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!


Lessons I Learned From A True Man of Steel

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 BOP 1for 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.