Purnell Chappel, Jr.

“It was a beautiful living.”


Purnell Chappel, Jr. worked as a steel worker at what used to be Bethlehem Steel for 48 years. He started in 1964 during the Civil Rights era. Purnell lived in Baltimore City and would travel 16 miles one way to work. The first job he had at the Mill found him using a jackhammer while working in the blast furnace department (#5 blast furnace). Describing his first experience with the jackhammer, he joked: “I was scrawny, I couldn’t even pick that thing up!” As Purnell gained experience he, in a way, became a father to newer, younger employees. He let them know that the Mill was a dangerous place, and if you didn’t pay attention you could lose your life. Purnell believes that the legacy of Sparrows Point should be passed on to the younger generations. To him, this legacy is that it was a place that gave young adults an opportunity to make good money, live a good life and watch out for each other. (Written by Nate Jackson and Juliana Colon, UMBC students)

My  name is Purnell Chappel, Jr. and I am a steelworker at what used to be Bethlehem Steel, well the last company was RG Steel.

I started in 1964 and it was pretty much in the Civil Rights era where a lot of things were changing and when I got hired it was kind of weird because I had a Job at Two Guys and the word got out in the City that they was hiring at Bethlehem Steel, so it was like a mass run, you know to try and get hired. So my first couple attempts I didn’t get hired, so I got a little disgusted tore the envelopes up and threw it away. So I went back again and sent the envelope back, they hired me and I was like ecstatic, I’m working at Bethlehem Steel! So I’m working at Bethlehem Steel my first job had a jack hammer, worked at the blast furnace department, number five blast furnace. I was scrawny; I couldn’t even pick that thing up. So I went through this transition of working on the blast furnace, it was hot and it was dirty.

So I got caught up in this culture where you worked hard you drink hard. So everybody knows the infamous Mickey’s, we all stopped there you couldn’t even get on the parking lot. At that time I wasn’t driving, I was riding with different people. So we would stop there and get all liquored up and you would come back to work and as time progressed I started missing some time.

When I was going through my demons and what not I got sent away, sent away to a place called Mountain Manor. Well back in the day it was twenty-eight days, you go there twenty-eight days and you didn’t drink and so and so.  So when I came out I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. So when you start talking about Alcoholics Anonymous because it’s an anonymous program I can’t talk a lot about it. So the thing is that I’m still doing it and with my forty-eight years I also got thirty-four years sobriety and that the best think ever came down.

Like the gentleman before me it was a beautiful living. My son went to college, he went to Gettysburg College, he graduated. I got two beautiful granddaughters, crazy about them spoil the hell out of them. I love Cadillacs and I had a few since I had been working there. So just before all this happened I went out and bought me a brand new one and I’m riding around and saying look, with all this stuff that went down least I got this out of that. (Edited by Dustin Roddy)