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I transferred from second shift to first shift in September of 1979.  It was a struggle.  Joe D., a brother-in-law of Jack S., had been hired as a flanger operator several years earlier.  He was groomed to run number 10 flanging machine, which had just recently been purchased and was the largest flanging machine in the shop.  For whatever reason, Jack did not want to come to first shift at the time.  So Joe was to run it on first and Jack would continue running it on second.  But I had years of seniority on Joe, and was wanting to come to first shift.  My oldest son had just turned 7 and had begun second grade.  He had spent all of first grade with me seeing him only on the weekends, and I didn’t want that to happen another school year.  So I put in for first shift.  If Geoff L., the supervisor at that time wanted to bring Joe to first shift, he also had to bring me.  So he did.

On second shift I had been running one of the larger flanging machines, number 1.  But that was being run on first shift by Ira B.  So I was assigned to one of the older Blue Valley flanging machines.  At that time there were two operators running them on first shift, Bernie T. and Gilbert F, so I was often assigned to help out in the inspection department.  The inspector on first shift then was Don M., an older guy who had difficult time getting around.  So it wasn’t just busy work, there was a lot I could do to help out.  Flanger operators have always been used in the inspection department, since we produce a finished product and are familiar with what it should look like, and know what is okay and what isn’t.  So when I first came to first shift I split my time between operating a Blue Valley flanging machine and inspecting heads.

The first shift foreman at the time was Al B.  He was in his fifties, easily excitable and gung-ho for the company.  He had been a flanging machine operator before becoming foreman.  There was the story of how he had part of a finger cut off while running a Blue Valley, had gone to the emergency room to have the remaining stub treated, then had returned to work to finish his shift.  Of course the company sent him home, but he was back the next day.  That’s the kind of guy he was.  And the kind of place Brighton used to be.  You used to see a lot of men there missing parts of their body.  Now it’s a much safer environment.  What’s ironic, such dedication to the company as Al showed seldom gets rewarded.  He eventually had to quit work because of his heart, and he filed for a disability.  Which Brighton denied.  He was still fighting for it when he died, without collecting a dime.  But he was a difficult foreman to work for.  He was enamored with the two older guys on the Blue Valley flanging machines, Bernie and Gilbert, they could do no wrong.  Once when I was still on second shift and followed Bernie on a Blue Valley, I had to finish a head he had begun.  It was under minimum thickness.  So I went to show this to Al, who hadn’t ended his shift yet.  He asked me if I had turned on the machine yet, which I had.  Then he said I was the one who had messed the head up, that I was supposed to check a head out before I began working on it.  That’s the kind of foreman he was.

But I had no regrets about coming to first shift.  The supervisor Geoff L. didn’t want me there, the foreman Al B. didn’t like me, but I was happy.  I was home at night with my family, I became involved with my son’s school activities, I was able to work the hours the majority of people in the world worked.  The first thing I did was join an intramural basketball league.  We played several nights a week in the gym at Mason Central school, which when I was going to school there housed K-8 grades, but at this time, 1979, only half of the students attending grades 3-8 went there.  That’s how much Mason had grown since I graduated in 1970.  Now it is closed, used merely as a storage facility, if it is still used at all.  I think what keeps it from being torn down is its historical value, much like the one-room schoolhouses that are preserved.  But I thoroughly enjoyed the basketball.  I had played on the school teams in grades 8-11, and we had had good teams.  But now I was terribly out of shape, having exercised little and smoked a lot.  But realizing I couldn’t keep up with guys my age and older because I was wheezing up and down the court was the first impetus for me to quit smoking.

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flanging 46

I’ll start this post with a brief recap of the history of labor relations at Brighton.  In 1968 the United Steelworkers of America attempted to organize at Brighton.  The company staged a successful campaign to dissuade the employees from voting to unionize, convincing a majority that it would be bad for the company and that many would lose their jobs.  Another vote was taken a year later, and this time the Steelworkers union was voted in.  The company refused to recognize it, and a strike ensued for three months.  Finally, in February of 1970, the union was recognized by Brighton and a three-year contract was signed.  The world did not end for Brighton, as the company had predicted.  In February of 1973 negotiations for a new contract failed, and there was another strike.  This one lasted two months.  In April of 1973 another three-year contract was signed.  I was hired in July of 1973.  So despite Brighton’s claim of the harmful effects of unionization, business was good.

That brings us to the next contract, in April of 1976, the first contract I was involved with.  The months leading up to this was a very tense time.  Everyone anticipated a strike, since that is what happened with the previous two contracts, the only contracts ever negotiated.  Brighton was averse to negotiating with the union.  So bad things happened, the worst on second shift.  Flanging machines used to have locking keys.  Without the key the machine couldn’t be turned on.  After lunch break one night the key in the largest flanging machine at that time, number 2, disappeared.  The machine had been running until then.  After break the machine was locked off and the key was gone.  The second shift foreman Jim D. was frantic.  Everyone was called into the break room and he demanded the key back.  Of course, no one knew anything about it.  So Jim called the supervisors to let them know what was going on.  Elmer D. and Charlie F. came in to demand the key.  Charlie even went so far to turn out the lights in the break room and say whoever had the key to toss it onto the floor in the dark and no blame would be affixed to anyone, he only wanted the key back.  When he turned the lights back on there was no key on the floor.  He was so angry he sent the whole second shift home for rest of the night.

I never learned who took the key.  I was a relatively new employee, so maybe the older employees were afraid I’d rat the perpetrator out and didn’t trust me with that information.  Later it was suggested that whoever took the key was smart enough not to keep it, that he had tossed it into the garbage or a trash dumpster or down into the pit of a machine.  But the investigation was far from over.  Since it was a key to a flanging machine, flanger operators were the prime suspects, although anyone who saw a key dangling out of number 2 could have figured out its purpose and locked the machine out and taken it.  But Charlie F. was pissed.  He claimed that since a government job was being run on number 2 at the time, tank ends for tanks going into a nuclear reactor, that a felony had been committed and he would call in the FBI.  Apparently he couldn’t get the FBI interested.  But he did call in the Sharonville police.  A detective came to the shop and interviewed everyone, with special interest in the flanger operators.  Paul S. ran number 2 flanging machine at that time on second shift, but nobody suspected him.  He was a high-strung nervous guy who got shook over every little thing.  He was also the guy who in the middle of a flanging operator meeting said we should not run the machines so much because they were getting tired.  The machines, not the operators. So he was pretty much off the hook.  I could honestly say to the detective that I knew nothing about it, that I had never operated number 2, that I had never even turned number 2 on or off.  No one squealed, and the key was never recovered.  Charlie F. had the key locks in all he flanging machines removed so such a thing could never happen again.

Despite this, the company was determined there not be a strike this time.  In late 1972 and early 1973 business had dropped off as customers, anticipating a strike and not wanting jobs they desperately needed delayed because of a work stoppage, stopped putting in orders.  After the strike was settled that April it had taken months for business to pick back up.  The company was determined this didn’t happen again.  They were eager to come to terms with the union to show their customers a strike wouldn’t ensue every time a union contract came up for renewal.  Negotiations went on late into the night of the final day.  The Steelworkers have a law that no work can take place without a contract, even if negotiations are still going on.  We had a third shift at the time, so they were poised to quit work and walk out at midnight.  But Charlie F. and the head of sales, Joe H., came in just before 11 pm, when second shift was preparing to go home and third shift was arriving, to tell everybody the contract had been finalized and was being signed and printed for us to read and vote on.  So third shift quit working at midnight like it was supposed to, but no one set up a picket line outside the property on Mosteller Road.  The ‘on strike’ signs that had already been made remained in the trunks of the cars of third shift workers.  All employees were contacted and told to come to the union hall the next morning, where the negotiating committee read the agreement and a vote was taken.  There was no strike in 1976.

The next contract, in April of 1979, was also settled without a strike.  This was the best contract we ever got.  The economy was booming.  Brighton couldn’t find any qualified employees, General Electric of Evendale, right down the road from us, was soaking up all the available talent.  And they could pay more and offer better benefits than Brighton ever could.  Still, we got pay raises of 10 per cent, then 9 per cent, then 8 per cent, for the next three years.  We’ve never come close to such riches since.  By the time the next contract came up in April of 1982, I was on first shift.

flanging 45

In the last two posts I’ve mentioned Tom H., so I’ll go with him again.  He was working at Brighton when I started in 1973.  He was a press operator.  He worked on first shift on the smallest press in the shop.  He was a big guy, and he pressed the smallest heads Brighton made. Now we have a hydraulic press that forms the really small thin heads.  But we didn’t acquire that machine until sometime in the 80’s.  So back then all the small heads were pressed and flanged.  And these small pieces had to be moved by hand.

A quick digression.  When I started work at Brighton nearly all heads in the presses were moved by hand .  The presses didn’t have hydraulic manipulators that spun the heads while they were being pressed.  Sometimes there would be up to five men spinning a large heavy piece of metal while it was being pressed.  That guy who got fired not long after I started, not Roy H. or the young guy with the new baby but the one I said was a rotten sob, he was huge and strong as a bull.  His permanent job was pulling on these large heads. And he was pretty stupid.  The other press operators working with him on a big head would brag about how strong he was so he’d pull harder and they could slack off.  Some of them got to be good actors, pretending they were straining as hard as they could while letting him do most of the work. There were other tricks to pulling heads by hand.  You had to let go of the metal before the top die came down and pressed the metal into the bottom die.  If you didn’t you’d get your insides rearranged from the jarring impact.  Also, a lot of grease was put on the outside of the heads so the metal would slide across the bottom die.  Aluminum hooks were devised to grip the metal with, to keep your hands off the heads.  And some kind of arm was devised with an aluminum hook on the end that worked on a spring and pulled, or helped pull, a head while it was being pressed. Until the hydraulic manipulators were installed, pressing was an extremely physical job.  There was this one press, number 21, that had been converted from a metal stamping machine, and that had so much pressure no one could hardly stand to run it.  The top and bottom dies would slam together so hard that the sound waves themselves would knock you senseless over 8 hours.  That was a terrible machine to operate.  It was bad enough just being near it.  Number 1 flanging machine was next to it, and I’d go home with headaches when I was operating number 1 while number 21 press was running.  Thankfully, it’s gone.

Back to Tom H.  On the smallest press in the shop he had to move these little pieces by hand.  It was physically easier than the bigger presses, but it was tricky because there was so little space between the heads being pressed and the top and bottom dies.  He got his thumb broke once.  The head he was pressing kicked up and caught his thumb between the edge of the head and the top die.

Tom H. became third shift foreman.  I don’t remember who became foreman on third shift after the one, along with the other three, was fired for drinking on the job.  I know Dennis B. was third shift foreman the first time I went on that shift, in August of 1985.  But the second time I went on third shift, in February of 1988, Tom was the foreman.  He was a hard man to work for.  Back then the company stressed production more than it does now. And Tom was the worst for it.  Every job I took too much time on he would come by with a form to fill out explaining why.  So I had my stock answers – not enough time on the job, too much metal to cut off, the machine was acting up, the head wasn’t pressed right, yada yada yada.  I would take turns putting these answers down, no matter what really happened.  Eventually, the company eased up on this.

Yet I still had fun with Tom H.  Whenever I broke a bolt on my flanging machine I’d toss the pieces over to the press behind me.  They guy running it at the time, Gene S., wasn’t too bright.  He’d find these broken bolts on the floor by his machine and thought they were falling out of his press. When he couldn’t find where they were coming from, he showed them to Tom.  Tom recognized what kind of bolts they were and told me to knock it off. And we used to have an intercom system, before everybody got personal radios.  But the sound quality was terrible. And with all the noise in the shop it was hard to understand. So I’d get on it and pronounce Tom’s name very slowly and clearly, then I garble the location I was paging him to.  Then I’d watch as Tom went around from machine to machine asking if that person had paged him.  Eventually, he caught on and quit falling for it.

Tom had a reputation for swiping stuff from the company.  One person told me he met Tom at a flea market one time selling all kinds of tools and chains and sundries that came from the shop.  As far as I know, he never got caught.

When they eliminated third shift (once again) in the early 90’s, Tom came to first shift.  So for a while we had two foremen on first.  Tom B. was already first shift foreman, and he was a real pain to work for, too.  But that didn’t last very long.  Tom B. quit sometime during the mid-90’s.  In the late 90’s Tom H. developed heart problems.  The company moved him into the office to be assistant quality control.  Tom said he did a whole lot of nothing in the office.  The company just gave him something he was able to do with his weak heart.  But even that didn’t last too long.  His heart got so bad he went on disability. He was in line for a heart transplant.  But he never got one.  He died about 10 years ago, sometime in the mid-00’s.  Just one more dead person I’m well acquainted with.

flanging 44

In my last post I described the best prank ever pulled on me at work.  Now I want to post about the best prank at work I ever pulled.  The company was remodeling our break room, from top to bottom, new ceiling tiles, new lights, new flooring, new windows, and of course painting the walls.  So all the tables and benches were drug out into the shop and lined up against the wall just outside the break room.  All the vending machines and microwaves were set up in the shop just outside the break room door, with extension cords running back in.  It was like this for several weeks.

I was on third shift at this time.  So first shift would start arriving at 6:30 or so to begin their shift at 7.  At the time I was operating flanging machine #1, which is opposite the break room door.  All of the tables were just across the aisle from me.  Most nights I stopped early enough to pick up the metal shavings I have machined off heads during the night, and to put my tools away and clean up the machine a little.  So I usually quit working by 6:40 to do this.  But I was having trouble with the head I was working on, and I wanted to finish it, so I worked later than usual.  So at 6:50 I was still working.  By that time most of first shift had arrived and were seated at the tables.  I was concentrating on the head I was running, with my back to them, when a large bolt hit me in the back.  So I stopped to look.  Everybody at the tables was laughing.  Especially John M.  He said, “You don’t know who threw that, do you?”  And he was right.  I didn’t.  So I resolved to get everybody back, that way I’d be sure to get the right one.

About 6 the next morning, before anyone from first shift arrived, I ran the overhead crane to one end of the tables.  I ran the hook all the way up, hoping no one would notice the crane being there.  Then I slid the control box over to my side of the aisle.  And waited. The tables began filling up with first shift people.  By 6:55 nearly everyone was seated.  I went and got Jack S.  I told him something good was going to happen, so he came with me. I wanted a witness for this.

The tables were scooted right up against the wall, to keep them out of the aisle as much as possible.  Which meant the were right underneath one track of the overhead crane.  If you remember, the overhead crane moves on two tracks, mounted high up the wall on either side of the aisle.  Now I’ve mentioned we form a lot of carbon steel heads, and that carbon steel is dirty.  So a lot of carbon steel dust is in the air, and it settles on everything.  We are all the time cleaning this stuff up.  But no one ever goes up to clean the overhead crane rails.  It just builds up there.  And most times it isn’t a problem because usually no one ever stands up against the wall directly beneath them.

So picture this.  It is five minutes before the beginning of first shift.  Nearly everyone is seated at the tables beneath one rail of the overhead crane.  And they are eating breakfast.  Many have stopped by McDonalds or Wendy’s or wherever to pick up breakfast sandwiches, or have stopped by Dunkin Donuts to bring in something sweet, or have bought something out of a vending machine and warmed it up in the microwave, or have brought in something they cooked at home.  And all this food is spread out on the tables. So I take the control box and run the crane to the end of where the tables are set up, then I run it back to where I started at the other end of the tables, then I run it back and forth several times.  By now everyone at the tables is watching me, having no idea what I am doing, asking if I’ve gone crazy.  But I and Jack, from our vantage point across the aisle, can see a shower of carbon dust drifting down from the rails like a black snowfall.  So we are both laughing our butts off.  I keep running the crane back and forth until the first bits of carbon dust land.  On scrambled eggs, on pancakes, on breakfast sandwiches, on doughnuts, in coffee cups.  People start yelling, jumping up, trying to cover their food.  But it’s too late.  The carbon dust keeps coming down.  Their breakfast was ruined.  Of course, I and Jack took off running.  John gave chase, but we were way too fast.

So that was the best prank I ever pulled at work.  I had no idea which person threw the bolt that hit me in the back.  I know it was only one person, most likely John M., but they all laughed at me.  So I got them all back.