Friday, March 26, 2010

The Mill


Yesterdays post about rust reminded me that I am indirectly a product of steel. My father worked in a steel mill. He also had a business in town where he worked during the day, but every night at 5pm he’d head of to his job at the mill. Though his business supplemented his income and provided him with luxuries that were business expenses, it was the mill was what put the food on the table; the roof over our heads, and the fillings in my teeth.

In our town nearly everyone could see the mill and we could smell the mill. To this day I am fond of the smell of burning coke and I always visit a traditional blacksmith demo any time I see one at a fair or an expo just for a sniff of my past.

The funny thing about the mill back then was the lack of OSHA regulations. I remember being out late as a teen and before going home I’d drive to the mill to visit my father at work. The guard at the gate knew my car and always let me in. I’d park where the evening shift parked. There would be fewer than fifteen cars parked there; most people walked to work.

I’d first look for my father in his office and if he wasn’t there I’d wander out to the floor of the mill. The mill was probably a third of a mile long, and there were usually two areas of activity where I could find him. There was always a crew by the cupola pouring molten metal into forms. On the North end there was the shakers and the 100 ton crane. I actually scaled the ladder to that crane and operated it under the guidance of the operator. I actually lifted a 50 ton casting from the shaker and hauled it down and placed it on a railroad car. OSHA would have closed the plant down had they been in existence at that time.

No one ever wore hard hats in the mill. They wore pork-pie hats or toques just to keep the dust out of their hair. There was no ear protection or respirators. The air was thick with smoke and dust. One could almost see the opposite end of the plant on a good day. I was able to roam the shop freely in my sneakers. Times were so different back then. It’s funny to think that one day these will be the good old days of freedom to the present generation that will say, ”we got away with murder back in 2010.” Or so they will think.

6 Comments:

Blogger darev2005 said...

Every time I see inside a steel foundry I think to myself "I don't think I would like to work there. Too many ways to get accidentally killed." Then I go off to work in a prison. Go figure.

6:54 AM  
Blogger g said...

LOL @ darev!

It's amazing how tight safety regs have become just in the past 15 years since I worked in the field. I actually get irritated at the amount of safety bs we have to provide on job sites. it's getting to the point a guy can't even do his job. In some instances, I think safety reqs are more dangerous or promotes a sense of false security.

6:54 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Darev, I'd pick a mill to work in above a prison any day. At least in a mill accidents are more predictable where in a prison it is usually random.

g, welcome to the dark side. I remember you commenting that "safety is an attitude" just recently. What is the average amount of reportable injuries on one of your projects?

7:00 AM  
Blogger g said...

Safety is an attitude within reason. Sometimes the rules are not fitting and serve the lowest common denominator.

Our company has been pretty fortunate. Our average reportable (lost time) injury per job is less than one. 2008 was our busiest year ever and had the most employees and we had 2 lost time (both were minor loss - less than 5 days).

2:09 PM  
Blogger Mom of Three said...

My grandfather worked for Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel for decades, as did most of the men in the area. He lived, he had some great scars, but he lived. Every so often, someone wouldn't be looking and would fall into the fire. That was rare.

None of these men were pussies. They drank hard after work, some of them beat their wives, frankly, and didn't dare complain at them mill. They would get roaring drunk at night, but not one of them would ever think of calling in hung over.

The sleeves of their work shirts were rolled up, and their faces were often burned from the heat of the ovens. They were staunchly union and would spit on the scabs--or worse--that crossed the lines during strikes. They smoked unflitered and worked for pensions that the company gambled away much of.

I know these men well, they built an entire side of my family tree.

12:58 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Mo3, your comment really summed up mill life. Good job.

6:55 AM  

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