The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 3, 2013

Preserving steel’s past

JAHA, Richland man on mission to collect artifacts

The Tribune-Democrat

— Johnstown’s rich industrial heritage is steeped in coal mining and steel mills. So it’s only logical that efforts to preserve that past include remnants from its many Bethlehem Steel Corp. plants.

That’s certainly not lost on Johnstown Area Heritage Association, or on Tom Leslie, a former steelworker who has volunteered his services to JAHA to help collect and catalog Bethlehem Steel memorabilia.

We applaud Leslie’s community spirit and we’ll be eager to see the rewards of his effort.

“I’m getting some calls. It’s doing OK,” Leslie said last Wednesday, four days after a Tribune-Democrat story outlined the mission by JAHA and Leslie.

“Unfortunately, a lot of (former Bethlehem workers) are gone, stuff has been thrown out.”

One call Leslie did get last week produced what is said to be the last bar rolled out of the 12-inch mill, a find he particularly welcomed.

“We’re getting the stuff engraved,” he said, with dates and places, something that should help the public understand the historical significance.

The Richland Township man, according to a report by our Tom Lavis, is a third-generation steelworker who spent 18 years with Bethlehem before ending his career as an overhead crane operator on the final day of production: July 31, 1992.   

Today he is employed in the insurance industry, but obviously he has not lost his fascination with Bethlehem Steel’s mills and what they meant for many years to our region.

“I have been collecting stuff for 25 years,” he said. “A lot of what is personal will be loaned to JAHA.”

Some of what is collected will make its way to the Heritage Discovery Center property in Cambria City and, specifically, to JAHA’s theater that features “Mystery of Steel,” a documentary we believe is a must-see for all Johnstown families.

“It’s kind of disappointing to see the movie and there are few artifacts around,” Leslie said.

Added JAHA president and CEO Richard Burkert, “We have a large collection of photographs, maps, technical drawings and such, but we would like to obtain items from the workplace.”

Leslie understandably sees the memorabilia collection process as a work in progress, saying “this won’t happen overnight.

“The downside is a lot of the stuff is not of historical value.”

We urge area mill families, especially, to check storage areas, attics, closets and garage rafters and see whether they might have Bethlehem Steel items that could enhance the preservation effort by JAHA and Leslie.

Leslie can be reached at 242-0138. 

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.