Tom Moher and Tom Veum are among the few people who remember the way Alford Park appeared long before it was an empty lot with plans to emerge as the Center for Freshwater Research and Education. As college students, they both worked for Union Carbide for summer and holiday breaks (1954- 55 for Moher and 1955 for Veum). Moher, who recalled his employee number 810, worked in the furnace room and as a lunchroom janitor. Veum worked with the limestone kiln – the long, rotating oven where lime was prepared as one of the chief ingredients for calcium carbide.
In the 1950s, the hydroelectric plant was owned by Union Carbide – Michigan Northern. The former neighboring structure to the plant produced calcium carbide. Electric furnaces used power produced at the hydro plant to transform lime and coke into calcium carbide. Union Carbide also had a drum factory that manufactured drums that each held 100 pounds of calcium carbide for shipping. It was shipped coast to coast, though some was used as a valuable production tool at Detroit steel mills. Locally, some garages used acetylene produced from the carbide for oxyacetylene welding and cutting.
“It was a good place to work,” reflected Veum.
Moher reports that $2 an hour was considered good pay and that two summers and holiday breaks of those $80 weekly paychecks paid for his undergraduate tuition that was $150 per term.
Both Moher and Veum went on to law school and returned to the Sault Ste. Marie community to practice law. They recalled that the only deduction from their Union Carbide paycheck was social security, which they joked, “we’re now getting back” – yet both are actively working at ages 85 and 84, respectively
“I was always in awe of the size of this building,” Moher commented on his first return to the hydro plant since the 1950s. “It’s pretty staggering when standing in it.”
Walking through the second floor of the plant, both Moher and Veum commented that it didn’t appear much different than the 1950s – aside from the railroad cars that passed through to the Union Carbide building where they spent most of their time. The metal and structural steel Union Carbide plant was torn down in the mid-1960s. Moher served on the city commission in 1963 and said the city planned to keep taxing the building, so it was torn down.
More than 50 years later, the industrial site has transformed once again, but the memories for Moher and Veum are still vivid as the start of their respective 60+ working years.
By: Allie Brawley