Dad worked what we called "turns." These days it's called swing shift. He worked five days then was off two. After the two days off, he switched turns: from days, to afternoons, to nights. It sounds simple and seems like he would have been able to keep a straight Monday-through-Friday schedule, but it didn't work that way. Between some turns there was really only a day and a half off. At the end of a round of turns (that is, after he'd worked all three) he had three or four days off. That work schedule must have been a nightmare for my father, with no regular sleep schedule and probably little sleep when he worked night-turn with children at home during the day. I know it was hard for my mom when it came to meal preparation. She always served a hearty evening meal but when Dad worked afternoons, she had to serve it 5 hours earlier -- and then hold it over or reheat it for those of us who were in school. As hard as that might have been for my mom, I think it was much worse for my father.
Working turns presented an added challenge when one realizes we were a one-car family living in a small community some distance from a city. Mom had to carefully plan and coordinate her use of the car for any appointments, errands, and/or piano lessons. Emergencies were out of the question.
I remember rare times that my mother asked my grandparents to borrow their car. Still rare, but more common, were times when Mom drove Dad to work so she could have the car.
Copperweld was located at 4000 Mahoning Avenue NW in Warren. The drive from home to the mill was nearly 11 miles and, in those days, took 30 to 45 minutes. It always seemed like such a trek. We drove back roads except through a section of the city that wasn't particularly safe. (My father kept a hammer under the seat of the car. Never, he said, as a weapon, but should he need it for that purpose, it was there.) The driveway from the road to the mill, left, was long, too.
It wasn't until I was eight or 10 years old that my parents bought a second car. It made all the difference for my mom. She was no longer limited to having a car only when Dad wasn't working.
I don't know what year Dad became a foreman but at least by the time I was 10. He must have been pleased to know his employer thought him capable of the work and also happy to have the increased pay but I remember many days when he worked 12-hour shifts, sometimes for days on end. Being a foreman meant that as a salaried employee his pay was the same no matter how many hours he worked. And he was no longer a union member. He and the men he had previously worked with were on different sides of the union line. I remember him talking about how difficult it was to motivate the union men to do the work they were being paid to do. I think that was frustrating for him.
Dad wore steel-toed boots to work. It was not mandated by law until 1975 but he must have realized the importance of protecting his feet in an environment with heavy materials and equipment. I know the mill was very large and required a lot of walking and standing with very little time, if any, to sit. I think his feet often hurt though he never said so to me. In addition to steel-toed boots his work clothes consisted of pants, shirt, and jacket. He insisted on shirts with two pockets. Mom mended and patched his work clothes until they were suited only for cleaning cloths or to be ripped into strips for rag rugs.
When I was a child Copperweld offered tours to employees' family members. I desperately wanted to go but was told I was too young. When I was old enough they were no longer giving tours. I suppose safety laws came into effect preventing non-employees from being in the work area.
Copperweld is now being torn down, but it was in disuse for a decade. There are a few photos of the mill at Rust Wire and at this pinterest board.
My images and knowledge of work at a steel mill come primarily from the links are below. The adjectives that come to mind when I think of work there are hot, hard, dangerous, and that mills are monstrous large.
- A Bessemer Converter at Republic Steel in 1941
- A blast furnace (in disuse) at Carnegie-Illinois Steel
- Blast furnaces and iron ore at Carnegie-Illinois Steel
- Steel ingot on table of the blooming mill, Pittsburgh, PA
- Slag run-off at Republic Steel
- The Steel Book
- A Steel Mill pinterest board
Dad was a life-long believer in American-made steel. He would not buy a foreign-made car, no matter how highly it may have been rated. American steel gave American men jobs to provide for their families. He was still alive when Japanese- and German-made car became common and he never had a good work for buying them.
Dad retired from Copperweld Steel in the late 1970s after working there nearly 35 years. If I could guess at his opinion about it, he'd say it was none too soon.
Copperweld closed in 2001.
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