flanging 17

Jim D., the man who couldn’t see three-sixteenths of an inch, and got an ass-chewing because of it, was my second foreman.  My first was the third-shift foreman who got fired for drinking on the job.  I forget his name, mainly because I only worked for him for one month, the four weeks of training I received.  When I was hired there was only first and second shift.  But the company was gearing up to start a third shift.  That happened after my training was completed.  At that time my partner who trained along with me, the one who quit after screaming at Charley F., went to first shift.  For a little while.  The second shift foreman, along with the guy who trained me, Roy H., went to third shift.  For a little while.  Of course, there were others who either transferred to third shift or were hired for it.  Once third shift began, Jim D. quit operating a press and became second shift foreman.  I never worked long enough with the drinking foreman to get to know him, so I can’t say what working for him was like.

Jim D. was a good foreman to work for.  Mainly because he knew very little about what I was doing.  He was a press operator, he never turned on a flanging machine.  His go-to guy was Badeye.  Leotis W., AKA Badeye, was the best flanging operator on second shift.  At least while Ron H. wasn’t around.  Those two wrangled a lot over who was better.  But Badeye and Jim D. were thick.  A good move on Jim D.’s part.  He basically let Badeye run the flanging department on second shift.  Once I was forming an 8-gauge thick aluminum head and the radius folded.  I mean literally folded, like a fan.  The kind of paper fan you hold in your hand and fold up when you’re done using it.  I had never seen that happen before, and have never seen it happen since.  I still have no idea why.  I have some theories.  Maybe I heated it up too much.  Maybe I didn’t heat it up enough.  Maybe I used too much side roll pressure.  Maybe I used too little side roll pressure.  Or maybe it was so thin.  We no longer form 8-gauge material, the thinnest we do now is three-sixteenths.  We used to do 16-gauge steel, one-sixteenth inch thick steel.  Do you have any conception how thin that is, to try to form it into anything?  Thank god the company got out of that market.  But to get back to the point.  It freaked me out, the radius of the head folding up like that.  So I went and got Jim D.  I don’t think he’d ever seen it before, either.  His first words were “How in the hell did you do that?”  I’ve heard that a lot, mostly in a bad sense.  He slipped a finger under his toupee to scratch his head, then got Badeye.  Who laughed when he saw the head.  They sent it back to a press to reform the radius.  I didn’t get it back to flange, someone else, probably Badeye, finished it.  That’s what happens when you’re the best, you get all the tricky work.

Jim D. didn’t say anything to me that time I took out a section of block wall.  It happened while I was flipping a really big elliptical head, a hundred and forty-four inches in diameter and about three-quarters of an inch thick.  I was helping out in the pickle room.  All stainless steel heads get acid-cleaned.  They have to be washed before they go into the pickle tank.  Inside and out.  So the procedure is to wash the inside, flip the head over, wash the outside, then flip the head back.  ASME heads are easy to flip, because of their shape.  But elliptical heads are rounder and more difficult.  So you stand the head up on end with an overhead crane, scotch it with two four-by four pieces of wood (which in theory keeps it from sliding – ha), then lean the head back some so the crane can get a head start, then run the crane forward, hopefully pulling the head with it.  Then you have to let up on the speed as the head flips, you don’t want to jerk the head over, jerking that much weight around can damage the crane.

To make a long story short, when I went to flip the head it kicked the four by fours out from under it and went swinging into the air.  That much weight pulled the crane along the tracks, there was no stopping the crane.  So I was futilely punching buttons on the control box while chasing after a runaway crane and five tons of steel flying through the air.  The head hit the wall with a bang, and knocked a big chunk of cement block out.  The head was still vibrating when Jim D. came running.  I don’t know if he was happy or sad to see that I was still alive.  He didn’t say a word, just slipped a finger under his toupee to scratch his head and walked away.

Jim D. had the most god-awful toupee you’ve ever seen.  More about that in another post.

flanging 16

I worked on second shift at Brighton Corp. from the time I was hired in July of 1973 until I transferred to first shift in September of 1979.  I had also worked second shift at Deerfield Mfg. for 3 years prior to Brighton, so I spent the entire decade of the 70’s on second shift.  Since there were no DVR’s or video on demand at that time, I got out of the habit of watching TV.  My hours at Brighton were 3 pm to 11:30 pm.  I’d get home around midnight, get something to eat, get cleaned up, then watch some Johnny Carson.  There was nothing on later back then.  This was before cable.  After Carson it was sign-off – the flag waving while the national anthem played, then a test pattern.  So I’d usually be asleep by 2.  In the morning I’d wake up about 9 or 10, do whatever needed to be done, eat lunch, then leave for work at 2:00.

When you are young is a good time to work these hours.  When you are childless and your wife doesn’t work, and mine didn’t, then she can keep the same hours.  And when your children are young it’s not a problem because you get to see them all day before you go to work.  Also, you are on a different schedule than the rest of the world.  Which means little traffic and no lines for whatever you need or want to do.  I was home while most of the world was at work, and I was at work while most of the world was at home.  The biggest downer was Friday nights, having to wait until midnight to begin your weekend.  Another bummer were the holidays.  I have worked some Halloween nights, and some New Year Eves, which is no fun.  On the plus side, as I stated before, there was much less supervision on second shift.  Management usually left the offices by 5, and then we were on our own the rest of the night.

There were other drawbacks.  The crazies are out late at night, when I’d be driving home from work.  One time when I pulled out from the parking lot I was rear-ended by someone flying.  Before I realized what had happened, he pulled around me and sped away.  Of course I gave chase.  He hit the interstate, with me on his tail.  We got up to a hundred. Luckily, it was late on a weeknight and there wasn’t much traffic.  There also wasn’t a police officer, never is when you need one.  But he finally pulled over, and I pulled off behind him.  He opened his door like he was going to get out, so I got out.  Then he slammed his door and took off again.  I let him go, since I had gotten a good look at his car and had his license number.  I drove to the Sharonville police station and filed a report.  It wasn’t a half hour later they located the car abandoned nearby.  He turned himself in within 24 hours of the wreck, which kept him from being charged with hit and run.  In court he was cited and ordered to pay damages.  Which he never did.  I had already paid my $100 deductible and gotten my car fixed.  Two years later I got a check from my insurance company for $40.  They had kept after him, and had finally settled for 40% of the damages, entitling me to 40% of my deductible back.  Two years.  Insurance companies never give up.

Also, I was on the road late at night in bad weather.  I remember once when a bad snow storm hit.  I shoveled my driveway clear before going to work, and it didn’t snow any more.  So I wasn’t paying much attention when I was driving down my street after midnight and pulled into my driveway and got stuck.  The snow plow had cleared our street and piled a deep bank at the end of my driveway.  It being dark, and me being tired, I didn’t see it and drove right into it.  My car was sticking half-way out into the street.  I couldn’t leave it like that, so I was outside in the dark, with it being just above zero, until 1 in the morning shoveling snow out from under and around my car.

The worst part of second shift was when my oldest son began school full-time.  That was in September of 1978.  Once he started first grade I never got to see him during the week.  I used to look in on him when I got home from work to see him sleeping in his bed.  But that didn’t last long.  By September of the following year just as he began second grade I went to first shift.

Enough harping on the bad stuff.  I remember all those long lazy mornings lounging in bed, no alarm clock, waking up every morning like I can do now only on the weekend.  I’ll have that again soon, once I retire.  No more alarm clock.  Sweet.

flanging 15

brighton man

I…AM…BRIGH…TON…MAN!!!  Cue Black Sabbath heavy metal music.

This was the logo of Brighton Corporation.  Lately they’ve gone to some new sleek linear graphic crap emphasizing Tru-Edge.  But Brighton Man was much cooler.  Were heads ever actually formed like this?  Beat into shape with a hammer?  Like a blacksmith?  Could be.  I’ve seen Bad-Eye do this to a flange-only head.  Throw it onto the floor in disgust when he couldn’t get it flat enough and beat on it with a sledgehammer.  Sometimes he beat it flat.  Other times it just made him feel better.  He beat on his flanging machine, too, sometimes, with or without a hammer.

I thought it was time to do a post on the history of Brighton Corporation, what little I know.  The company was founded in 1914 by Alvin Hock, Sr.  There were a lot of breweries in Cincinnati at that time, so I imagine they were his first customers.  The first plant I’m aware of was downtown Cincinnati, somewhere on 5th Street.  The old timers, such as Roy C. and Jim W., a couple of press operators, and Felan R., a forklift driver, used to talk about the shop on 5th Street.  What they talked about the most was the view.  They were on second shift at that time.  They would take a break up on the roof late at night for the view.  A woman in the apartment building across the street knew what time their nightly break was, and would stand before her open window and give them a strip tease.  They said she was a beauty.

In the 60’s the company moved out to its current location in Sharonville, just north of Cincinnati.  Here is an aerial shot.

Brighton arial view

Here is a screen capture from Google Maps.

google map view of Brighton Corp

In the aerial shot, do you see the two peaked white roofs in the bottom left, with the flat brown roof to the right?  In the google map shot they are the lower three black roofs.  That’s all that was there when I hired on in 1973.  The rest has been added since.

Alvin Hock, Sr., had already retired by the time I went to work there.  He turned the company over to his two sons, Alvin Jr. and Paul.  I did see Alvin Sr. be escorted through the shop, but he was pretty old by then.  And I heard stories.  One involved him spying a broken bolt on the floor, picking it up to inspect it, then saying it still had good thread and should be cut off and cleaned up and used again.  Another story I heard was that whenever secretaries had to walk through the shop they were instructed to hold files or binders or something up over their chests, so the men couldn’t see the shape of their breasts.  But I never worked for him.

Alvin Jr. seemed to be just like what I’d heard his father was like.  Hard and mean.  Paul was more tolerant.  They did the good cop-bad cop routine well.  For example, fans were not permitted in the shop.  Alvin Jr. didn’t want people wasting time dragging them from one place to another.  We just suffered through the heat, and second shift was the hottest part of the day.  But that did make you tougher.  I never got air conditioning in my house until my wife demanded it, in 1990.  I was used to the heat.  But I did have fans, at least.

Alvin Jr. never spoke to the men, he would relay his orders or complaints through the plant supervisor.  Whereas Paul frequently spoke to the men.  He was much more personable and friendly.  But being on second shift, I didn’t have much contact with either of them.  Not until September of 1979, when I transferred to first shift.

One incident I remember well.  There used to be a pit in shipping where semis could back their trailers down into.  That way the floor was level with the trailer bed.  A ramp was put in place and forklifts could drive into the trailer to load it.  Of course, it was dark inside the trailer, so a spotlight on a telescoping pole could be positioned to shine into the trailer.  One day I was helping out in shipping and was loading heads into a trailer.  When the truck pulled out I didn’t fold up the telescoping pole with the light, like I was supposed to.  Paul comes walking through shipping, looking all around, and walks right into it.  He hit it hard, and it put a serious gash on his forehead.  Of course, he had the natural human reaction – he looked around to see if anyone had seen him.  Then he bolted away.  Shortly after a maintenance man arrived in shipping to take down the pole.  A light was installed on the shipping forklift, which was actually a much better solution anyway.

I remember two incidents involving Alvin Jr.  Once I walked into the office just as he was chewing out the plant supervisor.  It was Geoff L., Elmer D. had retired by this time.  After Alvin Jr. left I couldn’t help but smile.  Geoff shot me a dark look, declaring, “It’s not funny, Mike.”  Another time I walked into the office while Alvin Jr. was there, and  he made a disparaging remark about my work boots, saying they were so worn out they looked like clown shoes.  After he left, Geoff laughed and said, “Now that’s funny.”

In 1987 Trinity Corporation, out of Dallas, Texas, bought Brighton.  Alvin Jr. and Paul both retired.  Paul’s son Jeff stayed on as president.  But only for a couple years.  He didn’t like working for Trinity.  In 1990 Jeff Hock quit and invested money in Enerfab, in Cincinnati, to start up a tank head division for them.  In 2002 Enerfab bought Brighton, and Jeff has been running the business ever since.

Initially, Trinity invested money in Brighton.  They brought in new machines and built the separate large building in back that now houses the metal cutters, seamers, and x-ray room.  But after that, they sucked money out.  Towards the end they would fix nothing, let alone upgrade anything.

Enerfab buying us out was the best thing that could happen.  They fixed the place up and brought in some new equipment.  At first our offices were located at their plant on Spring Grove in Cincinnati, but eventually they even built a new office for Brighton.  It can be seen in the google map screen shot – at the bottom right, with the purple roof.  Enerfab has been a good company to work for.  They have treated us better than the original Brighton or Trinity ever did.  And a Hock, third-generation Jeff, runs the company once again.

flanging 14

In the previous post I mentioned that Al’s bar was smoky.  The world was smoky back then.  It’s hard to imagine if you are too young to have lived through it.  Watch ‘Mad Men’ to get a sense of it.  But most people can remember the smoky rooms.  Everyone smoked everywhere.  People lived in a smoky haze.  I’m not exaggerating.  Bars were the worst.  That’s why people wore such strong cologne and perfume back then, to compete with the stink of cigarette smoke.  I remember the first time I walked into a bar after the smoking ban was enacted.  My God…is that…air freshener…I smell?

It was bad at work, too.  We have a small break room.  At lunch you could not see across it.  Everyone had a cigarette lit.  Leonard L., a press operator, even kept one lit while he ate.  It would hang out of the corner of his mouth while he chewed, and he’d pause between swallows to inhale.  He also would light one cigarette off the end of his previous one before he put it out.  He went through over 2 packs a night, plus however many he smoked at home.  Unbelievable.  But not unlikely.  I went through between a pack and a pack and a half a day.  I’d periodically stop at my machine to light up.  If I had grease on my fingers it would soak into the cigarette and give it a terrible tang, yuck, but I’d smoke it anyway.  Or if I wanted to smoke a cigarette undisturbed I’d go off and talk to someone.  I’m sure my production has improved drastically since I quit smoking.  And that brings me to the people who claimed they were trying to quit.  All they quit was buying.  They’d bum cigarettes off you all night long.

The shop was a different matter.  It is big and airy, with thirty-foot ceilings, a big warehouse of a building.  So cigarette smoke didn’t amount to much.  But there were other kinds of smoke.  It would fill up with welding smoke if several welders got busy at the same time.  Also, smoke from a hot turn-up could really spread.  We flange steel up to an inch and a half thick.  In order to bend such a thickness, it is heated in a furnace to over 2000 degrees F.  Which bakes all the grease out of the metal.  So when it is flanged grease is liberally applied to the surface.  Which through sublimation immediately transformed from a solid into a gas and billowed out in a fast-spreading noxious cloud as the head spun.  Also, fresh acid is mixed in the pickle tank periodically.  Although not smoke, the gas released into the air is nasty.  I have helped out in the pickle room on occasion.  Once I got a lung-full of the stuff, and it burned.  Also, clouds of carbon dust would arise when flanger operators turned on their air lines, which they did in order to keep metal shavings and other grit from getting crushed into the metal by the icr roll, while a carbon steel head was spinning.  And the shop is located in a low-lying area, what had previously been a wetland, so mosquitoes were bad.  Especially on second shift.  To combat them, we would soak greasy rags in solvent and pile them up by our machines and light them.  You’d see small fires on the floor producing thick black smoke all through the shop.

Since then, some powerful ventilation fans have been installed.  That helps a lot.  Also, a smoking ban was enacted at work several years ago.  That has been a gradual process.  At first people ignored it and continued smoking in the break room and out on the shop floor.  But the company kept on them, and eventually they moved to outside the door.  Then cameras were installed, and they could no longer smoke even there, they had to move out to a designated area all the way across the parking lot.  The company has been insistent, but supportive.  They have paid for nicotine patches or nicotine gum or whatever remedies smokers have wanted to try in order to quit.

Conditions at work other than air quality have also improved over the years.  I hope to show this with my posts.  If the me who was hired in 1973 walked into the shop as it is today in 2015 I wouldn’t recognize the place.  It happens gradually, so you don’t notice, but over the decades there has been vast improvement.