locked Iron Ore trains from Port of Mobile to Tn Coal & Iron (TCI) Birmingham, AL


John Stewart
 

Hello

 

I am researching the movement of Venezuelan iron ore by rail from the Port of Mobile to TCI steel mills in Birmingham, AL starting in 1954.

 

Based on work so far, I have found that three railroads, L&N, GM&O and Southern Ry had small fleets of “made to order” hopper cars, likely built at Bessemer, AL Pullman Standard, for this bulk freight.

 

I am have images of the L&N and GM&O cars, as well as an image (aerial) of the TCI Bulk Material Facility in Mobile.  The cars are 36 foot, 3 bay hoppers of 90-100 ton capacity.  The L&N and GM&O cars are very similar if not identical.

 

The TCI port facility image for 1955 shows one of the 790 ft., 60,000 ton “Ore Chief” class bulk carriers docked, as well as a line of rail cars on the loading track.  (At the time these 3 ships were introduced they were some of the largest ships afloat.) The facility could transload iron ore from the bulk carrier ship directly to barges or rail cars, as well as provide open bulk storage on site.  Shipping from Venezuela began in late 1953, eventually reaching about 3 million tons per year at Mobile.  Ore was split between barge and rail cars for the trip to Birmingham.

 

Barges were unloaded at Birmingport, on the Warrior River, and moved by rail to the TCI mills at Ensley and Fairfield, after being processed at the Ore Conditioning Plant on Red Mtn at Wenonah.  Rail shipments were interchanged to the TCI RR and taken to the Ore Plant as well.  Conditioned and blended ores were then moved back to the blast furnaces by TCI RR trains.

 

TCI stopped underground mining of iron ore at Birmingham in June, 1962.  Venezuelan ore would continue to be processed at Wenonah even as sole source ore.

 

Based on my work so far it appears that these cars and trains of iron ore operated from 1954 to at least 1975 or so, maybe later.

 

The things that would have led to the end of this operation were new and larger river locks on the Warrior River system, with the final improvement at Bankhead Dam being made in 1975, improving transit times.  The introduction of Taconite pellets in the US began in 1955, and these were eventually being shipped to Birmingham by rail from the Minnesota ranges.  Finally, the Venezuelan ore developments made by US Steel and Bethlehem Steel were nationalized by the Venezuelan government in 1975, although provisions were made for shipments to the US at least until 1981 and likely longer.  So, it seems that these trains were phased out some time after 1975 or so.

 

(Similar movements of ore were made to the US Steel plants in the east as well, docking at Baltimore and Morristown NJ.  These shipments were larger than the ones to Birmingham.)

 

I am seeking your help to learn about Southern Ry’s part in this unique (at least in the southern states) ore movement.

 

I have two basic questions:

 

1.       Did Southern have a small fleet of these cars and where were they built?

 

2.       How long did the ore movements continue?

 

I am hoping you may be able to provide this information in the form of pictures, articles or timetable information.

 

Thanks very much for any help and information you can provide.

 

John


Robert Graham
 

John,

I don't have any specifics on Sou Ry movements or equipment that you are seeking, but I see an error in your work regarding other eastern US shipments. Baltimore MD sounds reasonable as Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Works was on Baltimore's outer harbor accessible to ocean going vessels. But Morristown NJ is not on any navigable waterway and there are no basic steel plants anywhere nearby. I suspect you meant Morrisville PA, location of a large U.S.Steel integrated mill and on the Delaware River, still navigable north of Philadelphia PA. I don't know if this detail is important to  you, but thought I would point it out.

Bob Graham

-----------------------------------------

From: "John Stewart"
To: main@SouthernRailway.groups.io
Cc:
Sent: Sunday June 14 2020 8:23:21PM
Subject: [SouthernRailway] Iron Ore trains from Port of Mobile to Tn Coal & Iron (TCI) Birmingham, AL

Hello

 

I am researching the movement of Venezuelan iron ore by rail from the Port of Mobile to TCI steel mills in Birmingham, AL starting in 1954.

 

Based on work so far, I have found that three railroads, L&N, GM&O and Southern Ry had small fleets of “made to order” hopper cars, likely built at Bessemer, AL Pullman Standard, for this bulk freight.

 

I am have images of the L&N and GM&O cars, as well as an image (aerial) of the TCI Bulk Material Facility in Mobile.  The cars are 36 foot, 3 bay hoppers of 90-100 ton capacity.  The L&N and GM&O cars are very similar if not identical.

 

The TCI port facility image for 1955 shows one of the 790 ft., 60,000 ton “Ore Chief” class bulk carriers docked, as well as a line of rail cars on the loading track.  (At the time these 3 ships were introduced they were some of the largest ships afloat.) The facility could transload iron ore from the bulk carrier ship directly to barges or rail cars, as well as provide open bulk storage on site.  Shipping from Venezuela began in late 1953, eventually reaching about 3 million tons per year at Mobile.  Ore was split between barge and rail cars for the trip to Birmingham.

 

Barges were unloaded at Birmingport, on the Warrior River, and moved by rail to the TCI mills at Ensley and Fairfield, after being processed at the Ore Conditioning Plant on Red Mtn at Wenonah.  Rail shipments were interchanged to the TCI RR and taken to the Ore Plant as well.  Conditioned and blended ores were then moved back to the blast furnaces by TCI RR trains.

 

TCI stopped underground mining of iron ore at Birmingham in June, 1962.  Venezuelan ore would continue to be processed at Wenonah even as sole source ore.

 

Based on my work so far it appears that these cars and trains of iron ore operated from 1954 to at least 1975 or so, maybe later.

 

The things that would have led to the end of this operation were new and larger river locks on the Warrior River system, with the final improvement at Bankhead Dam being made in 1975, improving transit times.  The introduction of Taconite pellets in the US began in 1955, and these were eventually being shipped to Birmingham by rail from the Minnesota ranges.  Finally, the Venezuelan ore developments made by US Steel and Bethlehem Steel were nationalized by the Venezuelan government in 1975, although provisions were made for shipments to the US at least until 1981 and likely longer.  So, it seems that these trains were phased out some time after 1975 or so.

 

(Similar movements of ore were made to the US Steel plants in the east as well, docking at Baltimore and Morristown NJ.  These shipments were larger than the ones to Birmingham.)

 

I am seeking your help to learn about Southern Ry’s part in this unique (at least in the southern states) ore movement.

 

I have two basic questions:

 

1.       Did Southern have a small fleet of these cars and where were they built?

 

2.       How long did the ore movements continue?

 

I am hoping you may be able to provide this information in the form of pictures, articles or timetable information.

 

Thanks very much for any help and information you can provide.

 

John


Allen Cain
 

John,

I am considering adding a steel mill to my 1955 Southern layout and any info you could provide on the ore and Taconite cars you mentioned would be GREATLY appreciated from anyone who can help.

Thanks, Allen Cain


George Eichelberger
 

The Southern “ore cars” were 100T three-bay cars (Southern 100000-100249 built by P-S in 1954 (note the date) under Program F-117 as their Lot No. 8127-3. At only 36’ over strikers, the cars were unique on the SR. A photo of Sou 100002 is attached.

There may (!) be information in the archives on the F-117 cars in the SR Mechanical Dept files SRHA has that explains what their intended use was. The “1954” built date appears to correspond to the shipments from Mobile to Birmingham. 

Unfortunately, although the files at, Coster Shop (responsible for maintaining the Southern’s “open” cars) were promised to SRHA, when several of us went to get them, the Shop Manager would not let us into the building where they were kept. I mentioned I would be glad to call David Goode if he had any questions. He response was he would let us in the building after lunch…and then never returned. I suspect (strongly) that he had promised someone they could take whatever they wanted and had no intention of letting SRHA take the files.

I mention that because it follows a pattern seen before. An individual, or local group, obtains important files…does nothing with them and eventually gets rid of them. I’ve asked people around Knoxville for years if they knew anything of the Coster files. No one seems to know anything about them so it’s possible they were simply bulldozed with the buildings.

If anyone is aware of SR files sitting unused in a library or archives some where, SRHA can receive and preserve almost anything related to the Southern.

Ike


Bill Schafer
 

When I was stationed in Selma, Ala., 1972-1973, I would see these cars come through Selma occasionally. They looked much different from the new aggregate cars then arriving on the property. When I asked about them, I was told they were for ore movements out of Mobile. Southern even had a nickname for them - “red rollers”. I guess because they were red and were on roller bearings. During my time there, I don’t remember any special movements of iron ore that would have required an extra train. I would just see several at a time. 

—Bill Schafer

On Jun 15, 2020, at 10:10, George Eichelberger <geichelberger@...> wrote:

The Southern “ore cars” were 100T three-bay cars (Southern 100000-100249 built by P-S in 1954 (note the date) under Program F-117 as their Lot No. 8127-3. At only 36’ over strikers, the cars were unique on the SR. A photo of Sou 100002 is attached.

There may (!) be information in the archives on the F-117 cars in the SR Mechanical Dept files SRHA has that explains what their intended use was. The “1954” built date appears to correspond to the shipments from Mobile to Birmingham. 

Unfortunately, although the files at, Coster Shop (responsible for maintaining the Southern’s “open” cars) were promised to SRHA, when several of us went to get them, the Shop Manager would not let us into the building where they were kept. I mentioned I would be glad to call David Goode if he had any questions. He response was he would let us in the building after lunch…and then never returned. I suspect (strongly) that he had promised someone they could take whatever they wanted and had no intention of letting SRHA take the files.

I mention that because it follows a pattern seen before. An individual, or local group, obtains important files…does nothing with them and eventually gets rid of them. I’ve asked people around Knoxville for years if they knew anything of the Coster files. No one seems to know anything about them so it’s possible they were simply bulldozed with the buildings.

If anyone is aware of SR files sitting unused in a library or archives some where, SRHA can receive and preserve almost anything related to the Southern.

Ike

<Sou 100002.jpeg>


John Stewart
 

Hi folks

 

THANKS! I am still getting used to this group as it is a little different than the JMRI group.io that I belong to.  I didn’t post attachments, but apparently attachments here are OK.  These are courtesy of Lee Singletary (L&N), Jason Parham (GM&O), and the U of Al online map archive.

 

I appreciate the information and Ike, thanks for the image of the Southern car.

 

“Red Rollers” makes sense – all the cars had roller bearings, L&N, GM&O and SOU

 

I expect to get some pics of some of these cars on the TCI/USS properties at Birmingham.  If so, I will share them here.

 

Now the question is :

 

When did this operation end?

 

Mike Burns included info on L&N hauling red ore from Mobile to Bhm for Republic’s Gadsden Steel Mill.  Republic, to my knowledge, was buying Venezuelan ore on the SA “market”, rather than having their own developed mines and transportation as USS did and as did Bethlehem.  The pricing structure was a bit exotic, but that is another story.

 

I stand corrected about Morristown NJ!  Thanks for the info, I was going from memory without checking my notes, and it was indeed Morrisville, PA for the USS Fairless Hills Works.  Apparently there were a lot of navigation issues regarding draft of the 60,000 T ore carriers, at every port of call.  In addition, at 800 ft nominal length, it was hard to navigate turns and some structures.  Some of this ore was hauled by Liberty ships and C-4 ships from WWII and purchased on the post war salvage/surplus market.

 

Thanks again for the help and picture.  Hope someone can offer when the service ended.

 

John

 

John R Stewart

www.bhamrails.info

205-901-3790

 

image004

 


John Stewart
 

HI again folks

 

Regarding the movements, Mike Burns notes that L&N hauls for Republic were “added on to the rear of the trains” from Montgomery to Birmingham, when he ran for L&N.

 

I believe he suggested 30-40 cars on NB train 570 was what he saw in winter of 1986.

 

I tried evaluating the mode split  of Water vs Rail for 3 million tons per year, and the RR’s wouldn’t have had much problem keeping up seems to me, if all three were serving TCI.

 

As you  might imagine, the water transportation was time constrained at 365 river miles and water “speed”.  Apparently a typical tow was 8 barges plus towboat in a 3 x 3 arrangement.  After 1975 this tow could lock through in a single movement.  And much of the Warrior traffic seems to go in smaller tows.  I believe the one way trips were 5 to 6 days transit.

 

The point of this is that it appears the RR’s would not have needed dedicated trains of ore hoppers to keep up with the movement required.

 

At Birmingham (Birmingport) the barged ore would be transloaded to ore jennies (22’) for the trip to Ensley/Fairfield on the Birmingham Southern (nee’ Inland Waterways RR).

 

Interesting if not obscure bit of RR history.

 

John

 

John R Stewart

www.bhamrails.info

205-901-3790

 

image004

 


George Eichelberger
 

John:

The attached SR memo is in no way conclusive that the Southern’s ore cars were still in that service in 1970. But….spending $52,000 to repair 20 sixteen year old 1,629 cu ft hopper cars because the “cars are needed” may be because they were still used in iron ore service? 

Although they certainly could have been used in limestone or aggregate service, the two-bay hoppers being purchased in 1970 for those shipments, with 2,100 cu ft capy, were more efficient. The cars’ small size is apparent in the attached photo of Sou 100214 in ballast service taken at Danville, KY by Glen Bole* 9-19-88.

Ike

*We thank Glen Bole for giving his extensive and well organized slide collection to SRHA several years ago.







On Jun 15, 2020, at 12:28 PM, John Stewart <jstew@...> wrote:

Hi folks
 
THANKS! I am still getting used to this group as it is a little different than the JMRI group.io that I belong to.  I didn’t post attachments, but apparently attachments here are OK.  These are courtesy of Lee Singletary (L&N), Jason Parham (GM&O), and the U of Al online map archive.
 
I appreciate the information and Ike, thanks for the image of the Southern car.
 
“Red Rollers” makes sense – all the cars had roller bearings, L&N, GM&O and SOU
 
I expect to get some pics of some of these cars on the TCI/USS properties at Birmingham.  If so, I will share them here.
 
Now the question is :
 
When did this operation end?
 
Mike Burns included info on L&N hauling red ore from Mobile to Bhm for Republic’s Gadsden Steel Mill.  Republic, to my knowledge, was buying Venezuelan ore on the SA “market”, rather than having their own developed mines and transportation as USS did and as did Bethlehem.  The pricing structure was a bit exotic, but that is another story.
 
I stand corrected about Morristown NJ!  Thanks for the info, I was going from memory without checking my notes, and it was indeed Morrisville, PA for the USS Fairless Hills Works.  Apparently there were a lot of navigation issues regarding draft of the 60,000 T ore carriers, at every port of call.  In addition, at 800 ft nominal length, it was hard to navigate turns and some structures.  Some of this ore was hauled by Liberty ships and C-4 ships from WWII and purchased on the post war salvage/surplus market.
 
Thanks again for the help and picture.  Hope someone can offer when the service ended.
 
John
 
John R Stewart
205-901-3790
 
<image001.jpg>
 
<1953 L & N Ore Car.jpg><1954 L&N Ore Car.jpg><1955 Ore Chief class ship docked at Mobile 02.png><GMO_62037_ICG_082474.jpg>


mike turner
 

Note that the cars on either side are 2bay 100ton aggregate hoppers.


On Mon, Jun 15, 2020 at 6:06 PM George Eichelberger <geichelberger@...> wrote:
John:

The attached SR memo is in no way conclusive that the Southern’s ore cars were still in that service in 1970. But….spending $52,000 to repair 20 sixteen year old 1,629 cu ft hopper cars because the “cars are needed” may be because they were still used in iron ore service? 

Although they certainly could have been used in limestone or aggregate service, the two-bay hoppers being purchased in 1970 for those shipments, with 2,100 cu ft capy, were more efficient. The cars’ small size is apparent in the attached photo of Sou 100214 in ballast service taken at Danville, KY by Glen Bole* 9-19-88.

Ike

*We thank Glen Bole for giving his extensive and well organized slide collection to SRHA several years ago.







On Jun 15, 2020, at 12:28 PM, John Stewart <jstew@...> wrote:

Hi folks
 
THANKS! I am still getting used to this group as it is a little different than the JMRI group.io that I belong to.  I didn’t post attachments, but apparently attachments here are OK.  These are courtesy of Lee Singletary (L&N), Jason Parham (GM&O), and the U of Al online map archive.
 
I appreciate the information and Ike, thanks for the image of the Southern car.
 
“Red Rollers” makes sense – all the cars had roller bearings, L&N, GM&O and SOU
 
I expect to get some pics of some of these cars on the TCI/USS properties at Birmingham.  If so, I will share them here.
 
Now the question is :
 
When did this operation end?
 
Mike Burns included info on L&N hauling red ore from Mobile to Bhm for Republic’s Gadsden Steel Mill.  Republic, to my knowledge, was buying Venezuelan ore on the SA “market”, rather than having their own developed mines and transportation as USS did and as did Bethlehem.  The pricing structure was a bit exotic, but that is another story.
 
I stand corrected about Morristown NJ!  Thanks for the info, I was going from memory without checking my notes, and it was indeed Morrisville, PA for the USS Fairless Hills Works.  Apparently there were a lot of navigation issues regarding draft of the 60,000 T ore carriers, at every port of call.  In addition, at 800 ft nominal length, it was hard to navigate turns and some structures.  Some of this ore was hauled by Liberty ships and C-4 ships from WWII and purchased on the post war salvage/surplus market.
 
Thanks again for the help and picture.  Hope someone can offer when the service ended.
 
John
 
John R Stewart
205-901-3790
 
<image001.jpg>
 
<1953 L & N Ore Car.jpg><1954 L&N Ore Car.jpg><1955 Ore Chief class ship docked at Mobile 02.png><GMO_62037_ICG_082474.jpg>


John Stewart
 

Hi All,

 

Thanks again Ike and all for the very good information.

 

I am coming to believe that these cars likely were in service “demand” – i.e., were needed for their original use until at least 1975, and likely the early ‘80’s.

 

This is based on the idea that US Steel’s Venezuelan iron ore was available and in demand through that time period, even after nationalization of the US Steel and Bethlehem properties in 1975, as the government gave contracts to both companies extending at least until 1981.

 

Certainly Birmingham’s red ore sources were gone:  US Steel/TCI closed red ore mines in June, 1962, and even Woodward closed their deep mine in 1972.

 

I’m learning about Taconite and how it came to Birmingham.   It was being brought in by barge in the early 2000’s and later.  At some point, it seems that Taconite pellets would have overcome the Venezuelan ore, based on transportation costs.

 

More ideas and info are always welcome, thanks again for the help

 

John

 

John R Stewart

www.bhamrails.info

205-901-3790

 

image004

 


John Hedrick
 

Mobile ore movements. I was Trainmaster at Mobile 1970-71. Best I can recall, we moved both red ore and some pellet ore at that time. At one point, some pellet  ore moved in Big Red coal hoppers weighing out long before cubing out. Ore moved on train 154. 154 left Mobile with the two engines that came in on local 69 then swapped power with 153 (4 GPs) at their meeting point. Two GPs handled 5,000 tons so 154 was filled out with ore to the tonnage limit. It would take a number days to move ore.  When at maximum tonnage, the yard engine, normally a GP-30, would shove 154 over the hill just north of the yard. All power was GP.

Reportedly, a  predecessor, who had connections in the control center, arranged to run an extra without clearing it with the superintendent. He got in serious trouble.


John Stewart
 

Hi John Hedrick

 

Thanks very much for this information – interesting.

 

So, it sounds like these car loads were used to “fill out train tonnage”.  That is, if Train 156 had room for more tonnage, and  you had cars waiting, you would add them to that day’s train till it was up to load rating – is that right?

 

And

 

You say it “took several days to move ore”. 

 

Does that mean that you had the liberty of waiting for “tonnage available” on train 156 to get the ore to Birmingham?  In other words, you didn’t have to get the ore out of town as soon as all cars were loaded, is that right?

 

And

 

Do you recall how frequently ore loads were available, in other words, how often did the ore ships from Venezuela come in, more or less?

 

Thanks very much

 

John

 

John R Stewart

www.bhamrails.info

205-901-3790

 

image004

 


John Hedrick
 

John Stewart:

It has been a long time. For instance I said the ore moved on 154. Actually, by that time the Mobile trains were renumbered 183-184. Yes, 184 was filled out to the tonnage limit with ore. I don't believe it all came back to us from loading at one time. Ore was accumulated in the yard and moved on 184 as tonnage permitted. The move in Big Reds probably coincided with the wrecked Red Rollers.

John O. Hedrick