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March 31, 2009 | Link to this story

Hoerr Pens First Novel

Category: News || By

(Correction appended April 2.)

A well-known journalist, labor historian and city native will publish his first novel this summer.

John Hoerr's new book, Monongahela Dusk, is set in McKeesport during the Depression and World War II.

A 1948 graduate of McKeesport High School and a Penn State alumnus, Hoerr is a former writer and editor for Business Week and producer at WQED-TV who covered labor issues in coal, steel, auto-making and other industries for four decades.

Hoerr's 1988 chronicle of basic steel's decline, And the Wolf Finally Came, has become a standard reference for labor and industrial historians.

His other non-fiction books include 1997's We Can't Eat Prestige, which describes the 1970s effort by a group of mostly female employees to organize the staff of Harvard University; and 2005's Harry, Tom, and Father Rice, an account of the sometimes scurrilous efforts to expel suspected Communists from the union representing Westinghouse Electric employees in the 1950s.

Hoerr currently resides in Teaneck, N.J.

. . .

Monongahela Dusk will be published by Pittsburgh-based Autumn House Press, a non-profit whose other authors include Samuel Hazo, a distinguished poet and professor at Duquesne University; Ed Ochester, general editor of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize at Pitt; Gerald Stern, whose work has won a Guggenheim fellowship and a National Book Award; and the late Patricia Dobler, director of the Women's Creative Writing Center at Carlow College.

A friend, Chatham University writing professor Peter Oresick, took Monongahela Dusk to Autumn House, Hoerr says.

. . .

According to Hoerr, Monongahela Dusk is set amid the struggles of the Steel Workers' Organizing Committee and the United Steelworkers of America to organize the industry.

The novel is the story of a traveling beer salesman, Pete Bonner, who picks up hitchhiker Joe Miravich, a blacklisted coal miner.

When the men overhear a plot to kill a prominent labor leader, they themselves become targets of racketeers and a shadowy industrialist who ordered the assassination.

The two escape harm but wind up taking divergent paths in McKeesport for the next decade --- Bonner becomes a wealthy businessman, while Miravich becomes president of a USW local.

. . .

Hoerr says he's been writing unpublished fiction for years.

"It's not a case of turning to fiction at the end of a reportorial career," he says. "This novel had been in the making for a long time."

But despite his past publishing track record, Monongahela Dusk almost didn't see the light of day. Hoerr was unable to attract attention from literary agents.

For a while, he says, he thought that publishers just weren't interested in stories set in the "Rust Belt." With the recent release of Philipp Meyer's American Rust, a crime novel set in a fictional Pennsylvania mill town, Hoerr says he now has his doubts.

"Maybe none of them could pronounce my name correctly," he quips.


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March 30, 2009 | Link to this story

Westinghouse Bridge Work Allows Pause for Reflection

Category: History, News || By

If you've been out on Route 30 in North Versailles Township lately, you know that the George Westinghouse Memorial Bridge is under construction.

A PennDOT spokesman says the 1,500-foot concrete span, built between 1929 and 1932, is one of more than 400 bridges statewide considered "structurally deficient." The bridge, which carries 24,000 cars per day, was last overhauled in 1983.

The state earlier this month began a $3.9 million, six-month project to replace parts of the bridge deck (including bearings and joints), repave the surface and perform other repairs.

General contractor on the project is Mosites Construction Co., based in Robinson Township.

Traffic on Route 30 between East Pittsburgh and North Versailles is restricted to a single lane in each direction while the work is being performed.

. . .

The Westinghouse Bridge spans Turtle Creek, Braddock Avenue and the Norfolk Southern (ex-Conrail, ex-Pennsylvania) railroad tracks.

When it opened for traffic in 1932, the bridge was the longest concrete-arch structure in the United States.

Towering 240 feet above the Turtle Creek valley, it remains one of the highest bridges in the nation and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

While the bridge itself is historic, a trip across the bridge also offers a perspective on the history of the Mon Valley that few other locations can match.

. . .

Motorists inbound to Pittsburgh who look to their left can see U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Works. Opened in 1875, it is the oldest continuously operating steel mill in the United States and the home of the last remaining blast furnaces in the Mon-Yough area.

In the distance --- on the opposite of the Monongahela River from ET --- the roller coasters of Kennywood are visible, along with the park's Pitt Fall ride.

. . .

On the right is RIDC's Keystone Commons industrial park. About 50 companies there employ roughly 2,000 people, according to published reports.

The 92-acre site was once the headquarters and main plant of Westinghouse Electric Corp., employing between 17,000 and 20,000 people at its peak. When it closed in 1988, the plant manufactured primarily large generators for power companies.

But at one time, Westinghouse's East Pittsburgh Works was the high-tech capital of Pennsylvania and from 1920 until roughly 1960, it was the birthplace of virtually all of Westinghouse's most historic innovations, including:

. . .

The East Pittsburgh plant nearly became the birthplace of television, too. Russian-born electrical engineer Vladimir Zworykin came to the Mon Valley in 1919 to become a research scientist for Westinghouse while simultaneously earning his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh.

Until the early 1930s, most experimental TV equipment employed a mechanical spinning wheel to scan pictures, which was impractical for any screens larger than a few inches tall. Zworykin was one of several pioneers who were trying to perfect television cameras and receivers that were fully electronic.

Many of his early experiments were performed at a Westinghouse transmitter building on Greensburg Pike in present-day Forest Hills. (The building is now a municipal park known as the Westinghouse Lodge.)

. . .

Unfortunately for Zworykin and the Pittsburgh area, Westinghouse officials didn't see any practical commercial value to television and encouraged the inventor to work on something "more practical."

In 1929 --- coincidentally at about the time that construction of the Westinghouse Bridge was getting underway --- Zworykin was recruited by David Sarnoff to work for the Radio Corporation of America, or RCA, in Camden, N.J. There, in 1931, Zworykin perfected the camera tube that he called the "Iconoscope," and the rest is history.

There's one other interesting side note. Eighty years ago this week, Zworykin demonstrated for the media what could be considered an early fax machine.

Zworykin's facsimile transmitter and receiver could send any standard-size document --- photos, handwritten diagrams and letters --- in less than a minute.

. . .

It wasn't the first system for scanning and transmitting still pictures; others had been demonstrated as early as 1903, and some commercial versions were in use by the 1920s.

But most of those systems could only scan transparencies, because light had to shine through the image being scanned. The system Zworykin used bounced a beam of light off of the image and then read the reflections.

"The day is not far off when you may flash a photograph or a letter of several hundred words to friends in Tokio, Paris, Buenos Aires or any distant point, in less than a minute," reported the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph on March 25, 1929.

"Dr. Zworykin's tele-photo system operates with or without wires. He has made exhaustive laboratory tests and has perfected his apparatus to the extent that its commercial adoption is promised for the near future." (You can read more at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.)

Of course, Zworykin was gone in "the near future," and Westinghouse's fax machine research was abandoned, denying the company another technological "first."

. . .

None of this information will make the traffic jams around the Westinghouse Bridge any easier to tolerate over the next six months.

But at least it may give you something to think about as you wait.

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March 25, 2009 | Link to this story

Propel Students Gather Gifts for Troops

Category: News || By

Students from a city charter school last month "adopted" a U.S. Army platoon based in Bagram, Afghanistan, sending soldiers about 15 boxes filled with toiletries, books and magazines, and "comfort" items like hot chocolate and instant coffee.

Teachers and staff at Propel Schools McKeesport contributed another five boxes.

The program at Propel McKeesport, located in the former St. Mary of Czestochowa elementary school on Versailles Avenue, was organized through the Adopt-a-Platoon website by two AmeriCorps volunteers, Steve Hussar of Bethel Park and Gracie León of Tuscon, Ariz.

The two are serving as tutors and classroom aides at Propel during the 2008-09 school year.

. . .

Propel McKeesport serves a population of students whose families are often struggling to make ends meet.

About half of all children in McKeesport are living below the poverty level, according to a recent U.S. Census estimate.

In 2007, out of 161 Propel McKeesport students in grades K-6, 143 were considered "economically disadvantaged," state Department of Education statistics indicate.

That makes their generosity especially noteworthy, says Hussar, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

"The fact that they would sacrifice and their parents would sacrifice is impressive," he says. "I'm really thrilled by the results of the entire project. It's gone better than I anticipated."

. . .

Hussar and León, a graduate of Virginia's Lynchburg College, were looking for a service project for students that would emphasize ways that they could help their communities or their countries.

Volunteers from Sonshine Community Ministries on Evans Avenue and two Iraq War veterans visited the school to talk about their different types of service.

The idea of adopting a platoon took off after the veterans visited, Hussar says.

For security reasons, neither Hussar or León knows the names or exact locations of the men in the unit that Propel McKeesport "adopted," but pupils quickly got excited about the project.

Some contributed Steelers memorabilia, including newspapers documenting the recent Super Bowl victory. One first grader made a poster from felt reading "America the Beautiful."

. . .

At the request of the Adopt-a-Platoon organizers, most students and faculty donated "comfort items" that are difficult to get in the field, including magazines, beef jerky, gum, shampoo, toothpaste and blank greeting cards that soldiers can send back home on birthdays and other occasions. More than 600 items were contributed altogether.

Pupils in second and seventh grade contributed the most items, and will be treated to a party on Friday to celebrate.

. . .

Adopt-a-Platoon warned Propel McKeesport that the soldiers may not be able to write back, but Hussar and León say pupils didn't seem to mind. (They're still hoping for some acknowledgment, or maybe some photos from "over there.")

The service project's success comes as the local school celebrates some more good news; two weeks ago, Propel McKeesport was named one of the top 21 charter schools in the United States by New Leaders for New Schools, a non-profit corporation funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and several other philanthropies.

The Effective Practice Incentive Community --- or "EPIC" --- award recognizes charter schools in poorer communities where students have consistently outscored peers, and where teachers have documented and shared their teaching methods.

. . .

Opened in August 2005, Propel relocated to the Versailles Avenue site in fall 2007 after a brief period at the former St. Nicholas Byzantine School, Downtown.

Currently hosting about 350 students in kindergarten through seventh grade, the school will add eighth grade next year. Besides McKeesport Area School District, students attend from Duquesne, Clairton, Elizabeth Forward, East Allegheny, West Mifflin and West Jefferson Hills.

The school has slated an open house for 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesday. (Reservations are requested. Call 412-325-7305, ext. 105.)

. . .

Hussar and León will wrap up their tours with AmeriCorps in September.

While Hussar will be looking for a teaching job in the Pittsburgh area, León is planning to head back home to Arizona.

She says her time in McKeesport has changed her mind about one thing. "I used to be a little bit scared of working with middle schoolers," León says, "but I found out I love working in a middle school."

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March 24, 2009 | Link to this story

Deep Thoughts

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

(Mildly bad language here. You have been warned.)


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March 24, 2009 | Link to this story

Cluttered Items from an Empty Mind

Category: General Nonsense, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

I was in the Golden Triangle two days after the St. Patrick's Day parade, and the sidewalks on the Boulevard of the Allies were still coated with green silly string and puddles of dried barf.

No, that wasn't from people who had just seen my picture; it was the aftermath of the "family friendly" St. Patrick's Day festivities.

If that's what was left behind from a "family friendly" parade, what were "family unfriendly" parades like? Orgies from gutter to gutter? People smoking doobies as big as telephone poles? The mind reels.

. . .

In case you've ever wondered what your humble correspondent really looks like, I'll be appearing on Pennsylvania Cable Network's "Pennsylvania Books" program at 9 p.m. April 26 to discuss For the Love of Murphy's.

Yes, they've had to go pretty down far down the list for guests. Of course, I collected my usual speaking fee, which is "zero."

The scheduled air date is subject to change, depending on whether I'm preempted by something more important, such as a state Senate subcommittee hearing on the price of paper clips.

. . .

The people at PCN told me I have an excellent face for radio. Which is funny, because people in the radio business say I have a great voice for print.

. . .

Actually, everyone was extremely nice and professional, and I was flattered to be invited.

But at one point, I joked with one of the crew members, "I hope you don't get too much glare off of the top of my head."

He replied --- in all seriousness --- "Don't worry, we're using a diffuser on the lights." Sigh.

Naturally, because this is Western Pennsylvania and everyone knows everyone else, he turned out to be from Glassport. (Start singing "It's a Small World After All.")

. . .

PCN's Pittsburgh studio is located in the Post-Gazette Building at 34 Boulevard of the Allies. I don't want to say that's a depressing building, but wow. The crows perched on the third-story window ledges are a nice touch. Couldn't they afford buzzards?

The interior is really cheerful, too. The last time I saw people who looked that happy, they were loading a casket into a hearse.

. . .

Speaking of newspapers, as of last week the Daily News editorial page is apparently being produced by its parent newspaper, the Tribune-Review, and the News itself is the "McKeesport edition" of the Tribune-Review.

The biggest change so far is that News subscribers are getting daily doses of such shining beacons of editorial excellence as Michelle Malkin. Ann Coulter has also returned.

This is good news, because if there's anything that the staunchly Democratic Mon-Yough area has been crying out for, it's a more conservative editorial page in the Daily News.

It's really hard to understand why newspapers are hurting; personally, I blame Craigslist and Google. Damn you, Internets!

. . .

It can't be long until the Daily News starts running the "Mallard Fillmore" comic strip. And "Pluggers."

You know you're a "Plugger" if ... you spend time submitting "jokes" to "Pluggers."

Does the Trib still run "Pot-Shots" by Ashleigh Brilliant? (Ashleigh may be many things, but based on "Pot-Shots," "brilliant" isn't one of them.)

Unfortunately, Trib years ago dropped the "Love Is ..." cartoon, which was aptly described by Homer Simpson as a comic strip about "two naked 8-year-olds who are married."

. . .

As long as the News keeps running "Funky Winkerbean" (or as Officer Jim calls it, "Funky Cancer-Cancer") and "Crankshaft," I'll be happy.

Man, characters in those two strips have a worse mortality rate than ensigns on "Star Trek." Yet the characters in "Pluggers" go on ... and on ... and on ...

. . .

You know you're a "Plugger" if ... you long for the sweet release of death.

. . .

Rest assured that Tube City Almanac will never resort to running mediocre syndicated features.

Oh, the opinions expressed here will continue to be crap, but at least it'll be local crap.

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March 23, 2009 | Link to this story

Sick Day

Category: General Nonsense || By

Although I'm not posting today because I feel a bit under the weather, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that Sunday was International Talk Like William Shatner Day.

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March 20, 2009 | Link to this story

Birthday Greetings

Category: Cartoons, General Nonsense || By

(c) 2009 Tube City Community Media Inc.

Happy 125th birthday to the Daily News! In an era when newspapers across the country are closing, the Mon-Yough area is lucky to have this "community institution."

. . .

Coincidentally, this is also the 12.5th anniversary of Tube City Online. Old-timers can still remember the day in 1996 when a brave pioneering web publisher first trucked a primitive Macintosh computer through the wilds of Liberty Borough in the back of a VW Jetta.

The first website --- then dubbed "McKeesport: The Tube City Home Page" --- rolled through the modem a few weeks later. Using rudimentary dial-up connections, millions of potential readers around the world paid no attention whatsoever.

The past decade-and-a-fourth has seen Tube City Online claw its way from irrelevance to obscurity.

Today, more than 1,800 readers every week visit Tube City Online, which is a publication of Tube City Community Media Inc., whose journalism empire consists of a Merriam-Webster dictionary held together with packing tape; a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook; and half a bottle of Titralac.

What will the next 12.5 years hold? If the past is any indication, then Tube City Online remains on the ladder of publishing success! No one knows, however, whether it's going up or down.

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March 19, 2009 | Link to this story

Heritage Center Seeks MASD Alumni Memories

Category: History, News || By

OK, you Tigers. Dust off those thinking caps. McKeesport Heritage Center is collecting memories of alumni for a future oral history exhibit.

Although the Heritage Center, located near the arboretum in Renziehausen Park, already has an extensive collection of memorabilia from McKeesport Area School District --- including trophies, photos, uniforms and "Yough-a-Mon" yearbooks --- it doesn't have many stories from former students and graduates.

Any student who attended any school in the McKeesport Area School District is invited to participate. The Heritage Center is seeking memories of favorite (and not-so-favorite) teachers, teaching methods, classes (current and defunct), recess games, parties, picnics, dances and athletics.

Even subjects as esoteric as school clothes, obsolete methods or technology, lunchtime habits and "writing on the blackboard" are of interest.

The ultimate goal will be to preserve for future generations the "sights and sounds" of area schools from the 1920s and '30s through the present.

The questionnaire is available as a PDF.

Completed questionnaires should be emailed to or sent via U.S. Mail to McKeesport School History Project, McKeesport Heritage Center, 1832 Arboretum Drive, McKeesport, PA 15132.


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March 18, 2009 | Link to this story

Free Tax Preparation, Homebuying Help Offered

Category: News || By

Mon-Yough area residents who need help preparing their municipal, state or federal tax returns can get free assistance three days a week through April 15.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, site is being sponsored by the Money in Your Pocket Coalition, a group of non-profit agencies supported by the United Way, a spokeswoman said.

Individuals who earned up to $20,000 last year and families who earned up to $40,000 may be eligible. The site is also able to file returns electronically.

Meetings with clients are being held at the McKeesport Employment and Training Center, 345 Fifth Ave., Downtown, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 4 to 7 p.m. and Wednesdays from 1 to 4 p.m.

Appointments are required. Call (412) 673-5300 and ask for extension 226.

The center is sanctioned by the Internal Revenue Service. Other sites are located in Monroeville, East Liberty and Pittsburgh's South Side.

Partners in the coalition include Just Harvest, the Parental Stress Center, Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, United Cerebral Palsy and United Way.

To find other VITA locations, call 1-800-829-1040.

. . .

In addition, the AARP Foundation's "Tax-Aide" program offers free tax preparation help from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays at the offices of state Sen. Sean Logan and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, 627 Lysle Blvd. An appointment is required. Call (412) 664-5200.

For Westmoreland County residents, AARP Tax-Aide volunteers are also available at the North Huntingdon Town House, 11279 Center Hwy., from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and at West Newton Senior Center, 103 E. Main St., 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Fridays (except April 10). An appointment is required for help at the West Newton location. Call (724) 925-6059.

To find locations in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties or elsewhere for the Tax-Aide program, visit the AARP website.

. . .

Homebuyers' Workshop April 11: Mon Valley Initiative and PNC Bank will host a workshop for first-time homebuyers from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 11, at the Courtyard by Marriott in West Homestead, a spokesman said.

Topics will include budgeting to purchase a home, shopping for a loan, closing procedures and maintenance. Attendees will also have the opportunity to schedule face-to-face appointments with MVI housing counselor Mike Mauer and get information on the local housing market and new home construction.

A light breakfast and lunch buffet will be provided. For more information about Mon Valley Initiative's housing counseling program or to register for the April 11 event, call (412) 464-4000 or visit MVI's website.

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March 17, 2009 | Link to this story

Busy, Busy, Busy

Category: General Nonsense, Obscure Ephemera, Pointless Digressions || By

The entire editorial team at Tube City Almanac is incredibly busy right now. Normal service should resume in a day or two. Thanks for your patience.

Hey, is anyone else interested in joining the editorial team? We (me and the mouse in my pocket) need contributors --- especially people willing to actually, y'know, report on stuff.

Email me. G'wan, you know you want to.

. . .

In the meantime, think of as many Burger Chef locations in the Mon-Yough area as you can. The only one I remember was on Route 30 in Circleville, directly across the street from Berks' Men's Wear (near Ben Gross' Supper Club).

Post Burger Chef locations in the comments. (Tube City hard hat tip to Lileks for the commercial.)

And we might as well trot out Winky's locations, too. I remember two --- one on Walnut Street in the city, near Long Run Road; and another on Route 51 in Pleasant Hills, just south of the cloverleaf.

Where else were there Winky's? (Not Wilmerding. There was no Winky's in Wilmerding.)

. . .

Finally, happy St. Patrick's Day. You don't have to be Irish to celebrate; the pastor at our church took great pains on Sunday to point out that St. Patrick was actually descended from Romans.

In other words, St. Patrick was Italian. Except that he was born in Scotland, which makes him Irish, Scottish and Italian.

Now I'm getting hungry for soda bread, ale and spaghetti. That's what I get for writing before breakfast.

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March 16, 2009 | Link to this story

Alcoa Couldn't Wait

Category: History || By

In this week's installment of "The Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix" at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online, we look back on Alcoa's involvement with one of the most famous moments in TV news history --- the March 9, 1954, episode of CBS' "See It Now."

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March 14, 2009 | Link to this story

Holy Hoops!

Category: Wild World of Sports || By

Sweet sainted mother of Red Manning!

Aaron Jackson and Melquan Bolding scored 24 points apiece to lead seventh-seeded Duquesne to a 77-66 upset of third-seeded Dayton in the Atlantic 10 semifinals Friday.

UD fell behind by six at the half and trailed by as many as 16 in the second half.

Duquesne (21-11) will face Temple (21-11) for the A-10 tourney crown and the league's automatic NCAA bid at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.
(Dayton Daily News)

Un-freaking-believable! Go Dukes!

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March 13, 2009 | Link to this story

Mood Lighteners

Category: General Nonsense || By

I don't know about you, but I feel like we need something to lighten the mood.

(Tube City hard-hat tip: Francesco Marciuliano)

Hey, it's Friday. The sun is shining. The fish is frying at every Catholic church and volunteer fire hall in the Mon Valley. Go down and get yourself a sammich and some halushki. Life's not so bad.

Also, did anyone catch last night's Duquesne basketball game? (I can't be the only Duquesne fan left in the Mon Valley.)

Somehow I always end up listening to Ray Goss and George Von Benko call the last couple of minutes of these games while I'm sitting in the car, in the driveway, with the motor off. (I'm sure the neighbors think I'm a weirdo, but that's not the only reason.)

Thursday night, it was all I could do to keep from blowing the horn and waking up half of the neighborhood. Woot!

I have no real expectation of the Dukes going to the NCAA tournament, but hearing them notch 20 wins in a season for the first time since 1981 --- and having them upset Rhode Island --- warms the cockels of my heart.

(I'm not sure what a cockel is, but they're warmed.)

The Dukes take on the Dayton Flyers tonight in the semi-finals of the A-10 tourney. Tipoff is 9 o'clock; PCNC and KQV (1410) will have the coverage.

Unfortunately, Dayton has had Duquesne's number lately, but no one thought the Dukes could beat Xavier or Rhode Island, either, so my fingers and toes are crossed.

By the way, Goss has out a pretty good book about his career in local radio, much of which has been spent calling high-school games in Westmoreland and Indiana counties. It's a quick read, but highly entertaining. Check it out.

And P.S.: I know I haven't congratulated the Serra High boys and Coach Bob Rozanski on a tremendous season. Mea culpa. Go Eagles!

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March 13, 2009 | Link to this story

Upon Further Review

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
--- John Maynard Keynes

After sleeping on it Thursday night, I've decided to withdraw Wednesday's Almanac.

I don't think all of the facts are in yet. Until they are, voicing any kind of a strong opinion on the topic is foolish, and I apologize if I shot my mouth off without cause.

P.S.: Don't worry, I saved all of the comments, including the ones that I agree with me, and the other ones that say I'm an idiot. They're running neck-and-neck, which accurately reflects real life, I think.

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March 11, 2009 | Link to this story

Nothing to See Here

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

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March 10, 2009 | Link to this story

Recovery Plan Stimulates Flyover Ramp

Category: News || By

At least two "shovel-ready" projects in the city are likely to be funded by the federal economic stimulus package.

The so-called "flyover" ramp that would connect Lysle Boulevard with the RIDC industrial park is almost guaranteed to benefit from the jumpstart plan approved by Congress and the Obama administration, according to Mayor Jim Brewster.

A less likely --- but also possible --- recipient of stimulus money is the proposed regional courthouse and public safety complex in the Third Ward.

Brewster is working with Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. to bring the complex to the city. The effort has attracted national attention.

"The project is shovel-ready," Brewster said last week. "They're not asking for the whole thing, but seed money."

Spokesmen for Onorato and the county's Department of Economic Development did not return phone calls last week seeking comment.

The flyover ramp is one of more than 70 highway and transit projects in southwestern Pennsylvania designated as eligible for federal recovery money.

Others in the Mon-Yough area include reconstruction of the intersection of Brownsville and Broughton roads in South Park, and resurfacing Route 30 in Hempfield Township.

Highway access to the industrial park is currently available only via railroad crossings at Locust and Center streets, which RIDC and city officials have called a barrier to development. The ramp to be built by Allegheny County at the foot of Coursin Street has been estimated at a cost of $14 million. (See a map in PDF form.)

The stimulus package commits almost $6 million in federal funding.

Another $5.6 million in federal money, pledged to the state Department of Transportation, was approved by the U.S. Congress in 2005 in an earmark to a transportation bill requested by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, Forest Hills Democrat.

Construction is expected to begin later this year.

News of the flyover ramp's funding comes on the heels of an announcement --- reported in the Daily News and Tribune-Review --- that Dish Network has extended the lease on its McKeesport call center, located in the industrial park.

The lease extension appears to end rumors (reported in the Almanac and elsewhere) that Dish might close or relocate the call center.

Brewster repeated a frequently repeated mantra --- that despite continuing problems, including street crime and abandoned properties, officials, business owners and residents need to work toward larger goals.

"Focus on the positive things that are happening in your city, not just the negative," he said.

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March 09, 2009 | Link to this story

Bank Manager Nets Jefferson Award

Category: News || By

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Cheryl Kubitz, manager of Huntington Bank's Lysle Boulevard office, was asked to attend last Wednesday's city council meeting. She spent two hours readying a detailed financial report.

Little did she know that the request was just a ruse to lure her into council's lair. When she arrived for the city council meeting, Kubitz was told the report wasn't necessary.

Instead, the city honored her with a proclamation recognizing her as the winner of one of seven local Jefferson Awards for Public Service.

. . .

Huntingdon Bank branch manager in the city for the past three years, Kubitz volunteers through Operation HOPE to teach students at Founders Hall Middle School and McKeesport Area High School about financial literacy --- skills such as balancing a checkbook, saving for future expenses and using credit wisely.

Often their questions help lead the conversation, she says.

"The feedback is wonderful," Kubitz says. "Sometimes I learn more than the children."

Besides her work with Operation HOPE, Kubitz has also volunteered with the Consortium for Public Education, the Teen LEED program at McKeesport YMCA, the Lions Club and the Highmark Caring Place, which counsels grieving families.

. . .

Each June at the Huntington branch office, Kubitz leads a collection drive for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, and each September, there's a winter clothing campaign, in cooperation with city police, firefighters and others.

"It's easy to do things for other folks," she says, "and everyone has been very wonderful and very supporting."

Awarded annually since 1972, the Jefferson Awards honor volunteers for their community services. More than 150 local organizations --- mainly newspapers and TV stations --- select local winners in 90 cities across the country.

. . .

In Pittsburgh, regional winners are chosen by the Post-Gazette from a pool of 50 "community champions" nominated by their peers. Highmark, the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments sponsor the awards locally.

Kubitz was nominated by Bill Long, manager of Operation HOPE's Pittsburgh office. During an awards ceremony Feb. 12 in Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland, PNC Foundation announced that it will donate $1,000 to Operation HOPE on Kubitz's behalf.

One person from each community is then selected by the national board of directors of the Jefferson Awards to represent their town or region in Washington, D.C.

. . .

Although she lives in Brookline, much of Kubitz's volunteer work has been done in the Mon-Yough area --- with one notable exception. Last year, she spent eight days in Guatemala on a medical mission sponsored by First Presbyterian Church of Murrysville.

As doctors and nurses met with villagers to set up medical clinics, Kubitz's job was to watch and entertain their children. "I don't speak a word of Spanish," she says, "but I have a friend who's a nurse and he said to me, 'You'd be perfect for this ... you like to volunteer.'"

Kubitz was moved to begin working in the community 20 years ago, when she was a single mom. A run of bad luck forced her and her two small children to seek help from a food pantry.

"Eventually, I decided that there was someone out there who needed help more than me," Kubitz says. Her kids --- now 24 and 31 --- have been supportive, she says.

"They know that I like volunteering and helping folks," Kubitz says.

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March 05, 2009 | Link to this story

Small Business Center Posts Hours

Category: News || By

Small business experts from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh are offering free consultations for Mon-Yough area residents on Fridays.

The sessions are being held at the offices of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle and state Sen. Sean Logan at 627 Lysle Blvd., Downtown, said John Dobransky of Pitt's Katz Graduate School of Business. The two universities staff the office on alternate weeks.

People interested in starting businesses or who already own their own business can get free advice on marketing, loans and other topics, Dobransky said. They cannot provide legal advice, however, and they cannot advise non-profit corporations, he said.

Although there is no fee for the initial consultation, an information packet for the additional consultations costs $25, Dobransky said.

Sessions at the Lysle Boulevard location are held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but appointments outside of regular office hours can be scheduled. Call Pitt at (412) 648-1542 or Duquesne at (412) 396-6233.

. . .

Traffic Officer Honored: The AAA has honored city police Sgt. Carl Kuzel for leading an effort to slow speeders and curb aggressive driving.

At Wednesday's city council meeting, police Chief Joe Pero presented Kuzel with a commendation from the motor club for reducing serious accidents in 2008. There were no fatal car crashes in McKeesport last year, Pero said.

The city was one of only two Allegheny County municipalities to deploy the new Electronic Non-Radar Device, or ENRADD, system on several streets. Manufactured by York County-based YIS/Cowden Group Inc., ENRADD uses infrared light to measure a vehicle's speed.

Kuzel is also a state-certified commercial vehicle inspector, Pero said.

. . .

New NAACP President: Ocie Paige is the new president of the McKeesport Branch of the NAACP.

Former president of McKeesport Area School Board, Paige is a city native who served in the U.S. Army for 20 years.

A veteran of Korea and Vietnam, Paige is now retired from the restaurant industry. He is the husband of Alease Paige.

. . .

Houses Sold: All four houses being constructed on the site of the former Union Avenue reservoir have now been transferred to their new owners, said Lani Temple, executive director of the McKeesport Neighborhood Initiative.

Groundbreaking on three additional houses is expected in April, she said. The development is a partnership between MNI, McKeesport Housing Corp., the city Redevelopment Authority and county, state and federal agencies.*

. . .

New Tenants: The Regional Business Alliance, created from the merger of several area chambers of commerce, has relocated to the former municipal building at Lysle Boulevard and Market Street. The move was completed Monday.

RBA has signed a five-year lease, city officials said, and will pay $650 per month to rent an office suite on the second floor. The offices were renovated by city public works crews.

Although the structure, now called the Public Safety Building, is still used by the police and fire departments, the second floor has been vacant since city administrative offices moved to the former McKeesport National Bank building at Fifth and Sinclair streets.

Twin Rivers Council of Governments may also relocate to the Public Safety Building from West Mifflin; the agency will vote on the move later this month.


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March 04, 2009 | Link to this story

Paintball and Countertops, Together Downtown

Category: Local Businesses, News || By

Allegheny County photoTwo new businesses combining the unlikely industries of paintball and custom-made countertops are coming to Downtown.

City council tonight is expected to formally approve a request by Compulsive Paintball Inc. for permission to use the former Palmer Pontiac garage at the corner of Market and Seventh streets as a retail store.

The same building would also house a small manufacturing facility for Lexmar USA, a manufacturer of stone and acrylic countertops and window sills.

The companies need a "conditional use" variance because of the zoning in the neighborhood, which would not normally permit light industrial use.

No one raised objections to the businesses at a public hearing Tuesday night, though a few people were amused by what seemed to them an unusual combination.

. . .

Lexmar USA is a partnership between Jonathan Stark of White Oak and Jason Coughenour of Christy Park, while Compulsive Paintball is Stark's business.

Currently located on Route 30 in North Huntingdon, near Stewartsville, the businesses have run out of room to expand, Stark says.

The Market Street building, recently used by several social-service agencies, contains about 9,000 square feet of office, storage and warehouse space, according to county tax records.

"It's going to require very little renovation," Stark says. "It's well suited to what we do."

Compulsive Paintball is about 10 years old and presently does most of its sales over the Internet, Stark says, but that could change when Compulsive moves to the city, because store hours will probably be expanded.

. . .

For the uninitiated, paintball hobbyists use compressed-air pistols that fire small projectiles of non-toxic paint at targets or one another, with the proper safety gear. (Think water pistol battles for grownups.)

The hobby was invented in the early 1980s, but its popularity increased over the past decade. Several paintball leagues have been organized and corporations now wage tournaments as team-building exercises. Games can be played indoors or outdoors.

Stark, a Penn State graduate, says his wife, Jennifer, introduced him to the hobby when they were dating.

No paintball matches will be held in the building on Market Street, Stark says, and the company doesn't have any immediate plans to organize any games. "We're not really a promoter," he says, "but we do supply paintball shops. We do a retail business and some wholesale as well."

The company also has a blog with product reviews and news.

. . .

The custom counter and vanity top business is more recent. Stark says a family friend manufacturers the material that Lexmar uses and helped them get started.

Most of its business has been commercial --- recent clients include the Springhill Suites chain of hotels and Watson Institute in Sewickley --- but Lexmar does occasional residential jobs, Stark says.

. . .

Lexmar employs three people on a part-time basis, as the workload requires, while Compulsive has five employees.

"It's a small operation, but they took a building that's currently empty and they're putting it back on the tax rolls," Mayor Jim Brewster said.

Assessed at $302,000, according to county tax records, the building is owned by Mon Yough Human Services Inc. Stark says Compulsive hopes to close on the property by March 16.

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March 02, 2009 | Link to this story

More from the Archives

Category: History, Pointless Digressions || By

Updates to the Steel Heritage section of Tube City Online have gone slower than expected. Mea culpa.

Those of you who feel you aren't getting your money's worth can line up for refunds on the train crossing by Boswell Oil. Wait for the rumbling sound. That means I'm on my way.

There is something new there from the archives --- it's a circa 1970 brochure handed out during an open house at National Works.

. . .

By the way, an Alert Reader calling himself "Pratte4Life" said something very nice about the Almanac's editor on the message boards ... to wit:
(He) covers his home area with such passion that I come away thinking that McKeesport, U.S.A. must be the greatest metropolitan area in the country every time --- and I'd bet you a dollar Jason feels that way.

Aw, shucks, thanks, P4L! My bald spot is blushing.

Luckily, there are a lot of other people who think I'm a jerk, so it all balances out.

. . .

More important stuff: There are several interesting projects bubbling around town right now, but it's a little too early to talk about them yet.

My immediate concern is finding people interested in joining the McKeesport Model Railroad Club up in Christy Park.

We don't need slobbering train buffs as much as we need people interested in historical research and building models --- particularly models of buildings around the Mon Valley.

Have you ever wanted to build a model of a steel mill or a local landmark? Join before the end of this month, and you'll get three months' free dues. Plus, we've got a new dues structure that starts at $10 per month. Effectively, you can join right now for $1.75 a week.

Sorry about the plug, but we want to work on a couple of really ambitious projects (like a bunch of buildings based on the Clairton Works!) and we need the manpower (and womanpower). Email me for details.

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March 01, 2009 | Link to this story

Attention, WIXZ Pixies

Category: Events, History || By

Tonight at 6 p.m. on Irwin's WKHB (620), my radio colleague Michael J. Daniels will be doing a tribute to McKeesport's late, lamented WIXZ (1360).

The show will include a countdown of many of the songs that were on the charts during February and March 1969.

Friday marked the 40th anniversary of the debut of WIXZ, which turned the Pittsburgh-area radio scene on its ear.

WIXZ signed on in 1947 as sleepy WMCK. Based in the Elks Temple on Market Street, with a transmitter in Lincoln Borough near Belle Bridge, the station had long featured a mix of so-called "middle of the road" pop music, ethnic programming, and local news and sports. Only nighttime disc jockey Terry Lee ever attracted a following.

The switch to fast-moving Top 40 as "WIXZ" gave 1360 its greatest era of success, but also marked the end of the station's existence as an outlet targeting the Mon-Yough area.

Just as the new call letters shed the city's initials, so did WIXZ shed its McKeesport roots and begin a long, not-very successful effort to turn itself into a Pittsburgh station.

Today, the station is WMNY, with studios in Greentree and a format that consists mostly of "business talk" programming.

(We wrote about the history of WMCK and WIXZ in January 2008.)

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