flanging 43

Staying awake is a major problem.  It’s worse for press operators, because they sit down a lot.  I mentioned waking John M. up in an earlier post.  And the incident with Mark K. when I was union committeeman.  But it’s not as much of an issue for flanger operators because we are on their feet most of the time.  Although I know one who sits on a stool while he is machining a head and dozes off.  I sat on a stool when I ran the polishing machine, and the trick for me was to hold something.  When it slipped out of my fingers I would wake up.  But being on your feet is no guarantee you’ll stay awake. When I was on third shift I sometimes drifted off while I was at the flanging controls.  I would start leaning into the machine and jerk awake.  Third shift was hard on me.  I used a lot of No-Doze.  I chewed them up instead of swallowing them with water.  They tasted so terrible that in itself would wake me up.

This leads to one of the best pranks ever played on me.  When I was on third shift, from 11 pm to 7 am, we took our lunch break at 3 am.  It was a half hour, so I would finish eating in fifteen minutes and then lay my head down and sleep the other fifteen minutes.  One night I woke up with the foreman, Tom H., yelling at me to wake up.  I looked up and saw the room was empty and the clock said 4:20.  I had slept right through the whistle and overslept 20 minutes.  Tom was yelling at me to get up and get to work.  So I jumped up, still in a daze, and stumbled out the door.  To find the rest of third shift standing just outside the break room laughing at me.  I found a clock in the shop and saw it wasn’t 4 yet, there were still several minutes left of lunch break.  Tom had herded everyone out of the break room without waking me up, then had changed the clock in the break room.  Good joke.

Most of the time falling asleep at your machine isn’t a big deal.  A tap on the shoulder, a yell, is all that usually happens.  It depends who you are and who finds you asleep.  I remember two cases when I was on second shift, not long after I began working at Brighton.  This young man operating the spinning lathe was fired for sleeping.  I didn’t know him, so I don’t know the reasons for the company wanting to get rid of him.  Maybe he missed a lot, maybe his work was bad,  I don’t know.  But not long after that Al H., a fork lift operator on third shift, was found asleep on his forklift outside in the yard.  He was sent home.  That was the extent of his discipline, the loss of several hours’ pay.  So the union took the case of the spinning lathe operator’s dismissal to arbitration.  The argument was how could the company give out such different disciplinary actions for the same infraction?  The union wasn’t trying to get Al H. fired, they were trying to get the young spinning lathe operator’s job back.  But the judge ruled that length of service can be a determining factor.  The spinning lathe operator had worked there less than a year, while Al had worked there for five years or longer.  So the company won that one.

Al H. was in his thirties at the time.  He never missed a day and worked all the overtime that was offered.  Plus he worked a second job at a grocery store.  I guess it all caught up with him that time when he was sitting on his forklift outside in the quiet in the dark. Later he transferred to shipping and receiving clerk on first shift when it became available.  He was well into his sixties, maybe even seventies, by the time he retired.  He was very good at his job, very dependable, very hard working.  So the company had made a wise move keeping him.  I don’t know whatever happened to that young spinning lathe operator.

Another time a guy got fired for sleeping happened on first shift.  He fell asleep on the toilet.  You’d think that would be impossible.  But the foreman at the time, Tom H., who had come to first shift after third shift was discontinued, got to missing him. So he checked the locker room and saw his feet under the door of a stall, and just waited.  The guy never budged.  So Tom looked over top of the door and saw him leaned up against the side with his pants down around his ankles, sound asleep.  He was fired, no questions asked.

Only when I was on third shift, which adds up to about 2 years, did I ever have a problem staying awake at a flanging machine.  What’s difficult now are the hours.  When we’re busy, which is most of the time since Enerfab bought us, and there is no third shift, we work 10-12 hour shifts.  We start a normal 8-hour shift at 6:30 am.  So when we’re on 10 hours we start at 4:30.  Which means I have to get up at 3:30.  So if I make it to bed by 9:30 the night before, I get 6 hours sleep.  But it’s hard getting to sleep at that time, especially in the summer when you are going to bed while it is still light outside.  It just wears you out, especially at my age.  So it’s not an issue of staying awake for me so much as felling tired all the time.

flanging 42

Power outages don’t rank up there with tornadoes, floods and fires as disasters, but they do halt work.  When I was on second shift a power outage was a party.  During the day if the power goes out they tell you to pick up a broom and clean, although not much cleaning ever gets done, we mostly stand around talking.  But at night it is pitch black inside, so there is nothing to do but go outside and sit down and talk.

The first time the power went out while I was on second shift there were no battery-powered safety lights.  The plant went totally black, like a cave.  Of course the first thing everybody did was start hollering.  With no machinery running you could hear someone from all the way across the shop.  Then people started igniting brooms to make torches.  They would soak the straw in open buckets of solvent (like the one Roy C. tried to put the shed fire out with) and then set them on fire.  So everyone would gravitate to a broom torch and follow it outside.  It was cool seeing these blazing brooms held aloft all over the dark shop, sort of like a candlelight service at church on Christmas Eve.

One reason there seemed to be more power failures in the past was because of Mosteller Road.  When I began working at Brighton it was a two-lane hilly road.  There are a lot of trucking companies in the area, and it got a lot of semi traffic to and from the expressway exit just to the south of us.  Trucks were always running off the road and taking out power lines.  Now the road has four lanes and most of the hills have been leveled.

It’s always a tough call whether to send us home or have us wait.  Usually its a half-hour. If the power doesn’t come back on after a half-hour, we go home.  Once on second shift the power came back on just as everyone was getting into their cars.  The foreman at the time was Larry F., the shipping clerk who had once helped me unload a huge head that came lose and sent him sprinting to the other end of the building.  He had been promoted to second shift foreman after Jim D. retired.  Larry came out and tried to stop people from leaving, but most everyone just drove around him.  I wasn’t there, I had gone to first shift by then, but they said he ran out into the middle of the parking lot waving his arms and nearly got run over.

Another time when I was on first shift a snow storm caused the power outage.  As soon as I got home the phone rang.  The power was back on and I could come back into work if I wanted, without any interruption in pay.  So I did.  I thought I would be one of the few, but I was surprised at how many people came straggling back in.  As you get older you get more responsible.  Although I missed a good opportunity to go sled riding with my kids.  Once when I took the four of them sledding I went over a ramp at the bottom of the hill someone had built up that they were afraid to go over.  They said it was great.  I went airborne, the sled went flying one direction, I went flying another, and after hitting the ground I slid another thirty feet or so.  When we got back home and my wife saw the big knot on my head she just shook her head.

Now it seems like if the power goes out it’s never for more than a few minutes.  There is talk about the infrastructure deteriorating, but it seems to me to be getting better.

flanging 41

Still thinking of disasters, there have been fires.  We have fire extinguishers all over the plant. We even have instructional classes on how to use them.  PASS:  Pull the pin, which unlocks the trigger; Aim the nozzle, aiming for the base of the fire; Squeeze the trigger; and Sweep, moving the nozzle from side to side as the extinguisher discharges.  We go outside and start little fires, then take turns putting them out.  Also, the Sharonville Fire Department comes out periodically for an inspection.  All of our lines, air and water and electric and hydraulic, are color-coded so responding firemen know what is in each line.  We are very safety-minded.  Now.  It’s not always been so.

I remember three fires in particular.  I’m sure there have been more.  But the first one took place in the 70’s while I was on second shift.  I didn’t see the actual fire, but I saw the aftermath.  We used to have a storage closet in the locker room filled with all kinds of flammables, such as toilet paper and paper towels and cleaning supplies.  Someone reported to our foreman, Jim D., that he thought there might be a fire going on in there. So Jim went to investigate.  Now the guy reporting the fire did the correct thing.  Leave it alone.  Of course, Jim did the one thing you are not supposed to do.  I mean, there was smoke coming out from under the door, there was a suspicious red flickering light behind the door, and the door was hot to the touch.  So what did Jim do?  He opened the door.  He was engulfed in flames.  Luckily, the fire wasn’t too big and he wasn’t set ablaze. But his eyebrows were gone and his toupee was singed.  It didn’t catch fire.  That would have been too funny, Jim yanking the rug off his head and throwing it to the floor and stomping on it. Once Jim realized he was still alive he threw water on the fire and put it out.  But poor Jim didn’t live that down for a while.  Just remember, if you ever suspect there might be a fire behind a closed door, DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR.

The second fire I remember also took place in the 70’s while I was on second shift.  We had a shed behind the main building where we stored a lot of bigger things.  The shed is still there, but it’s been connected to the main building by a hallway and now serves as the maintenance tool room and our machine shop.  But back then it was separate and full of junk.  I don’t know how the fire got started.  More than likely a cigarette, everybody smoked back then and everybody threw their cigarette butts down everywhere.  But it was burning pretty good by the time I got out there.  An older press operator, Roy C., had the presence of mind to grab a bucket of water to bring with him when he ran out to see the fire.  Only it wasn’t water.  The flash point of industrial solvent is pretty low.  I’ve dribbled solvent on a spinning aluminum head, then heated the head with a propane torch before flanging it.  The aluminum quickly gets hot enough to ignite the solvent, and the flames dance colorfully on the head for a short while as it spins around.  But Roy had a five-gallon bucket of the stuff.  And he ran into the shed up to the flames and threw it into the fire. The brief but awesome fireball did a number on his eyebrows, too.  After everyone stopped laughing we put the fire out with a water hose.

The third fire was more recent, in the 90’s.  I was on first shift.  It was early in the morning, about 7, and a cloth curtain above the acid tank in the pickle room caught fire.  Why there was a cloth curtain above the acid tank, I’m not sure.  Something about preventing the fumes from spreading out of the pickle room and into the rest of the shop. Freshly mixed hydrochloric acid is wicked and can do a number on your lungs.  And when a large curtain saturated with the fumes is burning, you don’t want to be near it.  So we evacuated the building and called the Sharonville Fire Department.  They promptly put it out.  The only thing that was damaged was that stupid curtain.  In the meantime, we all moved to the back of the property, not because we were afraid something would explode but just to keep out of the way of the firemen.  An hour or so later, after all the doors were opened and several large fans were brought in the clear the air, we went back to work.

LIke I said, I’m sure there have been other fires, but these are the ones I remember.

flanging 40

Another natural disaster we have had to deal with are floods.  Brighton is on the Mill Creek, which runs behind our plant through what used to be our property (more about that later).  It flows in from the north past us in Sharonville then on through the middle of Cincinnati to the Ohio River.  So we are located in a low-lying flood-prone area.  When I  first started working here floods occurred frequently in the spring.  But the worst flood got an assist from us.

This happened in the 90’s.  There is a levee that runs east to west along the south side of our property .  This was designed to funnel flood waters away from our property.  I remember back in the 70’s when I was on second shift walking up on top of the levee after a hard rain and seeing a sheet of water on the other side.  And I remember times when Microcenter, a large computer store two doors south of us, would have their parking lot flooded right up to the front door of their store.

Then Brighton decided to put up a fence around our property, to cut down on the theft of metal (more about that another time).  So the maintenance supervisor, which at the time was Matt H., who had taken over the position from Joe K. after he quit and moved to St. Louis, decided to cut through the levee in order to put up the fence.  Of course, within one week of doing this one of the worst rains we’ve ever had occurred.

The plant was inundated.  Water rushed into the building and filled all the pits.  Every large flanging machine and press has a deep pit to anchor the machine, how deep depending on how big the particular machine is.  These all filled with water.

At the time we had a sand blasting shed.  We don’t do sand blasting anymore.  OSHA tightened the regulations concerning sand blasting, and our shed did not meet their new standards.  But since it was already existing it was grandfathered.  Which meant we could continue to use it, but couldn’t make any improvements to it.  So eventually it became so outdated it was torn down, and we now send out all the work that needs to be sandblasted. But at the time of this flood we still did sandblasting. So there were dozens of bags of sand to be used in the shed.  Every forklift we had began carrying bags of sand from the shed to the breech in the levee.  Eventually the levee was plugged and the floodwaters subsided.  But what a mess.

After the flood, the levee was rebuilt and the fence was installed on top of it instead of through it.  Trinity donated the back parcel of land Brighton owned, where the Mill Creek runs through, to Hamilton County.  At the time we heard they got a huge tax break for this, which made perfect sense because we knew how much money they sucked out of our operation.  But it actually was a good move for everybody.  The county used the land for flood control.  They established a wetlands area, what amounts to a huge retention pond. So now floods are a thing of the past.

Outdoor floods, that is.  As I’ve said before, Trinity let our facility go to ruin.  The roof became so rotten water poured through during rains.  When I first got out of polishing and back into flanging in the mid-90’s I ran the trimmer a lot.  The trimmer is a boring mill set up to machine the edge of very small tank heads, ranging in diameter from 6 inches to 36 inches.  The roof there was particularly bad.  During a hard rain the floor would fill with water so badly I’d put up signs for passing forklifts saying ‘NO WAKE ZONE’.  And after, when I ran one of the larger flanging machines, water poured down on top of it during storms.  I complained about this, but was told to keep operating it.  Until one time I was flanging a head and rainwater blew the motor.  It sounded like an explosion right above my head. Amazing how fast you can run sometimes.  So after the motor was replaced and the damage repaired, I was told not to run the flanging machine during storms.

Something similar happened when I was working at Deerfield in the early 70’s.  I was operating a shimmy trimmer there, which is a totally different kind of machine from the trimmer at Brighton.  At Deerfield I was strapped into the machine.  This was to insure my hands were away from the machine while it operated.  The transformer directly above me blew.  Hearing the explosion right above my head, I looked up to see sparks flying all across the shop.  Which was actually kind of pretty, like fireworks.  Until they began raining down on me and burning.  So I hit the floor, trying to get away from them, while I struggled to free myself from the safety straps.  Finally I got them off, got up and ran away.  The rest of the night I was so psyched by what had happened I didn’t realize how hurt I was.  That night in the shower I found I was covered with burns from the sparks and cuts and bruises from me scooting around on the floor trying to get away from the sparks. So being directly beneath a transformer or the electric motor on a flanging machine when either blows will get your blood pumping.

In 2002 Enerfab bought Brighton from Trinity.  One of the first things Enerfab did was repair our roof.  Enerfab has been very good to us.  So floods, external and internal, are a thing of the past.