• U.S.

STEEL: Scrap Scrap

3 minute read

Everybody agrees that the scrap situation is serious, and at last men are making vigorous—if still unsuccessful—efforts to cope with it. Steel output in 1942 will be less than 1941 (83,000,000 tons) unless the mills are fed some 32,000,000 tons of outside* scrap.

The scrap is not so rich as it was. Railroads, once a big source, are scrapping less, repairing more; an 1892 locomotive was reconditioned for New York Central service last week (see cut). The closing of auto assembly lines cut another big source at least until war production reaches its peak. Yet scrap still lies over the face of the U.S. like a rusty rash—jalopy graveyards, abandoned streetcar tracks, cellar junk. Why doesn’t it move to the mills?

C.I.O. President Phil Murray this week blamed the scrap brokers. They have hoarded enough scrap to make 2,000,000 tons of steel, said he, to force a break in the price ceiling ($20 a ton at basing point). But the scrap men, from the 250,000 pushcart junkies who collect a ton or so a day to the big brokers who trade 100,000 tons, all say there is no money in scrap at that price. The junkies would rather collect paper, or work in a factory. The classification yards are short of men to sort and bale it. The brokers blame Washington’s unimaginativeness and red tape.

OPA maintains its ceiling is high enough to bring out all the scrap needed, that the dealers are creating the shortage. OPA photographers have pictures of mountains of scrap in dealers’ yards, some of the piles built up months ago.

Last week WPB took a hand. Its conservation division sent four men to Butler, Pa., home of an American Rolling Mills plant which has had to shut four of its ten furnaces. They made a tour of jalopy graveyards to see what they could find.

First yard visited had 250 old cars which the yard owner said he was cutting up as fast as he could get labor to do the work. Most of his men were either drafted or finding better jobs in the steel mills. Armco agreed to furnish the men. At the second yard were 500 cars, plainly being held for higher prices. The proprietor showed no interest in a deal. Whereupon Major John S. Swauger of the Pittsburgh Ordnance District (who has requisitioning power) remarked: “If no agreement for the sale of this scrap is made within a week, we’ll take whatever action is necessary.”

Within a few days, with Major Swauger’s help, Armco had rounded up some 2,000 tons of scrap near Butler.

Many a steel mill has sidestepped recalcitrant brokers, is buying direct from the collectors. Jones & Laughlin is tearing up and bundling its own jalopies on a small scale. But the trade says this costs J. & L. $9 a car. Since the average cost of a junked jalopy is $15, where is the ceiling? Furthermore, J. & L. has trouble getting enough jalopies.

This week New York, Birmingham, Pittsburgh, other towns had launched civic scrap-collecting experiments. The New York campaign was a bust, and not much was expected of the others. Meanwhile steel mills got shorter & shorter of scrap.

*In addition to the 25,000,000 tons they recirculate from their own operations.

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