Men of Steel: Three Generations of Mill Workers

Ken Kobus spoke with his friend Ron Baraff.  Their conversation was recorded in Pittsburgh.

Ken Kobus, left, and Ron Baraff were recorded in Pittsburgh. StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps
The J&L steel plant in 1952. At its height, the plant had at least 10,000 workers. i i

The J&L steel plant in 1952. At its height, the plant had at least 10,000 workers and was about 5 miles wide. Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area hide caption

itoggle caption Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area
The J&L steel plant in 1952. At its height, the plant had at least 10,000 workers.

The J&L steel plant in 1952. At its height, the plant had at least 10,000 workers and was about 5 miles wide.

Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area
The J&L steel plant in the 1980s. i i

The J&L steel plant in a picture taken in the 1980s in Pittsburgh. Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area hide caption

itoggle caption Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area
The J&L steel plant in the 1980s.

The J&L steel plant in a picture taken in the 1980s in Pittsburgh.

Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area

"The mill was always in my life, even as a baby."

That statement is as true for Ken Kobus as it was for his father — and his father's father. In 1906, Kobus' grandfather started work at the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.

Kobus grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the south side of Pittsburgh, just eight blocks from the steel mill where three generations of men in his family worked.

As Kobus, 58, tells his friend Ron Baraff, steel-making has left an indelible imprint on his father — and on Kobus himself.

Ron Baraff works at the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, a project designed to preserve the history of steel mills — and the legacy of workers like those in the Kobus family.

All told, Kobus' father and grand-father each worked at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation-Pittsburgh Works for 47 years. So it came as no surprise when the younger Kobus started work at the same plant in 1966.

In doing so, Kobus joined his father on the job — and formed a bond with him that he says his siblings don't share. The J&L mill in Pittsburgh ceased operations in 1998.

This piece was produced for 'Morning Edition' by Piya Kochhar and Katie Simon.

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