I live in Metropolis, IL which is the official home of Superman and everyday I drive past a giant statue of the man of steel but growing up I had the opportunity to actually learn life lessons from a true man of steel — my dad, Lawrence “Bucky” Buchanan. A couple of days ago I got a reminder of just how much my dad taught me when I was surfing the internet looking for some pictures of the steel mill where he worked. During the search I came across a video on YouTube entitled “High Speed Steel, 1969” and to my surprise at the 5:57 and then the 6:07 mark of the movie caught sight of my dad. Click here to check out this interesting movie about the Basic Oxygen Plant at Weirton Steel.
The image of my dad in a movie that I didn’t even know existed was a thrill but even more touching for me was what he was doing in the movie. If you click on the above link and watch the movie you will see him with a group of other steel workers drawing a sample of steel out of the blast furnace so that they can send it to the lab. (My dad is on the far right side bending forward to look into the furnace) This is a crucial moment in the steel making process because if the test doesn’t come “back on spec” they will not be able to “pour the heat.” If these terms aren’t familiar you really need to watch the film.
Nearly every day of my life growing up, I heard my dad talk about this moment. As a “melter” he loved to make steel and from those who worked with him I’ve heard that he was exceptionally good at it. In fact, at his funeral one of his co-workers shared with my brother Dick that at one time dad had an unparalleled string of “heats” that all met “specs.” The exact number escapes me now but when my brother asked if this was good, dad’s co-worker simply replied, “that is better than good, it is nearly impossible.” Up until this past Sunday I had never actually seen my dad at work in the steel mill. To see him bent over in front of that mighty furnace, doing what I had heard him describe a million times was one of the greatest gifts that I’ve ever received.
Like every other steel-worker, the mill was more than just a place where my dad worked. Like many of the men who worked at Weirton Steel, my dad spent the majority of his adult life inside the confines of the mill. Like all “melters” Dad took great pride in the steel he helped to produce and when he came home his thoughts were often still on the mill. I can remember many nights waiting up for him to come home from afternoon shift and listening to him talk about the “heat” that they had just finished pouring. If the “caster” or the “de-gasser” was broke down, dad wouldn’t get home on time and we would hear about every step of what it took to fix it. So it should be no surprise that nearly every life lesson my dad taught me had something to do with the process of making steel.
Gazing at the image of my dad on a computer screen was an amazing experience. That film was made in 1969, the same year that I was born and it captures a part of my dad’s life that I had never actually gotten to see before. Over the past couple of days, as I’ve been thinking about dad and the lessons that he taught me, I decided to write this series of posts to share with you the lessons that I’ve learned from a true man of steel. This series is dedicated to the memory of dad but I also hope that it will be a tribute to all the men and women who worked at Weirton Steel and mills just like it across the country.
The story of the steel industry in America is one of both triumphant and tragedy. The steel made at Weirton Steel and other mills like it built the cars, buildings and bridges that built America. During World War II, they made artillery shells and upped their production capacity to contribute to the war effort. These mills made the steel that built America but were then betrayed by their own government who refused to protect them from the flood of cheap foreign imports. These once proud mills now sit idle, abandoned and empty, serving only as reminders of the ingenuity and hard work that built the American dream.
Over the next several days I will be posting some of the lessons that dad taught my from the steel-mill. If you grew up with family members who worked in the mills, I hope that you will take a few moments to share some of your thoughts in the comments section.