The Beginning

I was born at Hamot Hospital in Erie Pennsylvania on May 24th, 1949 and grew up and spent most of my young adult life in Erie. My father, Steven Woytek was born August 21, 1921, in Arcadia, PA. Arcadia was a coal mining town, it’s around Indiana and Punxsutawney area. I’ve been there a couple times, many of the relatives and neighbors are buried at St. Michaels. Cemetery in Glen Campbell Which is just north of. Arcadia.

Anna & Stephen 25th wedding. anniversary

There was a few times, after the mine had closed, we actually went inside the mine, we weren’t supposed to but we went inside. My dad was a locomotive engineer hauling the coal cars out. He moved to Erie because the coal mine had shut down. He worked for Erie Engine Works. I’m not quite sure what he did there, probably worked on locomotives or something. He was also an electrician and had a side job repairing radios in the basement of his home in Erie, that’s where he met my mother. (Picture-Anna & Stephen Paul 25th wedding anniversary-Stephen Paul Woytek married Anna Mary Wargo in Arcadia, Pennsylvania, on October 5, 1914, when he was 22 years old.)

He married Jennie (Jane) Helminski on June 29, 1946, in Erie, Pennsylvania. His father, Stephen Paul died June 16, 1950, Age 59, just one year before my dad on the same date, June 16. Stephen Paul Woytek was born on December 30, 1891, in Sabinov, Prešov, Slovakia.

Steven Woytek served in the US Army as a tech 5 Infantry. He entered service February 17, 1942 and served in Normandy, Northern France. Rhineland. Ardennes. Central Europe in the 3rd Armored Division. He received a Purple Heart December 21, 1944, when shell fragments penetrating the right hand, right hip, right knee. He was treated in Belgium at the 83rd Reconnaissance and returned to the US September 18, 1945. He married Jane Helminski and lived in a home on the west side of Erie in the 1500 block of west 24th street.

Pictured on the left are Stephen Paul, Anna Wargo Woytek, Barbara Woytek Shum, Dennis Steven Woytek (me), John Woytek

He passed away when I was two years old when we had an explosion in the basement of our home. He was down in the basement along with me and was painting the floor. The old gas water heaters were like a tank that was open and there was a coil on the inside, the open flames heated the water in the copper coil.  He had windows open and thought he was getting enough ventilation, but he told me to get to get out of the basement, so I was in the front door when the fumes in the basement exploded. 

This was the newspaper account. A 35-year-old. West side man, his body covered with severe burns received in a· flash explosion at his home Saturday morning and was fighting for his lite· in St.· Vincent’s· Hospital Saturday afternoon. Hospital aides said- Steven Woytek of West 24th St. was in critical condition. Second- and third-degree burns that charred his body from head to foot.

Firemen said Woytek, father of a two-year-old child and of a yet unborn child, was painting the cellar floor at ‘his home when an automatic gas hot water heater touched off paint fumes. The explosion, which ripped through the basement at 10:04a.m., burned Woytek’s. clothes from his body. Less than two minutes earlier, Jane. Woytek and three-year-old son (actually 2 year old) , Dennis, had left the basement and were outside when the blast occurred. Woytek, his clothes in flames, rushed up the stairway and out a side door where he collapsed. Ben Splnek, who lives next door was sprinkling the lawn. He tossed burlap bags and. dirt over Woytek and extinguished the flames.

I was told by relatives that my mother was out shopping when the explosion occurred, but the newspaper account is different. This was a sad part of my life and I see some pictures of me and evidently, I was a sad looking boy at that time. I remember my aunts and uncles have told me about it to kind of refresh my memory, but I really don’t have a strong memory of that, of course I was only two at the time. 

After the fire, my mother refused to go back to the house so we moved in with my. Grandmother, Bernice Helminski at 2nd and Wallace in Erie. I went to Saint Hedwig’s school which was like a half a block away, that’s where I was baptized. 

While living with my grandmother I experienced a funeral in the house, my uncle Freddie was in his coffin and displayed in the living room. I also had another traumatic moment. I was evidently playing around on the cement steps that went into the basement and these were the kind of houses where it wasn’t a full basement it was like five feet five feet high so short people were fine. So I was evidently messing around on the steps and I fell and cracked my head open. They took me to the hospital and stitched my forehead because evidently I cracked it cracked my skull pretty well. 

This picture is at my grandmother’s house on 2nd and Wallace street.

We moved in with my one aunt who had a house on fifth and Reed Street in Erie which is just about six or seven blocks from where my grandmother lived. My aunt and uncle had the upstairs and the downstairs was available so we lived in the downstairs.

My mother met a man who lived across the street, Richard McCarthy, they married a couple a couple years.  Later we moved to another part of the city, 32nd and Pine Avenue. My stepfather was a conductor on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and he would work as a conductor in the yard so he never left the rail yard in Erie.

Erie had a very large railroad yard; they serviced boats that would bring in pulpwood and iron ore and coal. To keep me occupied they would put me in the locomotive, of course you can’t do that now, they would put me in the locomotive and the engineer, Jimmy Ring let me sometimes run the controls. We would ride up and down switching, moving rail cars, I would spend the whole day in the locomotive riding up and down as they shuffled cars and rearranged cars and pulled cars in and out. (Photo: Detroit Publishing collection at the Library of Congress)

We would have we go to the shanty for lunch which was just a building. I think they covered everything inside with fuel oil to preserve it, they had a potbelly stove there and we would have our little lunch and go back in their locomotive and ride.

I think that’s where I developed a love for trains and railroads. I still remember every time I still go and watch trains. I sit somewhere, just find a railroad line somewhere, bring along a camping chair and my camera and radio and maps and I’ll just sit there and watch trains go by. To this day my grandchildren are becoming accustomed to the fact that yeah they got a crazy grandfather who they call DiziaDzia (Polish for grandfather) 

There was another place in Erie that my dad knew that was where they controlled the gates for firth, sixth and seventh steet crossings near the house on Reed Street. (sample of tower) There was a little tower,  it was probably a two-story maybe three-story tower and in the tower was Adam, I don’t remember his last name but we always called Adam’s tower. So we would go up there and they had of course a potbelly stove and it was nice and warm and I would have to be in the lookout whenever I saw one of the headlights on the engine I would have to tell Adam the train was at 7th street and then I would have to push the button to activate the lights for the crossings.

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