Shut down in the late 70’s, the sprawling USX mill outside of Pittsburgh was mostly intact almost twenty five years later. We wanted to get closer but there was no easy way in. We found a hole in the chain link fence, scaled a wall, and scrambled across a vast yard of rail tracks and rusting debris. And then suddenly we were there.
It’s oddly quiet. When you are standing right next to something so huge, with massive chunks of machinery at every turn, it should be loud. You want it to roar in your ears, rattle your skull, vibrate through your feet. But here there is only silence and stillness, the presence of absence.
The wind off the river flowed freely though the open doors and broken windows, yet the air inside was laced with dust and ancient soot. It had a bitter, metallic taste that made you want to spit. But here was no hollowed-out relic--evidence of the mill’s former life was all around us.
Paperwork and blueprints were filed neatly, tools rested on workbenches, and hard hats and work clothes were stowed in lockers. Had they in one afternoon told the thousands of workers to just punch out and go home?
Like the roar you want to hear outside, you are struck inside by an impulse to work the massive levers, switches and valve wheels that seem always just within reach. Your hands are drawn to them, longing to understand their workings, this labor. Today the work of this machinery is just a shoebox full of electronics, hands spared for finer things.