A sense of his skill, of his importance in the delicate but harsh process of steelmaking—the craft in the eyes peering through blue-glassed spectacles into the furnace—allow the steelman to look back on a lifetime’s work as a satisfying and worthwhile experience. Son of a steelworker and a steelworker himself for nearly 50 years, pmcg records the melters’ fascination with their work, the steel that gets into their blood. Aged 70, pmcg is married with two grown-up daughters and lives in Manchester.
These days I don’t work at all. I quit four years ago after making steel on open hearth furnaces for 48 years. From 1915 to 1963.
During that period there were two world wars which I never fought in, I was too busy making shell steel for those who did, and a trade depression which lasted about 15 years, in my case from 1921 to 1936. In those depressive years I still made steel, but intermittently, my peak periods being stretches of three consecutive working weeks followed by one idle week. This way we shared the work so as to save redundancy. The steel melters called it ‘working round’.
In slacker periods my quota of work and idleness was week about. The furnacemen had a name for this too. It was ‘Off agin, on agin, gone agin, Flanagin’. The mythical Flanagin being an Irish rail ganger whose style, when reporting replaced rails, was laconic.
The first steel furnaces I ever saw, but never worked on, were in the West of Scotland where I was born. They were the cold-metal, handcharging sort and they catered for strong men only, very strong men. About one steelworker in every ten could stand up to them successfully, which was one reason why the furnacemen were looked up to in the world of heavy industry. That they got the biggest pay packets was another reason.
They also had the biggest thirsts and that too was a prideful possession in that part of the world.