The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

June 1, 2014

Retirees retiring club

Group ends due to dwindling membership

SHARON — The Westinghouse Retiree Club has decided it’s time to retire the club.

Now 30 years since the Sharon Westinghouse Electric Corp. transformer plant closed, the group said their numbers dwindled to the point where the organization can no longer survive. Once numbering well over 500, only five or six people attend the club’s monthly meetings these days.

“Nobody wants to help anymore. We’re all wearing out,’’ said Don Eichelberger, a Westinghouse retiree and club member.

Most of the surviving club members are now in their 80s and 90s, which makes it harder for many of them to get around to attend meetings and events, agreed fellow retiree and club members Raymond Agosti and Henry Holmes. As proof, Eichelberger and Agosti are 91 and Holmes is 95.

The club’s last meeting will be held June 11 at Buhl Farm park in Hermitage.

This club isn’t unique. Last year the Sharon Steel Retiree Club disbanded when its membership fell over the years. The Farrell steelmaker closed its doors in the early 1990s and now operates as NLMK Pennsylvania.

Sitting down together, the three former Westinghouse men talked of their experiences at the local plant. At its height during World War II, the plant employed 10,000.

As the elder statesman of the group, Holmes began working at the Sharon plant in 1937. To put that in perspective, that was the same year the Hindenburg crashed, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean and when US Steel raised workers’ wages to $5 a day – that’s right, a day.

“I used to catch the streetcar that ran through town to get to work,’’ said Holmes, who worked the evening shift. “I had to walk back home because the street car didn’t run that late at night.’’ (And for further perspective, streetcars stopped running in Sharon more than 74 years ago).

Working at the plant for 44 years, Holmes was a production supervisor at the transformer plant. But during World War II when the plant shifted production to torpedoes, he was among the select group who tested the weapon at the Pymatuning Reservoir. Contrary to rumors, none of the torpedoes tested were lost in the lake, he added.

“I can tell you, I didn’t lose any,’’ he said with a chuckle.

Serving in World War II, Eichelberger and Agosti began working at the plant in 1947 – about 18 months after the war ended. By then the plant had resumed full-blown production of transformers. As the name suggests, a transformer takes high voltage electricity from a transmission line and transforms it into low-voltage electricity for use in homes and businesses.

Eichelberger was an electrical tester, while Agosti was a coil winder. A coil winder wound copper wire by hand at multiple levels in the transformer.

“It took three to four days to wind the coil around a single transformer,’’ Agosti said.

Most of the buildings at the Sharpsville Avenue location were identified by letters. For example, the “A’’ and “B’’ buildings were areas that produced small transformers while the “H’’ building created the larger transformers and the “Z’’ building housed the copper shop, the men said. Many of those buildings remain, but some of the sprawling plant, which now serves as a multi-tenant industrial and office site, is gone.

A tunnel ran beneath Clark Street from the H to Z buildings where workers and materials could go without being outdoors.

“Anything made in the Z building was too large to transport through the tunnel, so they railed it in,’’ Eichelberger said.

Eventually, that tunnel was closed and filled in.

There were some special moments at the plant for the men. Among them was when larger transformers were tested.

“For the really big transformers we had to call Penn Power six hours before we cranked them up to test because they used so much electricity,’’ Holmes said. “The electric company had to put extra power on the line so we could test them.’’

Retiring at 58 just before the plant closed, Eichelberger said he needed to exit because of the stress. During the late ’70s and early ’80s there were fewer employees doing more work.

“They loaded too much on you,’’ he said.

It was hard to watch the company close its local production doors for good in 1984, Holmes said.

“I was real depressed,’’ he said of the closure. “It was an ideal place to work. It was good to me.’’

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