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.