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I'm skipping ahead a bit. To post some scenes related to my other recent diary postings.
This is one of my favorites.

Scene 10: Smart Dumb Guys

You know we had a pretty good record considering how dangerous it was with all those hot bars flyin’ all over the place. When I first started workin’ down the steel my pal Vinnie told me “Never turn your back on a rolling mill.” Damn good advice.

’Course I seen a lot over the years. I remember once, a couple of electricians were workin’ on the transfer crane and when they were done, one of them threw the main switch and the damn thing blew up in his face. He was stumbling around and we grabbed him and sat him down in the roller shanty. One of the guys lit up a cigarette and put it between his lips. He took a deep drag and the first thing he said was “That’s the second time safety glasses saved my eyes.”

You see stuff like that and it makes you a believer.

Janos, do you remember any fatalities on the 28? I heard one guy got killed up at the furnace when some water got under some slag and it blew up. But that was before our time. They had one up at the pits and couple guys bought it in the beam yard and the Gray side.

Christ, it’s hard for me to talk about. Man goes off to work and his family never sees him again. You can’t walk around thinkin’ about it, but it’s always in the back of your mind.

When they first made us wear the hard hats, must’ve been forty years ago, a lotta guys didn’t like it. I mean no one could recall anybody ever gettin’ hit on the head or anything like that. Then one day Johnny Mendrugo was settin’ guides while a bunch of riggers were workin’ overhead and one of ’em dropped his spud wrench. Hit Johnny square on the hard hat. He said at first he thought someone was just messin’ around, you know like we used to do, and hit him on the head. Wasn’t till he seen the spud wrench till he realized what happened. Think of it Janos, a $5 hard hat saved the life of the best mill man Bethlehem ever had. What the hell ever happened to him? Know he made foreman, should have been superintendent.

Well, Johnny Mendrugo, he was what I call a smart dumb guy, never got a chance to go to college, but bright as hell. Like we used to say you got dumb smart guys and you got smart dumb guys.

Most of our buddies on the 28 are what I call smart dumb guys. Lotta the superintendents and foremen were dumb smart guys, well, except for a few of the good ones, like some of the young college guys didn’t no nothin’ about a rolling mill, but were willin’ to learn. They was smart dumb guys like us.

Then you also got smart smart guys and dumb dumb guys.

Trouble with smart smart guys is you never know what the hell they’re tryin’ to say. Yeah, that’s right, can’t communicate. Now there’s nothin’ wrong with smart smart guys as long as they stay in a lab someplace, workin’ on computers and stuff like that.

Trouble is most of our colleges are run by smart smart guys. That’s why a lot of smart dumb guys never get a college education. I mean suppose you got a kid that’s a helluva good mechanic. You know, can tear down and rebuild an engine or a transmission. Maybe his grades aren’t too good, but you think he’d make a great engineer, so you figure you’ll send him to Lehigh. Like hell! They’ll tell you he’s in the lower third of his class, his test grades are no good, he can’t do the work. But, you say, “He’s the greatest mechanic since Henry Ford.” Tough. You ain’t got the numbers you’re out.
Lot of big corporations are run by smart smart guys. That’s the trouble with this country. Guess we should call ’em dumb smart smart guys.

Then you got dumb dumb guys. These are the people I like most. You know why, Janos? ’Cause a dumb dumb guy will never hurt you. The good Lord put people like that on the earth for the rest of us to love. Remember Bobby, how he’d clean out the roller shanty, Christ, scrape the grease off the floor, clean the coffee pots ’til they sparkled, that old sink looked like it was brand new. And all the guys would say, “Jesus, Bobby, looks like a hospital room in here. Cleanest roller shanty I ever seen.” Made Bobby feel good. Made us feel good too. Damn, it sure was nice of Bethlehem Steel to give guys like that a job.

How ’bout that old superintendent we had when we first come to the 28, always walked around with a pissed off look on his face. Big Jack McGurn, started with the company back in 1915. The older guys said he looked like John L. Sullivan when he was young. Well, there’s a prime example of a dumb smart guy. Always pickin’ on poor Bobby tellin’ him the place looked like a shit house, and Bobby’d be sayin’ “No, no, Mr. Jack, I fix, I fix.” He tried that crap on me once and I told him “Jack, you oughta go back to Lehigh and take a course on how to treat people.” So he tells me, “Looks like you don’t belong in a rolling mill.”

Hell, I didn’t care if I got fired, I was young, coulda got a job anyplace. Funny thing though, after that he was real nice to me.

(personal note postscript: I read this out loud to the girl I was dating at the time (@ 1989) my Dad wrote it and sent it to me. When I got to the paragraph about dumb dumb guys, I almost cried. I stopped reading and told her, how I always felt that way too, never knew that about my Dad, and how reading that made me feel so much closer to him. She told me much later that moment was when she fell in love with me. I should have married her. I didn't. Stupidest mistake of my life.)

1:40 PM PT: 'The 28 Inch Mill' by Robert D. Frantz was written in 1992, edited and updated in 1994 by me with additional copy by my Dad. I performed it in 1995 in Santa Barbara CA and again in 2004 in Bethlehem PA.

This material is strictly copyrighted and all publication, reprint and performance rights, in whole or in part, are held by me, Stanley R. Frantz, his son. Inquiries regarding reprint or republishing permission may be directed to me via my Kos account. I welcome your interest.

I hope and expect of course, that all Kossacks will respect my late father and his one great creative accomplishment and respect our copyright to this material, while at the same time helping us to tell the story far and wide.

Originally posted to srfRantz on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 01:34 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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