Telling a tale of men, hard work, and a little steel company that changed the world, steel worker and storyteller Richard Sarver’s new book, ‘Roanoke’s Other Star,’ describes with readable voice and scholarly accuracy just how Roanoke Electric Steel and workers from Montgomery County and New River Valley worked together until they were “sweaty, filthy, and exhausted” in this hard and dangerous industry against all odds and changed steel manufacturing in the United States.
“Roanoke is famous for its rail history, and for the star on Mill Mountain, but Roanoke is also home to a steel mill that was the first in the country to utilize a revolutionary manufacturing process that forever changed the domestic steel industry,” Sarver said.
It’s a rousing story of “small but scrappy,” the little mill was told by enormous national mills that its innovation was never going to work, but it persevered.
“We have rail history. And that’s fine, but we also have steel history, which is significant. We were the first ones, big companies followed us, our little company,” Sarver said.
The paperback book, published by Sarver’s own press, Flatwoods Press, LLC in Elliston, with cover art by his artist-daughter, Kenna Sarver, is full of industrial art that captures the brains and beauty and surprising delicacy of heavy industry design: drafts and patent prints of rollers and pinch rolls, photos of immense five-floor-tall casting machines at the mill.
The detail is meticulous, not surprising since Richard Sarver, at 18 in 1980, nearly blind from childhood, began working with other men in the melt shop of Roanoke Electric Steel manning the ladle, a truck-sized bucket of volcanic, liquid steel.
“If you make mistakes you could cause damage to the equipment, damage the equipment, and even get people killed. In the same way, I wanted to be thorough and comprehensive with these books,” he said.
This more technical work is told as only a steel worker could tell it. Sarver’s first book ‘Taking the Heat – A Steelworker’s Story’ (Flatwoods Press, 2012) is a memoir describing a world of work so brutal, hot, and draining that the men didn’t talk about their days when they got home, but, like soldiers, carried amazing stories.
Roanoke Electric Steel is deeply connected to the region. The small steel mill (102 Westside Blvd NW in Roanoke) still employs people from all over Montgomery County. The man who founded RES J. W. Hancock was a grad of Virginia Tech. Sarver grew up in Bradshaw area, graduating from Radford University in 2005.
He’ll read from his book and talk about the writing process at Meadowbrook Public Library on Saturday, Nov.18 at 2 p.m.. Copies of the book, both story and art, will be for sale. For more information please call the Meadowbrook Library at 540-268-1964