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The Music Man of Steel

by Clare Coppa

Dean A. Flinchbaugh played the trombone for half a century and worked 37.5 years for Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania.

He embodies an easy generosity. Everything’s there—the playing in the American Legion Band; the dressing as Santa for the YMCA; the home-made dollhouses for family members. And, if you need to decipher the content of raw materials, he can do that, too.

In parts of ASTM International and ISO, Flinchbaugh is well known as a developer of standards for analytical chemistry. He drafted at least six standards for ASTM Committee E01 on Analytical Chemistry for Metals, Ores and Related Materials. He wrote the first ISO performance standard for analytical chemistry with TC 17 Subcommittee 1, developers of international standard test methods for iron and steel.

Flinchbaugh is known as a scientist and musician in his native Lehigh Valley in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. Once home to the Lenni Lenape—Amish, Moravians, Dutch Reformers, and Lutherans from Germany settled there in 1737. In the agri-industrial region, horse carts still share the highway with computer-equipped cars. As well as being famous for delicious German food and breathtaking scenery, it is well known for band music.

“The Lehigh Valley is very very rich in instrumental music,” Flinchbaugh said with a faint but lilting Pennsylvania Dutch accent that summoned scents of schnitz-and-knepp cooking in cozy farm kitchens.

“Most of my playing is with two concert bands here in the area. One is an American Legion Band which does a lot of military stuff and World War II memorabilia concerts and that sort of thing. And then the other is a community band in the neighboring town of Nazareth here.” He particularly likes the William Tell Overture, and marches by Sousa, Fillmore, and Seitz.

In Lehigh Valley, low mountains shoulder the horizon like the backs of cows lounging on its dairy farms. Flinchbaugh flourished in Dallastown as a boy in the late 1940s and ’50s, learning trombone and marching in the high-school band. As a senior in 1958, he first played professionally with the Spring Garden Band in the inaugural parade of Governor George Leader in Harrisburg.

The air is so fresh in rural parts of the Valley that going into the city can make one wince. Flinchbaugh had his dollop of country air playing with the Felton Band at church picnics. “Many times there would be an adjacent picnic grove and they’d build a band shell there,” he said, conjuring images of mouths smeared with blueberry pie. “When I was in high school during the summertime it was not unusual to have 20 band jobs.”

Did he play the song, 76 Trombones? “Oh yeah” he said enthusiastically, “That’s a nice tune.” Is it fun to play the trombone? “Absolutely.” His mom and dad supported his playing. They never asked him to stop making all that noise. “Mom and Pop and Junior went off to all the picnics and they sat in the woods and ate ice cream and listened to the band,” he said about performances in lower York County. “That’s the way life was down there then.”

After earning a bachelors and masters degree in chemistry, Flinchbaugh began his career with Bethlehem Steel, now the nation’s second largest producer with shipments of 8.5 million tons of steel products in 2000. Before he retired last year, he supervised Analytical Chemistry and Laboratory Services, the library, and health-and-safety. “We were basically a premier measurement service for the Research Department and for the Plant,” he said. “So when the research people went out to develop processes and products, they would take samples, bring them back to us, and we would analyze them.”

He described changes locally in the steel industry. When foreign companies emerged in the last three decades, American companies had to reinvent themselves. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Bethlehem Steel had 130,000 employees and now has about 15,000. “What’s happening is, U.S. Steel—which is still the biggest—and Bethlehem, and National, are all trying to consolidate and basically have one large U.S. steel company so we can compete in the world,” he explained.

Flinchbaugh served nine years on the Board of Directors of A2LA (American Association for Laboratory Accreditation) and previously chaired ASTM Committee E01. He started Flinchbaugh Consulting in 2001 and lives in Bethlehem, Pa., with his wife Ruth, a nurse and dollmaker.

He continues to play in concert bands and brass ensembles. One is an award-winning American Legion Band in Bethlehem that won 11 first-places in state competitions. “Having never served in the armed forces, I have always felt an obligation to support the Veterans as much as possible using what talent I have,” he said. “In my over 25 years with the band, I missed very few Veteran’s-related performances.” Among other gigs, the band plays evening concerts in the Rose Garden in Bethlehem.

Copyright 2002, ASTM