a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Railway fail

WEBSTER, Pa. - Little did I know until recently that investors in my hometown were once interested in bringing the streetcar to the small town along the Monongahela River.

In fact, the village of Webster showed up in as the first word in what became the failed 1919 venture known as the Webster, Monessen, Belle Vernon & Fayette City Street Railway Co., according to the copy of the stock certificate, above, given to me last week by the staff at Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

The museum workers know I'm from Webster, Pa., which has been growing smaller by the day, and love history, and that's why they gave me this small piece of history.

They also reminded me of the fact that this streetcar line never reached Webster. I'm not sure why, but guess Webster investors fell short on their promise. Those with old money here began to relocate in large numbers about the same time of the stock sale and shortly after U.S. Steel's zinc works opened across the Monongahela River in Donora. That mill created huge volumes of acidic pollution that it killed most of the vegetation within sight of Webster, along with farm animals, according to any number of local histories.

Yet Kerfoot W. Daly bought 47 shares of the stock at a cost of $2,350, a tidy sum of money at the time. He was vice president of the new railway company. He also worked as a cashier at the Bank of Charleroi, according to  FamilyTreeMaker.com, and surely rubbed elbows with former Pennsylvania Gov. John K. Tener, whose leadership helped to build a bridge over the river between North Charleroi and Monessen to serve the streetcar line.

Daly was seen as a rising star of his generation in the banking business, but it would appear that he lost his shirt by investing in the plan to lay streetcar tracks to Webster.

Still, though, I would like to conduct some more research or hear from local streetcar enthusiast before drawing any concrete conclusions about the company.

Monday, August 27, 2012

French toast à la Scooterlicious

By Scott Beveridge, AKA Scooterlicious

WEBSTER, Pa. – While enjoying the luxury of a staycation this week with no other plans than to relax it's a great opportunity to experiment in the kitchen.

I developed a craving for French toast the other day after seeing a photo of the breakfast food on an Instagram post, but thought the white-bread variety had become boring.

While gathering the ingredients yesterday at Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson, Pa., I decided to go with a pecan raisin whole wheat bread and dress it up with sliced banana cooked in a raspberry sauce.

It turned out awesome, especially thanks to the bakers at the great supermarket on steroids that has become one of my favorite places to shop, eat, drink a beer and chill.

The raspberry sauce with banana recipe:

2 Tbs butter
2 heaping Tbs. Smucker's Simply Fruit Seedless Red Raspberry Spreadable Fruit
1 ripe banana, sliced into 1-inch discs

Melt the butter and spreadable fruit on a low-to-medium flame and fry the banana discs a few minutes on each side and set aside, covered.

French toast:

4 slices of Giant Eagle Market District pecan raisin whole wheat bread
3 large eggs, whipped
1 Tbs butter
4 Tbs olive oil, approximately
A dusting of powdered sugar

Melt butter into the olive oil over a medium flame in a large skillet.
Dip both sides of the bread in the egg batter and fry on each side until brown. I poured extra egg over the bread as it cooked to give it volume because the bread wasn't all that absorbent.

Garnish with banana and sauce, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy. Serves two.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Furloughed workers return to their steel-making roots

Former U.S. Steel employee Gary Condon of North Strabane Township, Pa., right, leads a tour of Carrie Furnaces. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

RANKIN, Pa.  – Gary Condon went into a routine meeting with other steelworkers at the Homestead Works of U.S. Steel on a Thursday in 1981, expecting to learn his schedule for the upcoming week.

But, instead, his supervisor instructed the crew at the 10 a.m. meeting to begin banking the row of seven Carrie Furnaces in Rankin for their shutdown the following Saturday.

"He said, 'We'll never turn them on again,'" said Condon, 60, of North Strabane Township, Pa., who once worked as a pipefitter at the historic blast furnaces just south of Pittsburgh .

Condon often revisits his former workplace now to tell stories and lead tours through what remains of these rare examples of pre-World War II blast furnaces, the only ones still standing in the Pittsburgh region.

"It's like coming home. The pipes around here, I worked on every one of them," said Condon, who lived in nearby Bethel Park when the mill was running.

"So much of this has been torn down so it's hard to imagine what all went on here," he said on a May 5 tour of Carrie Furnaces.

Nothing, however, would have remained at the site on eastern banks of the Monongahela River just south of Pittsburgh had it not been for the efforts of local residents who took on big business to preserve their history.

The Cleveland-based Park Corp. purchased the 430-acre brownfield after U.S. Steel forever closed the mill July 25, 1986, and reinvented most of the property at the Waterfront, a string of strip malls, restaurants and theaters. The corporation was in the process of dismantling Carrie Furnace No. 7 when a court battle halted demolition.

"It was a grassroots effort to say, 'Wait a minute. You can't wipe away our history. We have to save some of it,'" said Ron Baraff, director of archives and museum collections at the Homestead-based Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp., the nonprofit that manages Carrie Furnaces.

The organization also saved the mill's pump house, the site of the infamous Battle of Homestead waged in 1892 when Carnegie Steel Corp. hired Pinkertown guards to quell a lockout of Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. Seven steelworkers and three detectives were killed in the battle, which dealt a crushing blow to the U.S. labor movement.

Visitors make their way around the seemingly frozen-in-time Carrie Furnace No. 6, part of the infamous Homestead Works near Pittsburgh. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Rivers of Steel was determined to memorialize the mill's role, which went far beyond the battle, as it once employed 15,000 workers and produced a third of all of the steel used in the United States, Baraff said.

"It's the story of the growth of this region, the growth of this country," he said.

Tens of thousands of families immigrated from Europe to work in Pittsburgh's steel industry, which produced materials that allowed the nation to "grow vertically and expand westward," he said.

Steel manufactured at Homestead forms the gates of the Panama Canal and Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and gives structural support to the Empire State Building, U.S. Steel Tower in Pittsburgh and Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago.

The fate of the last of the Carrie Furnaces, Nos. 6 and 7, wasn't sealed, though, until June 2010, five years after Allegheny County purchased the site from Park Corp. in a $7.2 million investment. The deal allowed Rivers of Steel to trade the Hot Metal Bridge it owned from the site into Homestead, which the county needed for access into the property, for management rights of the furnaces, said Sherris Moreira, the heritage corporation's marketing and tourism director. The organization has begun raising money to convert a large building on the property into a regional steel museum, she said.

"There's a lot of history here. It's the real stuff," said Howard L. Wickerham III of Peters Township, who once worked here as an electrician and is being trained as a guide for tours the nonprofit now offers of the site.

Meanwhile, Condon explains how raw materials – iron ore, limestone and coke – were offloaded by rail to make pig iron in the furnaces. Larrymen would measure the correct amounts of the ingredients into skip cars, which carried the mix into the furnaces. Hot air was then blown into the furnaces to suspend the materials until they melted, a process that separated the iron from the slag. Other workers around the base of the 2,000-degree furnace manually opened gates that permitted the iron to flow into troughs and drain into torpedo-shaped rail cars, which carried it across the Mon to form steel.

Near the base of Carrie No. 6, Wickerham tells a story that best describes the fortitude of the men who once worked here. A coworker smashed his thumb with a sledgehammer, only to remove his glove, wrap the injury with electrical tape and resume his duties.

"He turned to me and said, 'You didn't see anything,'" Wickerham said, adding that such accidents resulted in five days off without pay.

"It was noble work."

A torpedo-shaped railcar that has survived its days of carrying hot metal across a bridge over the Monongahela River to the U.S. Steel Homestead Works. (Scott Beveridge photo)

This story first appeared in the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Former Pirates pitcher delivers smiles

Kent Tekulve, a retired member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, delivers smiles Sunday to a Rostraver Township woman. (Unity a Journey of Hope photo)

ROSTRAVER, Pa. - Props to the Washington Wild Things Frontier League baseball team for helping a Fayette County nonprofit fulfill a terminally ill woman's dream of meeting a member of Pittsburgh Pirates who played in the 1970s.

The Washington, Pa., ball club knew Kent Tekulve because he previously worked there as director of baseball operations after retiring from Major League Baseball and sent the request in an email to him after hearing about the wish from Unity a Journey of Hope in Vanderbilt, Pa.

Tekulve, who is famous for showing off his 1979 World Series ring, did more than that for 93-year-old Grace, who suffers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, when he visited her Sunday at her Rostraver Township home. He let her wear the ring after learning she never missed watching him play a game on television.

Volunteers with Unity and Albert Gallatin Home Care & Hospice Services provided food for a family reunion for Grace, timed for the visit from the former right-handed relief pitcher.

Tekulve even found time to appear with one of the volunteers in this silly video:

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nothing boring about this grilled cheese sandwich

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Every Tuesday an offbeat food booth in Pittsburgh reaches out to Facebook to advertise its weekend menu, which offers grilled cheese Sammies, plain or fancy.

The fancy part of that sandwich would serve enough to perk my interest in Soup Nancys, a staple at Pittsburgh Public Market.

"We're also pretty good at making a delicious sandwich when your only instructions to us are, "Surprise me," Raszewski responded to my Facebook reply, after curiosity prompted me to ask Food Nancys about what it takes to make a grilled cheese sandwich fancy.

There is more than one way to fancy-up a grilled-cheese sandwich, she replied.

First the cheeses are selected and then topped with such ingredients as fresh basil, tomato and raspberry habanero jam produced locally by The Berry Patch.

"You get the idea," Raszewski continued.

Then, I get an urge to drive from where I live in the back hills of southwestern Pennsylvania's Monongahela River Valley to Soup Nancys in the city otherwise known as the Paris of Appalachia to taste one of these fancy sandwiches.

By the way, the sandwich celebrated its 250th birthday this year, having supposedly been invented by Britain's Earl of Sandwich when he demanded his servants give him sliced beef between bread so not to interrupt a card game.

The sandwich would best become spiced up by Americans, says Raszewski, who should know because she has nibbled on them while traveling the Netherlands. 

Restaurants in that country still just slam some meat between bread, nothing more, as did those who attended the Earl, she said.

Well, there is nothing boring about Soup Nancys' fancy Sammies.

"You want white or multigrain whole wheat bread?" Raszewski asks after I order one last Saturday, and, while we attempt to remember the story about bread meal inventor John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich.

"What do you suggest?" I reply.

She recommends the wheat bread, saying it holds up better than white while squished in a panini maker.

"Go for it," I say.

I'm here for fancy.

This chef selects provolone, muenster and pepper jack cheeses and garnishes them lightly with fresh basil and generously with the hot pepper jam and tomatoes, freshly picked from her garden.

Eventually I inquire as to what inspired Soup Nancys to put tongue-numbing jam on a grilled cheese.

"It took some experimenting," she said.

A few minutes later I walk to the cafe seating area with a beautiful dripping sandwich that cost just $3.50.

I later return to the booth to report that this is the greatest toasted cheese sandwich that I have ever eaten in my 55 years on the planet.

"It carries a bit of a kick," I said, adding that it requires cold water.

Next time, Raszewski said, grab yourself an avocado mint smoothie, pointing to a beverage booth across the isle.