Birmingham History - Republic Steel Thomas Plant. Dial up Destruction, new pics P7/8 is a free Model Railroad Discussion Forum and photo gallery. We cover all scales and sizes of model railroads. Whether you're a master model railroader or just getting started, you'll find something of interest here.

Birmingham History - Republic Steel Thomas Plant. Historic Pics added pg 10

Grandeman and LGM were out digging up Birmingham history today. :D
Since I got invited to accompany them, I thought I'd post a teaser shot. :p I took 99 pictures today and Grandeman took many more! I think LGM took about as many as I did.:eek:

Hope everyone enjoys this thread.


One thing that needs to be mentioned, currently the East Thomas site is owned by Wade Sand and Gravel Company. The quarry is active and the site is private property. While the good folks at Wade Sand and Gravel are interested in preserving Birmingham's industrial heritage, PLEASE DON'T TRESSPASS ON THIER PROPERTY!. In today's society of litigation, control of access to industrial sites is obviously required. Such places, by their very nature, are areas requiring a bit of common sense and fore thought. My thanks go out to the folks at Wade Sand and Gravel for their hospitality and dedication to our local history. -Grande man Out :)
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Well, my first teaser hasn't atracked much comment. Maybe a few more will help!:p

Now you can try guess which set of lettering the builders plate goes to.:eek:

The Thomas plant was built in the early 1880's. Republic bought it later. The plant was closed about 1982 due to a down turn in business.




Diesel Detail Freak
Darn, I was leaving it open. I could have told you it was a GE 50-65 tonner. 470hp is less then a 70 tonner had, they ran 660.
Grandeman took my notes, so he will have to post the answer, but I think I remember seeing a 80 ton weight on the engine. But which number goes with the builders plate?


grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
Hey guys, I'm still working on the Republic material. I'm about fragged tonight, so it may be a while yet. :rolleyes: One thing is for sure, we had fun and learned a little more about our local history. Stay tuned...
These are some general pictures of the Coke Battery at Thomas. The Battery is a Koppers designed and built battery. It was built in 1952 and shut down about 1982. The first two pictures are of the ByProducts plant. The third pictures is of the coal conveyors. The fourth pictures is a shot of the north side of the battery (pusher side).

Here are some shots of the office building which was built in 1926. They show the north, east, south, and west sides.


The 902 is a SC. It was built in 1939 if I remember correctly. The SC was the predecesser to the SW1. Alex, also with us yesterday, didn't believe me and took a close look at the frame.



grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
Hi everyone.

Here's a little background on the site at East Thomas. Industrial use of the site and the construction of it's associated company town began in 1888. Some of the original structures remain today. Pennsylvania's Thomas family built two 75 foot high blast furnaces and produced pig iron under the company name of Pioneer. Limestone, used for the fluxing agent, was quarried on site. Originally, 910 beehive coke ovens were built to produce fuel for the furnaces.

In 1899, Republic Iron and Steel purchased the Pioneer Company bringing East Thomas plant under new control. Republic had many coal and ore mining properties thoughout the District. Places such as Spaulding Ore Mine, Raimund Ore Mines 1/2/3, Sayre Coal Mine, Sayreton Coal Mine, Virginia Mines (coal), Warner Coal Mine, etc. We've visited a few of them in the past here on the forum:

The focus of yesterday's trip is the remaining by products plant at East Thomas. It was originally constructed in 1925 to replace the company's wasterful beehive batteries and underwent significant modernization in 1952. No longer would by products of the coking process be wasted. Instead, they were used to provide fuel for plant electrical power generation and a host of profitable products (benzol, toluol, and other solvents) with many industrial and domestic uses.

Here's a brief description of the by product plant operation. Glenn is a former Republic Steel industrial engineer. Hopefully he will provide any additional info or correct shortcomings in the following description.
  1. Coal from company mines arrived on site in rail cars. It was unloaded into a covered pit and conveyed to an intermediate building where it was transferred to another belt, changing direction, on it's way up to the coal hopper.
  2. The coal hopper stored coal and, when required, charged the larry car.
  3. The larry car traveled along the top of the coke ovens and discharged coal into each separate coking chamber.
  4. Gasses from the coking process were used to heat the coking chambers. Coal takes approximately 17 hours to coke. Coking is nothing more than cooking the impurities out of the coal to produce fuel suitable for blast furnace use.
  5. When an individual chamber's product was ready, the doors on each side of the chamber were opened. A huge pusher traveled the length of the battery and it's ram was used to push the coke into the quench car waiting on the opposite side of the oven.
  6. The quench car transported the red hot coke to the quench tower where water was used to cool it. After quenching, the quench car delivered the coke to a coke wharf beside the ovens. From there, finished coke was conveyed up to a screening building and gravity loaded into waiting rail cars
  7. During the coking process, gasses from the process were piped from each coking chamber to the By Product Plant where it was cooled and cleaned. Various products resulted from this process as covered perviously.
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The coke battery was built in 1952. I suspect the by products plant was built at the same time.

A little more detail of the process.

1. Coal was brought in to the unloading station. The unloading station had 2 tracks. The coal was conveyed to the top of the battery. At some point, either were the conveyor changes direction or at the top of the silos, there should be a crusher to size the coal. Coke is normally make from a blend of coals, usually three. Each coal is stored in different bins and then mixed in the proper proportions.
2. On top of the battery are two "cars". One picks up the lids to allow the larry car to charge the oven. The ovens hold about 20 tons of coal.
3. Small doors on each side of the battery are opened on the oven being charged and the pusher uses its leveling arm to level the coal.
4. As the coal is heated with out air, the volitile matter in the coal is released as a gas. The gas is piped to the By Products plant and many products are removed, tar, light oil, amonium sulphate, benzine, etc. The cleaned gas is returned to underfire the coke ovens. It is also piped to the boiler house to fire the boilers used to make steam. Any excess gas is burned off.
5. When the oven is ready, the doors are removed on both sides. The pusher pushes the coke out the other side of the oven. A combination door machine/coke guide on the other side, guides the coke in to the quench car. When the coke is pushed out the doors are replaced and the cycle starts again. The ovens have numbers on the doors. You may see a number that is more than the 65 ovens in the battery. Zeros are not used on the oven numbers. The right hand digit is a sequence number. When the ovens are pushed, you would push 11, 21, 31, 41,51, 61, 71. There is a sequence for the other number, but I don't remember it. You don't want to push ovens next to each other as it would drop the temperature and cause problems with the bricks that line the inside of the ovens.
6. The quench car travels to the quench tower. A large volume of water is dumped on the red hot coke to cool it. The quench car then travels back to the coke wharf and dumps the coke.
7. The coke was then conveyed to a small building for sizing. The fine particles were separated out to be used in the Sinter plant. The large pieces were sent to the Blast Furnace.

During my time at Republic (1976-1986), we were not operating any coal or ore mines in AL. The blast furnaces closed some time prior to 76, so all of the coke produced was shipped to Gadsden or one of the northern Republic plants.


grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
Here are a few drawings of the plant layout. The first is from some awesome company reference material that Glenn provided. It shows the trackage, which could be of assistance to anyone interested in modeling such a facility. The other two, though changed significantly, are from the HAB/HAER study of the site and came from the excellant Birmingham Historical Society book, Birmingham Bound. The intent here is to further the knowldge of our local history, not plagerize material. I'd highly recommend anyone interested in the subject go to and order a copy.

Overall layout


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