Rick Rowlands remembers being a little boy in Hubbard and watching the trains leaving Valley Mould Company. Initially attracted to the trains, the little boy soon became aware of the hot metal cars that left the small town every day. As he grew older, Rick became interested in the history of steel in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.
When he turned 18, Rick and a group of friends organized the Youngstown Steel Heritage Foundation in an effort to save the remaining blast furnace that stood at the Brier Hill Works of Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company. That effort failed in spite of a benefit concert by Bruce Springsteen.
After graduating from Hubbard High School in 1992, Rick found himself working in a factory and dreaming about steel. The mills in the Youngstown-Warren area had closed beginning in 1977. He began finding ways to gain permission to enter the now idle mills.
''I called it urban exploration,'' Rick laughed.
He began to look at the equipment that was remaining. It was during one of these visits that Rick had his inspiration. He would build a museum to honor the once great area steel industry.
One piece of equipment that particularly caught his attention was a 26- ton, 4,000-horsepower, stationary steam engine that had powered one of Youngstown's rolling mills. He traced its history to the Brier Hill Works of Youngstown Sheet and Tube. The engine had been made by the William Tod Company Foundry. He christened it the Tod Engine. Through the generosity of North Star Steel and with the help of their chief environmental engineer Jeff Bindas, the engine was donated to Rick and his upcoming museum.
Rick began to strategize, not only as to how he could obtain more equipment, but also as to where he could store it until he got his museum built.
When Rick was 22, the Tod engine was removed for storage to the North Star facility in Girard. That same year, Rick lost his job in Hubbard. He worked various jobs for the next four years, including a stint for CSX railroad. At that point, he and his wife Zara, a professor at Youngstown State University, decided that it was time for Rick to devote his entire attention to his life passion - building the museum.
By July 2007, he had secured land and the Tod Engine, together with an 1893, overhead crane, possibly the oldest in America, were moved to the site. Rick's goal is to restore the engine to working order so that people can view the massive machinery that was necessary to operate the Youngstown-Warren steel mills.
I met with Rick recently at the site of the museum, and he showed me the diesel train and the hot metal car that were donated to the museum as well. He hopes to have these operational in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Tod Engine in September 2014.
The Youngstown Steel Heritage Foundation has gone on to become one of the most successful grassroots organizations in the country dedicated to the preservation of the history of steel in America. They have recently expanded their mission to include the preservation heritage of all manufacturing in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, not just steel. They believe it is important to begin to educate the public about the renewed importance of manufacturing and the opportunities that a strong manufacturing center will provide to the entire region.
The Foundation proposes to transform the Youngstown Steel Heritage Museum into a center for manufacturing history and education. The new center would have a heavy emphasis on outreach and hands-on workshops to spark interest in science, mechanics and math in young people. Given this opportunity, it is the hope that some of them would decide to pursue careers in the trades.
This Saturday, between the 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the Youngstown Steel Heritage Museum, 2261 Hubbard Road, Youngstown, will hold an open house. Admission is free. Visitors are invited to come and spend time with Rick and other members of the Foundation to take a firsthand look at a museum in progress.
O'Connor is a Brookfield resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org