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6380Re: [Slovak-World] Homestead steel mill in Pennsylvania

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  • Gil K.
    Jan 8, 2004

      I was born and raised in the shadow of the steel mills in Homestead and followed by grandfather, father and brother into the Homestead District Works of USS Steel. My first experience in the steel mills was as a �hooker� in the forge shop. In this shop steel ingots were forged (pressed) with huge thousand ton presses into slabs 8, 10, & 12 inches thick to be used for armour plate on tanks and ships. The shop also contained large furnaces that were used to reheat the slabs before and between multiple pressings.

      The furnace bottoms were actually flat railroad type cars that rolled into and out of furnaces with the plates supported on pedestals. After heating the plate to a very high temperature the furnace door was opened and the bottom rolled out and under a bar with 6 hooks positioned by the shop crane. As the bar was lowered six �hookers� held onto and spread the hooks with long handled tools.

      It was imperative that each �hooker� held onto his hook to ensure the lift could be made as soon as possible. This was an extremely hot job and the position close to the furnace opening, and the hottest, was always given to the least senior worker in the gang.

      After watching several lifts I was assigned, as the gang �rookie�, the number one position (closest to the furnace opening). I thought I was prepared for the task but had never experienced the intense heat that I faced when that furnace door was opened. I was wearing prescription glasses with plastic frames and as the furnace bottom rolled out the frames softened and the lenses fell out. As I tried to grab for my glasses I released the hook and could not see to grab it again. I�m sure you can imagine the grief that was dumped on me from the other five hookers who had to stand in the intense heat and hold onto their hooks. Finally the gang leader saw my problem and came to my rescue to recover my hook and complete the lift.

      Fortunately I became better at the job with a new face shield and heavier clothes but I will never forget the agony of trying to work effectively in the intense heat that one faced in the steel making industry.

      My experiences in the steel mills ended after three years when I was drafted into the US Army. The training Uncle Sam provided allowed me to pursue a different career after military service and I did not have to return to the steel mills.

      Gil K.

      David <humblebe@...> wrote:Hi: I worked in a steel mill for 40 years. I worked around the open
      hearths, blast furnaces and many other type of hot jobs. Nothing turned
      green! I worked with heat that was unbearable. Like in the early days, we
      had to wear safety glasses that had metal rims. The metal rims, burned our
      faces. If a metal belt buckle went against your bare skin, it would burn
      you. Also if you didn't wear wooden shoes in the furnaces (on rebuilds) the
      metal nails in the soles or heals would burn your feet. Yes, if you had
      rubber soles or heals they started burning. Chipping checkers under the
      open hearths was the hottest job of all. Some times we would work for about
      two minutes at a time. It was unbearable. Down in the flues, you thought
      you would die. I've seen it all. This was my hell on earth.
      Dave Kuchta Author of the book "Memoirs of a Steelworker." My lifes
      autobiography of the working man... working for a steel company. Yes, we
      had a lot of Slovaks working at the now defunct...Bethlehem Steel Corp.
      Dave Kuchta


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