A couple of days ago I began a series of posts in honor of my dad and all of the men and women who worked in the Steel mills of America over the years. The steel industry in America is only a small shadow of what it used to be but there was a day when hundreds of mills across this country turned out millions of tons of steel every month. These were hard places to work and the men who operated the blast furnaces, casters, tandem mills, blooming and a host of other exotically named operations were a unique breed. My dad entered the Weirton Steel in 1948 and worked there until he retired in 1990. That is 42 years of working in the same place in case your counting. Dad was not the longest tenured employee to ever work at Weirton, many others worked as many and some even more years than he did, but his long tenure is one of the best evidences of his dedication to the mill. He and thousands of men like him showed a dedication to Weirton Steel that is almost unheard of today.
Part of the reason that dad was dedicated to Weirton Steel was that he was deeply grateful for the job the mill provided and the fact that it allowed him to provide for his family. As I mentioned yesterday, my dad dropped out of high school before going into the army. When he came out of the Army he worked for a short period of time at a paper bag factory before getting hired into the mill. My mom has told me about how in 1968 when they opened the Basic Oxygen Plant my dad was scared that he would lose his job because he didn’t have a formal education. The BOP was a great advance in the steel industry but it was far more technical than the old “open hearths” where dad had been “melting” for a couple of years. Dad had been working in the mill for 20 years at that point but was still afraid of losing his job. So when he was chosen as one of the original melters for the BOP he was greatly relieved and it only served to increase his gratitude and dedication to Weirton steel. He worked in the mill for another 22 years after going over to the BOP and during those years I can honestly say that I never heard him complain about the mill. Anytime he heard one of us complain about how bad the mill smelled or how dirty it made the town, Dad would say, “That mill has given us everything we have so stop complaining.”
A second reason that dad was dedicated to Weirton Steel was that he knew that the work that he did
affected other people’s lives. When he was “melting” he knew that if he messed up it would cost production time all the way down the line. He understood that the mill was like a tremendously large organism— what happened in one part of the mill affected all of the other parts. Because of his he took his job seriously and those who worked with him tell me that he was a real stickler for doing things right. One of the men who worked as a “melter” when dad was a “turn foreman” told me that a lot of guys didn’t like that about my Dad but that they all actually benefitted from it. Because of this dedication to “doing it right” the men of Weirton Steel in those days set and then broke their own records for production over and over again. It saddens me now because I have forgotten the specifics of many of these records but my mom has a box full of awards that were given to my dad and the other “melters” of Weirton steel for the achievements they accomplished during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
The dedication that my dad showed to the mill and the men who he worked with paid off in the later years of his life. Dad had a condition known as hemochromatosis that went undiagnosed for most of his life. Ironically, hemochromatosis is a genetic condition that causes the body not to be able to process iron properly. After dad was diagnosed and started treatments his health began to fail land he lost the strength and endurance that he counted on for doing his job he found it very difficult to do his job. I can remember dad telling me that if it were not for two men that he worked with, Rick Soley and JIm King, that he would not have been able to make it during the final years of his career. They picked up the slack for him and helped him to finish out his last few years in the mill. To those men I would like to say “thank you” on behalf of my dad and our family. You meant the world to him and some of his greatest joys came from working with you.
When I was younger I didn’t really understand or appreciate dad’s dedication to his job. My generation and those younger than us have not demonstrated the same kind of dedication to our work and I’m afraid that our country is starting to pay the price for it. In dad’s day it was the norm for guys to work for the same company for 30, 40 and even 50 years but that is rare today. We’ve lost the sense of loyalty, dedication, and commitment to our jobs that in the past helped to make our country great. Wh
en things got hard or difficult for my dad’s generation they just kept on working, now we start looking for another job or career. I think that one of the most important steps that we need to take in returning America to greatness is to regain our sense of dedication to the work that we do. We need to remember the admonition of the Apostle Paul who said, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
If you would like to read the previous posts in this series click on the links below: