Labor Day Strike Tour

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Sep 2 2012 at 3:55pm #

Probably a bit late to do this as an organized ride this Labor Day—perhaps for the rest of the world’s Labor Day in May?—but inspired by a StuInMcCandless Facebook post, I’ve created a draft tour-de-strikes map, from McKees Rocks to Homestead.

Route starts approximately at the 1909 Strike of the Pressed Steel Car Company in McKees Rocks*, runs up the ten or so historical markers of the Howling Mob Society** in the strip dedicated to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, and thence to the Homestead Pump House via Frick’s Clayton estate: — suggestions, alterations, additions welcome.

* – Except I don’t actually know where this was; I’m assuming that the site of the state historical marker on Rte 51 isn’t it. For now I’ve set the start point at the big (abandoned?) factory in the Bottoms, but of course that’s open to change.

** – “a collaboration of artists, activists and historians committed to unearthing stories neglected by mainstream history” —


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Sep 2 2012 at 6:06pm #

An awesome idea! I’m going on the ride of silence, then marching with the teacher’s union. So I probably can’t go. The Howling mob signs are great. Perhaps a stop to commemorate Nate Smith’s Operation Dig? He did a lot of work to integrate the unions in PGH, notably on the USX tower downtown.—Fought-His-Way-into-the-Union-Bulldozed-Path-for-Blacks-in-Construction/


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Sep 2 2012 at 6:42pm #

A fine idea, if I do say so myself.

As I said in my Fb thread, once the GAP gap is completed, a direct trip to the Pump House along the river would allow for a level trip for many sites with a history of labor strife.

Downtown, at “B”, I’d circle the Frick Bldg (up Fifth, R Grant, R Forbes, R Scrip Way, L Fifth) or (up Fifth, R Grant, R Forbes, R Smithfield). That would be easier logistically than a U-turn at the corner of Fifth & Grant, and off-hours, Grant isn’t that busy for the one block we’d be on it. Henry Clay Frick, of course, had everything to do with how the 1892 Homestead steel strike went down. This building didn’t exist yet (built in 1902), but Frick erected this building and oversaw his empire from it.

At “M”, it would be worth pointing out the massive loss of life during the Civil War, when the Arsenal blew up. Again, unsafe working conditions.

If there isn’t already an event of this nature, there should be. There’s a lot of labor history in this town. It’d be a great tour, and doing it by bike would be the way to do it.

EDIT: I had to dig into the Wayback Machine to find this article on the Presston site. I haven’t tried to identify any of the buildings in the photos with what’s left down there on The Bottoms, but I’m pretty sure that that’s where it was.

buffalo buffalo

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Sep 3 2012 at 1:44am #

Presenting v2.0. This version:

(a) moves off Google Maps to avoid that platform’s 26-control-point (including ‘via’ marks) limit.

(b) adds the sites of Nate Smith’s Operation Dig offices on Larimer Ave, the Thomas Armstrong statue near the Aviary, Mother Jones’s visit to Homestead*, and the AFL, CIO, and SWOC landmark plaques, clarifies the Arsenal loop, and drops the Frick homestead in Pt Breeze

(c) does not have the 50+-foot drop near mile 2.5 shown on the elevation profile: that’s the Shadeland Ave bridge…

Though the construction of the site is awful, it was also awfully useful. If anyone knows a better site for finding this info (especially for determining locations of the relevant events, or for finding events in a given area, which EPH is especially poor at…), please do let me know!

* – Mother Jones, visiting to organize steel workers in the 1919 strike, was arrested for ‘speaking w/out a permit’ in Homestead. When the judge asked who gave her a permit to speak publicly, she replied “Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams“. Frances Perkins‘ visit 14 years later is commemorated at the same intersection.


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Sep 2 2013 at 9:49am #

I knew we had a thread on this. I just wish I’d thought to dig it up a few days ago so we could have organized something.


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Sep 2 2013 at 10:11am #

The Presston sign is not lost, as we talked about on some thread I don’t care to dig up. It used to be prominently visible at the Rocks end of the bridge. It got moved; it’s now here, about 100 feet northeast and 40 feet lower, at White Alley and O’Donovan Street.


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Sep 2 2013 at 5:52pm #

The thread was Wheelset of Fortune; the signs were a tag I set. I keep thinking we should do a separate longer term thread where we tag the historical markers…


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Sep 1 2014 at 10:33am #

Darn, this snuck up on me/us again, and I still haven’t done anything further with the idea.

Boy it’d be nice to just hop on a bike and go see a couple of these things, but it’s practically noon on The Day Of, so rather hard to organize anything.


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Sep 1 2014 at 3:14pm #

Did we have anything like this for BikeFest? Can we decide right now to make this an organized ride for 2015 BikeFest? Can we set up a trial run for sometime later this year?


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Sep 1 2014 at 5:19pm #

We need a tweed ride too, which I’ve been wanting to put together. Perhaps this would be a good place to put those two things together? Tweed/Victorian dress ride, tour the strikes, maybe go to a parade (if on Labor Day as opposed to during BikeFest)?

Even tweed-lite (fake mustaches, wear a vest, pin a costume hat to a helmet)… given the potential for a hot day in August.


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Sep 1 2014 at 6:30pm #

Tweed sounds more like the guys oppressing the strikers than the strikers themselves.


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Sep 1 2014 at 7:01pm #

Something with dull colors and holes and/or patches. Take your crappiest bike. Clean some of the groat off it (less well off your hands) before you leave. Bonus for a dirt smear on the face. Eschew the helmets. Do your best to look bedraggled and gaunt.


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Sep 1 2014 at 8:32pm #

Hey, this could be fun! One faction of cyclists dressed in tweed, the other dressed as laborers. It would be cool to get some media involved in it, too, to say what we’re all about.

This could be a really good way to find out about local labor history. Maybe even stage a mini-protest at each site.


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Sep 1 2014 at 8:45pm #

Protest signs are most definitely mandatory… LOL

I like the tweed AND/OR approach. I once skipped a tweed ride for lack of appropriate attire and goodwill was fresh out… a pair of dickies and some grease makeup smudge on the face is a nice alternative. We could even appoint a union-leader to apply the smudge. :P


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Sep 1 2014 at 9:10pm #

Like this?


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Sep 2 2014 at 10:16am #

I hope no one is going and buying grease makeup. Getting a little grease on ourselves is something to which we are all accustomed already.


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Sep 6 2014 at 12:32am #


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Sep 6 2014 at 6:53am #

What I need is a Howling Mob Society bike jersey.


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Sep 7 2014 at 5:21pm #

Another one to add to the map: The Allegheny Cotton Mill Strikes historical marker, along the river between the 6th and 7th St Bridges [StreetView]

If I’m reading that marker correctly, it says:
Major strikes by women cotton factory workers protesting 12-hour workdays occurred nearby in Allegheny City in 1845 & 1848. The strikes led to an 1848 state law limiting workdays to 10 hours and prohibiting children under twelve years of age from working in cotton and textile mills.

It would be cool if someone could do a bit of research and find out if business owners were against the legislation because of fear that they would not be able to make a profit. I further suspect that this research has already been done, so mainly we’d need to find it.

I’m also thinking that the art of storytelling and/or oration would be great to have here. That’s how you got word out in the days before electrons did the work.


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Aug 18 2015 at 9:24am #

This year, for a change, I’m thinking about this before Labor Day.

Who in this town, who rides a bike or even if not, really knows labor history?


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Aug 18 2015 at 9:34am #

@Stu, I think Jonathon S. has been developing some thoughts on this, yinz should talk.


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Aug 18 2015 at 11:42am #

The very best source in all of Pittsburgh for Pittsburgh Labor history is Charles McCollester. He appears a lot at labor events and wrote this:


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Aug 18 2015 at 11:56am #

The Twitterverse informs me that a good source for labor info is Charles McCollester. Anyone know him?

And since we already have a Tweed Ride in the works, while I don’t want to gum up the workings of that ride with this project, it does assure that more of us will have the proper attire, should we decide to dress up as oppressive management.


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Aug 18 2015 at 4:53pm #

He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, but this turned up. Certainly a source of info.

Looks like most of the libraries in the area have a paper copy. Check it out (literally) at either:

Library of Congress system: F159.P657 M375
Dewey Decimal system: 974.886 McCOLLESTER


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Aug 18 2015 at 6:21pm #

Use the Google to find Charlie. Or try reaching him through his old job, here: If the e-mail doesn’t work, you could call them and ask. I am certain they would know how to reach him.

If you’re looking for a few labor-related sites nearby that are marked, here are some:

1. The marker recognizing the formation of the AFL is here:

2. The marker recognizing the Great Railway Strike of 1877 is here:

3. The marker that recognizes the Allegheny Cotton Mill strikes of the 1840’s is here:

4. And there’s the marker near the Pump House of course regarding the Homestead Lockout of 1892. I assume most people know where this is.

5. A little further up the road (not the bike trail) is the marker for the Bost Building, headquarters of the Homestead Strikers. See here: Incidentally, the people who are now housed in the Bost Building (Rivers of Steel) would be another good resource for labor history in Pittsburgh. I’d bet they have a listing of all these markers I’m trying to recall from memory.

6. In McKees Rocks is the marker recognizing the 1909 strikes against the Pressed Steel Car Company. See here:

7. In McKees Rocks is the marker for Presston, a company town built by the Pressed Steel Car company with all the fun features these places usually had. See here: If you want to see what a company town looked like, go here. It still resembles it’s original appearance.

There are more I’m sure. Please post map or cue sheet if somebody turns this into a ride.


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Aug 19 2015 at 7:36am #

Map and cue sheet above, in a 3 Sept 2012 post from @buffalobuffalo.

Whether we do that exact route or not, whether we get additional expert help or not, let’s try to actually do this ride this year. If we don’t do it on Labor Day itself, we should try for as close to that as possible. Note that the Tweed Ride is soon after, and I really don’t want to steal any thunder from that.


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Aug 19 2015 at 11:37am #

Howzbout we just say 10 a.m., Monday 7 September, and start in the McKees Rocks Bottoms, following “version 2.0″ of the route plan as mentioned above.

Some “To Do”s:
* Figure out parking for the starting location
* Finalize the actual routing. Some tweaks may be necessary. The gap in the GAP was completed since v2.0 was made.
* A summary of the sites to be visited: What happened, why did they happen, why are they relevant today.
* Figure out logistics of returning to the start line, for those who left a car in McKees Rocks. Or the reverse, figuring out how to get to the start if you left a car by the Pump House.

The historical marker for the Presston strike is not actually along that route. Though only a couple hundred feet askew, getting to it may be difficult for some, since it involves climbing up to the bridge to cross the tracks. So maybe we need a pre-ride scouting ride. This would also tell us how technically difficult it would be for the average rider.

I would still like to pull in schoolteachers, storytellers, historians — ideally to go on the ride with us. This should not be so difficult as to preclude anyone who doesn’t regularly tangle with difficult traffic. I would like to think that most anyone can hop on a bike, ride around, and see things they might not otherwise, and this is the perfect ride to demonstrate precisely that.

buffalo buffalo

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Aug 19 2015 at 9:59pm #

Attempting to address various points:

– Can someone confirm which if any of the Howling Mob Society signs still stand? I’ve read some may have been removed…

– Re: 9/7 at 5:21 – it’s on the map already.

– Re @DaveInGlenshaw, Aug 18 2015 at 6:21pm – markers 1–5 were already on the map, as was the Pressed Steel Car strike (though, as Stu noted above, this last has been moved–and moved again). Thank you, however, for the Presston reference, as well as the link to, which looks at the very least to be substantially more usable than the (as I said before) awful I’ve moved point A of the route to the Presston marker at Ohio and Center St.

Re @StuInMcCandless most recent post this morning:
– As above, I’ve moved the starting point slightly. The Presston marker is actually at the edge of a community park; while it doesn’t look from Streetview like the park has an actual parking lot, street parking appears to be available if not plentiful.
Alternate suggestion: park at Second Ave, South Fourth, or another location in town and take a bus out–the 21 Coraopolis and 24 McCoy both run from the stop at Stanwix & Penn (across from Gateway) to Helen & Ella, under the McK Rocks Bridge, about a mile from Presston Park.

– Not sure which version of the route you’re looking at, Stu, but v.2 linked above does use the GAP between Hot Metal and Homestead.

In fact, though, I’m looking at changing the route to eliminate that, since it adds considerable distance. A quick exploration suggests that returning from East Liberty to Junction Hollow, over the Hot Metal, and down the GAP adds 3-4 miles, and saves less than 200 feet of climbing, over potential alternative routes including using Shady Ave, Beechwood, Dallas/Beechwood, or the Tranquil and Nine Mile Run trails and the High Level Bridge. Cutting down 51 instead of climbing up to Brighton Heights claims to cut that 200 feet back out.

On one hand, I climb 200 feet just in the first mile of my daily commute, so maybe I’m underestimating how much that is to someone who doesn’t do hills or ride regularly, especially out of a total elevation change on the order of 1200-1400 feet (some significant amount of which is phantom climb due to bridges).

On the other hand, this ride is likely to be somewhere between 25-30 miles unless something significant gets cut, so while it’s not the Every Neighborhoods Ride, it’s not like this is going to be a beginner-friendly ride on the level of a Flock ride, either…

v.3 is here:
Note that there are some extra markers noted, in case someone is interested in getting extra ambitious.
(What’s the difference between the green and brown markers? The brown ones were added after RWGPS got rid of the option to make the green ones…)

buffalo buffalo

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Aug 19 2015 at 10:07pm #

Oh, and regarding the Charles McCollester book–there are apparently a few library copies near me. I’ll see if I can grab one tomorrow.


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Aug 19 2015 at 10:23pm #

Some resources that may be helpful:

A google map of PA historical markers, with photos
Wikipedia’s list of all PA historical markers in this county, including ones that have gone missing
PA’s list of Labor and Industry-related Heritage Markers by county

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