Roadside reminder: Time doesn't stand still
WALTERSBURG — A rusting steam shovel from a bygone era has sat guarding an old strip mine along Route 51 in this Fayette County village for as long as anyone can remember. For at least 60 years, some say; even longer, say others.
The once-mighty mechanical monster, whose kind began to fall out of favor in the 1930s, was built to lift and move dirt or, as in this case, coal. With the coming of cheaper, diesel-powered shovels, the steam shovel disappeared from America's landscape.
Except for this one.
“The steam shovel is legendary,” said Michael Parzynski, who was shopping for Easter candy with his mother at Gene and Boots Candy Shop in nearby Star Junction. He “cannot imagine” not seeing it, he said, because it has become “part of the fabric of our community.”
I remember passing the shovel as a child sitting in my father's old station wagon as we rolled down the highway on some family trip to West Virginia; my mother, trying to hush three rambunctious children in the backseat, always challenged us to spot the most unusual roadside curiosity.
The steam shovel — then only a mildly tarnished red — gleamed so brightly in the sun that it caused my father to pull over to examine it, with a look in his eyes that could only come from an engineer fond of tinkering with machines.
When my own children raised havoc in the back of my minivan on the way to yet another soccer or baseball game, they too would hush as they gazed at the mysterious machine, now coated in graffiti and rust. And I soon habitually pulled over to take our photo with it.
Turns out that we weren't the only ones to do so: I've passed the steam shovel hundreds of times on the way to or from Washington, D.C., and, more often than not, someone is posing in front of it for a camera. Websites, message boards and social media sites are dedicated to it, too.
Its allure crosses generations, somehow magically capturing the imagination of people passing by long after its original usefulness ended.
Funny, how odd or little things become part of our routines, traditions and lives; they find a way to gently weave themselves into part of who we are, because of our emotional connection when we see them.
It is human nature to expect — or, at least, to hope — that some things will never change, that they will always be there. And it is heartbreaking when we discover that, despite all of our amassed education, wisdom and enlightenment, nothing ever stays the same.
At some point over this past winter, time and the elements caught up with the old steam shovel: Her massive arm, which once held her crane and shovel at a towering 45-degree angle, which always seemed to be waving to the passing traveler, collapsed. It was an arm that once proudly held an American flag in the months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
All that remains upright now is the cab that held her operator.
If we are lucky, all of us will live long enough to make that nostalgic trip back to the home we grew up in, and to feel the rush of emotions — both happy and sad — as we reminisce about the lives that were lived under one roof.
Time is so transitory; we only feel its burden when a major change occurs. Sometimes that change is self-evident, and sometimes it is when the end of an era happens right before our eyes.
Years ago, steam shovels built America: They dug deep waterways so that heavy barges could float past; they cut mountain passes for trains and turnpikes; they hollowed out basements for city skyscrapers. They were the very symbol of industrial America.
But with progress came new machines, and new technologies. And most of the old girls of our early industrial age were sent to the scrap heap.
Yet, for a healthy stretch of time, a decent segment of the country still got to marvel at time figuratively standing still, reminding us of who we were, what we did, and how far we have come.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
- Rossi: Steelers will make small strides this season
- Not to be left behind, speedy Steelers are on the fast track in NFL
- Steelers have plenty of new faces at wide receiver
- Reputed leader of motorcycle gang returned to Pa. to face charges
- Starkey: Bucs still battlin’
- WPIAL coaches, QBs have concerns about using newly-approved footballs
- Why Steelers will — or won’t — snap out of their funk
- Route 30 work near Jeannette starts
- Arizona Uzi shooting that accidentally killed instructor ‘just stupid’
- Psychologist to evaluate Greensburg woman involved in Daugherty killing
- WCCC board approves $800K in change orders