Summer in a steelworks

My uncle was Chief Wages Clerk at Redbourn steelworks at Scunthorpe, and arranged for a school friend and myself to be given a conducted tour. It was informative to learn all the stages that were gone through in the making of steel from the ore to the finished metal. More that that, it was an awesome spectacle to see huge fiery cauldrons of white hot molten steel, and to watch it being poured into ingots. The reality of the heat and the noise was something that pictures and films cannot do justice to.

I applied for a summer job in the metallurgy laboratory of the steelworks a year later, and was accepted. It was a relatively quiet corner of the complex, removed from the inferno of liquid steel, and was where the quality of batches of steel was assessed on a daily basis. They would send us off-cuts of  each batch of steel, measuring about 3 inches square by about six inches long. We would start by taking sulphur prints of the exposed ends of the metal by placing sensitised wet paper of them. The paper would acquire different colours and patterns, dependent on the sulphur content of the steel. There were other lab tests to be done before we sent a report back that listed the steel's qualities. From this analysis the ultimate uses of the steel would be determined, with the higher quality steel destined to be pulled into wire, and the second rank stuff perhaps for building materials.

Everyone was reminded daily of the dangers of the site by huge boards that listed the numbers of people who had been injured, or perhaps even killed, in the previous week. The firm took pride when the numbers were zero. The small group of us in the lab bonded into a team, and it was a happy summer spent productively among friends.