Two local residents with a combined 61 years of service to the steel industry will be featured during a three-day special television production by the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN).
PCN will premiere the series, "Keystone Steel" beginning Sept. at 2 p.m. and continuing through Monday. The special series will pay tribute to the industry by way of very personal oral histories from those who formerly worked or are currently working in the steel industry.
The rise and fall of the steel industry is a study in contrasts.
For instance, in 1955, Bethlehem Steel was listed as the eighth largest company on the Fortune 500 List. But 40 years later, the doors were closed and the jobs vanished. The loss of livelihoods and the blow to pride are just two factors discussed in the production.
First hand accounts
The series includes thoughts by George Pinkey, Hometown, a crew chief at Bethlehem Steel for 34 years, and Wilmer 'Willie' Redline, Jim Thorpe, a Bethlehem Steel welder for 27 years.
Pinkey said he was contacted by a PCN associate after he was included in a newly released book '30 years under the beam: Bethlehem Steel exposed,' by Bethlehem Steel co-worker Frank Behum, former officer with the United Steelworkers Union.
The book came out in May, said Pinkey, "and I was contacted initially on June 22."
Pinkey was interviewed via phone at first, and then drove to Bethlehem for a follow-up interview and filming.
Pinkey's career began on Aug. 4, 1964.
"I was hired as a bricklayer helper, then drafted into the U.S. Army on October 27. I served in Munich, Germany."
Pinkey was discharged from military service at Ft. Hamilton, N.Y. on Oct. 7, 1966, and went back to work at Bethlehem Steel the following day, returning to his post as a bricklayer.
"I helped to rebuild some of the blast furnace ovens," he recalls. He later served as a pipe fitter, eventually being elevated to crew chief in 1984, a position he held until the lay-off at Steel on June 28, 1998. "I had the most seniority of those laid off that day - 34 years," he says.
Pinkey's interview with the PCN staff focuses on union activity at that time. Pinkey also wrote the foreword to Behum's book. He humbly says he's not an expert on the subject of Bethlehem Steel, but acknowledges "I probably know as much as anyone alive."
As for Redline, he says the experience of taking part in the TV production was deeply meaningful.
"It brought back a lot of memories. They asked me what it was like on the last day. I said it was the worst day of my life knowing it was all over."
Redline had begun his career at Steel as a laborer, a position he held for about 10 months. He then enrolled at Carbon County Vocational Technical School and learned the welding trade, a job he performed at Steel for the next 26 years.
Redline was so skilled as a welder that his name became synonymous with his occupation.
"They called me 'Willie the Welder,'" he recalls. "I worked at the Lehigh Powerhouse. Our shop is still there."
Redline also is featured in a promotional video for the series, and, like Pinkey, is featured in the pages of Behum's book and on the back cover, as well. Today, Redline is employed as a welder at Air Products and Chemicals, Rush Township.
Bethlehem Steel became a home away from home for men like Pinkey and Redline and the other workers, spawning emotional ties to the workplace, something apparent in the intensity of the interviews.
The interview with Pinkey is scheduled to air Saturday at 3:05 p.m. The portion featuring Redline is set for Monday at 4:15 p.m. The two are among two dozen individuals interviewed for the production. The show will include two "PCN Tours" programs that will give viewers an inside look at two former steel locations that have been given new life through either renovation or historic preservation. Scheduled are guided tours of the SteelStacks and ArtsQuest Center at the former site of the Bethlehem Steel plant as well as the Carrie Furnace which is part of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.
Steel-related episodes of "PCN Tours" and "PA Books" will also air during the series premiere. "PCN Tours" will visit ArcelorMittal to give viewers an inside look into the making of steel at its two Pennsylvania plants, while the Sunday evening "PA Books" program will feature a book about Bethlehem Steel.
The interview schedule and steel-related programs are as follows.
Saturday, Sept. 3
2 p.m. - Frank Behum, Sr., fourth generation steelworker
3:05 p.m. – George Pinkey, crew chief at Bethlehem Steel (34 years)
4 p.m. – Jill Ruch, first female laborer at Bethlehem Steel's Coke Works Plant
4:30 p.m. – Ted Smith, maintenance worker at Bethlehem Steel (29 years)
5 p.m. – Andy Miklos, Clairton Coke Works and U.S. Steel (30+ years)
6 p.m. – Don Trexler, millwright at Bethlehem Steel (30 years)
7 p.m. – Earl Kurtz, electronics technician at Bethlehem Steel (36 years)
8 p.m. – "PCN Tours": SteelStacks and ArtsQuest
Sunday, Sept. 4
3 p.m. – David Cooper, crane operator at Bethlehem Steel (29 years)
3:45 p.m. – Tom Bridgen, laborer and millwright, Allegheny Ludlum
5 p.m. – John Reiman, steelworker at Bethlehem Steel (30 years)
5:45 p.m. – Bernie Oravec, grandfather, father and uncles worked at Bethlehem Steel
8 p.m. – "PCN Tours": ArcelorMittal, Steelton
9 p.m. – "PA Books": "Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania"
Monday, Sept. 5
9 a.m. – Larry Evans, steelworker
10 a.m. – Jeff Hoffert, steelworker at Bethlehem Steel (29 years, 11 months, 22 days)
10:25 a.m. – Sader Issa, technician at Bethlehem Steel (26 years)
11 a.m. – Bill Reis, pickle line operator at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel
11:40 a.m. – Andy Pingyar, welder at Bethlehem Steel (30 years)
1 p.m. – "PCN Tours": Carrie Furnace
1:20 p.m. – Bill George, former president of PA AFL-CIO
2:35 p.m. – Shirley Feagley, laborer at Bethlehem Steel (3 years)
3 p.m. – Don Miller, crane man at Bethlehem Steel (39 years)
3:40 p.m. – Ted Davis, steelworker at Homestead Steel Works
4:15 p.m. – Wilmer "Willie" Redline, welder at Bethlehem Steel (27 years)
5 p.m. – Frank Dowling, supervisor at Bethlehem Steel (32 years)
6 p.m. – Walt Wojcik, "Boilermaker A" at Bethlehem Steel (20+ years)
8 p.m. – "PCN Tours": ArcelorMittal, Coatesville
PCN is a nonprofit, noncommercial news organization created and supported by cable television companies. PCN receives no state or federal funding. Network programming is distributed on more than 150 cable systems in Pennsylvania serving more than 10 million Pennsylvanians in 3.3 million homes. A complete listing of PCN affiliates and network channel designations is available by visiting PCN's website at www.pcntv.com.