My father, Robert Frantz, worked for 11 years during the 1950s and early 1960s at the 28″ rolling mill at Bethlehem Steel’s Saucon Plant. In 1992 he decided he wanted to do something to help further his son Stan’s acting career, so he sat down and wrote a play about those experiences which had left the most indelible impression on him, his years working in the mill.
It was a world of mostly men, tough on the outside, but gentle and noble at heart, a time and place where strength, courage, honesty, and decency were not only valued, but necessary for survival. These were men who sacrificed their lives—their hopes and dreams, as well as their bodies—to help build modern America and to support their families and loved ones. They worked hard and played hard and gave of themselves without holding back until they were spent. As they and their way of life vanish from the American landscape along with the very mills which had been their livelihood, the Frantzes bring them vividly to life in this dramatic memoir.
More than just a nostalgic look at a forgotten lifestyle,The 28 Inch Mill gives the audience a chance to see into the hearts and minds of these men—what moved them and motivated them, their humor and humanity, their fortitude and their faults, their pride and their poetry.
Through the fictional character of Karl Yoder, a retired steel-worker in his late 70s, sitting alone in his mother’s kitchen imagining a conversation with his absent friend Janos about the old days “down the Steel,” Frantz takes us on a detailed and fascinating journey drawn from his real-life experiences.
The play is not autobiographical, however it is as accurate in historical detail as possible. Karl Yoder is a fictional composite based on the kind of men Robert Frantz worked alongside in the mill. Many events similar to those in the play actually happened, while others are complete fiction, but could have happened. The intent is to present as vividly as possible a picture of the life these men lived, not to glorify them or condemn them, but to simply honor them and their contribution to the American fabric of life. The men and women of the play are presented as they were, and while many of their attitudes and actions may not be considered “politically correct” today, they are shown as they lived, in the times they lived, and without apology or excuses.
The 28 Inch Mill was first performed in 1995 for a limited engagement at the theatre of a small college in Santa Barbara, California.
Since returning to his hometown of Bethlehem 5 years ago, Stanley has wanted to perform it here, not only for those who lived it, but for their children and grandchildren. It is with great excitement and anticipation that he is able now to finally to present it here in Bethlehem at the historic Ice House, literally a stone’s throw from the site of the Bethlehem Steel mill.