I had the pleasure of meeting Larry Neff, a fellow author, at a recent book signing. After listening to him talk to me about his book for a while, I decided I had to buy and read it, especially since my dad worked there for many years, retiring in 1980. He never really talked about his job, but because Larry Neff wanted to share his stories, and near death experiences, I learned a lot about being a steelworker.
The demands of a rigger were much more than many employees could stand up to and Larry told the stories with great passion, humor and depth. I never knew that working there was that dangerous, again, probably because nobody I knew who worked there shared their stories.
I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to know more about what working at Bethlehem Steel was like. Granted, not everyone worked like riggers, but Larry Neff's book will give you a great overview of a lot of the steelmaking process.
Rigger: A Memoir from High School to High Steel
This world doesn’t exist anymore. It was a time when jobs were plentiful and workers were scarce. The Vietnam War raged on, dividing the county. The sexual revolution was here, embraced with open arms. The selective service was collecting young men who didn’t wish to be soldiers. Women sought a well-deserved equality. Music was changing, giving us protest songs to help stop a war. It was a time when, with only a high school diploma, you could follow your father into a high-paying but very dangerous industry. This is a story of a young man’s quest, raised on traditional morals and values, to find his way through this tumultuous era, adhering to some of his values and discarding others.
It is also a story of survival in the very dangerous occupation of “hanging iron”. Mr. Neff, the son of a steelworker, joined the ranks of Bethlehem Steel employees in 1972, and became a rigger in 1975. The rigger crews in the Steel Company did the jobs that were deemed too high, too hard, or too dangerous for other departments to handle. They also had a certain reputation for being somewhat crazy, but able to get the job done.
This is a sometimes light-hearted and always uncensored view of day-to-day work in the Bethlehem Steel mill. You’ll read about close brushes with death, about a young woman’s quest to become the first female rigger in a male-dominated workplace, and the playful and sometimes rough antics of co-workers. This book talks of life among rivers of molten iron, walking steel hundreds of feet in the air, and the men (and the woman) who were tough enough to do it. You’ll read of “snakes”, rats, ghosts, picking locks, explosions planned and unplanned. It will illicit snorts of laughter and perhaps a tear or two, and give you a view into a world that few have ever known.