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Stelco's Railway

Steel Company of Canada
Yard Services Transportation Department

By Ray Hoadley

All photographs Bay City Railway Historical Foundation unless otherwise credited.

Stelco "D" Blast Furnace and Domestic Coke Screener in the foreground. 1953. (click to enlarge)

In 1893, permission was granted by the municipal council of the City of Hamilton Ontario to construction a blast furnace at Huckleberry Point on Hamilton Harbour. The Hamilton Blast Furnace Company completed construction in 1895 and began producing pig iron in the tiny blast furnace that summer. The fledgling mill changed names to the Hamilton Steel and Iron Company, reorganized as the Hamilton Iron & Steel Company before it joined forces with several other small mills across Canada in 1910; The Canada Screw Company, Canada Nut & Bolt Company, The Montreal Rolling Mills Company and The Dominion Wire Manufacturing Company to become the largest steel company in Canada, The Steel Company of Canada, more commonly known as STELCO and June 30, 1980 re-named Stelco Inc.

#4 Dock (left to right) Blast Furnaces D, B, A and C. 1953 (click to enlarge)

Plate mill

Locomotive Fleet

Locomotive Gallery

The movement of pig iron and associated materials demanded that the infant company set up an industrial intra-plant railway system. The first six locomotives were simple 0-4-0T steam locomotives purchased from defunct logging companies. As the workload increased over the years the locomotives became increasingly larger, advancing eventually to 0-6-0 tender type switch locomotives, many purchased from the Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo Railway. The first brakemen hired by the new company were drifters (a.k.a. boomers) off the railroads. Some only worked in the yard seasonally to avoid the frigid weather on the road.

By 1948, there were 15 locomotives in yard service including steam and the first diesels. These were 80 ton center cab General Electric switchers assigned to roustabout duties because of their good tractive effort and low upkeep. Soon this type of locomotive proved too light for the heavy trains that were being marshalled and were eventually assigned to lighter work, shunting scrap and ingot buggies.

The demand for heavier locomotives resulted in the purchase of a 1200 horsepower SW9 in 1951. During the next sixteen years, the Diesel Division of General Motors built seven SW8 and sixteen SW900 locomotives. These diesels solved the traction problem quickly and soon the little saddle tank steamers found their way to the scrap lines. By the end of 1967 the company had a total of 29 diesels in yard service.

Of special interest was Stelco #40, previously TH&B #40. It arrived in operating condition in September 1959 and was retained for ten years. Initially used as a plant switcher, it was soon displaced by the new diesel fleet. However, #40 escaped the scrappers' torch, when it was used as a portable boiler during the rebuilding at the Plate Mill and later the 12-10 Mill. Roundhouse foreman, Gord Douglas, supervised a complete overhaul of the locomotive before it was donated to the National Museum of Science & Technology in Ottawa in June 1969. It operated there on museum property providing short train rides until it was once again retired. Stelco #40, ex TH&B #40, nee TH&B #42 now resides in Lindsay Ontario.

Rail Operations

Left photo: Old eastside yard for inbound and outbound road cars. There was a newer eastside yard built after this photograph. Right: Westside yard for inbound and outbound road cars. Note: The old black building is the Spike Mill where rail spikes were made. Both photos, circa 1948.

Canadian Science and Technology Museum/CN Collection

The Steel Company of Canada operated eleven different facilities in Hamilton, all requiring rail service. They included Hilton Works, Reinforcing, Parkdale Works, #2 Rod Mill, Frost Works, Laidlaw Storage, Canada Works East & West, Ontario Works, West End Storage and Canadian Drawn Works.

By far the largest operation, at six million annual ingot tons in 1972, was the 1110 acre Hilton Works. Operating as an integrated steel mill, which could produce new steel from raw materials required a vast quantity of iron ore, dolomite, limestone and scrap steel. Much of this was delivered in railway cars, although iron ore and coal also arrived by lake freighter.

The Stelco Railroad, operated by the Yard Services Transportation Department, employed 600 people in operating and non-operating jobs. Five track gangs maintained the 72 miles of track, including over 700 switches and repaired the high priority derailment damage. The Diesel Shop could conduct daily maintenance on up to four locomotives at a time or do a complete overhaul on any locomotive in the fleet.

Co-ordination of rail movements was the responsibility of a shift yardmaster, who was in contact with the TH&B and CNR yardmasters, and four assistant shift yardmasters. The twenty-seven, four man crews operated around the clock, seven days a week. Many were employed to move the 1500 pieces of steel mill rolling stock throughout the plant, most of it not equipped with air or mechanical brakes, relying strictly on the skill of the engineer to control the speed of the train. Trainline reservoir air was bled from inbound railroad cars before they were weighed at #3 or #5 track scales.

Feeding a Hungry Steelmaking Facility

Producing new steel at an integrated steel mill required millions of tons of scrap steel, which was mixed with the molten iron from the blast furnaces. During the 1950's, Stelco purchased scrap from as many sources as it could. Aging lake freighters were tied up for the last time at #1 Ore Dock. The boat salvage crew slowly winched the hulls out of the water as they torch cut the superstructure into pieces small enough to charge into the open hearth.

Click to enlarge

The rolling stock was purchased second hand, often as scrap from the mainline railroads. Once inside the plant, the Car Repair Shop removed the brake equipment, renumbered it and it remained in service for many more years before it was scrapped. New rolling stock such as ore jennies, three bay hoppers, gondolas and billet flat cars began replacing the aging fleet during the 1970s. In fact, the Car Repair began fabricating heavy duty gondolas based on the weaknesses of the original cars.

Steam locomotives also provided dense steel scrap from their cast frames and running gear. Workhorses of the New York Central, Chesapeake & Ohio as well as local Canadian locomotives did not escape the scrapper's torch. Most of TH&B's steam locomotive fleet was purchased by Stelco, however not all of them were immediately scrapped. Many of the switchers were re-lettered and remained in active service at Stelco for several years.

Number 2 Bloom Mill with three Hi-Riser cars; in the background is building of #2 Conditioning Dept.

Over one hundred and twenty-five tender frames equipped with six wheel Commonwealth or Buckeye trucks were saved for moving red hot steel slabs within the plant. These cars were ideal for this type of service. Their cast steel and rivet construction could withstand the high temperatures of 150 tons of steel, when a welded construction car would have soon collapsed. They were refitted at the Car Repair with a coupler at each end and heavy steel plate risers to raise the hot slabs above the floor of the car, which was covered with six inches of slag to dissipate the heat. Many of these cars remained in service until 2001, nearly fifty years later.

These near-indestructable Hi-Riser cars were rebuilt in the 1960's from steam locomotive tenders. Ray Hoadley

Reindeer car 205, (one of about 8 such cars rebuilt c.1960's from Hi-Riser cars to carry hot billets),
shown at the 10-9 Mill's billet yard.

Several "Hi-Riser" cars for the #2 Conditioning Department. Ray Hoadley

Switching Hilton Works - Circa 1972

In 1972, at the height of operations, the railroad switched five blast furnaces, seven coke batteries, two steelmaking open hearths with eleven furnaces, a Basic Oxygen Furnace with three vessels, two ingot stripper buildings, a Universal Slab Mill, 148" Plate Mill, 56" Hot Strip Mill, two bloom & billet mills and numerous billet and flat-rolled finishing mills.

The following describes the typical daily interchange with the Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo Railway.

0100-0200 TH&B geeps placed iron ore pellets loaded in TH&B or CP 3 bay offset hoppers from the Hilton iron ore mine as well as cars of Buffalo coke loaded in NYC hoppers to track 35 in the Ore Yard near Industrial Drive. The light geeps then pulled the outbound cars from track 31. This usually contained the empty hoppers from the blast furnaces and any miscellaneous cars from the ironmaking area of the plant such as shipments of pea, nut or egg coke from the Domestic Screener and empty coke hoppers from the blast furnace. These cars were pulled to nearby Fisher Yard.

0200-0300 The geeps then returned with the miscellaneous inbound cars for the east side of the plant and placed them to track 565. This could include PRR or NYC box cars of fire brick for a variety of blast furnaces, open hearth furnaces or reheat furnaces in the mills. Zinc ingots, loaded in Norfolk & Western box cars would be unloaded in the galvanize lines. Manganese, a steelmaking additive arrived in TH&B 40' box cars with 8' doors. These cars were characterized by the dents in the roof caused by the manganese being deflected off the roof during loading. TH&B 48' gondolas in the 2200 series shuttled between the local scrap dealers and the open hearths. Finally, empty rolling stock was placed for steel shipments. These included CP 65' narrow gondolas to load 60' lengths of reinforcing rod and 52' gondolas for angle stock, bars, billets and fence post. TH&B or CP 70 and 100 ton flat cars were placed for plate shipments. The crew then pulled track 567, the billet shipments for #2 Rod Mill. These were generally TH&B 2300 series "con-cast" cars equipped with steel racks and loose stone floors. They were loaded with hot billets from #16 open hearth caster, #3 Bloom & Billet Mill or #3 Conditioning.

1400-1500 Using a TH&B switcher, the crew placed the con-cast gondola empties to track 565 after making the reverse at #2 Rod Mill about noon. The locomotive then pulled the outbound cars from track 563. This could include plate in either gondolas or loaded on flat cars for Welland Tube or any other customer. Tin or galvanize coated steel coils were shipped in regular box cars in warmer weather or heated box cars in the winter to prevent oxidization. The balance could include empty brick box cars, empty scrap gondolas or rod and bar shipments.

1900-2000 Again using a switcher, the TH&B placed miscellaneous cars to track 565 or track 35 in the Ore Yard. The light engine would then pull the con-cast loads for #2 Rod Mill from track 567.

If additional Hilton ore or more empty gondolas or flat cars were required to meet production needs, the railway would be asked at any time to make a special delivery. It was not uncommon for the TH&B to move over a hundred cars a day for Hilton Works. During this same twenty-four hour period, Canadian National also provided similar service.


Stelco Hilton Works, recently renamed Stelco Hamilton, still remains one of the largest integrated steel mills in Canada, producing 2.5 million tons of steel. Many of the production facilities, which relied on rail transportation have been demolished in favour of new steelmaking technology so the railway no longer plays as important a role. Rubber tire equipment such as multi-wheel 200 ton capacity Paling Transporters move billets, coils and scrap, while Kress carriers transport hot slabs and blooms from the caster to the hot strip mill and bloom mill.

The railroad has been reduced to less than twenty-five employees operating three roustabout locomotives while two other locomotives are dedicated to the remaining blast furnace to switch hot metal cars out of from under the casthouse floor. The fleet has been reduced to nine locomotives. The other twenty diesels have been transferred to another Stelco facility, sold or cut up for scrap.

A collection of Stelco artefacts, which had never been on public display were donated to the Bay City Railway Historical Foundation in 1999. They are now exhibited at the H.O. Model Engineers Society Inc. in Stoney Creek.

Simplified Stelco Hilton Works Railroad Roster

5 American Derricks - 80 ton capacity
6 0-4-0 T
1 0-4-0
2 0-6-0T
15 0-6-0
4 Electrics converted to gas electrics
5 GE 80 ton center cabs
16 GMDD SW900




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