Both men left their mark in paint upon the Carrie Furnaces, a century-old piece of steelmaking history on the Monongahela River. Bob Miletic, a boilermaker for 33 years, used eye-catching colors and the Steelers logo to remind his fellow steelworkers about safety in 1974. The other man sneaked in years later, after the mill had closed, to spray-paint a message in fat, stylized letters.
Last week, the second man returned -- this time with the owner's blessing -- to honor steelworkers with bold, colorful graffiti. And Mr. Miletic, 79, is OK with that.
"It's got to have a connection to steel. If it pertains to the history and the guys who were killed there or died a day after they went on pension, I would like it," said the Swissvale man, who gives steelmaking tours of the mill for Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.
At 11:30 a.m. today, the nonprofit organization will offer an urban art tour of the Carrie Furnaces. Visitors will pay up to $40 for the chance to see and hear about graffiti and a huge deer head made from scrap steel. They'll even get to make their own graffiti and take it home.
"During our other tours, people ask about the graffiti," said Ron Baraff, director of museums and archives. "There has been 30 years of post-industrial history on that site since the mill closed. This is another way to get people out there and educate them."
This tour was nearly sold out Friday, but Mr. Baraff promised there would be more graffiti tours soon.
The rusty remains of Pittsburgh's hard-working history -- and its houses -- were a novelty to the former graffiti artist when he left his native San Francisco Bay area and visited in the summer of 2003.
"I said, 'Look at all the brick houses. They wouldn't last one earthquake.' I was totally surprised at the cool places like this," he said, looking around the mill.
"It was a cool city with a lot going on. I'm still in awe."
The 31-year-old man, who asked that his name not be used or his face shown, found an apartment in Oakland and kindred spirits among local graffiti writers. He left his mark upon walls around the area and on the mill site in Rankin and Swissvale, a fairly easy target then because there were no fences.
The capture and conviction of friends Daniel Montano (whose tag was MFONE) and Ian Debeer (HERT) put taggers on notice that they could face serious jail time. When this man was caught, he was stunned to learn that the judge lived in the neighborhood where he had been nabbed.
"The judge said, 'How long can we throw this guy in jail for?' "
He spent only one day in jail, he said, but had to pay several thousand dollars in fines and do 250 hours of community service. Told to pick from a list of nonprofit agencies, he chose the YMCA and League of Young Voters. Since he had training in art, graphics and computers, the man found lots to do, and when his community service was finished, he found freelance work through connections he had made.
He and his girlfriend, an art teacher, went on a tour of the Carrie Furnaces last summer. When he mentioned that he was familiar with the graffiti at the mill, he and Mr. Baraff began discussing doing a "legal wall." His days of sneaking around with spray cans are over, he said.
"I'm pretty much removed from the scene. I don't get calls anymore. It's not something I want to go to jail for."
The artist, who occasionally does graffiti-like murals for pay, worked for several days over two weeks, painting the stylized steelworker from the Rivers of Steel logo on a 30-by-10-foot section of wall at the rear of the mill. He hopes that Rivers of Steel will allow other graffiti artists to create new sanctioned pieces while preserving some of the best old work. Artists who are interested can contact him at email@example.com.
Not far away from the new graffiti is the old blowing engine house where Mr. Miletic spent 33 years driving rivets, cutting plates and fabricating metalwork. In 1974, his bosses gave him a break from his usual duties to paint a huge list of safety rules. He spent about a week on a ladder painting while his buddies worked below him. When he returns to give tours, he sees them still.
"I can see the people I knew, their faces, the way they walked. It's spooky," he said.
And he can point to his signature, the No. 12 for his favorite quarterback, Terry Bradshaw. "I was such a fanatic over Bradshaw. I almost got in fisticuffs over him. Everyone knew I was strong on that."
After the Carrie Furnaces closed in 1984, the painted rules became a target for graffiti artists and paintball guns. About a year ago, a restoration volunteer asked Mr. Baraff if he could repaint them.
"I really appreciated that sign. ... It was pretty beat up," said Rich Rees of McDonald, Ohio, a process engineer at a steel plant who has been volunteering at the Carrie Furnaces for several years.
"There's a group of us. We have a love for restoring iron and steel artifacts and collecting them. We do what we can to salvage the memories."
Kevin Kirkland: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1978. First Published July 6, 2013 4:00 AM