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Winters Express
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From steel mills to tomato fields, I feel so proud

By Magaret Burns
The reason why I love to write about agriculture in California is because I grew up in the iron and steel producing region of western Pennsylvania. Our little town, Sharpsville, then, was about the same size as Winters is now.
The confluence of several factors made western Pennsylvania an iron and steel manufacturing haven in the early days of colonization. You need iron ore, a source of charcoal and water power to furnish a blast of air, according J.G. White’s “A Twentieth Century History of Mercer County, Pennsylvania.” The area had all of that, and the extension of the Erie Canal from Erie down to the Ohio River (by 1830s) made possible delivery of high quality iron ore from the Lake Superior Region. The first blast furnace, the Blanche Furnace, was built in Sharpsville in 1846.
Growing demand for iron, not just for farm implements, cooking pots and buggy wheels came with the advent of railroads, opening up new territory, which increased population, which increased demand, and then the automobile, which increased demand, and so on and so on.
The area around Pittsburgh became the center of iron and steel production in the United States. Other associated manufacturing grew up around those mills. We had a huge Westinghouse Electric plant that made transformers. We are not talking about itty-bitty things you plug into the wall. The transformers they manufactured were the size of a house, not even a small house. The manufacturing floor was nearly a mile long and had three story tall cranes that moved the parts around.
That was where my dad worked. He had increased responsibilities from being a welder, then a draftsman to the first level of management because he was smart and well-respected. When Mr. Burns said something, you knew it was right, an important virtue when dealing with union grievances. It was a matter of pride to him that, when called to headquarters in Pittsburgh, to settle a union complaint, he never lost the case.
And here, finally, is the point of what I want to say:
I was so proud of living there, of being part of something that made America great. The entire Shenango Valley made products that built cities, homes, laid pipelines (another big manufacturer, Wheatland Tube Company). My father, our family, and most of my friends’ fathers were involved in some aspect of making America what it was, of fulfilling the promise of progress.
That filtered down to me somehow, as a kid. I knew, even when I was very small and my dad was working as a welder at Shenango Furnace making tanks for the war in Europe, that he was doing something important. He would come home at dawn, all covered with soot and smelling of metal from the work and I’d get a kiss.
Once a year, Westinghouse would have an open house to show off their facilities. Those giant cranes would move up and down the assembly line. There was an electric arc that could go from one side of the huge building to the other. I never understood what it was for, but it was as impressive as a show of power. That factory meant something great to me, in a deeply satisfying way.
That is how I feel about the walnut orchards, the sunflower fields, the tomato rows, the prune trees, the corn stalks, the rice fields around Winters. The growers, workers, processors here make the world a better place. What is more important than feeding people, not only in this country, but in the world?
It is a complex enterprise to be a farmer, a grower. There is always the tightrope of decisions on a short and long term basis: What crop? On how much acreage? When to plant? When to water? How much? What equipment to replace? To buy? And there is the responsibility of keeping your own family and of providing employment for many other families.
It is deeply satisfying to see the rows of sunflowers facing east, watch the tomatoes redden on the vine, see the corn cobs arrayed in orderly height on the stalks, the walnut trees forming cathedral arches as you look down the rows, the armies of alfalfa bales in the field. People here in Winters make it happen.
And besides, the crops, the fields, the orchards are beautiful, day after day after day, year after year after year.