He used to take his kids to Indians games, point up at the “Indians” script above the big scoreboard at Jacobs Field and tell them how their dad put that up there.
Steve Hryb, 70, of Bainbridge Township, also worked on construction at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant, the Cleveland Browns Stadium and countless infrastructure jobs throughout Northeast Ohio as a crane operator with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18.
On Monday, Hryb received his 50-year pin from the IUOE Local 18, which serves nearly all of Ohio and parts of Kentucky. It was organized in 1896 and represents heavy-equipment operators running cranes, dozers, front loaders and other critical construction machinery.
“It’s an honor,” Hryb said about receiving his 50-year pin, a watch and hat, among other commemorative items for his service. “I’m second generation too, so that’s a plus. My father belonged to the Local 18 too and got his 50-year pin. So, I had to catch him anyhow.”
The Local 18 includes about 16,000 members statewide and is a leader among Ohio’s unions that works to build up the economy by providing support for workers’ rights and improving workplaces in the state.
Also receiving their 50-year pins on Monday as fellow members of the Local 18 were James Turcoliveri, of Bainbridge, and Paul Conley, of Newbury.
Hryb said every project he operated on throughout his career was dependent upon teamwork.
“We’re all in this together, and I have 16,000 brothers and sisters,” he said.
But back when Hryb took his three children – 2001 Kenston graduate Kolleen, 2005 graduate Shawn and 2007 graduate Steven – to Indians games in the 1990s or drove past various projects he worked on, the family joke was very different.
“Anywhere we’d go, when they were younger, I’d say, ‘You see that? I put that up. I did that,’” Hryb said. “And I’d always tell them I did it all by myself. Naturally you can’t do it all by yourself. You need somebody to work with to do it. Even if you’re setting a big piece, you have guys working with you. But you don’t admit that when you’re telling them that you built all this stuff. So, there was a teamwork involved there.”
Back when Hryb was installing the “Indians” script above the scoreboard at Jacobs Field, he remembers working during the coldest day on record in Cleveland, when the thermometer dropped to the negative-20s on Jan. 19, 1994. And that wasn’t the “feels like” or wind-chill temperature; it was the actual temperature.
That project was on a specific timeline, and the work had to be done, Hryb said.
“I was working on that on the coldest day of the winter,” he said. “It was 23 degrees below zero, and the guys had to work, because they were on a timeframe and they had to go up. Now, I got there early, I started my machine, which was plugged in, and started my heater. So, I was nice and warm.
“But the guys working up there were working in about 15-minute shifts, because they were working up on top of the scoreboard. And the wind was blowing, which didn’t take much to make it even worse. But we had a man cage there, and every 15 minutes I would take the man cage up and switch the guys out.”
Hryb also helped install new foul poles at Jacobs Field, because the original ones, for whatever reason, were not up to the standards of a brand new ballpark, he said.
Nearly two decades earlier, Hyrb was busy working on the construction of the Perry Nuclear Power Plant when he made a 315-ton pick early in his career as a crane operator. His father, Steve Hryb Sr., also worked at constructing the plant in Perry.
Usually, it takes 10 to 12 years to be efficient enough to be a crane operator, but Hryb “cheated” a bit with the know-how of a home instructor. His dad was a crane operator too.
“You still had to learn the other stuff, because, at certain times of the year, there wasn’t as much work and the more you could do the better off you were,” he said. “And we had our own apprenticeship program (with the Local 18). I went out ‘oiling’ a few times with the guys who grease and take care of the cranes and sat there playing with the levers. Then I’d go home, and my dad would explain whatever I didn’t understand.”
A $6 billion project on 1,100 acres, the Perry Power Plant began construction in 1974 but did not commission until 1987. When the core power level was increased to 3,759 megawatts thermal in 2000, Perry was one of the largest boiling water reactors for electrical power in the United States.
Hryb worked on several projects at the plant, but his first was in 1977, when he was running a scraper to redirect a creek away from the center of the property, he said. That was when environmental groups were still trying to stop the project, so he was only there for about a week during his first stint. But he’d return for other jobs.
“At the Perry plant, maybe every six months you had to take a class from the plant to upgrade your skills on the knowledge of the radiation and the plant procedures,” he said. “So, at times, I felt like a nuclear physicist because of the learning I was getting, and it was interesting, because you got a great understanding of how the plant works. Most people think the electricity comes from the reaction of the radiation; it has to do with the boiling water.”
Hryb said he had similar educational moments of interest on other jobs, such as at the Ford plant in Brook Park, where learned how the assembly line and engine plant worked.
During the construction process at Perry, there were no radioactive materials on the job, so Hryb and his old man never had to worry about putting themselves at exposure risk in that regard, he said.
Operating heavy machinery always comes with its own risks, however, but that’s when working with guys who had the commonality of simply wanting to make a living and go home safe was in favor of them all.
With the Local 18 being part of an international union going back to 1896 – when operating engineers and locomotive engineers were under one umbrella because cranes were steam-operated at the time – safer working conditions have been a continual improvement with a natural progression of standards, Hryb said.
But Hryb said he still had to know when to stand up for himself on the job. A prime example of knowing one’s limits is the “Big Blue” crane collapse during the construction of the Miller Park baseball stadium in 1999 for the Milwaukee Brewers.
“That crane, they had two operators on it, and the guy said it’s too windy to set that piece that they wanted to set,” Hryb said. “He just said, ‘I’m not doing it, and I’m done.’ And the other guy that could run it stayed, and they talked him into doing it. Well, it was too windy, and it blew over sideways, because cranes are not stable sideways.
“It was a really huge piece, and the wind just blew him over, and he killed a few guys and knocked another crane over too.”
That “Big Blue” crane had a 450-ton roof section on the hook with wind speeds of 20-21 mph and gusts up to 26-27 mph, but the boom was rated to 20 mph winds. The crane blew over sideways and collapsed. Three Iron Workers Local 8 members died when their suspended personnel platform was hit by the falling crane.
“So, you’ve got to know when to stand up,” Hryb said. “That’s why we have a lot of classes. They initiated in my time, with certifications for cranes. We had a nationally certified organization come in and give us tests, and we had to take practical (exams), and they were specific on different types of equipment.”
Hryb also worked on all sorts of bridges, specifically when Interstate 271 was widened and needed steel restructuring on overpasses.
On some of those jobs, in particular, time was of the essence with traffic patterns, and the guys whom he worked with knew efficiency was part of the operation.
“The iron workers that would help set those pieces in place are really good people,” Hryb said. “And those guys are totally nuts, because they climb the steel, they put two bolts in the thing, and they climb up to the next floor and put two more bolts in and keep climbing. And they’re walking on 4-inch pieces that are sitting there wobbling.
“I try to take care of them, because they’re all my buddies. If I see something, I don’t do it.”
One of the perks of the job is having a lot of buddies. In fact, Hryb had a buddy who worked on the 1996 demolition of Cleveland Municipal Stadium, where 83,000 fans could watch Browns games and 78,000 spectators could enjoy the Indians. His buddy may or may not have secured some “artifacts” for the Hryb household.
Also, Hryb’s wife, Kathy Hryb, a retired Kenston teacher, went to an auction before the stadium was demolished and secured two stadium seats with a family connection.
“My wife’s father had tickets since 1946,” Hryb said. “So, we got a little bit of history there. And we’ve tried to keep it going. He passed away, and so we took over the tickets, and we collected a lot of stuff. And his original seats that he had from 1946, I have those seats. My wife was able to finagle that, because she went to the auction.”
One of the earliest multi-purpose venues, Municipal Stadium opened in 1931. It hosted four MLB all-star games and was one of the host venues of the 1948 and 1954 World Series, with the Indians winning the former.
For football, it was the site of the original Dawg Pound and four NFL Championships for the Browns, including the 1950, 1954, 1955 and 1964 seasons.
The Indians played their final game there in 1993, and the Browns played their final game there in 1995, after Art Modell, who took control of the stadium from the city on a 25-year lease in 1973, announced he was moving the franchise to Baltimore with three years left on the contract.
Deactivated for three seasons, the Browns and the city of Cleveland were required to construct a new stadium on the Municipal Stadium site in order to retain the Browns’ name, colors and history in Cleveland, as decided by a settlement after suing Modell for breaching the team’s lease. The NFL agreed to have a resurrected Browns team by
Nearly 15,000 tons of demolition debris from Municipal Stadium was dumped into Lake Erie to create three artificial reefs for fishermen and divers. While Hryb didn’t work on the demolition, he did work on the construction of the Browns’ new First Energy Stadium.
“I was in and out of there a couple of times during construction, but I didn’t do a lot there,” he said. “I was with the mason contractor there who was building block walls in there. So, I was setting blocks up on the deck for
Whether he was working at sports venues like Jacobs Field or First Energy Stadium, the the 13-year construction of the Perry Power Plant or different infrastructure projects, Hryb said he always took pride in his work.
One time, he even set up his crane in a residential driveway in Pepper Pike to lift an expensive sculpture from a backyard and over a house so the art piece could be donated to a museum.
“I took a lot of pride in all of it, because, like I said, a lot of times my kids heard about it when we were driving by something,” Hryb said. “But I’m not an individual in this in any way, shape or form. The Local 18 has helped in their training and their support, and different people have helped me along the way. I’ve tried to help other people too.”