then sleep. In so doing we effectively added a full day onto the trip, but at the cost of getting things off to a rough start. Night driving is a tedious chore comprised of navigating through unidentifiable darkness in all directions, into which really bright lights occasionally appear ahead and then glide past; Some of the lights are red and strangely hypnotizing; Some of the lights make loud honking noises if you get too close. Around 4am, after drifting through several monotonous hours of the same floaty lights and the unending darkness, the initial excitement was beginning to wear off. I think we were in Ohio somewhere when I decided to find a dark place to park so I could close my eyes for a little while before the sun came up. I pulled off at a random small town exit and searched until I found a suitable place. In a dark lot in a nameless town far from home, I struggled to be overcome by the sweet delirium of unconsciousness to the sound of muffled traffic and the frequent strobe light effect of passing cars whose bright lights flashed across my eyelids with an intensity that slowly faded in rhythmic proportion to the hum of their passing engines. I think I managed to drift off for an hour or so, not very satisfied, but just recharged enough to get back on the road without falling asleep at the wheel. I didn't check the map to confirm, but for the next couple hours I believe we were literally driving inside of the sun. When we finally passed through to the other side of the blinding light, the landscape had fully transformed. Small river towns now decorated the hills through which I found myself navigating in a strange and dreamy early morning trance of sleep deprivation and wanderlust. The open road beckoned! And we who answered the call have now arrived and are ready to perform adventure upon your lands.

The first location was not itself active but everything around it was and the whole area was owned by the same company, which happened to be operating on this weekday. Google maps often fails to convey the Three-Dimensionality inherent to "reality" and as such the parking spots and other preliminary reconnaissance was less than useful in this case. Regardless, we drove around a couple times and picked out the spot and made it happen and good times were had. If everything else failed us later, at least this one worked out. The next objective was still hours away and would prove far more difficult with its tall barbed wire fence and lack of good parking spots. We could have parked closer but our car and our initial point of entry would be compromised. And since we're not stupid, we didn't park close. In this case, not being stupid means 7 miles of hiking through the wilderness and dodging the chainsaw guy who happened to be directly on our route. Luckily the wilderness made improvisation possible and furthermore we're lucky chainsaw operators usually wear hearing protection because we were pretty close to each other at one point and it wasn't really possible to quietly hike across all the dead leaves and undergrowth. This became another one of those times where I start to wonder about indigenous animal populations, specifically the large furry predator variety, after I'm already miles deep into their territory. End result, we're 2 for 2 on locations now and zero bear attacks.. not too bad.

Another drive late into the night propelled us onward to the next objective. This one was easy. Too easy. As a result it was also covered in shitty graffiti and pretty well destroyed. Since none of us like the easy/trashed stuff all that much, we moved on to the next one fairly quickly. The next one was stupid. Once again, we didn't have a good place to park. To make matters worse, there were at least 4 security guards in separate vehicles circling the property at random intervals. So we consult the maps and the geography and pick out the least terrible course of action. We're not stupid enough to park close, but definitely stupid enough to try a location with security guards all over the place. After a moderate hike through the woods beyond the "No Trespassing" signs, us casual "hikers out for a morning walk" came up to the objective, which was a real shitty place to be if security happened to drive by. As quickly as possible, we tried everything and everything was sealed up extremely well.. except one tiny spot I was able to squeeze through and thereby gain entry. The walk back sucked exceptionally bad due to having detoured further from the main road and straight into the overgrown hell of a swamp covered in what are surely the worst sticker bushes of all time. At this point we're 4 for 4 and still haven't been mauled by furry woodland creatures or security. Our clothes and skin, on the other hand, have been punished for the sins of their bearers.

Up next was another fairly stupid location which was partially active. Luckily, they provided the most convenient parking ever and not only that, the door was wide open. If the door's open, it's okay right? Probably. This location provided just as much fun below ground as above through the means of walking height tunnels which connected everything and seemed to veer off in all directions. And if I didn't have mesothelioma before this trip, I have it now. This place took all day but we had just enough time left for one more low key spot which turned out to be pretty nice; an old industrial site built in the late 1800's. As the orange light through the windows grew faint and made its slow dance across the rusty industrial equipment before us, it signaled a setting sun and the approaching end of our trip. Now we're 6 for 6 ..but the stuff on the agenda for the last day was probably going to end badly.

The final day of our trip was also the stupidest day of our trip.. Which is saying a lot considering the heights of stupidity we had already expertly carried out thus far. The primary objective was known to have an on-site caretaker as well as guard dogs. But it's one of those once in a lifetime kind of locations that by all accounts really shouldn't exist and especially not in the semi-abandoned state that it is in. I was, therefore, okay with these obstacles for a chance at it. Everything was going according to plan. We arrived on-site at the perfect time. We picked out a good parking spot and had a short hike. But while hiking the woods before we even got up to the property, a guard dog at the caretaker's residence was alerted and soon enough he came out with a flashlight. After we laid low for a few minutes he went back inside. We waited a little longer and eventually the coast seemed clear again. I was first in the property so I waited in the tree-line when I saw a dog silhouette quickly moving against the wide open, moonlit field. At this point I figured we were fucked. This dog's going to come tear me a new asshole, it's time to abort. I heard an animal rustling around behind me and the sound was getting closer. Any minute now, some big furry bastard is going to not only bark loud enough to let everyone know where we're at but he'll probably bite pretty good too. At this point I hear (what I assume is) my comrades approaching from ahead of me so I cautiously move to meet up with them. But on the other hand, it could be the caretaker following his dog to the scent of my dumbass hiding in the bushes (Strangely enough, there were no other signs of a loose dog anymore. Was it my imagination or was the dog as wary of us as we of him?). Luckily it was not the caretaker approaching, so in the safety of the dark woods by moonlight we converged and we schemed. My comrades waited in a secluded spot while I walked up and began to check the target for perimeter weaknesses. As soon as I got close to the building, another dog started barking. I didn't get close enough to see it but this one was most definitely guarding the objective, not the caretaker's house. So now that both dogs had begun barking within minutes of each other it was obvious something was up and we needed to GTFO. We promptly left at this point.

We drove to some other locations nearby which we had mapped out earlier and nothing really worked out. Seemed like everything was under construction or demolition. By this time, I hoped that the caretaker back at the main objective would have a day job or some other responsibilities elsewhere-anything as long as it meant he wouldn't be on site any more. But when we got back on site, all vehicles were still parked. To make matters worse, one of the vehicles ended up leaving the property while we were scouting it. We followed his minivan briefly as he turned into the nearby residential roads, instead of the main road which would have led to anywhere else. The fact that he was nearby was no consolation for him leaving, because now he could pull up at any minute and see me walking up to/from the building and the fence. Still, I desperately wanted to see this place. So I came up with a last-ditch plan and divided up the meat snacks I had and quickly hopped the fence in broad daylight. I ducked as a few cars went past and ran up to the building, still unsure if the dog(s) were loose or chained up. Turns out, this poor dog was on a short chain. He had a shitty wooden box and that was it. The mutt was terrified of me and ran away from the meat-stick peace-grenades I tossed in his direction. The closer I got, the louder he barked. I didn't know if anyone else was in the caretaker's house since there were still a few cars parked and I didn't know when the caretaker would return and hear/see his dog going crazy. The longer I stayed the higher the risks became between the dog barking and the lack of cover provided by daylight. So I was only able to check about 1/4 of the building's exterior for weaknesses, observed none and promptly GTFO again. This time I hopped the fence just as a female jogger was going past, whose presence I only noticed after it was too late. I greeted her with "lovely day, isn't it!" and casually walked to the car. She smiled but was obviously a little uncomfortable with the circumstances of our introduction. We promptly left, defeated and sad.. mere shadows of our former selves whose sole purpose in life now must obliviously be to question our own failed existence... at least until the next time.

Disclaimer #2: I may decide to remove this write-up.

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