Friday, March 30, 2012

Guest Blogger: Steel Mill Adventures Part 2

Here's the conclusion of my brother Ken's reminisces about working at the steel mill in the late 1970's and early 80's.

Steel Mill Adventures Part 2
By Ken Brady

Continuous Buttweld Mill at National Tube Co. in Lorain - 1960
After I moved around and became a millwright apprentice, there was more time for exploring. You could work in a mill where they had an active line, and you would see all kinds of old machinery in old sections that weren't being used anymore – huge old defunct lines. One of them was parallel to the Continuous Weld Mill, but set way down in the ground.

The stairs down to it were chained off, but another apprentice and I took some flashlights and went down there one night when we were bored. We went to the end of the mill, out of sight, and found a door that opened to a tunnel and went down into it. We followed it past old offices and stuff (most of the doors were locked), went through intersections, made turns and got lost.

The tunnels went on as far as you could see. There were more of the old posters and stuff, but we started worrying about getting in trouble for being gone so long.

We finally found some stairs that went up, followed them, hoping for an unlocked door at the top, but it was locked. We stood there wondering what the hell we were going to do, and the door opened! It was a pipe-fitter we both knew! We had come up the back way into his workshop.

He was amazed we had come up there, and said that he had only opened that door once and looked down it, and had never opened it again until that day.

We had to go up another flight of stairs just to get up to ground level, and we were in the wrong building! We had to cross a couple of wide yards to get back to the CW Mill, but at least we had picked up a bunch of old, old tools along the way in the tunnel. Our pockets were full of them, and they went into our tool lockers.


Around 1982, I think, they closed the CW Mill and we apprentices were sent to another department in the rolling mill. They posted the schedules on Thursday, if I remember right, on a wide wall for all of the crews to see. And one Thursday, they had drawn a line through the schedules diagonally, all of them, and had written the word LAYOFF. Thousands of workers laid off just like that.
Management had to open up a whole new unemployment office in the otherwise falling apart shopping center at 21st and Leavitt Road just to process all of us. We were told to show up there on a certain day, and there we all were, in a huge line stretching across the parking lot. I felt bad for the thirty- and forty-year-old guys. I was only twenty three or twenty four, and I could go out and get another job, but those guys – old men, I thought then – what the hell were they going to do?
As for me, I ended up in the Army.

When I got out of the Army in 1994, I tried to put together a resume. I had some questions about the time I was at U. S. Steel, and also wanted to get some kind of proof that I had worked there.

In those pre-internet days, I called information in Pittsburgh, and the operator told me that U. S. Steel was now called USX. After calling around and talking to dozens of people, trying to come up with records for Lorain-Cuyahoga works for the early 1980's, I was finally directed to the Archives Section. There, I talked to a gravel-voiced old geezer who told me he would research it.

After about a week, I got a letter in the mail, just stating that I had been a laborer at the mill between certain dates. Not much use.

Years before, we used to say, "What's good for U. S. Steel is good for the U. S.A." and make jokes about it at the mill. Now U. S. Steel no longer existed!

Ken of course was referring to when U. S. Steel was renamed USX Corporation in 1991. Since 2001, it has gone back to its old name, United States Steel Corporation.

Special thanks to Ken for sharing his anecdotes!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Guest Blogger: Steel Mill Adventures Part 1

Today and tomorrow, I have my first guest blogger – my brother Ken. He worked at the steel mill in the late 1970's and early 80's, and I asked him if he would write about some of his experiences, since I was blogging about the history of that iconic Lorain institution. So he came up with what you see below. It sounds like he had quite an interesting time!

Steel Mill Adventures Part 1
By Ken Brady

Lately, my brother Dan has blogged about the beginnings of the steel mill, which has always interested me. My experiences at the mill, though, were right before what became the bitter end for so many workers there.

When I was at the mill, I worked in the Pipe Mills hot end, the Rolling Mills, Galvanized, Pipe Mills finishing end, and then was a Millwright Apprentice, all in less than five years. You could jump around in the mill if you watched the job postings.

In the summer of '78, I worked in the Rolling Mills Inspection department – checking the billets for cracks and/or imperfections. They used a technique called magnaglow, in which a solution was sprayed on the pipes. Then, you would examine the billets under black light to look for cracks (if any), mark them with chalk, and then "scarfers" would melt the cracks off with scarfing torches. They had an automatic section on kind of a ferris wheel, with tarps covering the sides so it would be dark, and that was a prized job – so of course, I didn't work there. Business was still booming, and the automatic, easy process couldn't handle the volume.

So they came up with a manual process. There were two large racks that would hold four billets (fifty foot long square end pieces of steel, about six by six inches wide). We would have to mix up the solution in big vats, and then spray it on the pipes, pull a huge tarp like a shower curtain from both ends, then walk around with handheld black lights, marking the cracks. Then the craneman would take them and put them on the floor a little farther down for the scarfers. (The scarfers in this case were two jerks who we called Frick and Frack, who only enjoyed their own company and wouldn't talk to the rest of us, except to complain that we were going too fast or too slow.)

The interesting part was that we had to set up operations in a building that hadn't been used in a long time. I remember two of us from inspection walking up to the building on day one of the project with the foreman. When we got to the door, it had a huge rusty chain and lock securing it. We couldn't cut the lock with our bolt cutters, but were able to cut the chain. Then we couldn't get the door open, and the foreman sent us back to maintenance to get a chain come-along to force it open.

When we finally got into the huge building, everything was dark and dirty, and I was amazed to see bomb casings – World War II bomb casings – everywhere, lying on pallets all over the place! We made jokes about being blown up, and a few of us were a little nervous.

After they installed a huge magnetic crane, the craneman made quick work of the casings, dropping them in a railroad car to go to the Hot End to be melted down.

There was an office area, probably the foreman's offices, with World War II-era posters on the walls. I got in trouble for rummaging in one of the offices that was open. There were papers from 1946 in there, and stacks and stacks of old records. I suppose when the war ended, they just padlocked the building and walked away from it, never thinking that it would be thirty years before anyone would come back.

It struck me as strange that a building could sit there so long. It had an old creepy look and was way back from the huge main buildings, kind of between the rolling mills and pipe mills, closer to the river. There was a graveyard back there too, but it was behind a fence and padlocked, so I could never get at it.

In a week, all the bomb casings and old junk were gone, and water and power were turned on. The vintage posters remained on the walls and in the locker room, exhorting us to higher productivity for the war effort. Nobody thought it was that strange.

Tomorrow: More adventures at the steel mill – tunnels and layoffs

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The View Down Fourth Street Then & Now

Here's a great photo from the archives of the Black River Historical Society that should bring back some pleasant memories of Lorain's heyday. It's a vintage shot looking west at Fourth Street from Broadway.

1960's newspaper ad
The Flame Cafeteria at the left side of the photo was at 400 Broadway, and it first appeared in the city directory in the 1969 edition. It succeeded another cafeteria at that location, the Muth Cafeteria Restaurant.

Along that side of the street in the photo are both some well-remembered businesses and some that I've never heard of. At 115 Fourth Street was the Price Insurance Agency, and at 129 was Lynn's Self Serve Department Store.

At 209 Fourth Street was the well-known Ted Jacobs women's clothing store. And the tall building in the distance, after the Ted Jacobs parking lot, was the Colonial Hotel.

And here's the 'now' view from this past weekend (below). Of course, the traffic light is long gone, along with most of the traffic. I had no trouble taking the shot on Saturday morning; no pedestrian walked into the shot, and only one lonely car interrupted my photo.

Currently occupying the former Flame space is the Deja Vu nightclub. The former Lynn's was most recently Club West Fitness for many years, but is now vacant. The Ted Jacobs building is currently home to an office of the Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services. And after that is the Meridian shopping plaza.

I've mentioned taking trumpet lessons along with my brothers on Saturday mornings in the late 1960's and early 1970's, and the view from Alex Visci's original music studio on the other side of Fourth looked down at this strip of businesses. I don't remember the Lynn's store at all, but I do recall that a drug store was in there after that.

UPDATE (July 1, 2016)
Fixed the title of this post (originally had it identified as Fifth Street. See, you can live in the Lorain area for more than 50 years and still not know your way around!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

1961 Model Home on G Street Then & Now

Ever since I saw the scene in the movie Back to the Future in which the Michael J. Fox character has been transported to the 1950's, and is dumbfounded to be standing at the entrance to the not-yet-built Lyon Estates, I've been fascinated by vintage ads for Lorain housing developments. There's something kind of cool to me about seeing early drawings or plans for real estate projects that are now decades old.

Since I look at a lot of newspaper microfilm from the 1950's and 60's at the Lorain Public Library, I see a lot of ads for brand new housing developments and model homes, since that was Lorain's great postwar growth period.

I thought the ad for the bi-level model home shown above in the May 6, 1961 Lorain Journal was somewhat interesting. I lived in 1950's and 1960's ranches on the west side of Lorain while growing up, and a 1940's colonial on the east side after I got married – but I've never lived in a bi-level or a split level. But at some point those styles were pretty popular. I wonder if anyone still builds them?

Anyway, on Sunday I drove over to where this model home is located (near the intersection of Missouri Ave. and G Street) and was happy to see that it is still a handsome home. It has a pretty nice size lot (and a good looking lawn too, thanks to all the rain we've had recently).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Paul Bunyan was here

The new view of Oberlin Avenue looking north from around Seventh Street

When it was announced (here) that Lorain was going to remove 75 trees on Oberlin Avenue so that water lines could be replaced, I was a little apprehensive. I'm no tree hugger – after all, the spouse is a Canuck and her native country loves nothing better than toppling tall timber – but a street can really lose a lot of character when its decades-old canopy of foliage is lost.

That's what happened to Nebraska Avenue south of E. Erie when we lived there in the 1990's. Many, many trees were removed – and most of the charm of the street as well.

Anyway, this past Saturday I drove Oberlin Avenue from both directions to survey the damage. It reminded me of the time when one of my college roommates (Hoobie) spent a weekend in Lorain during the late 1970's. After I showed him around my west side neighborhood (and pointed out that it all used to be farmland), his nickname for the town was "Treeless Lorain."

At least the city is going to plant 81 trees when they are done, which will look pretty nice – someday.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Many Businesses at 4282 E. Lake Road in Sheffield Lake

In that same Lorain Journal from June 1955 that had the article about National Tube, I saw this ad for Oros Sporting Goods. It took me a little while to realize that the address was in Sheffield Lake, my current town. Since I've been living here for almost 13 years, I've become quite interested in local history and that includes long-gone businesses.

How long was the sporting goods store there, and what was there before it? And, what's at that location today? Being a curious type (with time to squander), I headed to my home away from home: the Lorain Public Library.

The earliest city directory that included the 4282 E. Lake Road address was the 1940 edition, which had a filling station and confectionery at that location run by Alf E. Born.

In the 1942 edition, two new names appeared. Now there was a restaurant, operated by Mrs. Gladys M. Palmer, and the filling station was run by Paul Gehrke.

The 1945 edition revealed the name of the restaurant: Sun Spot.

Unfortunately, by the 1947 book, the restaurant and filling station were no longer listed. In their place was  a real estate business run by the aforementioned Mrs. Palmer.

You can see the barber pole outside the space to the left in this photo from the  1955 ad.
In the 1950 and 1952 books, the 4282 E. Lake Road address was now a grocery, run by Mrs. Mary Boinick. But by 1954, the grocery was gone and a barber – John H. Schenker – had moved in.

A barber shop at that location would prove to be the one business that would survive through the years.

The 1955 directory included the same barber, Oros Sporting Goods, and – strangely enough – a tenant. But by 1957, the sporting goods store was gone, leaving the barber and the tenant.

From 1958 to 1960, it would be just the barber. But even he, too, was gone by 1961, when Jordan Realty moved in and a vacant store was also listed at the same address.

The biggest development for that address occurred in the 1962 book: A Lawson Milk store was listed in addition to a new barber (the Sheffield Lake City Barber Shop, run by Frank Black) and the real estate office.

In 1963, an insurance company (Joseph Reiner and Associates) moved in and the real estate office was out.

The 1964 and 1965 had a surprise for me. In addition to the barber and Lawson Milk, the address was shared by my former dentist (now retired): Dr. John Allsop. But by 1966, it was just Lawson Milk and the barber shop again. Another dentist – Clarence Krebs – moved in by the 1968 book.

Since Lawson had just built a new and larger 'party store' across from the Shoreway Shopping Center, the Lawson Milk store at 4282 E. Lake Road disappeared in the 1969 directory, leaving the barber and the dentist.

The 1970's continued with a parade of businesses sharing the address with the barber shop: a beauty salon (Shoreway Beauty Salon) in 1970; a Christian book store (Words and Melodies Christian Book and Gift Store) in 1972; a meat company (SL Meat Company) in 1974.

In the 1976 book, however, the biggest change occurred. The address was completely taken over by Castor's Instant Hot Food, a catering business run by Nicholas Dziama. Dr. Gregory Dziama and his optometry business joined the address in the 1978 book.

Both businesses are still listed at the 4282 E. Lake Road address.

4282 E. Lake Road today
I'm guessing that the Lawson portion of the property was on the right; I've seen similar shaped former Lawson storefronts in Cleveland (see photo at left). I'm also guessing that when Castor's took over the location, they united the two buildings into one, and at some point the optometrist portion was enlarged even more, extending out towards Lake Road.

I could be wrong, but the little portion of the building to the left (shown below) does resemble the building in the Oros ad. Plus, the barber shop business predated and co-existed with the Lawson Milk store, making me think that it's the oldest part of the building.

Does anyone know for sure?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

National Tube Division – 1955

I'm sure most of you remember when the steel mill in Lorain was called "National Tube." I think the first time I heard that name was when I was a kid, in answer to my question, "Where's that red dust cloud coming from?" I can still see that smoke high in the sky over Lorain.

You don't hear the term "National Tube" very much any more, which is sad, because its use coincided with Lorain's best years. I read online somewhere that the name changed in 1969.

Anyway, here's another article about the history of steel making in Lorain. Last week's was from a 1939 perspective; this one is from the June 21, 1955 Lorain Journal.  It's written by Robert Urquhart, the General Superintendent at that time of the Lorain Works, National Tube Division of the United States Steel Corporation, and it provides a nice history of how the steel mill evolved.

Urquhart Credits Workers As NTC Keystone
General Superintendent
Lorain Works

Publication of this edition summarizing The Lorain Story comes almost on the 60th anniversary of Lorain's steel industry.

Vintage postcard from Ebay
Two generations of steel, rail and pipe makers have made a full contribution to the progress and development of Lorain Works, and, in recent years, there have been an increasing number of third generation employes – grandsons of some of the original Johnson Company pioneers – among them three generation names like Thomas, Bremer, Cameron, Bevan, to name a few.

Story of Human Effort
The story of what is now Lorain Works, a plant of the National Tube Division and one of the larger units in the United States Steel Corporation, is more than a matter of dollars and cents and tonnages and new installments. It is the story of human effort and of what the industry means and has meant to thousands of individual families, as well as to the community as a whole.

Lorain Works today is, of course, a far cry from the plant that Tom L. Johnson built in 1894 and 1895 for the manufacturer of street railway rails, but it is doubtful if he would be surprised if he could see it today.

He recognized certain fundamental economic advantages in Lorain's location – factors which apply as well today as they did in 1895.

Among these were its location on Black River, where it empties into Lake Erie; economical water transportation for ore shipment from the upper lakes; a high level ground easily prepared for a manufacturing site; a thick shale formation at a depth of 6 to 8 feet suitable for industrial foundations; the possibility of a plentiful supply of water, and good railroad facilities.

Steel Making Can Be Profitable
"We are convinced," A. J. Moxham, the president of the Johnson Company told Lorain Village Council on April 2, 1894, "that steel can be manufactured and distributed more cheaply from this locality than from any other in the country." The principal disadvantage was that the river was not navigable; and this deficiency was promptly remedied.

The history of the plant begins logically in Johnstown, Pa., where in 1888, Johnson and his associates established what was known as the Johnson Steel Street Rail Company, for the manufacture of steel street railway rails, switch equipment, etc.

On May 31, 1889, the switch works was destroyed by the famous Johnstown flood. The switch works were rebuilt at Moxham, near Johnstown, but it became apparent as time went on that the plant could not produce profitably in that location.

After considerable study, the decision was made to locate in Lorain. That the choice was a good one has been demonstrated by the fact that Lorain has consistently maintained its position as one of the plants where steel can be produced most economically.

Recent large-scale expenditures on equipment and facilities – a 10-year plant-wide modernization and construction program – is a significant indication of the basic soundness of Lorain's position in the industry. Additional expenditures for the same purpose are contemplated.

Purchased 4,000 Acres of Land
Upon deciding to build in Lorain, the Johnson Company, in 1894, purchased about 4,000 acres of land on both sides of Black River, providing a navigable waterfront of four miles, and proceeded to build the industry and what amounted to an adjoining "town" to go with it.

Johnstown and other Pennsylvania mill towns furnished skilled steel and rolling mill men who comprised much of the original Johnson Company work force in Lorain.

Steel rails were the only finished product of the original plant. There were no blast furnaces, and pig iron from which the steel for the rails was made, was imported from outside furnaces.

The buildings comprised the rail mill, bessemer, one blooming mill and a few shops. Officers were Moxham, president; Tom L. Johnson, vice-president; and Max Suppes, general manager. About 1,200 men were employed.

Some idea of the growth during the 60 years' existence of the plant can be realized from a comparison with the present works, which has five big blast furnaces which receive ore from modern docks more than a half a mile in length; three Bessemer converters of 28-net ton capacity; 399 by-product coke ovens; two rolling mills, one of them of the most modern type, and two skelp mills; buttweld mills and four seamless mills; and one of the world's largest pipe warehouses, plus a large electric power plant and numerous auxiliary shops.

Most Modern Facilities Installed
In the years since 1945, some of the most modern steel mill facilities have been installed at Lorain Works; entirely modernized facilities for producing bessemer steel; up-to-date rolling mill facilities for the processing of semi-finished steel; new type continuous seamless mill for the production of small-size seamless pipe; amplified and improved facilities for shipping and transportation; and improved and modernized facilities for producing coke and coal chemical products.

For its first three years, the Lorain plant was operated as the Johnson Company. In 1898, Johnson disappeared from the Lorain Works picture and the plant was re-incorporated as the Lorain Steel Company.

In 1899, the Lorain Steel Company became a subsidiary of the Federal Steel Company, which had been organized by Judge Elbert H. Gary and two blast furnaces, the docks and No. 2 blooming mill were put in operation. For the first time, the plant here began to make its own blast furnace iron.

U. S. Steel Organized 1901
The U. S. Steel Corporation was organized in 1901, including the Federal Steel Company, and with it, the Lorain Steel Company. No change was made in the local organization until late in 1903, when it was  announced that Lorain Works was to become part of the National Tube Company branch of U. S. Steel and that pipe mills and other additional facilities would be built.

Vintage postcard from Ebay
With the taking over of the Lorain plant in 1903, construction work commenced in June, 1904 on the pipe mills, skelp mills and their auxiliaries, in addition to blast furnaces Nos. 3 and 4. These installations were completed in 1905. In 1907, a fifth blast furnace was added. The new tube plant by rapid strides soon overshadowed the original plant.

First pipe was made in the new plant on February 10, 1905. First six of the 12 open hearth furnaces were built in 1909, making possible a wider range of steel grades. No. 3 blooming mill and four batteries of coke plant batteries, together with the by-product plant, were added in 1918.

By-Products Important Factor
Important factors in Lorain Works' operations are the production of coke plant by-products, and the utilization of gas in the production of coke from coal. This gas is now "bottled up" and used in the manufacture of commercial products, such as ammonium sulphate, tar, crude naphtha, naphthalene, phenol, benzol, xylol, and toluol. Tar and gas are used in the heating and melting of steel.

Vintage postcard from Ebay
Another by-product of the plant is crushed slag – the waste from the blast furnaces. Once considered useless, nearly a million tons of this crushed slag were produced last year, to be sold on the market chiefly as road construction material.

In the latter 1920's came a technological change, with seamless mills being built to replace the lapwell mills. Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seamless mills were completed and put in operation in 1926, 1928 and 1929 respectively. The seamless process,the outstanding development in Lorain pipe production, is a method by which steel rounds are pierced, expanded and then rolled. Welding is eliminated by this process which results in the name "seamless." Many important technological improvements in seamless pipe manufacture have been developed at Lorain Works.


Below is a Bing™ aerial photo of the blast furnaces today, which are now part of the Republic Steel portion of the steel mill site. I've studied the above postcard, and can't quite find the equivalent buildings and the furnaces in the photo. Can you?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Before the Steel Mill was built...

South Lorain's green pastures suited Johnstown steelmen just fine in 1894.
Ten months later, there'd be a steel mill here. (Photo and caption from STEEL TOWN STORY)

Last week I posted a history of the early days of the steel mill, and the article made reference to how that area along the river in South Lorain used to be forests and farmland.

Well, here's a photo of what the area used to look like in 1894,just before the Johnson Steel Works was built. It's from a terrific book called Steel Town Story – A Century with the Grandfathers, Daughters, Sons and Uncles Who Made Steel – and the City of Lorain, Ohio. It was published by USS/Kobe Steel in 1995 to commemorate a century of steel making in Lorain.

There's a few used copies for sale right now on Amazon. Of course the Lorain Public Library has a few copies upstairs in the local history area.

There's a lot of other great photos as well, including this one of the Pearl Avenue gate under construction.

Rising like a stockade in a pioneer wilderness,  the Pearl Avenue gate and gatehouse take shape in July 1894.
(Photo and caption from the book STEEL TOWN STORY.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Colgan Motors Then & Now

Back here, I talked about the building at 1803 Broadway that started out as the home of Colgan Motors in the 1920's, and ended up as an outlet for Forest City Auto Parts.

Well, a couple of days ago I was happy to find this photo, as well as some information about the company. It was all part of an ad for Colgan Motors that ran in the June 21, 1955 Lorain Journal. The caption read, "James F. Colgan came to Lorain from Elyria, Ohio, April 2, 1922, and started the Studebaker agency in a small frame house with just enough room for one car at 1797 Broadway under the name Colgan Motors. In 1924, Colgan built his present sales room and repair department, and at that time, took on the Packard agency along with Studebaker. In 1934, he started the Cadillac agency along with Studebaker, and he still operates the Cadillac agency. In May, 1954, Colgan Motors terminated its contract with the Studebaker Corporation after a period of 32 years."

It was quite a handsome building in its original form, with the Studebaker sign right where I thought it would be.

And here's the 'now' shot.

Lastly, here's an article that appeared in the Journal on January 15th, 1958 upon Mr. Colgan's retirement.
By the way, if you want to see another former Studebaker agency – but with its original sign intact – head over to 1290 W. 117th Street on the Lakewood/Cleveland border. I've driven by this for years, and always thought it was pretty cool. As you can see, the building (below) has certain similarities to the one at 1803 Broadway in Lorain.

February 2012 Photo
Today the building is the home for Air Rite Service.

Monday, March 19, 2012

House on Ninth Street Then & Now

Every once in a while I go on Ebay to see if there are any interesting Lorain postcards. This one (above) is on there right now.

It's a vintage photo of someone's house in Lorain, that was mailed as a postcard and postmarked July 25, 1907. In this case, a woman named Elsie Kratt sent it to a friend in Findlay, Ohio. She wrote, "Had this taken the other day, do you think it looks any better than it did when you were here?" She also identified the boy on the porch as Oscar.

It only took a couple of minutes in the library to find Elsie Kratt (a music teacher) in the 1912 city directory, living at 1054 Ninth Street. And it only took a few more minutes to drive up Ninth Street to grab this shot on sunny Saturday (below).

It's still a stately house, although there have been a lot of architectural changes since Oscar posed for the photographer more than a hundred years ago.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Birth of the Steel Mill – Part Two

Here is the conclusion of the article from the July 26, 1939 issue of the Lorain Journal and the Lorain Times-Herald. It tells the story of the transformation of the farms, forest and swampland in what is now South Lorain into Lorain's original steel mill.


Farms Changed to Mills Within 16 Months

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story was written especially for the 60th Anniversary edition of the Journal by John Gould, secretary of the National Tube Co.'s Old Timers Committee.


First Child Born
The first child born in the Sheffield allotment was a son to Mr. and Mrs. Ault, grocery store keeper on Seneca-st. Walter Ault grew up in the community, but at present is living in the west.

Tom L. Johnson can be given credit for paying high wages for labor than was being paid elsewhere for the same type of work.

Tom L. Johnson (in bowler hat) in his Red Devil
Photo courtesy
He will be remembered by many in connection with his famous auto, the "Red Devil," which he used to make his business trips to Lorain and his political trips throughout the state. The auto cost $11,000 and Johnson and Arthur Fuller his driver were always in trouble with the law for speeding. The "Red Devil" was driven 200,000 miles by Johnson, when it was bought by E. W. Kneen who was head of the Sheffield Land Co., in Lorain, and he added another 100,000 miles to its record before it was scrapped.

Many interesting stories might be told of A. J. Moxham and his very interesting family and the beautiful mansion with its 71 rooms, its swimming pool and its theatre and green house in the wilderness, on property now occupied by the Whittier Junior High School.

The mansion was dismantled when Moxham moved to Nova Scotia.

GAR Veterans at Work
The three bachelors, Pat Boyd, Dan Coolridge, H. C. Ryding, who rented a house on East 31st-st just off Pearl-av and were outstanding characters during the early steel plant days, are another potential source of stories.

The three Grand Army men who came to Lorain with the Johnstown organization, John Litz, Sr., Ad Penrod and B. F. "Dad" Wisinger, are another.

Of the group "Dad" Wisinger was the first Lorain workman to be granted a pension, being pensioned April 1, 1911. John Litz was the last Grand Army man to work in the mills was was the last survivor. He was pensioned Jan. 1st 1918 and died March 31, 1931 at the age of 82.

While men were cutting down trees and dynamiting stumps, a young photographer of Elyria, Carl W. Scheide, was hired to make a picture record of the progress of work done. As a result a number of folios with hundreds of large sized pictures each carefully dated and noted as to the progress of work during the eventful days. The folios are on file in the general office.

Promoted Safety
Mr. Suppes not only was a master in engineering and mechanics, but was a great organizer, and the plant in Lorain will always remain a monument to his genius. He was ahead of his times in the matter of safety and the welfare of his men. Long before it was popular in the mills and factories throughout the country, he insisted on cleanliness and safety first in every department of the plant.

His first general foreman, Robert McKee, he secured from the construction company who erected the iron works in both the Johnstown and Lorain plants because McKee could not only get works done efficiently but he had ability to handle men safely.

One of the early instructions which was printed and posted throughout the plant was to the effect that workmen were not to obey any order which might endanger his life or limb. This order was issued by Mr. Suppes when generally the foreman's order was law. Not so with Mr. Suppes.

When the Lorain Steel Co., became part of the United States Steel corporation with Chas. M. Schwab the corporation's first president, Schwab and a committee from various plants visited Lorain, and after an inspection of the local plant, Schwab had the committee form a large circle and stepping to the center, he took off his hat and bowing to Suppes, stated he took off his hat to the man who had the cleanest, safest and best kept plant in the corporation.

Veterans Named
Of a possible quarter of a million men who have labored in connection with the plant since its inception I wish to mention just a few names in addition to those already named:

E.T. Horan, Watkin Y. Williams, R. L. Rankin, Ben Cargo, Robert Niz, George Ferguson, George Bailey, the Bonsor Brothers, Ben Bevan, J. T. Jelley, Mart Sanders, W. W. Whitehouse, William Andrews, H. W. Thomas, Clark Loughry, Ed. Buchannan, J. L. Chapman, M. A. Donaldson, George Schoutz, H. K. Ford, Fred W. Waterman, L. R. Williams, J. B. Clark, John Kent.

Of this group of men who recall events of those early days, only one is in active service, all others are retired or just a memory.

That Lorain will eventually become a large city and a great industrial center is assured because of its location and its natural resources, land in abundance, with good shale foundation with only six to eight feet of subsoil, good drainage, being better than fifty feet above river level at steel plant, and a river and a harbor unexcelled on the great lakes. With these and other splendid resources nothing can prevent Lorain's continued growth.

The writer's first information of Lorain was gained when he read in a Pittsburgh paper a glowing report of the model city and plant to be erected in Lorain by Tom L. Johnson. Like many others he was led at a later date to the promised land by that cloud of smoke by day and pillar of fire by night; only at first to be disappointed, but as years passed by to become an enthusiastic booster. To enjoy the experience of growing up with a community as we did in the steel plant district, comes to a man once in a life time.

Vintage postcard from Ebay

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Birth of the Steel Mill – Part One

Here's an interesting article from the July 26, 1939 issue of the Lorain Journal and the Lorain Times-Herald. It tells the story of the transformation of the farms, forest and swampland in what is now South Lorain into Lorain's original steel mill.

The illustration above accompanied the article. What's surprising is the caption, which refers to "Grandma Ferguson." I guess 35 years after "Auntie" Ferguson passed away, her story – as well as her name – was already being forgotten, as there is no mention of her in the article. But someone must have had some vague recollection of an old woman who was allowed to live near the mill, and realized that she was an integral part of the story.

Nevertheless, the article is a terrific one. It's rather long, so I've busted it into two parts. Here is part one.


Farms Changed to Mills Within 16 Months

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story was written especially for the 60th Anniversary edition of the Journal by John Gould, secretary of the National Tube Co.'s Old Timers Committee.


Old Globeville Rd. next to the Black River in 1894 prior to
the construction of a dam and reservoir west of the skelp mills
On Decoration day, May 30, 1894, five men met by appointment, upon the bank of the Black River at the Hyre farm, on the old Globeville-rd at the very center of Sheffield-twp.

The men were Tom L. Johnson, Arthur J. Moxham and J. B. Coffinbery, arriving from Cleveland, all three mounted on handsome horses; and Max M. Suppes and D. D. Lewis coming from Pittsburgh, driving from Elyria in a horse and buggy.

With a walk of a mile from this point in a southwestern direction thru the Studley farm, forest and swamp land, the men decided upon the location of the temporary field offices and the site of the main buildings comprising the future plant.

It is interesting to note before proceeding with the story of the plant, that while men in Lorain and elsewhere had predicted Lorain's future as a steel center, yet the half dozen farms along the Globeville-rd running along the river bank from the Studley farm on the west to the Smith farm on the east including District No. 2 school, were quietly bought up by Coffinbery and the land further south which was to comprise the site of the steel works proper and the Sheffield allotment without the land owners suspecting the motive.

Johnson and Moxham provided the way for financing the undertaking, Coffinbery was in charge of purchasing the land, and Suppes was to be entrusted with full authority as to details of building the plant. He had been joined by Lewis in Pittsburgh three months earlier to help with drawings and plans.

June 8, 1894, ground was broken for actual construction. On that day, Joseph Kaplow, a Lorain man, who was an employee of the Lorain Brass Works but temporarily out of work, was hired and instructed to get pick and shovel and dig foundation for weight-scales, preparatory to weighing incoming materials. Young Kaplow walked back to Penfield-av, bought the tools, and, returning, threw the first shovelful of dirt, and to him goes that honor.

Steel In 10 Months
April 1, 1895, at 10:30 p. m. the first heat of steel was blown. Thus the plant was built and making steel in practically ten months. To transform forest and swamp land into a steel plant and an allotment with well drained streets and modern homes for hundreds of workmen and their families in less than a year was nothing short of a miracle, considering that the winter of '94 was extremely bitter, the temperature often was below zero and the men working on construction in many cases having to work under tents.

Cupola House & Trestle under construction - Nov. 27, 1894
(Photo courtesy Black River Historical Society)
Building that were erected during these months were built to stand for ages, but due to the change of method in steel operations some of these buildings have become obsolete and have been razed. During the past two years the iron cupola building, No. 1 boiler house and gas producers, hydraulic stripper and trestle have had to go.

With the coming of large numbers of men to the steel plant district, the religious and temperance forces under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Sheffield began a religious work in the community.

Letters were exchanged with Tom L. Johnson in Washington, congressman from Cleveland district, urging him to use his influence to make the steel plant district bone-dry, this he refused to do so, stating in his letters to Mrs. Mary Steele Day that he did not favor prohibition; that the question of drinking and elimination of the saloon be left for the men themselves to decide.

Limited Saloons
He did however use his influence for temperance when he permitted the Sheffield Land Co. to restrict the sale of liquor to only two places in the new allotment.

All other lots sold by the company contained a clause prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors.

It is told of Mrs. Hyre that when she was asked to sell her farm by Coffinbery for picnic purposes, that at first refused on the grounds that she did not care to hear noise around the farm especially on Sunday, which would be the case if the farm and island just over the river bank from her home was sold and used as a picnic ground.

Another farmer who sold his farm to Coffinbery stated years later that after he sold it he bought a house and lot in the new allotment and paid practically as much for the house as he had received for his farm.

Homes Demolished
All that is left of the half dozen farm homes and barn that once lined the famous road is the foundation stones and cisterns, and cellars filled with rubbish. One of the larger cisterns which is in fair state of preservation is located on the former Austin dairy farm. It had a capacity of 15,000 gallons.

The first two homes to be built and occupied in the new allotment were the homes on the northwest corner of Seneca and East 29th-st and was occupied by Buff Hochstein and family, and the house on the southwest corner of Seneca and East 30th-st, occupied by Squire McCann and family, Lorain's first justice of the peace.

From Johnstown, with the coming of hundreds of Johnstown people came Dr. H. H. Hoffman who was the company's first surgeon. He was soon succeeded by Dr. William E. Wheatley who for many years has been the city's leading surgeon, who had endeared himself in the hearts of the mill men with his great surgical skill and devotion to men.

Next: the Conclusion to "Steel City"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When "Auntie" Ferguson's Cabin Came Down

I'm always on the lookout for more information about "Auntie" Ferguson. Here's an article that ran in the May 13, 1904 Lorain Times-Herald – about a month after she passed away.

It's the poignant story about the demolition of her cabin.


Old Cabin of Auntie Ferguson, Which Was Last Relic of Old Days Near Steel Plant, Has Been Torn Down.

An old landmark that for the last eight or nine years was all that was left of the old times has at last been destroyed to give way to railroads and the steel making industry. The old log cabin that for so many years sheltered the gray head of Auntie Ferguson, was torn down this morning and all that remains is several piles of weather beaten lumber. Its disappearance is like the departure of a good friend.

True to the promise of the officials who first had the work of building of the Johnson Steel Works the shanty was not torn down until after the death of the late "Auntie." She asked that she be allowed to occupy the house until her death and no other than Tom Johnson himself assured her that she would not be disturbed. Little by little the great white fence has been moved to within a stone's throw of the cabin and railroad switches and tracks had been built around the house. Two of the tracks passed within a dozen feet of it, but it was never disturbed while the old lady was alive. Now that she has passed the promise no longer holds good.

The cabin stood just east of the gas works on Dexter street and was a landmark that was known for miles around. The old colored lady brought up part of her family in the cabin. With it goes all things that call to memory the old Globeville road and the picturesque scenery on the banks of the river which it paralleled. These last have been covered with slag from the blast furnaces and anything that is romantic the vicinity has had to give way to unbeautiful ore piles, railroad tracks, and ore loading machinery.


The article helps to pinpoint exactly where "Auntie" Ferguson's cabin was located. Since the cabin was east of the gas works, and "railroad switches and tracks had been built around the house," it's probably safe to say that it is roughly in the location below on this 1909 map.

I ran this by local historian and archivist Dennis Lamont just to make sure. He agreed with the location, noting that it's on "the last level ground before the ravine."

Tomorrow: Another "Auntie" sighting – from 1939. Plus: the Birth of the Steel Mill!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Arvay's Potato Chip Can

After my post about Arvay's Potato Chips yesterday, I received an email from Jack Tiller. Mr. Tiller, you might recall, had the great Lorain bottle collection that included one of the Whistle soda pop variety that I had written about.

Well, today Mr. Tiller provided me with what I considered to be the Holy Grail photo of the moment: a photo of an Arvay's Potato Chip can. It has the tagline shown in the phone book ads – "the chip with the real flavor."

I had looked unsuccessfully through vintage grocery ads for some line art of an Arvay potato chip bag, a photo – anything – that might show what the Arvay product looked like. And here, it just shows up in my email courtesy of Mr. Tiller!

Seeing this photo reminded me of how my parents used to have Charles Chips delivered to our house in a can.

Anyway, special thanks to Mr. Tiller for providing this photo of what I'm sure is a much-remembered truly Lorain product.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Arvay Potato Chips

1947 Phone Book Listing
Last week one of the comments on the blog asked if I had any information about Arvay Potato Chips. The comment mentioned that the company was started by the Arvay family in their garage somewhere in Lorain.

That was the first I had heard of Arvay Potato Chips. Intrigued, I tried to find out a little about the company and product online, as well as in the Lorain Public Library.

Alyssa Morales, a Lorain International Festival Hungarian princess in 2011, mentioned her family's connection with the company in an online interview on the Chronicle Telegram website. "My great-great grandmother on my grandmother's side was also born in Hungary and her brother Frank owned and operated Arvay's Potato Chip Company on Vine Street in South Lorain," she stated.

At the library, the earliest listing I could find for the company was in the 1935 city directory. Arvay Potato Chips was listed at 1533 E. 30th Street, with Frank J. Arvay Jr. as the name associated with the company. Apparently the company was located in a home, as its address matched that of Frank and Veronica Arvay. The senior Arvay was listed as a grocer.

The potato chip company remained at that address into the 1940's. At some point in that decade, its address changed to 1553 E. 29th Street.

1962 Phone Book Listing
Frank Arvay did a good job of keeping his company's name in front of the public. For decades he bought a boxed ad in the company listings in the back of the phone book. He also sponsored many sports teams over the years.

Sometime around 1969, Frank Arvay retired and the company disappeared from the pages of the city directory as well as the phone book.

At the tine of Arvay's death at age 67 in September 1971, Russ Davies, a columnist in the Chronicle-Telegram made a nice mention of him in his column.

"At one time there were three "Mr. Chips" in Lorain County. The dean of the trio was Frank J. Arvay of Lorain who owned and operated the Arvay Potato Chip Company. The others were Bill Thomasson of Elyria, owner of Thomasson's Potato Chips who since has turned the business to this son, Bill, and Pete DeSantis of Lorain, long associated in the chip and pretzel business.

"Best known of the three in the earlier days was Mr. Arvay, 67, who died in Lorain St. Joseph Hospital on Sept. 10 and had only been ill one day. He was the victim of a heart attack.

"The rotund, jovial and downright funny Mr. Arvay had the reputation among tavern owners, bartenders and barmaids in Lorain County for being the most "drinks for the bar" gent in the area."

That's a pretty nice way to be remembered, if you ask me. And I'm sure many people in Lorain remember Frank Arvay's potato chips as well.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Masson Memories Part 4

Thinking about my Masson School days brings back lots of memories; it's impossible to talk about all of them in just a couple of blog posts.

But some really stick out in my mind. Such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills – remember those things? Ugh.

We seemed to take them at Masson in the 4th, 5th and 6th grade. Remember how important it was to use a No. 2 pencil and to color in the oval shapes in their entirety? I remember how nerve-wracking it was to take it in the gymnasium which was full of other nervous kids. I also recall getting confused during the map reading portion, which wouldn't surprise my spouse in the least.

I still have my 6th Grade test results (below).

French class is a nice memory from Masson days. Miss Nelson was our teacher, and many of us had a crush on her, as she was young, pretty and funny. She made French class really fun, and it encouraged me to keep on taking it in high school and even a course or two in college.

One of the best things about my Masson days, though, was the introduction to organized musical groups, such as band and orchestra. I probably derived more enjoyment in school from playing a musical instrument than anything else. Mr. Radke was our band director at Masson, and he was quite a character; very talented, extremely knowledgeable, and he could play all the instruments too. The band director in Funky Winkerbean always reminded me of him.

What I really looked forward to music-wise each year was the All-City Instrumental Music Festival. Imagine bands and orchestras made up of kids from all of the local schools. It made quite a sound – but not always good though.

It's amazing seeing just how many elementary and junior high schools Lorain had back then.

It was interesting to meet kids from the other schools who played the same instrument. Later, I saw some of them again at Admiral King High School a few years later.

In conclusion, I have to say that I really enjoyed my days at Masson. I had mostly great teachers that I liked and respected – and never forgot.

This past summer I even ran into a student teacher I had at Masson in Mrs. Jones' english class. Sadly, it was at a funeral, but it was great to see her and strangely enough, she looked the same – forty years later!

Here's a terrific photo of the Masson School faculty, circa 1970 that was posted on the popular You Know You're From Lorain When... Facebook page. It has a lot of my old elementary school teachers, including Mrs. Radlow, Mrs. Gleason, and Mrs. Grego, as well as many of my junior high teachers, such as Mrs. Jones, Mr. Gay, Mr. Kalo and Mr. Chawansky.

I guess it doesn't matter if Masson School gets torn down or not, I'll always have my fond memories of the place.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Masson Memories Part 3

There's lots of things that come to mind when I think back about the eight years I spent at Masson.

One of them was the half-day sessions, which took place during the 1969-70 school year. Because of overcrowded conditions, all of the children in grades one through six had the shortened day.

It's suspicious that the decision to do this was made in late May, right after the failure of the $12.5 million building bond issue at the ballot box. I guess the school board had to make their point. Under this new schedule, students who walked to school attended from 7:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., and those who took the bus went to class from 12:45 to 5:45 p.m (which seems pretty late).

It was strange getting up even earlier for school. I remember that my siblings and I had to be in bed by eight o'clock on school nights, except on Mondays – when we allowed to stay up and watch Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.

The half-day sessions took place while I was in fifth grade, and we didn't see the kids who rode the bus over to the Sherwood allotment until the following school year. Which was tough, especially if you had a crush on one of those girls who rode the bus.

Mr. Ksenich's Sixth Grade Class
Another thing about Masson that I remember was the latest building addition that was opened up during the 1970-71 school year. The new section was modern in that the walls were movable; you could adjust them depending on how big a classroom you needed.

This wide open concept also made it possible to hear the other classrooms more easily, and I remember how distracting it was to hear other teachers' voices.

Probably the most memorable thing I remember about that school year wasn't a particularly good thing. Back then, bullying hadn't risen to the level of a high crime like it is now; it was just a fact of life. Everybody was bullied at some point. (It probably got us ready for life as an adult, where you are bullied during your commute, bullied at work, bullied by the government, etc.)

What happened is that some kid in our class had been teased by practically the whole class – outside the classroom – about something. It wasn't vicious or cruel; I don't even remember who it was, or what was said, but I believe the kid was quite upset and probably cried.

When the teacher (Mr. Ksenich) found out about it, he was rightfully incensed. I'll never forget the fiery speech he gave us about how disappointed he was in all of us. We were all hanging our heads in utter shame and disgrace. He also cancelled some much-anticipated class outing as our punishment.

I never forgot that lousy feeling. But I guess we all learned something that day.

Next: I wrap up the look at Masson School