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The independent voice of
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MAY 20, 2020
IN 2019
The Normandie Whistle
by Dennis Pearson
A whistle that once bellowed for the world's richest and most
elegant people and then for steelworkers in Bethlehem before on
Tuesday, June 9, 2009, for the Grand Opening of the Sands
Resort Casino- Bethlehem.

The 150 P.S.I Steam Whistle from the luxury French cruise liner, S.
S. Normandie, was housed on the roof top of # 1 Boiler House for
many years. It had been salvaged from a ship yard in New York
City by the Bethlehem Steel Corp. after a disastrous fire and
sinking during renovations in 1942.

In 1935, the whistle first adorned the French-built S.S. Normandie,
considered the "world’s greatest, most luxurious, most loved"
cruise liner according to Stephen Lash, President of the Ocean
Liner Museum's Board of Directors. His comment was made at a
press conference in Bethlehem Pennsylvania on April 20, 1985,
when the whistle was turned over by the Bethlehem Steel Corp. to
the museum.

When the 1,019-foot ship was cruising the Atlantic, the whistle
announced arrivals and departures for the famous liner, which
carried 3,326 people including crew. When World War II arrived,
the 79,280-ton French ship was brought to New York Harbor to
keep it out of the hands of the Nazis who had taken over France
at the onset of WWII and to convert the famous cruise liner into a
troop carrier. On February 6, 1942, as it was being converted to a
troop ship in New York, a welder's torch started a fire that raced
through the ship. Water poured on it by fire boats capsized the

Later that month the U.S. Navy hired a commercial salvage firm,
Merritt, Chapman & Scott, a firm associated with the Bethlehem
Steel Corp., to take apart the Normandie's superstructure,
including its whistles. Bethlehem Plant General Manager David
Blackwell stated (April 20, 1985), "Someone had the foresight not
to throw out this beautiful brass whistle." Harvey Ardman, in his
1984 book, Normandie: Her Life and Times, records that in 1946-
1947 ten railroad cars full of the ship's steel left daily from a
Newark scrap yard for steel mills in Pittsburgh, Coatesville, and
Bethlehem. In Bethlehem, Raymond Hess of Allentown and his
friends found the brass steam-powered whistle in a railroad car
and placed it on the roof of #1 Boiler House.

Number 1 Boiler House and its companion, # 2 Boiler House of
Bethlehem’s Steam, Water and Air Department, were taken down
sometime after July 4, 1999. The only evidence that exists today
of the location of # 1 Boiler on the former grounds of the
Bethlehem Steel Company is the former railroad inlet for the
Boiler House that is tied to the Masson-Hoover trestle going to the
Blast Furnace from the former Ore-pit -- now the Sands Resort

For many years the whistle announced shift changes and plant
emergencies. It also served as a fire call for City of Bethlehem
fires. The whistle last rang out in Bethlehem on November 24,
1984, for testing, only to be removed from the roof top of #1
Boiler House the same day. The bell had suffered some damage
in its removal and needed some repair. It had not been rung
regularly since 1952 when the powerful valve stuck open for two
hours before it was silenced in fear of a repeat performance and
the fear that it would become an irritant to the neighborhood
surrounding the plant. According to Hess, the 620-lb. steam
whistle shook the boiler house every time it blew and would let
loose a stream of dust every time it blew.

On June 3, 1985, the 50th Anniversary of the Normandie's arrival
in New York after her maiden voyage, the city's South Street
Seaport arranged with the local utility, Consolidated Edison, to
have the steam power attached to the ship's whistle. The curator
at the American Merchant Marine Museum and a founder of South
Street Seaport said: "It was so loud, local merchants asked us
never to do that again." Consequently, it was never rung adjacent
to the South Street Seaport again and found a new home in the
bell and whistle collection of Steven Millstar at the Platt Institute in

The 620-lb whistle did provide some difficulty for the maintenance
people to remove.  At one point the heavily used hemp rope
began fraying on the roof, and it took an effort to keep the whistle
under control. The last thing these guys wanted to do was to let
the whistle fall to the ground below. But that is what happened
when the rope broke. The whistle fell 24 feet to the paved court
yard. Luckily, for the Oceanic Liner Museum and the Company
the fall produced only minor damage and was easily repaired.
Personnel involved in the removal of the whistle from # 1 Boiler
House included: Donald Sandt, Millwright Foreman, Steam Water
and Air Dept.; Harvey Bartholomew, Millwright and Working
Sam Devan, Millwright; Bob Hrichak, Millwright; and
Clarence Coverly, Mechanical Helper. Dennis Pearson was the
Stoker Tender of the Beitenhausen Oil Boilers in #1 Boiler House
which provided the energy to the blow the whistle.

(c) 2008/2009 by Dennis L. Pearson   All Rights Reserved --- No
part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and
recording or by any information storage or retrieval system,
without permission from the author.
Normandie Whistle as it appeared in 2009 for Grand
Opening of Sands Casino Resort - Bethlehem
Normandie Whistle in the 80's when it was taken off the Roof of # 1 Boiler
House near the Blast Furnace

Personnel seen in picture L to R

Millwright Sam Devan, Millwright Bob Hrichak, Millwright Helper
Coverly and Millwright Foreman Donald Sandt

The Normandie Whistle was connected to the Boiler system in #1 Boiler
House run by a Stoker Tender ... Dennis Pearson was at the Stoker when
the Normandie Whistle was being removed ... The Boiler System in # 1
House was for years run by perhaps 12 Beidenhauser  Coal Burners which in
later years was sublimated by a by-product gas from the Blast Furnace, a
by-product gas from the Coke Works, Natural gas from a utility and Oil.

For years its deep bellowing tone was blown at shift change and for plant
It was June 1965, the Pearson family was gathered at Walp's
Restaurant in Allentown to celebrate my graduation from Dieruff
High School. In attendance was my father Kenneth, mother
Christine, sister Beverly, paternal grandfather Elmer Pearson,
step grandmother Zilpah, paternal great-aunt Pearl Buss, paternal
aunt Dorothy Moyer and her husband Frederick, and maternal
grandmother Emma Kohler. It was a nice send off to a new phase
in my life. In September 1965 I would enroll at Kutztown State
College (Kutztown University.).

Living near Dieruff High School, which had been opened
September 1959, my family became accustomed to the
procession of graduating seniors marching from west to east
along E. Washington Street from the school's auditorium to the
school's gymnasium. Those were the days of two processional
marches. The first, held on a Sunday was a religious service. The
second, held during mid-week was a diploma awarding ceremony.
Inasmuch as I was a member of the school band, I did not take
part in this procession of cap and gowned seniors.  Neither did I
walk on stage to receive a diploma. That honor was reserved for
Class President Donna LeGerda who accepted the Louis E.
Dieruff High School Diploma for the entire class. The rest of us
later received our Diplomas individually in the school cafeteria
when we turned in our cap and gown.

Sometime later, due to U.S. Supreme Court decisions on school
prayer, the religious ceremony for graduating seniors was
discontinued. Even later, the diploma awarding ceremony was
transferred to Stabler Arena on the campus of Lehigh University.
Consequently, the annual processions of cap and gowned
seniors which my family and the surrounding community came to
enjoy as an award for putting up with unpredictable teenage
behavior during the school year was transferred out of the

A few days after the family gathering, I accepted employment at
the Bethlehem Steel Corporation for the summer. It was my fate to
be assigned to the #2 Machine Shop. At the time the #2 Machine
Shop was the longest and biggest machine shop in the United
States if not the world. I was in awe of the immensity of the shop.
The multi-storied red brick, steel support, and fogged window
building seemed to be over a mile in length (actually only 1,770
ft.). After an orientation session with the shop's superintendent
and a guided tour of the shop given by the shop's safety man, a
frail man wearing a white helmet with a green cross on, I was
introduced to the area foreman who quickly handed me a push
broom and set me off on patrol of the shop's yellow bordered
walking lane which ran the length of the shop. Wearing a bright
yellow helmet with the rookie identifier marker of a red
criss-crossing stripe on top, safety glasses and safety gloves, I
diligently attacked intruding metal chips, oil and grime.
Occasionally my patrol would be interrupted to assist the operator
of a big overhead crane and the ground-based machinist in the
precarious placement and removal of unmachined and machined
material. I can testify that some of these pieces were really huge.
Within a few weeks I was assigned to the tool crib. My job was to
provide the shop's incentive paid machinists with the required
blueprint and tool. If I recall correctly, the job paid $2.50 per hour
as compared with my $15.96 price tag at shutdown in 1998.  I put
much of my summer earnings in the bank to defray the cost of my
college tuition and board. I never applied for or received a student
loan for my education at Kutztown State College.

I had no car in those days, so on day shift I shared a ride with my
father who worked at the steel's Construction Warehouse. But my
schedule was complicated by a rotation from day shift to night
shift to middle shift and back again to day shift to start over the
cycle. Thus, on many occasions my father would drive me to work
for night shift and head back home. In the morning he would
return with the car and park it at a pre-arranged location for my
pick-up. I would use the vehicle to drive home and would pick up
my father at the Construction Warehouse at the end of day shift.
So it went the summers of 1965, 1966, and 1967. For a brief time
in 1967 I was also assigned to # 8 Machine Shop in addition to #2
shop. In 1968, I was assigned to the Bridge Shop where I had the
opportunity to finish off the shop's Bridge Works with black paint.
During the years of my summer employment at # 2 Machine
Shop, an increasing number of Americans were being sent to
Vietnam, and this was reflected in what was primarily machined in
the #2 shop. I had to fill many requests from machinists for
blueprints relating to big naval and land artillery pieces and guns.
In later years, # 2 Machine Shop would obtain orders for shafts
for power plants and rods for the U.S. Navy Nuclear Program. But
that is now in the past as # 2 Machine Shop is only a shell of
what it was. In 1997 it was mainly used for repair work, and
BethForge explored the option to discontinue that function. The
business plan for BethForge was to expand the size of # 8
Machine Shop and rename it # 1 Machine Shop. Critics say that
#1 Machine Shop is too small and not designed well. They say
that BethForge should have kept #2 Machine Shop as its primary
unit. They say that #2 Machine Shop is more able to handle big
and small machined materials and has more storage space. But
that is all academic now.  Number 2 Machine Shop is not part of
the business plan for BethForge's new owners. BethForge was
one of three manufacturing subsidiaries set up at the Bethlehem
Plant about 1990. It manufactured forged items for machining as
electric generators. In the fall of 1997, BethForge was sold off to
the Lehigh Heavy Forge Corporation, a company that is part of
the West Homestead Engineering and Machinery Company
(WHEMCO) group of companies. WHEMCO is a division of the
Park Corporation, a Cleveland-based company that owns and
operates numerous manufacturing facilities that serve the
automotive, steel, petrochemical, heat-treating and other heavy

When I graduated from Kutztown State College in May 1969, I
never suspected that I would ever work again at the Bethlehem
Steel Company. My career goal was to become a teacher. That is
why I accepted employment with the City of Allentown as a park
instructor in the summer of 1969. What should have been a
happy and relaxing summer turned sour as I found it impossible to
find a teaching position. Career wise I was in limbo for four years.
There was no Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA)
program for me to help me gain suitable employment. I did receive
per diem employment as a substitute teacher from time to time,
but the money earned in that endeavor wouldn't have paid the
rent if I had to pay the rent. During that period, my parents were
my greatest supporters.

As it happened, in April of 1973 I found myself talking to the
Assistant Superintendent of the Steam, Water and Air Department
about a job the Bethlehem Steel Employment Office offered me.
This time the employment offer was of a regular nature not
seasonal. Once again provided the bright yellow helmet with the
criss-cross red stripes of a rookie, I was handed a broom. Within
a few days, I found that I had not entered paradise but descended
into the fiery depths of hell. Lucky was I that I never got burned by
the hot water, steam and fiery ashes that came out of the
backside of Boiler House # 5's coal-fired boilers. To be honest, I
never sweated so much when I emptied three coal cars in 100
degree Fahrenheit weather.

In addition to my father the following family members have worked
at the Bethlehem Steel through the years: My paternal
grandfather, Elmer Pearson, worked as a machinist at the East
Lehigh Plant located on Applebutter Road; my Sister, Beverly
(Pearson) Folk, worked for a time in a office at the Homer
Research Lab before transferring to a Bethlehem Steel Sales
Office in Philadelphia after marrying her husband Steven; my
paternal great aunt Pearl (Bindewald) Buss worked in the
Bethlehem Plant during World War II; and finally, my paternal aunt
Dorothy (Pearson) Moyer also had served in a steel office as well.

In late June 1998 # 2 Boiler House became the last Bethlehem
Steel - Bethlehem Plant production facility to close. Upon its
shutdown I had served twenty-five plus years in the Steam,
Water, Air and Power Department of the Bethlehem Steel
Company, mostly in # 2 Boiler House --- # 2 Feedwater
Pumproom. In that time I never had to walk a picket line and was
only laid off two months in 1976 when the coal-fired boilers of #1
House and #5 House were discontinued. My father was less
lucky. He endured a 116-day strike in 1959. As I am a son of a
retired steelworker and a third-generation steelworker at that, I
am indeed aware of the economic impact that the 116-day strike
had on the day-to-day finances of my parents. The United
Steelworkers of America Union strike fund provided some cash
and some groceries for striking steelworkers. Nevertheless, the
time arrived when my father found it necessary to take odd jobs to
supplement the income of my mother who worked in an Allentown
glove mill on Hanover Avenue. One job was as a traveling route
salesman for a Coffee Company; another job was as a
groundskeeper for a minor league ball club in Allentown, the
Allentown Cardinals. The Allentown Cardinals soon to be
succeeded by the Allentown Red Sox played their games in
Breadon Field, a ballpark once located at the intersection of
Grape Street and MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township. The
ballpark, later renamed Max Hess Stadium later gave way to a
shopping center known as the Lehigh Valley Mall.

(c) 2008/2009 by Dennis L. Pearson   All Rights Reserved --- No
part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and
recording or by any information storage or retrieval system,
without permission from the author.
The Last Cast
Cast at BOF
# 2 Machine Shop