Letter To The Editor: Memories Of Granite City Steel


President Donald J. Trump visited Granite City Steel (United States Steel) this week and delivered a stirring, encouraging speech to the employees of the newly re-opened plant.

It was wonderful to hear the cheers of those men and women who were once more at work there, and the nostalgia of the event brought back some great memories. Thanks to President Trump and his dedication to America, American workers and American manufacturing, hope is springing up across this nation as jobs are created and people are finding work again.

It was early 1963, probably February-March. It was my first night working at Granite City Steel and I was assigned as a millwright's helper on the hot strip. I proudly wore my grandpa's steel hard hat that he had loaned me. Gramps had worked at the steel mill for many years in the 1940s and early 50s. He was general foreman responsible for installing the rolling mills on the hot strip. One might think that was no big deal, but for a man born in 1890, with only an eighth grade education, I thought it was a very big deal.

He had a set of blueprints that he would bring out to show me so I could know what an honor it had been for him, particularly since those rolling mills had to be set to within .003 thousandths of an inch. To a ten-year-old boy, that made gramps a hero.

I had graduated from high school in 1960. A so-so student, I went to college because I didn't know what else to do. Some friends were going to MacMurray College in Jacksonville, so I went there too.

Just as they were excellent students, I was not serious about getting a higher education, and by winter of 1962 had decided to drop out. I had to have a job, but wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Gramps came to my rescue with an offer to talk to the union secretary at the steel mill for me. It worked, and I was hired.

Being a pure novice about the environment of the steel mill, my first night was almost my last night. As I said earlier, my first assignment was as a millwright's helper. A big overhead crane at the hot strip needed a bearing replaced and it was our job to do it. So we began climbing the access ladder up to the crane, which was probably 30-40 feet overhead. I was star-struck by the whole affair and wasn't watching where my head was going. Gramp's steel hard hat came within inches of the high voltage rail that fed the crane. If the millwright hadn't been looking out for me and yelled at the right time, I would have been a French fry.

The view from the crane was fantastic. I watched in awe as the big, white-hot slabs of steel came out of the soaking pit and began their journey through the rolling mills. As the steel emerged from the last set of rollers, the steam jets hit that hot steel to knock off the scale and the red glow of hot steel illuminated those clouds in a spectacular fashion. All I could think was, "Wow, and my gramps put all of this in place!"

Almost as amazing was the difference in speed of the slab entering the first set of rollers compared to the speed of the thin sheet coming out of the last set of rollers. The end of that sheet must have been going 70 miles per hour as it shot down the conveyor. At the end of the conveyor was a ramp that would direct the end of the sheet upwards into a four-tined spindle that would catch it and roll it up like a roll of toilet tissue. When finished, the roll would be sent off to another part of the mill. What was really funny in all of this, is that there must have been a means to x-ray those rolls of hot steel for imperfections. If a blemish was found, the roll was set off to the side of the conveyor to cool. The guys working around there would toss Polish sausages and hot dogs on that steel and they would sizzle away for a hot lunch. Yummy! Hot dogs on hot steel in the hot strip! Great memories of Granite City Steel.

David Pence