Lessons from a True Man of Steel Part 3: Dedication

BOP in sunlightA 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

English: White-hot steel pours like water from...
English: White-hot steel pours like water from a 35-ton electric furnace, Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corp., Brackenridge, Pa. Français : De l’acier liquide, blanc de chaleur, coule comme de l’eau d’un four électrique de capacité 35 tonnes, Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corp., Brackenridge, Pa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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:

Part 1: Lessons I learned from a True Man of Steel

Part 2: Hard Work

Lessons from A True Man of Steel Part 2: Work Hard

Yesterday I began a series of posts entitled “Lessons I Learned from a True Man of Steel.”


Town has a long tradition in steel production
Town has a long tradition in steel production (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This series is intended to be a tribute to my dad and all of the men and women who worked in the steel mills across America.  Whenever I think of steel-workers the first characteristic that comes to my mind is — Hard Work.  Steel mills by nature are hot, dirty, loud, and have the distinct smell of fire and brimestone.  The men who work in them are a unique breed, who daily do some of the most back breaking work imaginable.


Like just about all of the men who worked at Weirton Steel during it’s heyday, my dad started out in the “open hearth” on the “labor gang.”  Part of his job in the early days was to called “slagging.”  As best I can describe it, a “slagger” shoveled “slag” (by products of steel making that look like rocks) on to the top of molten steel to help maintain it’s temperature.


This is back breaking, hard, physical labor that is nearly foreign to us today, but dad and men like him did this kind of work every day.  If you want to get an idea of what the conditions and work was like when my dad started in the mill, click here to check out a Youtube video about the Steel mills in Youngstown, Ohio made in 1944.


My dad was living proof that by working hard you can overcome a great number of disadvantages.  Dad was a high school drop who didn’t have any family connections within the mill.  Both of these were huge disadvantages in his day, but he overcame them both through sheer hard work and determination.  Dad started out on the bottom of the heap in the mill and worked his way up to become a “turn foreman” before he retired.  No one gave him this position.  He worked for it and earned it through hard work and dedication over a 40 plus year career in the mill.


Growing up as his son, this was not always an easy lesson for me to learn. During the summer months, when my brother and I were off from school, Dad would give us a list of chores to finish up and when he got home from work that afternoon he expected the jobs to be done.  If he told me to “cut the grass” before he left for work then the grass better be cut when he got home.  He encouraged me to go to college and to get a good education but he always stressed that to succeed you needed to work hard because education alone was not enough.


I remember when I got my first job working in a grocery store.  This work must have seemed rather tame to my dad who was used to working in a place filled with constant danger, but he still stressed the importance of working hard.  On my first day of work, dad told me to “that man has given you a job and he expects you to give him a full days work, so don’t let me find out you go out there and goof off all day.”  Honestly, I don’t think that I have ever worked as hard as men like dad and others who worked in the steel-mills but I am thankful that he instilled in me a strong work-ethic.


Blast furnaces of Třinec Iron and Steel Works.
Blast furnaces of Třinec Iron and Steel Works. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


One of the Bible verses that dad used to teach me this lesson was Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  In the early days of his work in the mill, Dad worked primarily out of necessity and was motivated somewhat by a sense of fear.  The Steel mills were the best jobs available where we lived during that time and dad knew that without his job we couldn’t survive, therefore, he worked hard to make sure that he kept his job.  Somewhere in the middle he fell in love with the process of making steel and I am genuinely convinced that he worked hard because he actually enjoyed making steel.  But towards  the end of his career, as failing health and the natural process of aging took its course, his work took on a different meaning.


As I will share in a later post, the most important thing that ever happened to my dad was becoming a follower of Jesus Christ and this event changed the way that he viewed his work.  Hard work for my dad was just as much a part of worshipping God as was going to church on Sunday.  When I went off to work for the first time, dad was careful to remind me that in addition to owing it to my boss to do a good job, I also needed to keep in mind that no matter my job was I needed to do it like I was doing it for Jesus.


It makes me sad to think that somewhere along the way we’ve lost the work ethic that men like my dad possessed. Too many of my generation today think that simply having an education should be enough to get them ahead and sadly many are not even willing to work hard in order to get the education.  Now days kids no more about “twerking” than working and this could very well prove to be the downfall of our nation. The closest many people get to hard work today is watching someone else do it on the Discovery channel.


The other day I was looking at a picture of an old abandoned steel mill and I was BOP 1wondering what would happen if we decided to reopen the steel mills and factories across the country.  Sadly, I’m afraid that we wouldn’t be able to find the workers who would be willing to do the jobs that our fathers and grandfathers did every day of their lives.  America was built on ingenuity and hard work.  Our forefathers knew that one without the other couldn’t move us forward.  If we want America to be great again we need to rediscover our “work ethic” and start doing our jobs with a sense of pride and dedication.  We need men and women who are both well educated and hard working!