Duo rediscover Stuff That's Gone in Westmoreland, outlying counties
Forty years ago, two high school friends would spend hours cruising around the steep hills and deep valleys of western Pennsylvania in a '66 Mustang.
There was no specific destination, but the goal always was the same: Find cool stuff.
Over the years, the friends would collect signs, pop machines and railroad signs.
John Qualley of Harrison City and Mike Pochan of Irwin still are at it, but now, the friends have garnered a huge following in social media and online. It seems that people all over the country want to check out what they find around western Pennsylvania.
“I'm making a social connection with people about their childhood and things they remember,” Qualley said. “It's these little idiosyncrasies that emit so much emotion on these people's memories. We help them remember what they forgot.”
Almost 5,000 people follow the group's Facebook page and about 2,000 people subscribe to the group's YouTube channel, both named Stuff Thats Gone.
Although the friends were active relic hunters in high school, they have shifted their focus to old buildings, road alignments, streetcars and coal-heritage artifacts over the last five years.
Qualley remembers stumbling upon a coke oven when he was riding on the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail.
He'd never seen one before. He shot a short video clip and posted it online.
“I became hooked,” he said. “I became obsessed with learning about the whole thing and understanding the relationship of these patch towns and supporting the coke-oven operation.”
Workers would cook coal in the ovens for about a day and a half to turn it into a charcoal-like substance, Qualley said. That substance was used to make steel in Pittsburgh.
The Shoaf operation near Smithfield was one of the last remaining operations in the region and closed down in the 1970s, Qualley said.
“It's like you don't even know it's there,” he said. “You drive back all these old country roads, trying to use your GPS to find it. Then all of a sudden, it's there. It's fascinating.”
Sometimes, Qualley stumbles upon his findings. A few weeks ago, he was in New Kensington when he spotted a ghost sign on a building that was being demolished. He snapped a picture before it was destroyed.
And sometimes, he gets tips or does research to investigate cool stuff. He used geological maps, combined with modern-day GPS units, to locate old bridges and streets.
“I found a bridge in the woods that was an old streetcar right-of-way,” he said. “We have focused our attention on Fayette, Westmoreland and Indiana counties, but we've exhausted everything we can find, so we're branching out.”
In November, the pair is planning a trip to Johnstown to investigate a tip about an coke oven.
Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Controlled substance charges dropped in North Huntingdon court
- North Irwin could tax fire department’s amusements
- Norwin School District considers feasibility of science and technology building
- Sweet tooths targeted by Irwin’s Lamp Theatre