a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The steel man who became a Pinkerton

By Scott Beveridge

It's hard to imagine how my father survived 1972.

Big Jim Beveridge had lost his steel mill job as pipefitter that year in the shutdown of Page Steel & Wire Co., one of America's earliest casualties in the decline of the Industrial Revolution. His mother, Madge, by then was entering the critical stages of Alzheimer's disease. It would seem to have been an impossible time for him to also swear off cigarettes and beer, but he did, probably because he didn't have any money for vices the year he turned 50.

The challenges were many because unemployment compensation extensions didn't exist that year, when the unemployment rate hovered around 5.7 percent. The federal government also hadn't yet drafted any employment retraining benefit programs. It was out the door and goodbye for the Page workers.

Our family spiraled out of control with dad, although, I do not remember him taking the time to fall into a depression and moan about his stage in life.  I can only imagine now how close he must have come to losing our home in Webster, Pa., to foreclosure.

There was little time to waste because my father had once again put himself in debt, continuing his pattern of spending far more than he earned. He often gambled on consumer finance companies and always lost the bet. He chose wages over sleeping in every day until mid-afternoon to deal with his problems.

So he took a job as a Pinkerton guard, which paid maybe 10 cents more than the $1.60 minimum wage. It had to be hell for him to put on that uniform bearing a name that represented everything steel labor had hated for 80 long years.

His father, also a steelworker, had often cursed Henry Clay Frick for hiring the detective agency in 1892 and pitting it against striking workers at his Homestead steel mill in what became an historic, bloody defeat for unionization.

Somehow dad appeared proud to button down that uniform, as it gave him purpose. The job was something to put on his resume; experience that helped him become a campus policeman at California University of Pennsylvania and begin to crawl out of the miseries of underemployment.


Amanda Blu said...

Nicely written, Scooter! I just took a job as a nanny, as you know, so I can understand the mixed emotions you talk about your dad having.

Scott Beveridge said...

You will make a wonderful nanny Mandy.

Both of my parents placed a lot of value in their having independence and the ability to get up, go to work and bring home a paycheck - no matter how small. They were great role models.

Amanda Blu said...

I think it will work out well, actually. Who would have thought that being somebody's overzealous aunt would transfer into a marketable skill set? And the schedule is flexible enough I can still get my bylines in. And let's face it: Playing and writing are my two favorite things. I win twice, bro. :)

Anonymous said...

Poignant and thoughtful...liked this, Scott!


And: Amanda, you never know. My daughter was a nanny for some very cool people. They ended up hiring her for their company when their kids got too old to need a nanny. She ended up using her communications degree after all.