Congratulations to Mayor Rich Lattanzi on the occasion of his retirement from Irvin Works. I too “retired” from Irvin works after ten weeks working as an electrician’s helper on the crane crew. Here is my story and I’m sticking to it:
It was the summer of 63 and I had just finished my junior year of college in the wilds of Utah. During previous summers I’d stayed on campus to take courses and work in the library for 95 cents an hour. But this summer I would return home to Clairton to make some REAL money. Tuition had been paid and I was ready for a new car and my senior year. I’d get a Rambler from Ping Young using my mill money and my father would make up the difference as a graduation present.
I applied for a labor job in the Irvin Works mill and was hired. Then I discovered my buddy’s uncle was a white hat (supervisor) and could bump me up to an even better paying job. Not sure if it is still that way but in those days the workers wore yellow hard hats and supervisors wore white. In an instant, even before my first day on the job, I was promoted to Electrician’s Helper and assigned to the crane crew.
My first shift was a midnight (12-8), and I started complete with hard hat, steel-toe shoes, and work clothes. The crane crew guys asked my major, and since it was psychology my nickname (painted on my hard hat) became “Doc” Ironic, but decades later I earned a PhD and became “Doc” to my students.
That summer at Irvin works I learned many things including scarfing (removing impurities from steel slabs), nose bags (a bag like a horse’s leather feed bag) used for ferrying tools up and down an overhead crane, and the pickle line (acid bath to remove impurities from steel coils). But I’d not yet learned the most important lesson. That came when a crane broke down over a furnace used to melt slabs of steel for rolling.
I had been considering dropping out of college to work full time in the mill. The money was that good. But the night of the crane breakdown changed all that. With the crane directly over the furnace, the metal was so hot that it burned hands right through the thick multi-layered gloves. Air so hot handkerchiefs were soaked in cool water and worn as a bandana. Still the heat burned the lungs. Teams of two men at a time climbed atop the crane and worked for about five minutes before the heat chased them down to be replaced by the next pair of workers.
After what seemed like hours, the crane was repaired and moved on. That experience, plus the acrid stench of the pickle line, searing heat of the furnaces, and snapped cables that uncoiled wildly enough to cut a man in two, were enough for me to finish the summer with an awe an admiration for the steelworkers. I got my new car and hightailed it back to college.
Rich, my hard hat is off to you. I could have never have lasted