Ice is hurting my work from the early 60’s

No14_blast_furnaceGWpsThis year’s ice is probably the biggest news event to happen here in the 18 years I have been doing the Duluth Shipping News. The implications to the outside world are becoming severe. That is a little harder for us to see here since we see nothing, no boat traffic. The US Steel Company, at the other end of the pipe, sees a lack of iron ore pellets they need to make steel.
They just announced they are curtailing operations at their Gary, Indiana steel works because of the lack of iron ore pellets coming from Lake Superior ports. That is the first time in 30 years they have done that.
Great Lakes Fleet, located in Duluth, and formerly the Pittsburgh Steamship Company, uses their entire fleet to take iron ore pellets from Great Lakes ports to Gary, Indiana. That includes the Arthur M. Anderson,  Cason J. Callaway, Edgar B. Speer, Edwin H. Gott, Great Republic, John G. Munson, Philip R. Clarke, Presque Isle and Roger Blough.
blast_furnace_tappsLittle did I know when I was working at a research plant in Pittsburgh in the early 60’s,  developing machines to pelletize iron ore on the Iron Range that ice problems in Duluth would delay shipment of my pellets. Well, not exactly my pellets; I worked on the lowest rung of the labor force there (Dravo Corporation) but when not cleaning the floor, I  was given a new recipe to mix iron ore, limestone and other stuff we (they) were experimenting with. I then climbed the steps to the top of a platform where I carefully poured my (their) latest mix into the ball mill. Most days, pellets came out the other end which created my first task for the next day, testing them for strength by breaking them one at a time. My results were then given to people who actually knew what they were doing and several hours later, they handed me that day’s recipe.
Of course, because of my work there, when there is no ice, the pellets are strong and stay pellets from the ball mill on the Iron Range until the blast furnace in Gary.
Now you ask, “Ken, why pellets.”
Direct from Wikipedia: The configuration of iron ore pellets as packed spheres in the blast furnace allows air to flow between the pellets, decreasing the resistance to the air that flows up through the layers of material during the smelting. The configuration of iron ore powder in a blast furnace is more tightly-packed and restricts the air flow. This is the reason that iron ore is preferred in the form of pellets rather than in the form of finer particles.
I couldn’t have said it better.
(Images of the inside and outside of a blast furnace, from US Steel, Pittsurgh, PA)


  1. I just discovered your site, VERY ENJOYABLE and informative! Looks like I have a new place to sit and have my morning cup of joe! Thanks for the excellent reporting.

  2. Very interesting!

  3. Hope all the ships in lay up will be out in full force this year !

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