Friday, December 9, 2005
A former steel worker said the job was harder than his tour of duty in Vietnam.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — Their numbers are dwindling and their hair a little more gray, but the former employees of Youngstown Sheet & Tube's Campbell Seamless Pipe Mill are still a family.
About 50 former employees met Thursday night at Nancy's Place on Shady Run Road for what they bill as the annual Seamless Spaghetti Dinner.
The steel workers produced steel for a variety of industries, but the mill's bread and butter was producing seamless steel pipes of all sizes for oil pipelines, the largest as big as telephone poles in diameter and 50 feet long.
The mill closed in 1986 and the former employees, hourly and salaried workers alike, have gathered each Christmas season since 1988 to catch up on the latest news and recall the days when steel was the heartbeat of Youngstown; days when men worked beside their fathers and brothers and cousins and uncles and grandfathers.
It was hot, grimy, disgusting, but honest work that put food on the table and college diplomas into their children's hands. No one could imagine Youngstown without steel, but in August 1986, that day came for the seamless mill.
"We keep in touch and tell the old stories," said John Judin of Coitsville. He worked in the mill 17 years and has been in the insurance business for 20.
"It was a good-paying job with security at the time, and work we never thought we'd be without," Judin said. "And then we watched as the loss of steel devastated Youngstown."
The last shift
Paul Popovich of Boardman had nearly 30 years in on the day the seamless mill shut down. He was among about 30 workers on the midnight shift who were told that when they finished the order they were working on — 9 5/8-inch pipe — they would be done.
Popovich said the workers on that shift would often go across the street to Rocky's Tavern at Valley View on their lunch break. So when they were finished at 7 a.m., they went to Rocky's.
"It was a sad day," Popovich said. "We went in there and we were all crying. Rocky gave us all breakfast — whatever we wanted — on the house."
Jimmy Eiland of Youngstown's East Side worked in the mill for 15 years then got hired at the GM Assembly Plant in Lordstown after he was laid off from the mill.
He said he applied to work in the steel mill because "back then it was the only thing going on."
Eiland said although he is on a first-name basis with his Lordstown co-workers, it's nothing like the close-knit family atmosphere of the steel mill.
"We all knew each other and our families, and we went places together outside of work," he said.
Ray Hanuscak of Campbell said the workers took care of one another in the steel mill because pay was based on work output. The pay depended on all the steel workers' pulling together and encouraging one another to keep going in the tough times.
How hard it was
They remembered working summer days when it felt cool outside because it was so much hotter in the mill. They would be covered in sulfur and graphite that rained down on them, and they would flood the floor to keep cool.
Tony Tisler of Youngstown's West Side said he worked in the mill from 1969 to 1982, starting when he returned from a 13-month tour of Vietnam with the Marines.
Tisler, known as "Buffalo," worked a billet roller, turning the steel as it came out of the furnace. The work was worse than Vietnam, he said.
Mike Carney of Campbell worked in the mill for 28 years, retired, then worked 18 more as a United Steelworkers of America international representative.
He said the employees of the seamless mill were members of United Steelworkers of America Local 1418, which was 3,400 strong.
Carney said working later as a union representative was very rewarding. "I felt like I did a lot of good for a lot of people," he said. "The work was hard, but you did the job, and raised your kids. It was a way of life."