flanging 86

In 2001 and 2002 people began disappearing.  It wasn’t that surprising at the time.  People come and go all the time at Brighton.  And we were slow.  We were still recovering from the dot com bust of the early 2000’s.  But when long-time press operator Kelley G. quit, he warned us we had better be doing the same.  The ‘same’ was quitting Brighton and going to work for Jeff Hock’s head shop at Enerfab.  But I had no desire to quit.  By 2002 I had invested 29 years in Brighton and wasn’t about to throw that away.  Besides, I was 50 years old by then, and finding another good job at that age wouldn’t be easy.  So my decision was a no-brainer.  I would stick it out with Brighton to the bitter end.

Besides, I didn’t believe Kelley G. was a reliable source.  He was a big guy, and had been strong as a bull.  But he was a heavy drinker, and as he grew older it caught up with him. There was something going on with his right leg.  It was related to his drinking somehow. That leg swelled up like a balloon.  And it turned some God-awful shade of purple and black.  He said it hurt terribly.  He could hardly walk on it.  It would take forever for him to limp from one place to another.  He kept it wrapped up tightly in ace bandages.  You did not want to be around when he unwrapped it.  I was in the locker room one day when he did this, to show us how bad his leg was.  It stank like rotting flesh.  Which I guess is what was happening.  His leg was rotting off.  He had put in for a disability, but it takes time to do all the paperwork and go through all the hoops.  In the meantime, while his claim was being processed, all he could do was suffer through it.

I probably never drank as much as Kelley G., but back in the 80’s and early 90’s my drinking got pretty heavy.  But I survived an incident in 1992 that caused me to quit.  I won’t go into details, but I was lucky to be alive.  I was also lucky not to be sitting in prison because I’d injured someone else.  The incident really shook me up.  The least of it was that I got a DUI.  My first and only.  Part of that was spending 3 days in a treatment center.  That was an experience.  That first night we were all sitting around in the common room when medication call was announced.  Everyone on prescription medication went to receive their dose.  Only four or five of us remained seated.  After the mob left we looked around at each other with concern, wondering what kind of hopped-up dope heads were we locked in here with.

I received counseling while in there.  My counselor looked dead-on like Bill Cosby.  At the time that wasn’t an insult.  He wanted to know what my plan was, after I’d completed my 3 days.  I told him I’d quit drinking.  He just shook his head.  He told me I needed a plan, to continue counseling, to join a support group of sober people, to stay away from my old friends who drank, and to stay out of bars.  But I told him I’d already quit, as of the night I had the wreck.  He continued to shake his head.  I’m sure he’d heard that countless times before.  But for me it was true.  After that weekend I attended court-ordered counseling. Which I attended and sat through, since I had to.  I also attended one AA meeting, but that didn’t appeal to me at all.  That was for recovering alcoholics, which I didn’t consider myself to be.  I was a recovered alcoholic.  It was relatively easy for me.  Quitting smoking was much harder.  All I had to do was keep reminding myself that I should be dead or sitting in prison.  And I haven’t had to stay out of bars, even.  My son has played in many different bands.  So I and my wife have gone to a lot of different bars to hear him.  At first I would order a non-alcoholic beer, but eventually got to just ordering Pepsi or Coke.  Since there is a big campaign promoting designated drivers, there was never a problem not ordering alcohol.  So I’ve been sober since October of 1992.

Kelley G. wasn’t that lucky.  Heavy drinking wrecked his health.  He eventually got his disability.  But he didn’t live long to enjoy it.  I never heard after he quit working if they ever amputated his leg, but they probably did.  Anyway, he died soon after.  That could easily have been me.  I was lucky.

flanging 85

It’s easy to write about the colorful ones.  But most people come in, quietly do their job with out causing a fuss, and go home.  Daniel M. was like that.  He was in his fifties when I came to work there.  He was a helper on second shift who did all kinds of odd jobs.  He helped out in the pickle room, he operated the furnace, he washed heads, he swept the floors.  He did anything that needed doing, without complaint.  And he didn’t need to be assigned work.  He kept busy.  If he had nothing else to do, he would pick up a broom and sweep.

Howard P. was another worker like this.  He was in his fifties when I came to first shift in 1979.  He worked in shipping.  He smoked a lot.  That’s all I recall about him.  Whereas Daniel M. was friendly and would talk to you, Howard kept to himself and only mumbled when pressed.  When I was committeeman a job posting went up for a press operator.  Geoff L. already knew who he wanted to award the job to.  But I enjoyed aggravating Geoff.  So I talked to Howard about applying for the job.  He had years more seniority than the person Geoff wanted.  Tom H. learned what I was doing and told me to leave Howard alone, that he wouldn’t make a good press operator.  There was no need for that anyway, since Howard had no interest in learning a new job.  He eventually hurt his back at work.  For a while he couldn’t even sit at break time.  He had to eat his lunch while standing up. Apparently sitting puts the most stress on your back, standing or laying down is preferable.  He finally either quit, got fired, or got a disability, or maybe even lasted long enough to retire.  He just quietly disappeared one day.  Just like he had quietly worked the whole time he was at Brighton.

Mike H., the forklift driver I’ve mentioned before,  was quiet. But he had a sharp wit and could be very funny, only his comments were brief and to the point.  He wasn’t one for launching into a long tale, rather he’d come out with humorous one-liners.  When we first got laser pointers installed on the flangers, he’d stick his hand in the beam, then react like he’d been burned.  It doesn’t sound funny, but it was when he did it.

The young guy who was one of the three fired for drinking not long after I first started, Bill-something, was very quiet.  I never knew him, he was on third shift.  But he followed people around like a puppy, never saying much of anything.  That’s what got him fired, he was following the wrong people.

Then there are the ones I just never had much contact with.  Roger B. is a welder who worked at Brighton nearly as long as I did.  I just never encountered him much, so he seemed quiet to me.  He had a son, Bobby B., who worked at Brighton for a long while.  He was a flanger operator.  So I had a lot more to do with Bobby than I ever did with his father.  Bobby quit.  After running a flanging machine for 10 years or so, I’m not sure how long he worked there, he claimed he was sick of it and quit.  Those two aren’t the only father and sons to work at Brighton.  My oldest son worked there briefly.  But he never made it into the union, he was released just before he completed his three-month probation.  He was hired in the early 90’s just as the dot-com bust began to effect us and work dried up.  Also, I was financial secretary of the Steelworkers at that time, and Bob E. sure seemed to enjoy telling me that my son had to be let go.

Probably the most famous father and son to work at Brighton was Leotis W. and his son. Only they never worked together.  Leotis had quit Brighton and was driving a truck by the time his son was hired.  He was quickly named Badeye Jr.  Not because there was something wrong with his eye.  He was so like his father.  He was hired as a flanger operator, and he caught on to the work so quickly everyone accused his father of having a flanging machine in his garage and teaching his son how to operate the machine before he ever came to Brighton.  Can things like that be passed on through your genes?  It sure seemed that way with Badeye Jr.  It was like he walked in the door knowing how to run a flanging machine.  But he didn’t last long.  He was young and too skilled to stay.  He quit and found a better job in a machine shop.

And then there are the stories I remember, but I can’t remember the names of the people involved.  Such as the guy who got his foot stuck under a head.  To work on the outside of a head we flip it over, then lower it flange-down to the floor so it rests on the clamp.  But if someone else needs that clamp, or if the head is going to be flange-down like that for a long time, the head will be lowered down onto a block.  We used to use wooden blocks to support inverted heads.  We now use steel blocks.  These are much heavier and difficult to maneuver.  But safer.  Yet there was nothing wrong with the wood blocks if used correctly.  You were supposed to lower the edge of the head down against the grain of the wood.  But we got rid of the wood blocks after this one guy lowered the edge of the head down with the grain.  The weight of the head and the sharpness of the edge, which was beveled with a razor edge, split the wood block.  The head came down on the guy’s foot.  Luckily, it landed on his steel toe, and his foot wasn’t injured.  But his foot was caught and he couldn’t pull it free.  The head must have dented the steel toe enough that he couldn’t pull his foot out of his work boot, either.  And he couldn’t reach the control box of the overhead crane he was using.  So he was trapped.  I don’t know how long he stood there yelling for help and waving his arms, trying to get someone’s attention.  Sometimes it gets very noisy in the shop, it’s hard to hear the guy who is in your face trying to talk to you.  But finally someone heard or saw him, and came over to raise the head up off his foot.

Then there was this minister.  He said he was a preacher, and some people at work had heard him preach in small church.  But he was extremely evangelical, if that’s the right term.  At lunch time he would go off behind the big furnace and pray.  Of course there is nothing wrong with praying, but he would do it very loudly.  During lunch break all the machines were turned off, and the shop was quiet.  So if you came out of the break room into the shop you could hear him screaming and bellowing.  It was eerie.  But nobody interfered with him.  He was merely expressing his faith, on his own time since our lunch breaks aren’t paid.  I don’t think he worked at Brighton very long.

I’ll relate this anecdote about Bernie T. I don’t think I wrote about before.  I hope I’m not repeating myself.  Bernie was always frail, from the first time I met him.  But he got worse. He had problems with his back.  One day his back locked up and he sprawled out on the floor and couldn’t move.  A welder, Dennis B., saw him and came over.  Only problem was that Dennis thought he was fooling around.  Bernie was always fooling around.  So Dennis came up and kicked him, telling him to stop fooling around, then walked on.  I don’t know how long Bernie laid there in pain before someone else came along.

flanging 84

I posted before about important events I’ve witnessed from work, such as the tornadoes of 1974. Here are some later-day ones.  Such as the TV movie “The Day After”.  It aired in 1983, at the height of the Cold War.  That movie really brought home the reality of what the aftermath of a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would be like.  A friend called me immediately after it aired, nearly in tears.  She was terrified.  This shook a lot of people up.  As it should have.  We now know that in the late 80’s there was a computer glitch in the Soviet Union that showed us launching a nuclear all-out first strike. The Soviets only had a matter of minutes to retaliate.  The Soviet general in charge of their nuclear forces was ordered by the Kremlin to do just that.  There was no way for him to know if what he was seeing on his radar screens was real or not.  But he went with his gut feeling that it wasn’t real and didn’t launch an all-out counter strike.  So some nameless Soviet general saved the world.  That’s how close we came.  After that close call the U.S. and Soviet Union began de-escalating.  That’s why to hear Trump today so cavalierly talk of restarting the arms race with Russia is so alarming.

Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 came as no surprise.  Everyone knew of all his many affairs prior to his election.  But we’d hoped he could control himself while in office.  Obviously not.  He survived and finished his term, but none of us thought he should have.  Lying under oath is am impeachable offense.

Does anyone remember the 2K event?  When civilization as we know it was to come crashing to a halt at the stroke of midnight 1999?  Didn’t think so.  At the time personal computers weren’t so prevalent, so it didn’t make a big impression at work.  But it sure made IT workers a lot of money.

9/11 made a much bigger impression, in 2001.  I was at work the morning it happened. Randy V. told me about a jetliner crashing into a skyscraper in New York City.  So I went with him into the break room to see the television coverage.  This was around 9 a.m.  We both thought it was just an accident. While we were watching the news, the second airliner hit the other Twin Tower of the Trade Center.  The country had just been through a very contentious presidential election in 2000, what with counting all the stupid chads in Florida.  This act of war certainly united the country.  Everybody was behind the invasion of Afghanistan.

We were all behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003, too.  Until no one could find any weapons of mass destruction.  This was perhaps the biggest military blunder ever.  Think how different the world might be today if we had finished the job in Afghanistan properly, instead of squandering our resources in an unnecessary war.

Then there was the financial crash of 2007.  I know of no one I worked with who lost their home.  But I’m sure a lot of us suffered.  I know we nearly shut down our union pension with the Boilermakers because of it.  But we voted to keep it solvent by contributing a lot more into it.  But it was a very close vote.  Of course, I’m glad we kept it solvent, since I am now retired and drawing from it.

That brings us to Trump’s election.  Worst presidential election ever.  Of course, the jury is still out on the results.  Trump was fairly elected, no doubt.  I didn’t vote for him, but I’m willing to give him a chance.  See if Trump the President is any better than Trump the candidate.  I have my doubts.  But we’ll see.

flanging 83

I have focused so much on flanging that I should mention some more press operators.  We have a few welders, a few shippers, a few maintenance men, and other people doing odd jobs, but the majority of employees at Brighton are either flanger operators or press operators.  So these are several I remember.

Art H. was as colorful of a country boy as you’d ever meet.  He was a good worker who came in to work every day and tried to do a good job, but he could get easily flustered when things didn’t go right.  And he expressed his frustrations very well.  He was in a department meeting of press operators once when Geoff L. said something, I don’t know what, to set him off.  Art told Geoff he had a shotgun on his wall that was just a-quivering to be used. Threatening your supervisor with a gun is not politically correct, or even legal, most likely. That may have been the reason the department meetings came to a halt.  But Geoff didn’t discipline Art.  I’m not sure how many years Art H. worked at Brighton, but he was still employed there when he had a heart attack and died.  I think he was in his fifties.

Another press operator I’ve got to mention is Gene S.  He was in his twenties when he came to work at Brighton.  He was strong, and because of this he was put on the only press in the shop, number 26, which didn’t have a manipulator.  Which meant the heads had to be turned by hand,  True, the smallest heads were pressed here, but some larger ones were also done there, and it was the most physically demanding press to operate.  That’s why no one wanted to run it.  Almost no one.  There’s Robby S., but that’s another story.  Anyway, another reason Tom H. got him to run a press (almost) nobody else wanted to run was because Gene wasn’t the brightest bulb in the light fixture.  Hell, he had more than one filament burned out.  At the time I was running a flanging machine near 26 press. Whenever I would break a bolt I’d toss it over onto the floor by it.  Gene would find them, then look to see where they were falling out of his machine from.  Finally, he showed them to Tom H.  Who recognized what kind of bolts they were, and came over to tell me to cut it out.  Since Gene quit I’ve continued to toss bolts over there.  Force of habit.  Sorry, Robby.

Gene S. had a voracious appetite.  He was a rail, but could wolf down mass quantities of food.  He’d finish his substantial lunch, then go begging for more.  At one point he started getting into other people’s lunches without asking.  Someone, I don’t know who, stuck some Ex-Lax into a sandwich he brought in.  Sure enough, by lunchtime his lunch box had been gotten into and the sandwich was gone.  And Gene was running to the bathroom the rest of the night.  So that put a stop to him filching lunches.

Another time Gene was helping out in the pickle room when this young polisher asked him for help.  This was after I had transferred back into flanging.  A young guy had been hired and trained by John R.  He had finished roughing out a big head, and was now down inside it with a patent wheel grinding out the remaining pits.  But he hadn’t raised the polisher arm up out of the way, like I always did.  Instead he was working around it.  So he called out to Gene to jog the machine, in order to spin the turntable around so he could get to the section now under the arm.  Now imagine this.  He asked someone who had never turned on his machine before to turn it on.  While he was inside it.  You should never allow two Darwin Award candidates to work together.  Gene turned the machine on, but he didn’t turn it back off.  The turntable began spinning, and the young guy was bouncing around inside the head like a rubber ball screaming at Gene to turn it back off.  Luckily, Gene didn’t also turn on the polishing belt.  It would have skinned the young guy alive.  I don’t know how long the guy was trapped banging around inside that spinning head before Gene figured out how to cut the turntable off.

But that’s not the best Gene S. story.  Not long after he started working we got a foul smell in the locker room.  So people began sniffing around to see where it was coming from.  It was coming from Gene’s locker.  When asked what was stinking in his locker, he showed us.  It was a shop rag.  That he used to wipe his ass with.  He told us he didn’t trust toilet paper, there were too many chemicals in it.  So he wiped his butt with a shop rag, rinsed it out, then put it back in his locker.  Of course Tom H. made him throw it away.  I don’t know what he did after that.  Probably just quit wiping himself.

Stan C. drove a forklift some of the time he was at Brighton, but he was mainly a press operator.  While driving a forklift he was the one who ran over a golf cart, with someone in it.  That’s probably the reason he became a press operator, because after that he was barred from driving a forklift.  To his credit, Stan C. didn’t do the most damage with a forklift.  That honor goes to Rick A., who worked in shipping most of his life, but later became an inspector.  He set a big load of steel down on someone’s pickup truck.  This was a vendor or a customer who had driven back into the yard for some reason.  Rick flattened it.  He also wrecked several machines.  He finally had his forklift license revoked when people noticed he never looked behind when he drove in reverse.  He said his arthritis was so bad he couldn’t turn his hear around at all.  There’s another good story about Rick when he worked in shipping.  He had bladder problems and had to go to the bathroom a lot.  Someone else who worked in shipping, I forget his name, hated Rick, so he complained to Geoff L. about Rick being gone so much and not doing much work.  So Geoff restricted Rick’s trips to the bathroom.  Then the same employee who had complained discovered Rick peeing down the drain in shipping.  This guy not only ratted Rick out again, but he threatened to knock the crap out of Rick if he ever did it again.  He didn’t like working around an open sewer.  Geoff reprimanded Rick once more, but eased up on the bathroom restriction.

Anyway, Stan C. was a press operator most of the time.  He was agreeable and pleasant and fun to work with, but towards the end he missed a lot of work.  He became an alcoholic, and was probably doing some hard drugs, although I don’t know for sure.  He became reckless.  Which made him dangerous to be around.  If he didn’t care what happened to himself, how much would he be concerned with what happened to you?  But there is one humorous story.  We were all outside at lunch one day sitting around a picnic table when Stan got a splinter in his butt.  He wanted the foreman, Tom H., to get it out for him.  Of course Tom refused.  But Stan was insistent, and threatened to go to the medical center to have it removed.  I think he and Tom went into the locker room to have a look at it.  Knowing Tom, he probably pulled that splinter out.  He and Stan were pretty good buddies.  But that couldn’t keep Stan from eventually being fired for missing too much work..         .