A Tribute to a Steelworker

Editor’s note: My neighbor, Knight Goodman has related this story many times in person and in print. When I began researching the topic, I called on him at his office in early March 1996. He followed up the next day with a very cordial letter and a copy of this text he wrote three years earlier.

“Tribute to a Steelworker: A Knightwork Extra

Times do change. Advanced technology does move the nation forward. Most people benefit. Some get hurt. My father did.

July 15, 1903 – 90 years ago – Herbert W. Goodman joined Armco as a roller. George M. Verity recruited him from Northern Ohio. The American Rolling Mill Company needed rollers. Dad was a good one. Twenty-three year old Herb and his wife , the former Mary Knight, accepted Verity’s offer and moved to Middletown.  Herb and Mary’s family grew and by the 1920’s they had one daughter, four sons, plus an adopted daughter. He was organized. Dedicated. Walked from the home he had built at Yankee and 14th to Armco’s plant on Curtis Street every workday. Always arrived early. Came home very hot, tired and happy. Wore long johns winter and summer. When he arrived home, he took his bath. Put on clean long johns. Came to the supper table – and it was ready when he came downstairs. The family ate together.

Each Sunday he took me, the youngest, to the Grand Theater in downtown Middletown to see a cowboy show. Dad loved cowboys. So did his six year old son. Other times he would take me to Armco’s company store. Our walk meant a sack of goodies.

In the late 1920s Armco installed the Tytus continuous mill. A great invention. For Armco. For steelmakers everywhere. For my dad and his family, it was a disaster. Fewer rollers were needed and shortly after receiving a letter of congratulations from Mr. Verity for 25 years of continuous service – “You are an established and recognized part of the very hub of our Armco organization” – Dad and many other “older rollers” were demoted. Relegated to part-time work.

Dad’s pride resisted. He quit. Standing for what he believed right was admirable. His timing was terrible. The nation’s most serious economic crash blasted him and his family like a Stealth Fighter Bomber. Dad lost everything: House. Touring car. Fada radio. He returned the love of his family. His determination to support that family. His faith in the Almighty.

He refused charity. (Called “relief.”) Supported the family with a day’s work here and another one there. In the summer he worked as a farmhand. Walked three miles to arrive at sun-up. Worked ’till sundown. Walked three miles back. In the winter he’d work anywhere. For an hour. A day. A week. One day he saw George Verity and Verity arranged for him to be rehired as a janitor. Dad didn’t mind. He had a job in steel again.

It took years for dad to completely recover from the trauma of unemployment. The struggle to put bread on the table. During those stressful years, when he was unable to find work, he sat in his very worn chair by the window in our double house on Yankee Road near Ninth Avenue, light his corncob pipe and stare out the window. Only his beloved Mary really knew the pain he suffered. And she stoically suffered with him every second of the way until her death in 1943.

In later years, however, he regained his “happy life.” He joined the Senior Citizens (then “Golden Agers”). Began dating. Going to dances. Serving as a square dance caller. Dad died in 1974. He was 94. The doctor said his heart just got tired.

July 15, I know he was sitting by a window in heaven looking down at Curtis Street reliving that very hot day when he rolled his first ton of steel for Armco.

After the 1929 crash, dad didn’t give me advice very often. Keeping the children on the straight and narrow became mother’s job. When dad did advise me, it was always the same: “I only went to the third grade. So you get an education. Don’t end up like I did.”

As a child I tried not to disobey. When I did I always ended up with a headache. The pain would start suddenly and rush upward as my dad’s large, steelmaker hand made a direct hit on the southern part of my anatomy.

I pray I can pass on to our children the same love of God and country and family and human relationships my dad passed on to me. True, dad, this is premeditated disobedience, but I really do want to end up like you did.”