Spencer Pfrogner is a historian living in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands. In his off-time, and when not working on college work, he publishes history videos on the YouTube Channel titled Redoubt Productions. His videos focus on the history of Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands, as well as pertaining to history beyond his community. You can find access to all platforms Redoubt Productions is on through the following linktree: https://linktr.ee/redoubtproductions
1. How and when did you get hooked on history?
I was introduced to history at a very young age, perhaps as young as 4. I think what got me interested was learning about monumental events to not only American but World History that occurred right in my backyard of Western Pennsylvania. Particularly, I am from a region known as the Laurel Highlands. This is made up of Westmoreland, Somerset & Fayette Counties, all to the southeast of Pittsburgh.
My earliest history memories is of seeing the steam locomotive Norfolk & Western 475 at the Strasburg Railroad. Seeing something so huge, with so many moving parts, to achieve one simple objective. Pull A Train Down The Tracks. Nowadays the locomotives are diesel or electrical, wire their mechanics all boxed up. There’s no wonder in seeing a black and white box of Norfolk Southern running down the tracks. But there is wonder in seeing all the gears and axles of a steam locomotive.
Being in awe of these behemoths of machinery from a bygone era I believe sparked my interest. Where I grew up, I’m blessed to have been surrounded by a major National Park within a hour drive in any direction. Trips to Johnstown Flood National Memorial, Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Park & Fort Necessity National Battlefield really helped to fuel my passion for history. In the early grades of school, I was never the best at the Common Core courses they were pressing hard on us. But once the Social Studies & History Courses started rolling in around Junior High, I was off to the races. I thank my teachers for encouraging me to pursue more about history, even when the early grades were not really focusing upon it.
2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
History is at the core of my life. Whereas most children in America want to go to the nearest amusement park, I wanted to go to the nearest museum. Our family vacations are still planned around the historic sites of the area. Most of my time off is spent on my own little field trips, keeping myself sharp on as many aspects of history as I can be. History also is essential to my occupation. But outside of my job, I participate in a handful of living history events. At present I am in a group that portrays a Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment from the American Civil War. With the hope that historic sites will be lifting their pandemic restrictions, I am eager to be able to do more interpretative programs.
3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?
I have been employed for several years at a French & Indian War museum within the Laurel Highlands. In fact, the museum interprets the events of two conflicts. As such, one of my key responsibilities is being able to interpret the complex and important events that happened in my community to visitors passing through. I wish to be able to tether the events that occurred in my little piece of the Keystone State to not only American History but also World History. My discussions with the public can range from a simple orientation when visitors first arrive to full fledged tours. I strive to prepare myself to answer as many of a variety of questions as possible.
4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
History is a blueprint on what to do and what not to do. Although the trials and tribulations one will face going forward are not going to be exactly the same as those in the past, you will notice similarities. There is a popular saying that history repeats itself. I like to add a different spin to it. History does not repeat, but it certainly likes to rhyme.
5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
Growing up, my focus on history was isolated to very particular subjects: The Johnstown Flood, The Battle of Gettysburg, The Sinking Of The Titanic. But now I find myself interested in a variety of components to American History. I am most immersed with the French & Indian War, as well as the American Civil War. The French & Indian War is easy enough to explain as it’s the biggest event to occur in my neck of the woods and essential to my job. I have returned to my childhood interest in the American Civil War as it appears the United States are grown the most divided it as ever been since the 1860s. Perhaps learning and interpreting what transpired in places like Gettysburg will help to give those so divided a warning of what happens when a house becomes divided against itself. But I have also grown invested with lesser known eras such as the War of 1812 and the West Virginia Mine War of 1920-21. I have found the War of 1812 to be almost a mad libs of history. Where else will you find a conflict that involves officers from the American Revolution & the American Civil War? Tactically it was one of the most foolish conflicts the US ever fought. Culturally, I have found it to be one of the most important. The idea of a UNITED States would not exist without Madison’s War. Songs like the Star Spangled Banner and the Battle of New Orleans would have no inspiration without this conflict. Could you imagine a America with no National Anthem?...could you imagine a America with no Johnny Horton twanging away about our history? The West Virginia Mine Wars I’ve grown recently fascinated with because of how large in scale it was. How can the largest armed uprising in the country since the American Civil War not make it into any history books? Regardless of what time period, however, any history linked within or near my home of the Laurel Highlands will always be of great interest to me.
6. How did Redoubt Productions come about and how do people access your work?
Redoubt Productions has been around for a lot longer than I often realize. I made the YouTube channel all the way back in 2014. But I really didn’t start doing the history related content I am presently doing until 2019. Starting out, I wanted to do documentaries on lesser known battles in history. This included Lundy’s Lane & Point Pleasant. It wasn’t until my video on The Darr Mine Disaster that I started to do what I call my ‘Retracing’ videos. During the pandemic I discovered Channels like The History Underground & Scott’s ODDySEEy and really enjoyed their manner of presenting overlooked aspects of history. THU will often focus on a lesser known piece to a famous event such as D-Day or Gettysburg. Scott’s ODDySEEy focuses on unearthing ever piece of history forgotten in his home territory of Central Pennsylvania. My ‘Retracing’ videos I see as being a mixture of the two styles, although I am by no means intending to copy said styles.
In ‘Retracing’, you’ll find me delving deep into the history of the historic location I am exploring. Sometimes they are in vlog styles while other times (if I have the time) I will give them a documentary treatment. I started with visiting Bushy Run Battlefield, and have since been to several important historical sites within the Laurel Highlands. I must admit I'm not the best at doing on-location filming. While doing tours is my profession, trying to piece together a coherent narrative of something I've only recently studied is hard to achieve. I've been experimenting with the format of doing the talking in camera or adding narration in at a later date.
I do other videos outside of the 'Retracing' series. I often like to focus on military & industrial history. I had particular fun doing a two part series on the Battles of Isandlwana & Rorke’s Drift. I also am very pleased with videos I did on two local events in US Labor History; the Mammoth Mine Disaster & Morewood Massacre. As you can tell, my content is as all over the place as are my interests in periods of history. Not that being interested in various parts of history is a bad thing.
I didn’t take my videos too seriously early on, only posting to YouTube haphazardly. But I am now expanding access of my videos to other platforms. You can also catch my videos on Rumble. Sometimes not every place I go to will yield a full-fledged video. I use Instagram to posts photos from my various trips and behind the scenes on projects I’m working on. To keep informed with what is in the works for Redoubt Productions, I advise people to follow our Facebook or Minds pages.
7. What do you hope people take away from viewing your work?
The longest video I have produced is a piece on Flight 93. It is arguably the single most visited historical site in the Laurel Highlands in light of how recent the events that occurred there still are compared to other events nearby. The public knows about the National Memorial around the crash site. But few will explore the neighboring communities. Places like Shanksville & Stoystown, and all of Somerset County, were forever altered because of what happened at 10:03 AM on September 11, 2001. My piece focuses on how this portion of 9/11 are commemorated. The video visits four sites related to Flight 93. Of course the National Memorial, but also the little known privately ran Memorial Chapel a few miles south. The video stops at the fire hall of Shanksville Volunteer Fire Company, where a small memorial has been erected. I also learned the day of filming of a brand new memorial being erected by a non-for-profit across from the crash site called Patriot Park. It will commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for the United States in the War on Terror. This video was the most emotional to make and I feel best symbolizes what I am trying to achieve with making history videos.
I hope people who are not from the Laurel Highlands realize that the western side of Pennsylvania is just as rich in history as the hallowed places of Philadelphia & Gettysburg. I hope people that watch and are living in the Laurel Highlands realize they are fortunate to live in such a historical rich part of the state, the country & the world. I hope whoever views my work is inspired to live, explore & preserve the history of their own backyards. I hope people realize how important the community they are a part of is. I feel a community that is willing to preserve its history is a healthy community to be a part of.