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Catalog Number SIHC:807
Object Name Book
Author James J. Messina. Charles Messina, editor
Title Grit, Smoke, and Steam
Part 1: The Journey of a Boy They Called Jinks
Summary On March 20, 2008, James J. Messina passed away. As a deep and personal gift to his two sons, he wrote (in longhand) and illustrated his life story. Mr. Messina began the project in 1985 and completed it 8 years later. His youngest son, Chuck, was so impressed with his father’s talent, he contacted a journalist at the Beaver County Times who was known for his interest in local history. After interviewing Mr. Messina, a two-page article describing the book was published in the local section of the newspaper. The journalist praised his work as a tremendous accomplishment, as well as an important piece of history, and urged his son to share it with the world. Chuck had wanted to pursue publishing the manuscript for a long time, but his father wouldn’t hear of it, claiming it was merely a gift to his children to remember him by. After hearing the journalist’s encouragement, this was all Chuck needed to propel him into action.

It took Chuck almost nine years to accomplish this dream becoming a reality. With the dawn of the digital age, and the economy in a downturn the whole time, it was nearly impossible to find anyone interested in this type of manuscript. The first task was the most difficult, transcribing the entire manuscript word-for-word. That in itself was a monumental job. After numerous publishers showing interest, but then retracting their offers, editing and re-editing, months of sorting through piles of transcribed and written versions of the story, arranging and organizing illustrations, researching multitudes of websites and books, submitting and re-submitting files, it’s finally come to fruition.

This book is based on material from five hand-written volumes of stories and drawings that his father compiled over the years using large bound artist sketch books. Most of the original illustrations were in color, one hundred sixty-four in all, with captions describing each and every one. These drawings are of activities from days-gone-by, and specific to the little town, West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, where he grew up. The story is rather typical of most of his generation: children of immigrant parents, impacted by the Great Depression, finding financial stability with work in the steel mill; service in World War II; a new life after discharge with marriage, buying a home and car, and having children. Then, he was stricken with an unexpected disability that forced him to retire, and after agonizing months of pain and discomfort, he found peace in writing and drawing, which lead to this incredible manuscript.

This story will bring back a lot of memories to many in the southwestern Pennsylvania region because it reflects the lives of many from that era. It is not a captivating mystery leading to a riveting climax. Instead, it’s a collection of vignettes, accompanied by beautiful illustrations, with some entertaining and great moments, during a time gone by, that has been captured by a very special and gifted storyteller. His story, and the manner in which it’s told, is a testament to what a truly amazing man James J. Messina was.
Subjects Pittsburgh (PA) -- History.
Western PA - History
Published Date 2012
Physical Description 8.5x11, Softbound, 267 pages
ISBN 9781558565548