Iron City Cement Mix

It was one of those sticky humid hot days during one of gumshoe’s teenage summers as I watched my father, Dominic Daniel Pitocco, pour freshly mixed cement within the wooden forms for his planned rear patio project at the Pitocco home.

That was my father’s idea of his two-week annual vacation from being a highly competent stationary engineer during his thirty-plus years of being gainfully employed by the Pittsburgh Housing Authority.

My dad ran, trouble-shot, and fixed several Titanic-sized boilers operating 24-7 at peak performance. He also oversaw other industrial size power systems within the plant.

These iron behemoths kept the hundreds of folks living in the government-subsidized “projects” (multi-storied drab gray apartment buildings) supplied with steam heat during the frigid winters and with hot water year-round.

Now back to my dad Dominic’s long afternoon of manually shoveling the recipe of sand, gravel, and cement mix powder with just the right amount of water from the garden hose into the hungry open mouth barrel of an antiquated electric cement mixer.

This was his repeated procedure throughout the daylight hours. I was proud to assist my dad Dominic in this labor as a shovel man or as a water boy. Sort of a homespun Gunga Din a la Mr. Kipling. I would kind of experience “Walter Mitty” daydreams about how the pyramids of Egypt were built or how the Panama Canal was dug. Minus no desert scorpions nor tsetse flies to hamper our cement patio progress. Alleluia!

The nearby portable radio echoed the distinctive nasal-sounding voice of Bob Prince who narrated the Pittsburgh Pirate Baseball games from either the local home field from Forbes Field or from the road. It always seemed to be the Pirates (Affectionately called the “Buc’s”) against their arch-rival, the Philadelphia “Phillies”. The broadcast sound of the radio play-by-play by Bob Prince mixed right along with the constant churning sound of the cement mixer—mixing. The cacophony between the two competing sounds ultimately synchronized in gumshoe’s teenage brain to produce a harmony between our labor-intensive work and the sheer pleasure of live baseball for our ears as we both gleaned an honest summer’s sweat.

In between mixes, my dad Dominic would pause and take a sip or two from a perspiring steel can of Iron City Beer.

He occasionally would light up a “Hav-A-Tampa” wooden tip “Jewel” cigar. This produced a very sweet-smelling aroma that I could almost taste.

Funny, back then my dad would occasionally hand me a dollar bill to run down to the local “Distefano’s” drug store, to buy him a 35 cent (4-pack) cardboard box of these little cigars when he would run short. He always would let me use some of the change to get a “Nutty Buddy” frozen ice cream cone for 10 cents. A pretty good deal for both of us back then.

I was thirteen years old and the store clerk had no worries or concerns about dispensing a tobacco product to a pimple-faced gumshoe who definitely had no ID but only brandished a vanilla ice cream cone with nuts.

Once back at the worksite, minus the greedily consumed “Nutty Buddy”, I could detect the smell of a freshly “pop-top” opened Iron City Beer. My dad would gingerly place the steel can beneath a moist drop cloth in order to keep the beer cold and more importantly, to prevent the uninvited flies from landing for an unwelcome sip.

One afternoon, I mustered up the youthful courage to ask him how did the beer taste? Dad Dominic looked at me with a half-smile with the small cigar firmly clenched in his teeth and said, “OK, try some Danny”, much to my surprise. He handed me the wet cold can from beneath the gray canvas drop cloth accompanied with the firm instruction to take a good swig and with the warning not to take a weak sip. (???). Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud, “no girly man here”!

My teenage bravado did not question my dad’s admonition. A definite rite of passage for adolescent gumshoe. Full speed ahead! Damn the Iron City Beer can torpedo! Swig away I did! Gulp! Yuck! Ugh! My 12-year-old glottis immediately shut down like the president’s Whitehouse subterranean bunker during Def Con 3. Batten down the hatches! The Russkies are a-coming! Run! Reflexively, I gagged and the Iron City brew spew in a large fine 100 miles per hour stream into the contents of the rotating barrel of the cement mixer.

My dad Dominic laughed so hard that he almost dropped his midget stogie from his lips. He then told me that cold beer was an acquired taste that I would eventually acquire. He further stated that a cold beer is nothing better to quench a hot, dry parched thirst on a hot, dry, parched day. Hmmm?

It seemed that my dad Dominic was also a competent summer weatherman and a definite connoisseur of beer. Hops ahoy!

The voice of Pirate Baseball, Bob Prince, also seemed to know that the acquired taste secret since he promoted “Iron City Beer” to his listeners in between the innings as I continue to retch from my acquired rusted aftertaste of that “Iron City” swig adventure. Baaah!

The next further offer from my dad gleeful dad Dominic was to light up one of his “Hav-A-Tampas”. Hmmm? That too seemed to be another “acquired taste“ that I meekly declined without hesitation as a bridge too far for Gumshoe.

The cement mixer just continues to churn away with a touch of beer in its iron belly.

Well, folks, that was just a “blast from Gumshoe’s past” for a change of pace and for the exchange of a laugh. Always remember to love the ones who love you and to even try to love the ones who don’t.

Coram Deo!

PS: Gumshoe does not drink nor smoke to this day. Thanks, dad Dominic.


Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.

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  1. This piece should touch the hearts of all your brother’s and sister’s remaining. I don’t think parents are remembered as often as they should be, perhaps its their perception of what they want to remember or not, but it’s nice to see this article about your dad.

    • Yes I agree Nightingale. This memory of mine memorializes my dad Dominic for all of my siblings since this opens the door to other good memories especially now when any of them pick up a beer or smell the sweet aroma of a cigar. However, none of them mix and pour cement. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Well bro, us Pitocco’s did share a common bond of being a close knit group of 8 kids. Our bonds have only become stronger beyond the passing of our parents and of our dear sister Deloris.

    By the way bro, you never were that much introverted, just a deep thinker as St James wrote: be quick to listen and slow to speak.

    Thanks for your comment Skeeter.

  3. Nice memories bro Danny ‘Gumshoe’. Even given my extreme lack of memory function, I do recall the sweet smell of those skinny cigars, in addition to the back patio project. Being quite the opposite of my big brother Danny at the time (I was extremely introverted) I did not enjoy much conversation with Dad; he worked several jobs to support our large family, so his absence (and generally quiet nature) combined with my aversion to human contact of any kind did not make for much in the way of casual conversation. My experimentation with the Iron City brew (and other mind-altering substances – it was the 60’s after all!), would come much later in life. Thankfully, I retained just enough brain cells to function in society and acquire gainful employment : ). As Bob Hope would sing, thanks for the memories Gumshoe!!