flanging 25

Ron H. was bad about wrinkling heads.  I’ve seen him wrinkle metal so badly it would hardly spin in the machine.  And what a racket.  Badly-wrinkled metal bangs loudly as it spins between the icr roll and the forming roll.  Then he would go back and smooth the wrinkles out.  He would get the wrinkles because he worked too much metal at once.  He would try to flange the heads into size too quickly.  But by the time he smoothed the wrinkles out he was practically in size.  It’s just the way he flanged.

Ron didn’t flange that way because he was in a hurry.  He got his work done quickly so he could then stand around and tell stories.   A lot of people worked that way.  They would bust their ass getting a job done, then goof off.  Once when our foreman, Jim D., went on vacation, the first shift foreman, Al B., came on second shift to cover for him.  He thought he was going to straighten us out.  He was always onto us to keep working.  This one old guy called his bluff.  Al B. gave him an impossible amount of work to do for the shift.  The old guy asked Al if he cared what he did after he got the work done.  Al told him he didn’t care if the guy went skiing, because there was no way he could get all that done.  The old guy got the work done.  Then he busted up a wooden skid, tied two broken slats to his feet,  and went around the shop the rest of the night acting like he was skiing.

Ron H. worked like that.  He did his work quickly so that he had plenty of time to stand around telling hunting or fishing stories. My favorite one was this time he was squirrel hunting.  He saw a squirrel sitting up in a tree, so he took careful aim and fired.  The squirrel fell.  Then it fell again.  He’d been hunting for a while, so he thought maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him.  But when he went looking for the squirrel he found two of them dead on the ground.  Apparently the second squirrel had been sitting directly behind the first, and he had shot the pair with one bullet.

He was that kind of hunter, and fisherman.  He spent a lot of time out in the woods, or on riverbanks and lake sides.  He owned hunting dogs he had trained himself, and often went out after work to hunt nocturnal creatures such as raccoon and possum.  He was all the time bringing in game meat he had shot and cleaned and butchered and cooked himself, for us to try.  I sampled it all.  The worst I ever tasted was groundhog.  It was really greasy.

That was one reason he was on second shift.  He liked to go out after work and hunt all night, then sleep until time for work.  Another reason was he had little seniority.  He was ten or fifteen years older than me (I don’t think Ron was exactly sure  how old he was), and had worked at least that many years at Brighton by the time I started there.  But he had quit several times.  The longest stretch he was off work was two years.  He said he went two years without, as he put it, hitting a lick.  But Brighton was always ready to hire him back because he was a trained flanger operator.

Ron’s work area stank.  He chewed tobacco and spit everywhere.  On the floor, in the heads, in the scrap dumpsters, in the garbage cans.  His machine always stank of foul tobacco juice.  If you think tobacco smoke reeks, you should be around someone who chews.  When smoking was prohibited in the shop, he kept right on chewing, and spitting.

Ron eventually transferred to first shift.  But when Enerfab bought Brighton from Trinity, he quit.  For about six months.  Of course, when he came back to work he had to go to second shift because he was starting over.  About ten years later he retired.  For about six months.  Once again, Brighton was happy to hire him back because he was such a good flanger operator.  He was the Brett Favre of Brighton.  But a couple years after that he retired for good.

What Brighton really missed when he retired was his training skill.  Badeye would fix (nearly) everything I messed up, and you learned how to do what he did by watching him.  But Ron would take the time to explain what he was doing as he fixed your mistakes.  He was very good at explaining why metal acted the way it did, and showing you little tricks on the flanging machine.

I don’t know how Ron lasted as long as he did.  He claimed to only have half a lung, the other lung and a half lost to cancer.  Of course that never stopped him from chewing.  Or from telling stories.  Which I always enjoyed listening to.


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