A couple of old Sharon Steel hands talked about their days at the mill with The Herald before Sunday’s demolition.

“I remember it was a good place to work, it really was,’’ said Gene Bianco, the last union president representing production workers under Sharon Steel’s reign. “The camaraderie among the people was great.’’

A welder in the mill’s maintenance department, Bianco said he liked that Sharon Steel was a company where an employee could work their way up to the ladder.

“Our supervisors were of the old school,’’ he said. “They came up through the ranks and knew their jobs.’’

While close to 2,000 workers lost their jobs when Sharon Steel closed, a large percentage were able to retire and others got federal and state funding to go back to school.

“I know that some of those guys never were able to recover,’’ Bianco said. “But a lot of us were able to go out and find a job or get better educated to find other work.’’

Demolishing the smokestacks and the electric furnace building means removing visible landmarks of the Shenango Valley steel era, something Philip Smalley, former senior vice president of human resources for Sharon Steel, lamented.

“Those are old relics that have a lot of meaning to people,’’ Smalley said. “Unfortunately, they’re in the way of progress.’’

During his stewardship there were 2 a.m. phone calls made at his home calling for him to run down to the electric furnace to settle a dispute among the workers.

“I would go down in my T-shirt and have an exchange of words with the boys and typically they’d go back,’’ he said. “During my reign we never had a strike.’’

Not seeing the site for years, he recently drove past the area which was cleared of the old mill’s abandoned buildings.

“I think it looks really nice now,’’ Smalley said. “I couldn’t believe it, it’s the sign of the times. It will make way for new.’’

Various owners under different names produced steel at the Farrell site dating back to the late 19th century when it was known as Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corp. Sharon Steel operated an integrated steel mill at the location for more than 60 years and created steel used in Army helmets during World War II.

As foreign competition mounted, Sharon Steel found itself the victim of low steel prices and ownership that didn’t modernize the plant. Plunged into bankruptcy in April 1987, the company continued operating and emerged in December 1990 under new ownership.

After operating just a few years, steep financial losses forced the company to close in November 1992 and later that month file again for bankruptcy. At the time, 2,700 were employed at Sharon Steel.

Unable to convince the bankruptcy court to resume production, the company was sold in December 1994 to Caparo Group, a company headquartered in the United Kingdom. Renaming the plant Caparo Steel Co., Caparo resumed operations in part of the mill and produced steel using its electric furnace. Using the blast furnace was never in the cards and Caparo had the furnace demolished as scrap.

Once again the plant fell into financial trouble and Caparo sold much of the steel equipment in December 1998 to privately-held Duferco Group, a Swiss-based company. Renamed Duferco Farrell Corp., the company continues producing steel at the plant but doesn’t use a blast furnace or electric furnace. Instead, Duferco relies on buying slabs which are rolled into steel coils.

Caparo Group owns the land next to Duferco which had housed a number of the antiquated Sharon Steel buildings. Those buildings and other structures have been demolished in recent years to make way for future industrial development.

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