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Scene 3: Teamwork

We rolled as many different sections as we had nationalities. As I recall 42, 44 somethin’ like that. Anything from 5 x 5 to 8 x 8 angle, bulb angles, 8" channel to 15" channel and all the different ship channels known to man, and some special sections. Hey, and 3 or 4 weights or gauges on every section. Hell of a load for that old mill. Way I heard it she was a rail mill first and then Bethlehem Steel bought her second-hand around the turn of the century and converted her to a structural mill. Hell, Charlie Schwab was runnin’ things then, knew a good mill when he seen one. Drove it with steam too. Ain’t an electric motor made that could drive a mill like the 28: three-high rougher, three-high strand and two-high finisher with bars in every stand.

That old mill made a lotta money for Bethlehem Steel. Made a lotta money for us too. Best thing they ever thought of was payin’ us tonnage. Makes a man wanta work. The more you roll, the more you make. O.K. with me.

Some of them sections were real money-makers like 8" channel. Get on 8" channel lightweight and roll 2500 bars, ’nuff to last 5 or 6 turns without a roll change. Then once in a while you’d get a small order for somethin’ like SC6B, like for 90 bars and you’d have to change rolls twice in one turn.

Other sections, they was a real bitch, like the goddamn 5 x 4 1/2 bulb angle. The roller’d have a hell of a time gettin’ section and it was tough to hold in the mill ’cause it had so much sweep. Then to top it off, if you did get goin’ you’d block the hot bed ’cause it was hard to straighten. Looked like spaghetti lyin’ out there. Never could make no money on that section. It was used as a sill piece on railroad cars and every time I get stuck at a railroad crossing and see those gondolas whizzin’ by I think of the goddamn 5 x 4 1/2 bulb angle.

Then there was 8 x 8. Good section for tonnage, but tough to get section on the lighter weights. Lotta trouble with overlaps.

Remember when we rolled all that 8 x 8 for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge? We rolled that stuff till it was comin’ out our ears. Most of it was 1 1/8" thick and up to 140 feet long, all Medium Manganese. That old mill wasn’t designed to roll a section as heavy as that. I’ll never know how she held up. Boy, you’d put that bloom into the rougher and the whole goddamn mill housing’d shake. You could tell it was Medium Manganese ’cause it was just tougher to roll than 2158. Remember how the engineer was always screamin’ at us that we were gonna break his goddamn steam engine. Jesus, we were money hungry. We’d shove that stuff through there even when it was too cold, if we had a good turn goin’. Broke a coupling box a couple of times though. Hell, Janos, even when you would blow cold steel, then Billy, the foreman would call on the P. A. and say, “Hey Janos is that steel too hot to touch?” and you’d say “Hell, yeah.” “Then it’s hot enough to roll, blow up.” Christ, the engineer’d go crazy. We’re lucky we didn’t break the engine. What the hell, it would have been that crazy foreman’s ass, not ours.

One time a couple years back I drove over the bridge with one of the grandkids. I told him, “Your Grandad helped build this bridge.” You know, Janos, I probably coulda told him the same thing about a lotta the bridges and buildings built in this country in the last forty years. Didja ever think of it that way?

Boy, remember how we used to hustle on a roll change, ’cause if we could beat the time we could make more money, ’specially if we had a good turn goin’. Talk about teamwork, Christ, we coulda made the NFL, dozen guys just swarmin’ over that mill. You know, the old lady says I’m losin’ my memory ’cause sometimes I have trouble recallin’ my phone number or my zip code, but I can remember every step of the roll change and that’s more than twenty years ago.

First, we’d run up the screws on the rougher and strand and finisher. Then we’d knock out the wedges with the jack hammer or the dolly bar if the hammer was busted. Take the caps off and uncouple the rougher, then put the harness on and pull out the old rolls. Then since you had the harness on you’d pick up the new rolls and put them in. Same thing with the strand. Then couple ’em both up. On the finisher you only had two rolls so you didn’t need the harness. Put the rolls and bearings in with cables. Then you had to put spacers in ’cause you had no third roll. Couple up, put the caps on, drive the wedges in, run the screws down. If you was goin’ angle to angle or channel to channel, you didn’t have to change the rest bars otherwise you had ta change them too. ’Course you had ta connect up all the cooling hoses and the greaser had ta pack all the grease boxes with them blocks of grease we had. The roller sets up the mill startin’ with the finisher, then the rougher, and the strand. Whole thing took two to two and half hours.

After the roller’d finished settin’ up the mill, he’d signal the rougher operator to blow up and he’d blow two and call the pusher on the P. A. “O. K. Wayne, try one.” And we’d run a bar through the mill and then the assistant roller, it was always the assistant roller, would walk down to the hot saw to get a test piece.

Didja ever think about that Janos? Anybody could go down and pick up a test piece, but it was always the assistant roller. He’d come back with the tongs over his shoulder, then he’d plunge the hot piece in a bucket of water. He’d bring it into the roller shanty and put it down on the workbench. Must have been a dozen guys standin’ around. Then the roller’d check it over with the mike and calipers and if it checked out O. K. he’d pick up the P. A. and say “O.K. Janos, blow up.” Then one by one everybody who was standin’ around, guidesetters, the foreman, sometimes even the superintendent, would pick up the test piece, check it out, then say, “Nice bar, Frank.” And the roller, the roller, he wouldn’t say nothin’, just sort of stand there.

You know what I mean, Janos?

Jesus, I would of liked to have been a roller.

Man, the hours we had to work when the mill was runnin’ full out, like durin’ ’55, ’56, and ’57. Six 7–3; seven 3–11; and seven 11–7. Best thing about it was four days off after 11–7, the famous long weekend. Money hungry guys like you, Janos could even pick up an extra day workin’ labor durin’ repair shift on Monday day turn.

The shift I really hated was 11–7. I’d start drinkin’ coffee to stay awake at the start of the turn and by 3 o’clock I’d have heartburn so bad it felt like I had a knife stickin’ in my chest. Some nights I’d take a whole roll of Tums. Whenever I’d get a chance to sleep, durin’ a spell or if the mill was down mechanical, I’d sleep, even with all that coffee in me. You know what old Jack Slattery used to say, “Anyone who has a chance to sleep on night shift and doesn’t is crazy and anyone who says he never slept on night shift is a liar.” Only good thing about it was none of the big bosses were around.

Once in a while, especially if it was early in the turn and I was on a spell, I’d go up in the pusher and sit with Wayne. Always liked old Wayne him bein’ a farmer like me. Y’know Janos, guy must’ve been lonely sittin’ back there by himself all night. Anyway he knew all these old hymns my Grammy used to sing; The Old Bye and Bye, Come to the Church in the Wildwood. We’d sit back there and sing at the top of our lungs. Always finished with The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I can still remember all the words. Never did know what they meant by 'the grapes of wrath.'

Well, anyway, one day I was readin’ the paper and I read where old Wayne passed away. I mean he wasn’t sick or anything; he just died. Then I recalled how he loved to sing those old hymns. You know Janos, maybe the good Lord just wanted him up there.

Didn’t like day turn either. Had to get up too early. I know Janos, most of you guys with kids liked day turn so’s you could be with the kids. Too many bosses around though. Couldn’t get away with anything. Never broke any records on day turn. Makes you wonder what good most of those guys were.


'The 28 Inch Mill' by Robert D. Frantz was written in 1992, edited and updated in 1994 by me with additional copy by my Dad. I performed it in 1995 in Santa Barbara CA and again in 2004 in Bethlehem PA.

This material is strictly copyrighted and all publication, reprint and performance rights, in whole or in part, are held by me, Stanley R. Frantz, his son. Inquiries regarding reprint or republishing permission may be directed to me via my Kos account. I welcome your interest.

I hope and expect of course, that all Kossacks will respect my late father and his one great creative accomplishment and respect our copyright to this material, while at the same time helping us to tell the story far and wide.

Originally posted to srfRantz on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 07:07 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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