The wonderful part of my job and professional life is that I am free to chase smokestacks. It is not that these monoliths to American history, ingenuity and industry are running but so often I am.
About five years ago my life changed and I took two weeks at the end of March and drove both sides of the Ohio River from Steubenville, Ohio to Ripley, Ohio and back through Maysville, KY to Huntington, WV back to Weirton, WV. I passed hundreds of smokestacks standing sentry over foundries, steel mills, lumber yards, coke plants, power plants and brick ovens. From ten miles away it was simple to tell whether the stacks were vigilant sentries looking over a blue-collar working town or simply a monument marking the grave of a shuttered plant and dying community. The reality is, smokestacks are the sign of a vibrant, living breathing community.
Historically, a smokestack bellowing water and…
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