flanging 9

Elmer D. had something going for him.  Besides bad luck.  Or carelessness.  Which led to good fortune.  Before I get too mystical, I’ll explain what happened.  Elmer was hired to work in shipping.  This mostly entailed loading finished heads onto trucks to go out and unloading metal coming in, and also unloading supplies.  This all happened before I was hired, so I don’t know how long he worked in shipping before the accident.

I haven’t talked much about machining yet.  Machining refers to trimming the edge of a head on a flanging machine, with a square cut or a bevel or a taper or a bore-up, or any combination of these.  A bevel can incorporate a land, which is a flat part of the edge not included in the bevel cut.  The land can be any size, but the most common is 1/16th inch (yes, we are Americans, we still work with inches and feet).  Also, the customer can request no land, which is called a razor cut.  For a good reason.  The top of the bevel ends in a razor-sharp edge.

A quick note about pickling, which I also haven’t said much about yet.  Stainless steel tank heads are acid-cleaned.  To do this, they are washed, then flipped upside down, so the machined edge is on the floor.  They are then picked up by an overhead crane via a steel hook that is inserted into the center hole, and lowered into a tank of acid.  The hook is left in them as they soak.  When finished, an overhead crane hook is inserted into he eye of the metal hook and the tank head is lifted out of the acid, then rinsed off.  You’d be amazed how clean this gets them.

Elmer was using an overhead crane to lift a tank head with a razor edge bevel that had already been pickled, preparing to load it onto a truck.  The head was flange-down, the way it had gone into and out of the acid tank.  As he lifted the inverted tank head up off the floor, a second tank head was stuck to the inside of it.  We often run orders of multiple heads of the same size, and we stack them together inside each other.  Being the same size and shape, sometimes they stick together.  He didn’t notice the second head.  I don’t know how high he lifted the two heads before gravity took over and the inside bottom head came loose.  It landed on his foot.

We wear steel-toed work boots.  They are required, part of our personal protection equipment (which includes safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, face shields, respirators, etc.)  The razor cut beveled edge of the head that came loose landed just behind the steel toe of his right foot.  I don’t know the height from which it fell, but I imagine it wouldn’t need to be all that high.  And it weighed several hundred pounds.  Most of his toes were sliced off.

To his credit, Elmer didn’t take a disability.  Now unable to do much physical labor, the owners promoted him to shipping supervisor.  I don’t know if such a position existed before the accident, or if the owners created the position for him.  Anyway, he ran shipping very well.  He negotiated with the trucking and rail lines, scheduled trucks to deliver metal and pick up our tank heads, and arranged for rail lines to do the same for larger material.  Then after the incident between Charley F. and my partner, he was promoted to plant supervisor.

Elmer was wily.  It was rumored he got all kinds of gifts from the trucking lines he selected to use, when he was shipping supervisor.  And I know for a fact when he was plant supervisor he would hide orders when he went on vacation, so that work became all screwed up in his absence, so he could then return from vacation and straighten the mess up, making himself indispensable.  Despite this, the shop ran smoothly while he was in charge.  He retired in the late 70’s, because of heart problems, not his injured foot.  I don’t think his badly-injured foot ever slowed him down.

Was it worth it?  To Elmer?  He was hired off the street to load and unload trucks, and he ended up plant supervisor.  Quite an improvement in his position.  Which never would have happened if he hadn’t been severely injured.  I often wonder about NFL players.  Many sustain serious injury while playing their brief careers.  But a few of them amass small fortunes while doing so.  Is it worth it?  To them?  These injuries will plague them for the rest of their lives.  May be very painful or crippling, or lead to paralysis, or early onset dementia.  Yet many have achieved their dreams, and a few have been well-rewarded for doing so.  Is it worth it?  I would say no.

But I wonder what Elmer would say.  I lost track of him after he left.  I don’t know how long he enjoyed his retirement.  I hope it was a long long time.

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