Leroy W. was another senior flanger operator on first shift at the time I transferred in 1979. He was in his late thirties to early forties at the time. Tall and rangy, he was someone who kept his nose buried in his work. The only time he spoke to anybody was to complain about Badeye. Leroy had the bad luck of working on the same machine as Leotis W. No one could keep up with Badeye. He was the fastest most productive flanger operator I’ve ever known. But Leroy was expected to keep up. Back then the management was good at pitting employees against each other. If Leroy ran the same jobs on the same machine as Badeye, then he should be able to accomplish as much. Only no one worked as balls to the wall as Badeye. So Leroy complained that Badeye abused the machine, which he did, and that Badeye’s heads weren’t as good as his, which they weren’t. But the company didn’t care. Badeye’s heads were good enough, and the machine could be repaired. What Brighton cared about was his amazing production.
That was probably the reason Leroy was a nervous wreck, from trying to keep up with Badeye. He wasn’t always a nervous wreck. When I first met him he was funny, when I could get him to look up from his work and hold a coherent conversation. But as the years passed he grew goofier and goofier. Another thing he complained about was that the jobs kept getting more difficult. He had a point. It seems over the years that customers keep getting more and more exacting, wanting more and more specs held to tighter and tighter tolerances. While at the same time the machines keep deteriorating through wear and tear and lack of proper maintenance. So we are expected to do more and more with less and less.
Operating a flanging machine is stressful. I don’t know if I have emphasized that enough. Things can go south so easily and quickly you either spend an hour fixing something that took a second to screw up, or you screw the piece up so badly you can’t fix it and it has to go back to the press, or you screw the piece up so badly it can’t be fixed at all and it is scrapped. This isn’t always the operator’s fault. I’ve had orders where the customer has requested a minimum tolerance to tight there is no way you can form it without thinning the metal out. One customer wanted a quarter-inch thick carbon steel head with a .240 inch minimum thickness. There is no way we could form that head with less than .01 inch thin out. Also, carbon steel is relatively soft and easy to squeeze. On top of that, mills that supply the metal can’t guarantee the thickness, it can come in a little heavier or a little lighter than ordered. So such small allowable thin out meant the metal could be under minimum thickness before we ever touched it. The point is, if you operate a flanging machine you are going to scrap heads. You may try to shrug this off as unavoidable, but over the years it wears on you.
In addition to these pressures at work, Leroy had difficulties at home. He was married and raised a family. But by his late fifties his nerves were shot. His wife leaving him seemed to be the last straw. He grew goofier, and messed up more and more heads, and began missing work a lot. Following his divorce he bought a mobile home and moved into a trailer court. He told me he bought a pressure washer and started a job on the side cleaning trailers with it, though the money he could make doing this couldn’t be much. Finally, Brighton fired him sometime in the late 90’s or early 00’s. He was missing a lot work by then. I think he was trying to get a disability for nerves, but those are extremely difficult to prove. I never heard if he did good with his pressure washer business, or if he went to work anywhere else after leaving Brighton. By now he should be retired.