Monday, June 1, 2009

Then and Now

What Happens in Clairton....

Clairton Then: At least 16 new car dealerships, Service stations pumping gas under brand names of Enco (Miller anad Wylie Avenues) Sunoco (Miller and Halcomb Avenues), Nikloich Service (Miller and Park Avenues) Mobil (St. Clair at State Street), Gulf (St. Clair and Fifth Street), Atlantic and Cities Service (St. Clair and Sixth Street) Esso (St. Clair and Woodland Ave.), HC (Woodland Avenue and Halcomb), Spur on State Street, and several others.

Clairton Today: There are no new car dealerships and a handful of used car lots, but many people simply place a “For Sale” in their car window and park the car in an area they hope it will be noticed. Most of the gas stations have closed or changed service. The Enco on Miller became a Stop-n-Go. The Sunoco became Carl’s Auto Repair. Nikolich Service closed. The Gulf station next to the post office that also sold Willys autos still sells cars. Cities Service became a beer distributor. The Esso station was razed and a Chinese restaurant stands in its place and the HC station is now a used car lot.

The U.S. Today - cars: Of the cars sold at the 16 American new car dealerships, Crosley, Kaiser-Frazer, Hudson, Packard, Studebaker, Rambler, and American Motors no longer exist. General Motors today announced it is officially bankrupt. Thus, of the GM cars sold in Clairton, Pontiac will no longer be produced and Chevrolet will be one of probably three GM nameplates that will survive. Chrysler Motors is hanging on by its fingernails and is predicted to also enter bankruptcy shortly and of the Chrysler products once sold new in Clairton, Desoto is long gone as a brand, Plymouth is iffy, and the Dodge and Chrysler nameplates hang on for the moment. Willys, ironically, sold its Jeep nameplate to American Motors, which in turn sold the brand name to Chrysler and has been Chrysler’s strongest revenue source. Ford is the only one of the “Big Three” to remain standing, which is also ironic as it had gone through a phase of buying up foreign brands including Saab, Volvo, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Merkur. But they rid themselves of all foreign nameplates except Volvo, which may also soon be jettisoned.

The U.S. Today – Service Stations: Over the years the term “Service Station” in America changed to “Gas Station” as services such as window washing, oil and tire checks and the like disappeared. The brands in logos from Clairton stations also changed. Enco was brand names for Humble Oil, a brand that traces its roots to Humble Texas in 1911. The Enco brand started in 1960 as an acronym for ENergy COmpany. Humble Oil also featured Esso brand and mottos were “Happy Motoring,” and later “Put a Tiger in your Tank.” But when the company realized the Japanese word for Enco meant “Engine Failure,” they rebranded both Enco and Esso to Exxon, in 1972. “Atlantic Keeps your Car on the Go,” touted Atlantic stations, but merged with Richfield Oil to become ARCO, whose east coast stations were acquired by Sunoco. Cities Service merged with Gulf Oil and became CITGO, and in 1986 was purchased by Petroleos Venezuela. In sum, none of the gasoline brands that graced the signs of Clairton in the 1950s exist today.

Clairton Works Then:
In 1946 Clairton Works was using 30,000 tons of coal daily to produce 21,000 tons of coke for the blast furnaces. By 1950 a new battery of sixty-one coke ovens went into operation placing the total number of ovens at 1506. By 1952 Clairton Works set a record high of monthly output when open hearth steel production soared to 83,382 tons. In 1956 US Steel announced plans to build a multi-million dollar light oil plant at the world’s largest coke producing mill, Clairton Works. By 1960 two blast furnaces were taken out of operation as steel production declined. By the late 1960s environmental concerns began to be raised regarding dumping unhealthy residue into the rivers. In the 1970s production continued to plummet and issues of air pollution began to be raised more frequently.

Clairton Works Now: Although steel mills up and down the river have been long closed, throwing the entire Mon-Yough valley into fiscal recession, Clairton Works and its coke production plant hangs on. The community’s size has fallen by half since its heyday and issues regarding air pollution from the mill continue to be battled. On one hand what little income that still exists in the industry comes from what is still the largest coke-producing plant in the world. On the other hand, the air has been deemed to be among the unhealthiest in the country. US Steel recently announced the shutdown of three oven batteries, reducing the plant’s coke output by 25%. It has been more than 20 years since the City of Clairton was named an economically distressed community by Pennsylvania’s Department of Community Affairs. Some efforts have been made to right the economy but the once prosperous city continues to struggle with poverty and its related consequences.

The US Economy:
Some might say that Clairton was ahead of its time, or “as Clairton goes, so goes the nation.” For some of the same reasons – loss of industrial jobs – the nation currently is in the midst of its worst economic times in over 70 years. Most industries that fueled post World War II prosperity have been brought to their collective knees. The past decade of paper profits in real estate has disappeared into thin but polluted air, and the nation’s economy is on the brink of collapse. We have no clever answers or easy fixes to offer. But what once made this country great – sacrifice and ingenuity must again fix what is broken. We are optimistic that it will happen and when it does our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will enjoy another era of good times.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” by Danny O’Keefe

Dr. Forgot

No comments: