Have an interest in steel-making heritage? Share it at Carrie furnaces
By Natalie Beneviat
Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Former employees of the U.S. Steel Homestead Works or anyone with a connection to or interest in Pittsburgh's steel-making heritage are being sought to share their knowledge and time by volunteering to give tours of the Carrie furnaces.
Officials of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, which is dedicated to identifying, conserving and promoting the Pittsburgh area's role in the steel industry, are looking for volunteers for the 2013 tour season at the Carrie blast-furnace complex and elsewhere, volunteer coordinator Angie Morini said.
“We're looking for former steelworkers and persons who are interested in the historical preservation, (as well) as the person who just wants to give us some of their time,” she said.
Constructed in 1907, the Carrie furnaces, located in Rankin and Swissvale, along the Monongahela River, eventually would produce more than 1,000 tons of iron a day until they ceased production in early the 1980s. They were a major part of operations for the Homestead Works.
Now, two 92-foot-tall furnaces remain. Those sites and related work areas are open to the public starting April 27 for tours provided through Rivers of Steel.
Tours will take place every Saturday through October and also on Fridays from June through August, Morini said.
Tours cover the whole steel-making process, including the ore yard, car dumper, torpedo car, blowing engine house, hot stoves and cast house surrounding Carrie Furnace No. 6, Morini said.
People with a connection to the furnaces, such as former workers or relatives of former workers, could volunteer as guides, along with people who have other knowledge about or an interest in the region's role in the steel industry, she said.
The perfect guides would “relay their life stories while working at the mill,” she said. There are a number of guide opportunities, such as standing at different stations to explain that particular area to visitors who come through on self-paced tours.
Rivers of Steel also offers guided tours on a set schedule and by appointment.
Donald “Sully” Sullivan, 85, worked at the “car dumper” for more than 30 years at the Carrie furnaces. One now can find him at his former work station relaying his stories as a guide.
“It was hard, noisy and dangerous,” said Sullivan, who worked there from 1950 to 1983.
Born and raised in Rankin, Sullivan now lives in North Braddock and said he enjoys volunteering “immensely.” He shares stories about how cold it was working in the winter along the river and about his former job of climbing in and out of cars to inspect them.
His daughter, Debbie Sullivan of Munhall, said she decided to volunteer, as well, because she already was going with him to the site during tour season. Her volunteer tasks involve office work.
“It's really nice meeting all the people that come down here to see what the steel mill is all about,” she said.
Another volunteer guide, Sam Robinson, worked as an assistant train master, which involved helping supervise the railroad and trains running through the Carrie blast-furnace complex and the surrounding area. He worked in different functions from 1975 to 1978.
“I love it. I could talk about it for days,” said Robinson, 63.
The resident of Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood has been volunteering since 2009 and has had tour groups ranging from four to 40 people.
“I can't imagine a more worthy cause,” he said.
Volunteers are important to the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area organization because tight funding doesn't allow the organization to hire staff for tours and other tasks, Morini said.
The organization has been dealing with cuts of federal and state funding, she said.
Volunteer Keith Clouse said he enjoys doing landscaping and maintenance work at the Carrie site.
He said he was “hooked from the beginning,” when he started more than a year ago.
“I'm a very strong believer in restoring some of the heritage so future generations can see what we had here,” said Clouse, 65, of Sharpsburg.
Robert Zeigler shares the same viewpoint. Being a Carrie furnace tour guide is one of the many tasks he does when he volunteers more than 1,000 hours a year for a number of organizations in the Pittsburgh area.
“It's a way of giving back to the community,” said Zeigler, 75, of Monroeville, a volunteer for Rivers of Steel for almost 10 years.
The retired engineer worked at U.S. Steel for about 35 years.
Zeigler said a variety of people take the tours — those interested in Pittsburgh history and also scientists, engineers or others with a technical background who are interested in seeing blast furnaces with pre-World War II technology.
But a large number of tour takers are former furnace workers or others who worked in the steel industry and their families, Zeigler said.
Conducting the tours is “a lot of fun,” he said.
Morini, of Jefferson Hills, said Rivers of Steel also needs volunteers for other tasks.
Volunteers can help in the office or the gift shop or assist with tours at the Rivers of Steel visitors center in the historic Bost Building in Homestead.
Volunteers are needed for educational programs at local schools, such as “Life on a $1.65,” and events at the Historic Pump House & Water Tower historic site, located on the site of the 1892 Battle of Homestead between striking steelworkers and Pinkerton agents.
Overall, the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area covers encompasses Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
Volunteers can work as much or as little as they want. Some volunteers have full-time jobs and can volunteer only a few hours once in a while, Morini said.
But, she said, all the volunteers really enjoy themselves.
“I think we're an easy group to work with,” said Morini. “There's a camaraderie there.”
And even though he said working in the steel industry was hard and conditions weren't always the easiest, Donald Sullivan also seems to also have fond memories of that time.
“I miss the coffee breaks in the morning and getting together in the office ... and talking about the Steelers or the Pirates,” he said.
Now, through volunteering, he can relive it every year.
Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
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