flanging 52

When I transferred to first shift in 1979 there was not enough work to keep three blue valley flanging machines busy.  Bernie T. and Gilbert F. were the senior employees, so I was assigned odd jobs.  Most of the time I worked in inspection helping Don M.  But there are other odd jobs I’ve done over the years.  There is always somewhere in the shop that needs sweeping.  And I have cleaned and painted nearly every machine in the shop.  At that time cleaning meant climbing all over the machine and wiping it down with a rag dipped in solvent, then painting it with a brush.  Now machines are pressure washed and spray painted.  Much easier and faster.

Grinding is another odd job for hands needing work.  I’ve used disk grinders


and patent wheel grinders

patent wheel grinder

to grind out skid marks in the icr, which are caused by the icr roll spinning when the head doesn’t.  Also, chip marks caused by metal trimmed off the edge that got caught under the icr roll and smashed into the icr.  Also, pits in the radius where a dirty die on a press smashed stray bits of metal into the head.  Also, forks on forklifts can gouge and scratch the finish of a head, and these have to be ground out.  Also, the side rolls of flanging machines can cut the outside of a head.  Also, the center post can mark up the center of a no-hole head.  Also, a pitted flanging roll can mark up the outside of an icr and straight flange.  A lot of hand grinding goes on to cover up these mistakes.

Another odd job that involves a lot of grinding is code checking.  This is done to check for external cracks in a weld seam.  Some weld seams are x-ray’d to check for internal cracks. We have an x-ray technician who does that.  To code check, you grind the  weld seam smooth with a patent wheel grinder, then clean the seam with solvent, then dry it good with rags, then paint with a brush a penetrant dye (which is a thin red liquid) on the weld seam, clean this off, then spray a developer (a heavy white aerosol powder) over the weld seam. Then walk away, giving the developer time to develop.  If there are any cracks or irregularities in the weld, the dye will seep into it and the developer will highlight it. Anything that shows up after code checking is reported it to a welder to be repaired.  Of course, the weld seams need to be done inside and out, so this involves flipping the head, which is a hard-learned skill all on its own.

Another kind of grinding is done with a stone wheel.

stone grinder

They are used to grind weld seams flush with the parent metal, to bevel the edges of segments that are to be welded together, or to do any heavy-duty grinding.

Besides all this grinding, I’ve also worked in shipping helping to load or unload rail cars. The shipping clerk operated a boom crane (this isn’t exactly like ours, but it’s the closest image I could find)boom crane

to load and unload heads or sheets of steel in and out of rail cars.  Whoever is helping him will fasten the clamp, which will be hanging from the hook, onto whatever is to be lifted. If you are unloading flat plate steel, you have to drive a wedge between the sheets in order to slip a clamp onto the plate.  If you are loading heads too big to transport by semi, you’ll need to build a wooden frame to support them.  That can mean cutting holes in the rail car to bolt one end of threaded pipe to it, bolting the other end to whatever frame you construct.  Using a cutting torch on a rail car, or using a cutting torch anytime, is fun.  I don’t know what it is about melting metal to slag that is so fascinating.

I’ve also had some really odd jobs.  Cutting up scrap metal with a cutting torch (more fun). Punching holes in empty aerosol cans to relieve the pressure.  We actually have a tool that does this.  Emptying dumpsters full of shavings isn’t a bad job.  Some exotic metals, such as titanium, needs to be maintained at a certain temperature while it is being pressed or flanged, so I’ve held propane heating torches on heads while this is done.  This isn’t so bad on a flanging machine, but on a press it can be tricky.  For one thing, it can take hours to press a head.  You can sit down while holding a torch, but then you get comfortable, and it’s taking forever, and there’s the warmth from the torch in your hands.  You get the picture – you are soon nodding off.  So I always stand doing this.  But then you have to get really close to keep the metal hot, and the head is spinning, and the press operator is yelling at you to heat the area he is working on.  So you are in the midst of the manipulator which is moving in and out while spinning the head inches from you while holding a lit torch.  Usually it is helpers doing this, which means new employees.  Who aren’t familiar with propane torches.  One helper set a press operator’s pants on fire.  Another helper scorched a press operator’s hair.  I didn’t see that happen, but I saw the aftermath.  This guy had a full afro, with a gulley melted down the middle of it.

But perhaps the weirdest odd job I’ve ever done was tightening bolts on overhead crane tracks.


This isn’t a picture of our plant, but it gives you an idea of how high up the tracks are. Geoff L. assigned me this job one Saturday while the shop was nearly empty. This was 1980, right after I came to first shift, long before we had man lifts.  So I moved this really long straight ladder that was just long enough to reach the tracks, climbed it, then leaned out to tighten as many bolts as I could reach before I needed to climb back down and reposition the ladder.  It wasn’t safe at all.  Geoff was upset with me forcing my way onto first shift, maybe he was hoping I’d fall and break my neck.  Anyway, I finished the job without mishap.


flanging 51

Gilbert F. was another old long-time employee who was operating a blue valley flanging machine when I came on first shift in 1979.  He was a short squat guy, but when he was younger he was strong as an ox.  There was the story of him lifting a full-grown man standing in shovel scoop, just by picking the shovel up by the handle.  But he was vain.  He had coal black hair.  Except when the cheap coloring he used wore off.  One day his hair would be peppered with grey, the next day it would be coal black again.  Of course, he denied putting anything on his hair.  He was good on a blue valley, but like Bernie T. he had no desire at his age to learn how to operate a newer flanging machine.  In the late 80’s Geoff L. persuaded both he and Bernie to transfer out of the flanging department into the metal cutting department.  They really didn’t have a choice.  The blue valley flanging machines were being phased out.   Several years after that he retired.

Gilbert was good at what he knew, the blue valley flanging machines, but what he was remembered for was his politics.  He was from West Virginia, and before coming to Brighton had worked in the coal mines there.  West Virginia was strongly unionized and strongly Democratic.  He ranted about politics a lot, especially during election season.  He railed about the Eisenhower recession, and how the Republicans had ruined the country during the 50’s.  Was there a recession in the 50’s?  I don’t know, but Gilbert was sure there was.  He said the unions had to vote Democrat, if we didn’t we were cutting our own throats.  On election day in 1980 Gilbert brought in $100 to bet on Jimmy Carter defeating Ronald Reagan.  Most people thought Reagan was going to win, but no one took Gilbert up on the bet.  There was a good story about when he first moved to Ohio that he tried to go into the voting booth with his wife.  He told the poll workers his wife didn’t know how to vote, that he had to go in to make sure she did it right.  Was he allowed to do this in West Virginia?  Probably.  Anyway, they wouldn’t let him do it in Ohio.

Gilbert had a serious disconnect with his politics.  He was dead set against raising taxes.  Any time a levee was on the ballot, he railed against it, even to writing letters in to the local newspaper.  Yet Democrats raised taxes more than Republicans.  He was a die-hard anti-tax Democrat.  Figure that one out.

Gilbert’s nemesis was Badeye.  He was as dedicated to the Republicans as Gilbert was to the Democrats.  People think politics is poisoned now.  Our break room during election season would put today to shame.  Gilbert and Badeye would get to screaming at each other over politics so badly people started staying out of the break room until the election was over.  And the first shift foreman, Tom H., would come in to stir things up.  He could care less, I don’t know if he even voted, but he’d come in talking about politics and get Gilbert and Badeye at each others’ throats, then walk out.  He’d just do it for fun.  We complained to Geoff L. about it, and he got Tom to stop doing it.  But Gilbert and Badeye didn’t need much stirring.

Gilbert was also a heavy drinker.  He talked about waking up in the morning with a hangover and drinking a shot of whiskey before getting out of bed.  He called it the ‘hair of the dog’.  He roamed the local bars, driving with one eye closed, he said, so he could see the road.  He told of being so sick one time from drinking bad whiskey that he had to sit on the toilet with diarrhea while leaning over to vomit into the bathtub, but he was so short it was a stretch for him, so he ended up not getting much into either.  But he was a functional alcoholic.  He came into work every day, and did good work.  His drinking never seemed to interfere with his job.

I lost track of Gilbert F. when he quit Brighton in the late 80’s.  He lived nearby in West Chester, within five miles of Brighton.  I heard he didn’t move away, that every election he was still putting up ‘Vote Democrat’ signs in his front yard and was still writing into the local paper against raising taxes.  But I haven’t heard anything about him lately, so I don’t know if he’s even still alive.



flanging 50

I can’t believe it has taken me fifty posts to get around to Bernie T.  He is the most colorful, the most aggravating, man I have ever worked with.  He was working on a blue valley flanging machine on second shift when I was hired.  He was middle-age then, a thin lanky guy who made a scarecrow look obese.  That first week he walked up behind me and squirted oil onto my back while I was machining a head.  First time I ever noticed him.  Another time I was machining a head I smelled smoke.  So I turned around to find the shop rag hanging out of my back pocket was ablaze, and Bernie standing behind me with a cigarette lighter.  I was glad when six months after I started Bernie transferred to first shift.  Then we were operating the same machine, he on first and me on second.  That gave me  opportunities to get back at him.  I would tighten down every bolt on that machine as snug as I possibly could.  I’d arrive in the afternoon and he’d complain to me, said when he went to set up the machine for a different order he couldn’t get any bolts loose.  He was a skeleton covered in skin, no strength at all, and he wasn’t healthy.  He said he had to get someone to come and break the bolts loose for him.  I told him I didn’t like stuff working loose, that when I made a set-up I wanted everything to stay where I wanted it.  But eventually I felt sorry for him and eased up.

When I transferred to first shift in 1979 I was working alongside him again.  He told endless stories, mostly about his sexual exploits.  He was married, but nearly every weekend he said he went to the strip clubs across the river in Newport, Kentucky.  He was the one who supposedly broke up Charley D.’s marriage while Charlie was away fighting in Viet Nam. And he told the corniest jokes.  He’d ask, “You ever wake up in an alley behind a bar on Sunday morning with a bad taste in your mouth?”  And, “You ever wake up in an alley behind a bar on Sunday morning with a sore butt?”  If anyone was the least bit insecure in their marriage, he could sniff it out.  He’d torment some young guy and convince him his wife must be having an affair.  It was he and Big Roy, the rotten son of a  bitch who was fired for drinking on the job when I was first hired, who cornered John M. and did something to him I don’t want to relate.  If you knew what was done, you’d day ‘no way’.  But if you knew Bernie T., you’d say, ‘yeah, he would do that’.

There was this one young man, Wilson M,, who was goofy and short and fat and had some weird habits.  I’ve worked with a lot of men at Brighton who had odd habits, but Wilson was the strangest.  He was hired as a helper.  That is the way most people were hired.  You’d sweep the floors and clean machines and do all kinds of odd jobs for six months or so until a skilled position became available, then you would be promoted and another helper would be hired to take your place.  But Wilson M. was never promoted.  He couldn’t do anything besides sweep, and he showed no interest in learning.  He used to come into the locker room at the end of the shift covered in grease from whatever he had been cleaning and strip down to his undershorts to wash in the sink.  We don’t have showers in our locker room, and I have never seen any other man do that.  Bernie had a lot of fun with him. He’d chase him around the locker room once he was undressed and grab at him, and Wilson would squeal like a pig.  He’d run into a stall and lock the door, but Bernie would climb right over the top of it after him.  One time Bernie chased Wilson out of the locker room and had him running around nearly naked through the shop.  The plant supervisor Geoff L. finally made Bernie leave him alone.

Another time I was working on a flanging machine alongside Bernie T. and saw this happen with my own eyes.  There used to be a scheduler’s office at the front of the shop.  The scheduler would assign work and record our times.  We’d  finish a job, turn the order in to him, then he would give us an order for our next job.  The two flanging machines I and Bernie were working on was directly in front of the scheduler’s office.  We had this one scheduler who had the irritating habit of sitting there staring at us while we worked. Bernie told him to quit watching him work, said it made him nervous.  I don’t like it either.  The way I handle it is to flange air.  By flanging air, I can make it look like I am busy as hell but don’t get anything done.  The way Bernie handled it was by unzipping his pants and pulling out his dick and shaking it at the scheduler.  I couldn’t believe it.  The scheduler jumped up and walked away.  But after that he quit staring at Bernie while he worked.  The scheduler later asked me if I thought Bernie was mentally ill.  I told him no, it was just Bernie.

In the late 80’s the blue valley flanging machines were phased out, replaced by newer more powerful and versatile machines.  Bernie had never shown an interest in operating anything other than blue valleys, so he transferred back into metal cutting, which had been where he worked before becoming a flanging operator.  It wasn’t long after that he became disabled.  He never had been very healthy, he had a bad back and a weak heart, so I don’t know which finally made him quit working.  But as far as I know he’s still alive.  He’s come by the shop several times, and I saw him at a funeral once.  He’s not moving too fast, but he seems as ornery as ever.

flanging 49

Now is a good time to post about my own injuries.  I don’t think I am careless or unsafe, it’s just that I’ve worked there for so long.  Also, the attitude toward safety has changed drastically in the last 10 years or so.  When I first started safety was never mentioned, and OSHA was considered an impractical nuisance and a good example of federal government overreach.  Recently we went over a year without a workplace injury of any kind, an amazing feat considering the hazardous environment we work in.

My first injury happened while I was machining a head on a Blue Valley.  Shavings were building up between the machining arm and the side roll.  So I tried to kick them free, and sliced my leg.  Seven stitches.  I was off work for a week.  The doctor told me I had nearly cut a tendon, which would have been more serious.  Metal shavings sometimes curl off the head in long strands, and appear thin and insubstantial.  But they are razor sharp.  So I don’t kick at shavings anymore.

Next, I was machining a head and got a bit of metal in my eye.  I had safety glasses on, I would never do anything so stupid as work without them, but it was summer and I was hot and sweaty, and they must have slid down my nose a bit.  When we machine a head there is an air line that blows the shavings out of the icr as the head spins, to prevent the bits of metal from being crushed into the head.  So a piece of metal got blown into my eye.  I reported what happened, and was told to drive to the nearby emergency room for treatment.  That was how lackadaisical the company was about such things back then (this happened in the late 70,s or early 80’s), I could hardly see out of one eye and was told to drive myself to the hospital.  The emergency room doctor took one look at my eye and said he wasn’t touching it.  That’s not a good thing to hear, if you are ever in the emergency room.  He sent for a specialist.  Who explained what had happened was the metal had been hot, shavings are always hot when machined off a head, and the bit of metal had fused to my eyeball.  So he numbed it with drops, then with tiny pincers pulled on it.  It felt like he was pulling my eyeball out of its socket.  But it came out.  He showed it to me.  It was a tiny speck of metal.  It had felt like a beam when it was in my eye.  Then he polished my eye with a tiny little grinder, then flooded it with a healing salve.  I wore an eye patch for two weeks.  But it healed, and my eyesight was as good as it ever was.

Next, I was pulling on a wrench so hard it slipped and I smacked myself in the forehead.  Normally I wouldn’t even have bothered reporting this, but I was bleeding all over the place.  I drove myself (!) to the nearby urgent care and got four stitches, with orders to go home for the rest of the day.  When I returned to work, the human resource manager, which at the time was Bob E., didn’t think the injury was serious enough for me to miss the rest of the shift.  So he called the doctor and argued with him.  Which is stupid, you never win an argument with a doctor.  So I eventually went home once the doctor got tired of arguing with Bob E. and hung up on him.  That’s the kind of personnel manager Bob E. was.  He’d do anything to hinder the employees.  Delay, deny, obstruct any claim.  The year he retired he attended our Christmas dinner.  No one would talk to him.  Not even people in the office.  They didn’t like him any better than we in the shop liked him.  He never came back.

Then there was the time I got shocked.  It nearly got me fired.  I was working in the metal polishing department at this time.  We had a turntable for heads that were too small to run on the polishing machine.  I’d bolted a small head to the turntable, got the head to spinning, then hand polished it by holding a patent wheel grinder to it as it spun.  Since a lot of polishing grease had to be applied to the head, this was not only difficult but also a very messy job.  The patent wheel threw the grease everywhere, mostly on me.  But on that day I got a strong shock.  So I cut the turntable off, unplugged it, then informed the foreman, Tom H., that the turntable had a short in it.  The maintenance man, Bob A., checked it out and said there was nothing wrong with it.  So I went back to work.  And got another strong shock.  I was so angry I clocked out and drove myself to the nearby urgent care and told them I’d been shocked twice.  They checked me out, said I was okay, then sent me back to work.  Where Geoff L. was ready to fire me.  He said if I ever left work like that again without telling anyone and went to the medical center to report a workplace injury all on my own he would fire me.  I told him I was sick of getting shocked.  So Bob A. took the turntable apart, and this time he found the short.  I don’t know if Tom H. just thought I was trying to get out of a dirty job, but I’ve got a healthy respect for electricity and those were two strong jolts I got and no one was doing anything to find out why.

And that is the extent of my lost time accidents.  Of course there have been minor cuts and abrasions and burns.  And I have been off work for extended periods three times, but they were for injuries incurred away from work.  One of those times something humorous, which at the time I didn’t think of  as very humorous, happened.  I had my knee scoped out.  It was minor surgery, but I was still going to be put under.  So beforehand I had to go in for a stress test.  They put me on a treadmill!  With a bad knee!  It was agonizing.  The reason for the operation was my painful knee, and they caused that knee a great amount of pain  with the stupid stress test. They had me hobbling really fast for a long time.  It was a female tech, so she probably enjoyed seeing me in pain.  But now my knee is fine, as fine as a  64 year old knee can be.

flanging 48

I mentioned Al B.’s injury in the previous post, and Tom H.’s before that, and other injuries, so it’s time to talk about workplace injuries.  When I started at Brighton in 1973 it was a common sight to see men with parts of their fingers missing.  Fingers seemed to be the most endangered body part.  There were a lot of ways for them to be smashed or cut off.  But the first major injury to happen after I started there was to William R.  He was the most senior flanger operator at the time, in his late 50’s or early 60’s.  He ran number 2, which then was the largest flanging machine, on first shift.  He had been sent to Italy, where the company that had sold number 2 to Brighton was located, to learn how to operate the machine.  He broke his leg while changing an icr roll.  The icr rolls for number 2 are big.  And the machine is so big you have to straddle the pit in order to change the rolls.  The way you are supposed to change an icr roll on any flanging machine is to force the flanging roll against the icr roll to hold it in place while you remove the bolts, then lock the roll carriage onto the lower center post with the upper center post, then move both posts with the carriage under the icr roll, then back the flanging roll off to allow the icr roll to slide down the shaft onto the carriage.  But somehow William hadn’t placed the flanging roll correctly to hold the icr roll in place while he removed the bolts.  So the icr roll slid down off the shaft while he straddled the pit and hit his leg so hard it was broken.  He never returned to work.  I don’t know how long he was unable to work, but once his leg healed Brighton wouldn’t allow him to come back.  I guess the company believed he was so old, and now hobbled, that he had become a detriment.  Just one more misguided fool who thought the company couldn’t get along without him.

Thankfully, we’ve never had a fatality.  But we’ve been close.  The worst injuries were electrical.  Whenever a welder plugs into 440 he is supposed to cut the breaker off, then plug in, then cut the breaker back on.  That way he is never plugging into live 440.  This one welder didn’t do that.  He plugged his welder into a live outlet.  Apparently the prongs on the plug on his welder were dirty with dust or oil or grease, and they shorted.  He was electrocuted so severely he was nearly paralyzed.  He was in the hospital for months.  He eventually returned to work, but I don’t think he was ever able to walk right.  Another time Bob A., a maintenance mechanic, was working on the control box on number 10 flanging machine, with the power on.  We follow lock out tag out procedures.  If a machine is to be worked on by maintenance, or anyone, the power is turned off and a lock is placed in such a way to prevent it from being turned back on.  A tag is affixed to  the lock, stating whose lock this is, so that when the machine is to be turned back on only that person has the key to that lock, so only he can removed the lock and activate the machine.  That way no one can accidentally turn the machine on while someone is working on it.  But there are times when the machine has to be on while maintenance is checking it out.  So number 10 was live while Bob was into the control box.  Dust inside the control box caused an arc of electricity to hit Bob and he was badly shocked.  He was severely burned and off work for several weeks.  As a result of this injury, maintenance mechanics are now required to wear full-body suits that protect them from electrical shocks while working on live machines.


There have been other injuries.  Heginio C., a flanger operator, had two different fingers crushed on two different occasions on two different flanging machines, doing the same thing.  He didn’t learn the first time.  To check an outside circumference, most flanger operators clip a fifty-foot spooled tape to the top edge of a head, then jog the machine to rotate the head all the way around.  That way they don’t have to drop the lower center post and the side rolls and release pressure from the top center post in order to spin the head by hand.  Jogging the head while still locked under pressure is faster and easier.  But the problem is that most flanging machines don’t have good brakes, so that when you cut the electric motor off the head will continue spinning a ways.  And if the clip spins past you, the reflexive thing to do is to reach for it.  In order to make the head spin when you jog the electric motor, the head is tight against the icr roll, so if the clip spins past and you reach in after it you are sticking your fingers where they are easily caught and pinched between the still-spinning roll and the still-spinning head.  As I said, Higinio did this twice.  Knowing how mule-headed he was, I’m sure he continued to check outside circumferences this same way even after having two fingers crushed.

Another flanger operator nearly had a finger cut off when the jib crane, which operated on air pressure, jammed while it was lifting a head out of a flanging machine, catching the hand that was holding the head as he guided it out against the top of the machine.  Several people have fallen and twisted ankles or broken legs.  One maintenance mechanic broke his collar bone, I don’t know how.  Several other people have had shoulder injuries.  I don’t know how they did it, I just remember them walking around the shop with their arms in slings.  We used to have large floor model electric grinders on wheels.  They started with a violent jerk.  You had to hold them securely when you started them.  One man had it jerk out of his grasp, and it didn’t have a kill switch, so it chewed him up pretty good before he could get away from it.  We have since gone to air grinders, with kill switches.  It seems every advance in safety has been a result of someone’s serious injury.