NATRONA HEIGHTS, Pa. (AP) -- Stainless steel may be resistant to rust and the ravages of time, but the tangible history of Allegheny Ludlum may not be as resilient.
That's the fear of longtime employee Todd Barbiaux. He worries the company's legacy, and a source of community pride, will fade with the loss of four cars that have stainless steel bodies. They were produced by Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corp., in partnership with Ford. Allegheny Ludlum has since morphed into today's Allegheny Technologies Inc.
The cars -- a 1936 Ford sedan, a 1960 Ford Thunderbird and a 1967 Lincoln Continental convertible -- were taken from a garage at the ATI's Hot Rolling and Processing Facility in Harrison and shipped to Indiana in April, where they are slated to be auctioned as a single lot over Labor Day weekend in September.
One car, a 1967 Lincoln, was left behind.
"These cars are assets to the community. Everybody in the community knows about the cars," Barbiaux said. "I want the cars to come back to Brackenridge." That's a reference to the steel mill's former name, the Brackenridge Works.
ATI spokeswoman Natalie Gillespie said the company is selling the cars as it faces "extraordinary economic challenges" amid the covid-19 pandemic.
"This is not a decision we made lightly," she said. "Our goal is to protect our business for the benefit of the entire team, taking necessary actions so we can emerge stronger and ready to serve our customers as the markets return."
The four cars that were kept at the mill were among 11 stainless steel cars produced by Allegheny Ludlum and Ford. Of the 11, six were 1936 Ford sedans, two were 1960 Thunderbirds and three were 1967 Lincoln Continental convertibles.
The original six were built to show off the properties and uses of stainless steel, then a new metal. After being built in Detroit, Allegheny Ludlum representatives, usually salesmen, drove the cars for business.
Gillespie noted that ATI donated a 1936 Ford, one of four known to still exist, to the Heinz History Center in 1999. The car is displayed on its first floor Great Hall.
"It is on display there as part of the permanent collection," Gillespie said. "This assures a piece of the Allegheny Ludlum legacy is forever retained in Pittsburgh."
Barbiaux, of Buffalo Township, started working in production for then-Allegheny Ludlum more than 32 years ago. Today, he is a coordinator for crane operators and has been president of United Steelworkers Union Local 1196 since August 2016.
At one time, when he was working as a janitor on a 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift, part of his job included cleaning the cars.
If selling them would save the company, Barbiaux said no one would object. But even if each one sold for $1 million, Barbiaux contends that it would have little to no impact on a company the size of ATI. Allegheny Technologies Inc. had sales of $956 million in the first quarter of this year.
"There's no true monetary reason to let those cars leave Brackenridge," he said. "There's no reason to take these cars away from this community."
Gillespie did not have an estimate of what the company expects the cars to sell for.
The cars have been displayed at car shows and community events and used in weddings and graduations, according to Barbiaux.
The last time one of the cars housed in Harrison was seen in public was when the 1936 Ford appeared at a "family fun day" last September.
"Everybody there got their picture taken with that car," Barbiaux said.
The car was not running at that time, but had since been repaired, he said. Work was to start next on the Thunderbird, but he said that was called off days ahead of the cars' removal.
What angers Barbiaux is he believes the company deceived to him, first claiming the cars were deteriorating in the garage because of its proximity to the melt shop and they were being assessed for better preservation. But Barbiaux, a self-described car guy, didn't buy it. He suspected from the looks of the transport truck that they were being hauled away for auction.
If the cars were deteriorating where they were kept, Barbiaux said that doesn't explain why the one Lincoln remains. He figures it wasn't taken for sale because having just one of each model increases their value.
Gillespie said she was not aware of any plans for the remaining vehicle.
United Steelworkers International Vice President David McCall said he and union International President Tom Conway share the local's concerns and frustration.
"We view the cars as important assets that symbolize the dedication and sacrifices of generations of steelworkers who worked for ATI and its predecessor companies," McCall said. "ATI should reconsider its actions and return the cars to their rightful place in Brackenridge."
To raise awareness, Barbiaux ordered shirts featuring the cars. Proceeds from their sale are going to Project SEED -- Something to Eat Every Day -- which fights childhood hunger in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
"I have to make something good out of it," he said.
The union wouldn't have the money to buy the cars, which Barbiaux said are being described as "priceless." But he said the union would rally to help cover the cost of bringing the cars back.
"I don't want to beat the company up," he said. "I want the cars to come back to the community. That's the right and moral thing to do.
"They should have never left here."