The Cauldron of Time

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Memories buried in the cauldron of time

Last coke fires long extinguished

What was once the source of steel making

left to turn to rubble.

Hollow shells of coke ovens

buried in the hillsides

Specters of the past // once alive

Now // just ghosts…

with eyes that have no fire.

Swallowed up by nature’s blanket

overgrown and hidden

for the last seventy years.

Once beehives of life and work

Now, just crumbling brick walls

stained with memories of the past;

Unsigned…

with names of countless men

who’s sweat and toil

were the first

to make America Great!

Coke ovens burning at night

Coke Ovens burning at night.    –   Ed West Photo

In September of 2010, two of my brothers and I went back to our hometown of Masontown, Pennsylvania where we grew up. We spent four days driving around, visiting friends, and reliving memories of our childhood. It was a wonderful time. One of the things we wanted to do was find some old Coke Ovens that were buried in the hills nearby. When I was a child, they burned day and night lighting up the hillsides like jack-o-lanterns.  The smoke poured into the air and was blown away by the wind. The gasses were burned off the coal then it was watered down and only the coke that remained. There was not EPA to worry over the environment back then. The coke was loaded into cars and hauled to Pittsburgh to fuel the steel mills.

With the help of a friend, we found some coke ovens down along the river at the little mining town patch of Mount Sterling. Most of the houses were gone and it was greatly overgrown with vegetation.  We hiked through the weeds and underbrush and found the abandoned ovens crumbling but many still in tact. We made and shared great memories on that trip back in time.

Coke oven workers

Backbreaking work day after day at the coke ovens.   –  historical archives

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Photos; Dwight L. Roth

48 thoughts on “The Cauldron of Time

  1. Dwight, wonderful, nostalgic poem and photos! thank you for this post. The photos brought back memories of early childhood trips to my grandparents’ house. As we drove through Pittsburgh at night, the coke fires in the steel mills glowed around us. My grandfather worked in steel mills as a young man. Pittsburgh is very changed since those industrial days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Cheryl. It was a great trip and we took enough time to do everything we wanted and saw the folks we still knew who were still alive.
      Pittsburgh was a very dirty city during the coal and coke era. It is amazing how it has cleaned up and become a very desirable place to live. Steel mill work was very hard work. Your grandfather must have been a strong man.

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  2. Such a powerful wonderful tribute with poem and photos and memories, Dwight! Your words take us right there!
    So many men and women in our history that we need to be grateful for! Such hard work they did to ensure a future for our country.
    (((HUGS))) 🙂 Hope you all are having a good Whee-kend! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Carolyn. It was the first time I was actually that close to a Coke Oven. When I was young and they were operating, it was not a place to visit. They were all over Fayette County at the time. It was very hard work and the Coal Company owner H.C. Frick controlled the lives of so many of those families . Sort of like volunteer slavery!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow. Incredible memories, from decades passed and in 2010. Your poem and story offer insight into a life and vocation that most of us do not have first-hand, or even second-hand knowledge of. Creative metaphors and imagery in your poem. Thank you for the share.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am wondering how beautiful the pictures are, obviously its well taken too. Thanks for mentioning his name, now I can find him and ask him for some photography tips as well. In fact, the writeup matches with the pictures, a total nostalgic feeling throughout the article.

    Like

  5. We lived in Martin, Pa on the hill. My brother was 5 years old and somehow took off alone to explore. I ran searching for him and found him at the coke ovens near by and took him home but not quick enough since his shoes were burned on the bottom. Lesson learned.

    Betty Kasmala-Janas

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for the memories. I used to live in Masontown, Pa. and remember the smoke as well as the miners yelling form one corner bus pick up to the other bus pick up to take them to work in the mines or at the coke ovens. They would yell, “hey Wallio, where you vorkiing today ” The other minor would yell back, Buckeye (mine) then laugh out loud waking small kids who could ear them , Sometimes the grit in the smoke was so bad that the clothes left to dry on the clothes line would get dirtier than before they were washed !

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