Sunday, June 6, 2010

Preserving memories of steel

Today Adam and I attended a car show in Ritter Park in Huntington. He was most excited by the Dodge Viper (his favorite car), but I used the day to teach him a little about the industrial history of the city.

We passed some cars from the 1940s and 1950s. I pointed out the gaudy chrome excess on the 50s cars, and I showed him a chrome-plated steel bumper. I said we used to have a factory here in town that made those things. Workers put the chrome on the bumper. But as carmakers got away from steel bumpers for various reasons, the factory had less and less work. Its final customer was Chrysler, and that contract ended in the early 1980s, so the plant shut down.

Having said all that today, this evening I read a piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by reporter (and my former co-worker here in Huntington) Diana Nelson Jones. It was about how people up there are trying to save what they can of the steel works that made the city prosperous and famous.

It's a good read. As I read it, I remembered all my fleeting thoughts about how few people are interested in the industrial history of the Ohio Valley. Oh, we have our pioneer days when people gather to make apple butter, but we have precious few museums devoted to the old smokestack factories that provided the means to put beans on our tables.

It's like that car show. I was most interested in the Dodge Dart, the 1979 Ford pickup, the '79 Dodge Aspen, the Chevy station wagon and other cars that families used in my lifetime. Half the cars there were '60s Camaros and Mustangs, but the family cars that few people are interested in preserving were what I wanted to see.

I remember Houdaille Industries and the Owens-Illinois glass bottle factory in Huntington, W.Va. And the ACF plant, which made covered hopper railroad cars. In Ironton, Ohio, I remember the Dayton Malleable plant that made cast iron parts. There are many more that will be forgotten because little of them is being preserved, at least as far as people like me know.

So here's praise to the people in Pittsburgh who work to retain as much memory as they can of the old steel works.



Henry M. said...

You removed your item about OHIO& INDIANA, they are downbound, apparently with the MC&S logo's removed.

tanstaafl said...

Dodge Dart.

1963. Brand spanking new, with 1.4 miles on the odometer, $2683 delivered, with a $500 trade-in on my old 1957 Ford Fairlane. Slant six engine, on the dash torqueflight automatic transmission, four doors, narrow tires, weighed in at about 1800 pounds. No backpressure against the transmission, when you got it up to eighty on level road, it held eighty far longer than any other car I ever owned. Only one minor problem, the pinion gear seal kept disintegrating. Had the car for a year and a half, 39,000 miles and replaced the seal, under warranty two times, and it was bad again when I traded it in.

Pure white exterior, solid red interior (I got those clear plastic seat covers, put on the seats, and they were like new when I got rid of it. By the way, it had a narrow formed steel chromed bumper that would push around any modern one, had a crease along the bend and I didn't even have guards put on it.

Oh, I traded it in on a 1965 red with black rag top Mustang, 289 V8, auto, and ran that one until 1973 and sold it for $350 in Texas. After a complete rebuild, the new owner sold it and three weeks later the buyer ran it underneath a semi on I-10 Eastbound near McCarty Drive in Houston. He died--and so did the Mustang.