flanging 12

Once my training was over and I was working on my own – Leotis W.(Bad-Eye) might not agree that I was working on my own – okay, so once I was working mostly on my own, my next milestone at Brighton was the completion of my probation period.  Which lasted 3 months.  I couldn’t join the Steelworkers Union for 3 months.  During those first 3 months the company could fire me for any reason.  Once I completed my probation and joined the union, then the company would need just cause to fire me.  But for 3 months I could be fired for an unjust cause.

The biggest thing the company frowned upon during probation was missing work.  You were expected to work every day of your probation.  So of course I missed some work.  It wasn’t my fault.  Several weeks after I started I got a phone call at work.  In 1973 the only cell phones were found in country club prisons.  So I was called into the office to answer the call on their phone.  It was the police.  My wife had been arrested, and she and my 11-month old son were currently being held at the Norwood police station.  If I wanted, I could come bail her out.  When I told Jim D., the second shift foreman, that I needed to clock out to go bail my wife out of jail, he gave me the ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ look.  Jim was in his fifties and had probably heard all kinds of excuses for missing work, but I bet this was a first.  It was early in the shift, so I told him I would return to work as soon as I could.  I clocked out and drove to the police station, stopping en route to pick up my checkbook.  Only the police would not take a check.  Cash only.  My bank was closed and, once again, this was 1973, and ATM’s weren’t even a gleam in a banker’s eye yet.  So I stopped by a garage (auto repair shop that sold gas, full service) that had happily taken a few of my checks and knew they were good.  I explained my situation to the owner, who didn’t even bat an eye as he cashed a check for me.  Made me wonder what his wife was like.  Then I went to pick up my wife and son.

At the time, we rented the bottom apartment in a two-unit house.  The people above us were insane.  Late one Friday night, long after I had come in from work, the man took a baseball bat to his own car.  We assumed he was drunk.  The woman wasn’t any more stable.  She was insanely jealous of my wife.  That my wife was 19 at the time and had nicely-recovered from the birth of our first son and, this being August, liked to lay out in the back yard in a bikini probably had something to do with it.  Anyway, there had been a fight between my wife and this woman, and the woman had gone to the police to press charges, and the police had showed up at the apartment to haul my wife in, and my wife had been allowed her one phone call, and had called me at work.  Jim had told me she was crying when he answered.  So I paid the bail with cash, took her and our son to stay with her sister (she did not want to stay at the apartment by herself that night), and returned to work.  I missed about 3 or 4 hours.  After that I was known as the new guy with the wife who was an ex-con.  But of course she wasn’t.  We went to court two weeks later.  Since court is generally held during the day, I didn’t have to miss any more work.  The judge thought the whole thing was ridiculous, dismissed charges, and suggested we separate ourselves from each other.  We gladly moved the next month.

Another reason for probation – my probation, not my wife’s – was for the company to evaluate your work.  During those 3 months the company could reassign you to another job if they didn’t think you were working out on your original job.  Once you got in the union, it was much harder for the company to do that.  But I did okay on a flanging machine, despite Bad-Eye’s slander.  One young guy hired shortly after me didn’t.  Dennis T. had been hired as a flanger operator.  He hardly ever finished a head.  He was one of those guys who has to have it perfect.  Perfectly in size, perfectly straight, absolutely perfect.  We don’t flange perfect heads.  We form them to within specs, then quit on them.  Because to make them perfect takes too much time.  I can hear you now – “but you said they didn’t expect you to make good time for at least 6 months”.  That’s not the point.  Metal is malleable for only so long.  If you work it too long it loses it’s elasticity.  It becomes hard and wrinkles, cracks, thins out, all kinds of bad things happen to steel if you work it too long.  All those things were happening to Dennis’ heads.  So before he finished his probation they transferred him to the metal cutting department, where his need for perfection was appreciated.  He worked there for nearly 30 years.

But I made it.  By the end of October I completed my probation, and was still operating a flanging machine.

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