Roman James Steiner, 89, founded contracting firm


Roman James Steiner, a retired contractor who had worked on many projects in the Baltimore area, died Saturday of heart failure at Nine Oaks, his farm in Parsonsburg in Wicomico County on the Eastern Shore. He was 89.

Perhaps Mr. Steiner's greatest construction challenge came after a runaway Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train crashed into Washington's Union Station on Jan. 15, 1953, and plunged through the reinforced concrete floor into the lower level of the building, cutting an 8,000-square foot hole through the floor.

No one was killed in the wreck, which injured 50.

Mr. Steiner's company was known for its railroad work and was called in to help remove the 230-ton electric GG-1 locomotive and two coaches and make repairs to the building.

What complicated the situation was the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower a week later and the need for all tracks to be in operation to handle trains and visitors. Crews of 400 worked around the clock, and in three days the debris was removed, track 16 was back in service and repairs were made.

The locomotive was cut into six hunks and sent to the Pennsy's Altoona, Pa., shops where it was repaired and put back into service.

Mr. Steiner's daughter, Mary Ellen Gunther of Baltimore, recalled, "Everyone came to see the work, including Mrs. [Bess] Truman," the wife of President Harry Truman. "He took us over there to see it, and it was really something," the daughter said.

Mr. Steiner's work was noted in the Congressional Record.

Founded in 1940, Steiner Construction Co. worked on projects at Kernan, Union Memorial, Bon Secours and Sinai hospitals, and Mercy Medical Center. The firm completed modifications at Camden Station warehouse and the roundhouse at Mount Clare, now the home of the B&O; Museum.

Mr. Steiner designed and built a parish hall for Holy Savior Roman Catholic Church in Ocean City and Parkville's St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church.

"He did an awful lot of Catholic and B&O; work, and that's all he needed," said Roy Kirby Sr., president of Roy Kirby & Sons Inc., a Baltimore construction firm.

"Sure, we were competitors but you don't mind competing with a guy like Roman. He never cut corners and was one of the finest gentlemen I've ever met," said Mr. Kirby, who described Mr. Steiner as "one of the finest builders of the old school."

Mr. Steiner was born and raised in Baltimore and was a 1924 graduate of Loyola High School. He studied architecture at the Maryland Institute, College of Art and worked as an estimator for a construction company before he opened his own firm. He closed the business in 1980 and retired.

He was a member of the Dunes Club in Ocean City, the Hillendale Country Club and the Elks.

His first wife, the former Mary Harrison, whom he married in 1931, died in 1964.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. today at St. Mary Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church in Ocean City. A memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 740 N. Calvert St., Baltimore.

Other survivors include his wife, the former Kathryn McGrath, whom he married in 1966; two other daughters, Barbara Steiner Cupp of Bel Air and Jean Frances Blair of West Palm Beach, Fla; two sisters, Mary Cecil of Cockeysville and Frances Lynch of Swampscott, Mass.; a stepson, Thomas Aydelotte of Stuart, Fla.; a stepdaughter, Mary Kathryn Aydelotte of Salisbury; 17 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

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