Ex-steelworker keeps memory of Bethlehem Steel from rusting away

(CBS News) BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- The steel mill in Bethlehem, Pa., has been shut down for a decade, but Richie Check, who spent more than 40 years working there, still can't get used to the silence.

Richie Check collects artifacts from Bethlehem Steel, where men and women made the steel that built America.
Richie Check collects artifacts from Bethlehem Steel, where men and women made the steel that built America.
CBS News

"There's no more whistles, no horns, no nothing," he says. "It makes you cry."

Check is 80 years old now. His father worked in the plant, and so did his nine brothers and sisters. It was a place where 32,000 men and women made the steel for ammunition, aircraft and battleships during both world wars. The Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, 80 percent of the buildings that make up the New York City skyline: they were all built with Bethlehem steel.

Check and other steelworkers started a group called the Steelworkers Archives. They're working to preserve the memories by collecting artifacts from Bethlehem Steel, like the brass ID buttons workers wore. Check is curating his own small museum.

The Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, 80 percent of the buildings that make up the New York City skyline: they were all built with Bethlehem steel.
The Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, 80 percent of the buildings that make up the New York City skyline: they were all built with Bethlehem steel.
CBS News

Now a volunteer tour guide for the city, Check wants to make sure the life he cherished is remembered -- a time when a factory job could send three kids to college.

"If it had not been for Bethlehem Steel, they would've never gone," he says. "Never."

Once a week or so, Check gets together with a group of retired steelworkers to talk about this way of life that once defined America. He can't help but choke up, as the group of men keeps getting smaller.

"You know that person, you won't see him anymore, just like Bethlehem Steel," he says.

Tearful as he is, Richie Check is determined that mourning the memories won't stop him from honoring them.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.

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