Flanging 74

Enough about polishing.  This blog is named Flanging.  So back to flanging.  In the early 90’s Trinity got overwhelmed with work.  So much that Geoff L. asked me if I would run a flanging machine again.  It was to be on a part-time basis.  I would still be classified as a polisher.  In our contract, temporary assignments are allowed, with the stipulation that the worker will be paid whichever wage rate is higher, his customary hourly wage or the hourly wage of the job he is to be doing.  Since flanging paid a higher wage, this was quite a raise for me.  I had taken a large pay cut to get onto first shift by transferring into polishing, from going to the top of the pay scale in flanging to the bottom of the pay scale in polishing.  Although I had reached near the top of the polishing pay scale by that time, it was still a raise.  So I agreed.

John was happy to see me go.  Not that he disliked me that much.  But there had never  been enough work in polishing for two people.  There was too much for one person and not enough to keep two people busy.  Which meant we spent a lot of time cleaning up and doing other odd jobs when we were slow, and worked a lot of overtime when we were busy.  It was boom or bust.  So when I started operating a flanging machine again, John stayed busy polishing, and got all the overtime he desired.  And when he got too overwhelmed, I went back to polishing to help out.  But most of the time I stayed on a flanging machine.

Since I was a temporary transfer into the flanging department, I was assigned the easiest jobs.  Also, all of my old skills came right back to me.  The old adage ‘once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget’ applies to flanging, also.  And I enjoyed operating a flanging machine.  I never transferred out of the flanging department because I didn’t want to operate a flanging machine, it was to get onto first shift, which I had felt was so necessary at that time with raising my two sons on my own.  So I was happy operating a flanging machine again.

The temporary transfer lasted about 6 months or so.  Work slowed down.  To give Geoff L. his due, once this happened he told me he appreciated me helping out when the company needed me, and offered me an opportunity to transfer back into the flanging department.  By this time there had been at least one retirement, I forget who, so I would have had enough seniority to remain on first shift.  Besides, I had remarried by this time, and was no longer raising my boys on my own.  Also, by this time they were getting older, and didn’t need such close supervision.  My oldest had graduated high school, and my youngest was in 8th grade.  So I was tempted.  But I declined.  Although Dale B. was gone by this time, Geoff L. was still plant supervisor. I was still financial secretary for our union local.  I was sure all the old antagonisms would resurface.  So I declined.

Two things happened to change my mind.  In 1994 I resigned as financial secretary.  I had been doing it for 7 years, and was tired of it.  The second thing to happen was Geoff L. retired.  He was replaced by Mark L.  And Mark L. made it plain he wanted me back on a flanging machine.

Like before, it started with a temporary transfer.  I was put on the trimmer, machining small heads.  Then I was moved to a flanging machine as we got busier.  After several months, Mark called me in the office and asked me if I would transfer back into the flanging department.  I agreed.  He sealed the deal by giving me a yellow Trinity golf shirt.  When I came out of the meeting the union president, Joe D. at the time, asked what I had decided, and I showed him the shirt.  He was upset that I had moved back into flanging, mostly because I had more seniority than him, and at least one other operator on first shift.  More about that in the next post.

I am forever grateful to Mark L. for getting me back into flanging.  Seven years later, when Enerfab bought us in 2002, only half the workers were rehired.  Enerfab was in need of flanger operators and press operators.  Very few other people were offered jobs.  They already had enough polishers, they didn’t need another one.  John R. had retired by then, and they let go the polisher he had trained.  So I most likely would have been out of a job in 2002 if I hadn’t moved back into flanging.

One final note about John R.  We parted on good terms.  Just before I transferred back into flanging I went with him to fetch some boxes of polishing belts out of stock.  In the stock room he took out his pocket knife to slice open a box, I forget the reason.  But his knife cut right through the box and stabbed into his thigh.  The blade sunk deep, up to the hilt.  He yanked it out, and his pants leg was soon soaked with blood.  He turned pale and started trembling.  He was in his late 50’s to early 60’s by then.  I told him to sit down and I would go for help.  But he insisted on walking on his own.  So I took his arm and helped him walk to the office.  He was grateful for that.  That’s a good memory.  For me, not especially so for John, I’m sure.


Flanging 73

In the early 90’s Trinity bought a new polishing machine.  That was a momentous event.  Most of the equipment Trinity brought in was used, some of it used up.  But the polisher was brand new.  It was built by Ferros Blatter, a Swiss company.  It ran like a dream.  Here is a video:

For some reason, John didn’t want anything to do with learning to run it.  Maybe he thought he was too old to learn a new machine.  So I worked for two weeks with the two Swiss men who installed the machine and instructed me how to use it.  It was state of the art.  There were two turntables, large and small, and the machine swiveled from one to the other.  You could change the large grinding roll used most of the time for a small grinding roll for doing tight corners.  The heads rested on the turntables without being bolted down.  The turntables rotated very fast, allowing you to polish much more quickly than before.  For polishing the outsides, heads were merely inverted on the turntable, instead of a tall tower being bolted to the turntable like we had to do previously, and then the upside down head bolted to the top of the tower – this was much more stable.  Everything about this new polisher was a vast improvement.  But there were a lot of new controls to learn.  And for a change I showed John how to polish.  I bet you would never guess what the two Swiss guys gave me as a parting gift before leaving for home after my training was done.  Well, maybe you would – a Swiss Army knife.

A quick diversion about that knife.  When I brought it home to show my wife, her parents and grown son sere visiting.  So my father-in-law opened the blade and slid it across his thumb, with barely any pressure.  It sliced his thumb open, and he started bleeding.  My step-son said “I can’t be that sharp”, took the knife from his grandfather, and proceeded to slice his own thumb open.  Then my wife said, “Come on, it’s not that sharp,” took the knife from her son and proceeded to slice her thumb open.  My mother-in-law was smart enough to accept that it just might be that sharp, and wouldn’t touch it.  Me, I couldn’t stop laughing at the three of them standing there with bleeding thumbs.

This new machine did a much better job than either of the two old ones, and the company now had only one machine to maintain instead of two.  But it wasn’t that much faster.  Which I’m sure Geoff L. was expecting.  So right away there was pressure to polish the heads faster.  Which meant abusing a brand new machine we weren’t comfortable operating in the first place.  So it quickly deteriorated.  It’s a shame to see the state the machine is in now.  It was a dream to run when I first started operating it.  The grinding arm ran off air pressure instead of spring tension, like the old ones.  So you could adjust the pressure to give the grinding head a feather touch, or you could really bear down with it, whatever was called for.  The speeds of both grinding arm and turntables were amazing.  The Swiss instructors had a large head on the big turntable spinning so quickly I was sure it would come flying off – remember, these heads weren’t bolted down – and sail through the air and, after decapitating me, smash through the wall and soar out to Mosteller Road.  But they didn’t.  The turntables were so smooth the heads didn’t even vibrate at such high revolutions.

Of course, when I ran the turntable that fast, after the instructors left, I was ordered to slow it down.  Which meant I had to slow the grinding arm down to match the speed of the turntable, which meant it took longer to polish the heads.  But Geoff didn’t believe such high speed was safe.  And he couldn’t get used to the heads just resting on the turntable.  A threaded hole was drilled into the center of the turntable so the heads could be bolted down.  Other adjustments were made to this wonderful new machine, and soon it wasn’t any better than the old ones.  That’s how it goes.

I had to pay much closer attention to this new polisher than I ever had to with the old ones.  I was constantly adjusting the speed of the turntable, the speed of the grinding arm, and the pressure of the grinding head against the metal it was polishing.  You also had to constantly adjust the horizontal speed of the arm as opposed to the vertical speed.  But I enjoyed it.  It was a challenge.  I don’t think John ever did like it.

flanging 72

John R. assured me if I could operate a flanging machine, then a polishing machine would be no problem.  For one thing, they only had so many controls.  You could adjust the speed of the turntable.  The arm the polishing roll was mounted on the end of raised up and down.  The arm also ran in and out.  The direction the belt spun could be reversed.  The air pressure could be adjusted, to bring more or less pressure of the spinning belt against the rotating head.  And that was pretty much it.

We ran some really big heads on the big polisher.  To do this we had to completely finish polishing the lower part of the head.  Then we’d have to cover the bottom of the head with felt to protect the finish, and climb inside to connect a chain from the overhead crane around the polishing arm, unbolt it, raise it up to a higher position, bolt it back in place, remove the chain and climb back out, then finish polishing the upper part of the head to match the lower.  This was a very tricky job.  You had to be oh so careful not to mar the work you’d already finished.  And there were no lifting lugs on the polishing arm.  That would have been helpful.  So you had to wrap the chain around it in a way that would hold it level once you unbolted it.  Then you had to reposition it at a higher setting and line it up and bolt it back in place.  All this while standing on felt on a polished surface filled with polishing oil that made it more slippery than ice.

I’ve got to stop here to relate a story.  Sorry.  But this is good.  I was operating the big polisher one day when Tim L., the assistant plant supervisor who had replaced Dale B., came back to look at a finished head I had done.  He wanted to double-check the rms reading I had gotten.  Polished heads weren’t inspected by the inspectors.  The office accepted our readings.  Or rather, they accepted John’s.  I was new, so they kept a close watch on heads I finished.  But the head he was looking at had not yet been cleaned out, it was still full of polishing oil.  It was a large deep head, so he threw in a piece of felt to protect the finish, then climbed inside.  John knew, and I had learned, how to maneuver around on a polished surface filled with oil.  This was probably his first time.  So as soon as he stepped inside his feet flew out from under him and he fell, sliding on the felt down into the bottom of the head.  Which was where most of the polishing oil was.  So his dress clothes, his white shirt and black tie, were soaked with polishing oil.  And he was trapped, he couldn’t climb back out.  Once I stopped laughing, I helped him climb out.  He was a total mess, sopping with oil.  I don’t know what he was looking for, but I bet that was the last time he ever climbed inside a polished head before it was cleaned up.

Back to setting up the polishing machines.  We also polished the outsides of heads.  To do this we first had to flip the head over with the overhead crane.  That is an extremely touchy operation.  Back then we used one clamp.  Now two clamps are used, with a chain.  Much steadier and safer.  Also, huge heads are taken outside and flipped by the freestanding crane shipping uses to load and unload rail cars.  But back then I flipped them inside the shop.  That could get hairy.  I attached the clamp, hooked the clamp with the overhead crane, hoisted the head up off the floor, set it down on two long four by fours, let the head lean back just a little, then run the crane forward.  If all went well the overhead crane pulled the head over, while the four by fours kept the head from sliding across the floor.  And you needed to do this smoothly, without jerking the overhead crane around.  Some of these heads I flipped weighed tons.  And you had to keep steady pressure, you couldn’t let any slack happen between the crane hook and the clamp, or the clamp could come off the hook.  That resulted in several tons of metal flying through the air.  I had some mishaps flipping big heads when I first started.  But I didn’t kill or maim anybody.  I made sure no one was around while I was attempting this.  I certainly kept a good distance.  And I didn’t destroy any equipment.  I probably took some years off the life of the overhead crane.  But eventually I got good at it.

Once the head was flipped, a tower was bolted onto the center of the polishing turntable.  Three clamps were attached to the top of the flange on the inverted head.  A three-way chain, which is three lengths of chain, each with a hook at the end, attached to a central loop, was attached to the three clamps and the overhead crane.  The upside-down head was then lifted up onto the tower and bolted in place.  Then the polishing arm was flipped over.  Normally the polishing head was below the arm.  To do the outside of heads, the polishing head was swiveled up so that it was above the polishing arm.  Then you went through the same procedure as polishing the inside.

But once you had the head loaded, whether flipped or not, once the machine was set up to do either the inside or the outside, once you got the head spinning and the belt started at the edge and traveling on its way to the center, then you could sit down and kick  back.  The machine ran on automatic.  And it took time, especially on big heads.  You couldn’t rush the job.  Some heads were so scratched and pitted you spent many 50-grit belts just getting the imperfections out.  And some head were so warped or out of round it took a long time to get a good finish on them.  So once you were going you had it made.  I kept a radio blaring by my chair.  I also always held something.  Sitting down for so long, it was easy to doze off.  But as soon as my fingers went slack and I released whatever I was holding, I’d jerk awake.  And it wasn’t like you could do something else while the machine was running.  You had to stay at the machine and watch the head, for as soon as you looked away something screwy would happen.  Sometimes I’d set up and start polishing a large head, and not finish it by the end of my shift.  Much more relaxing than operating a flanging machine.

flanging 71

A quick diversion into metal polishing.  I transferred into the polishing department in October of 1988 in order to get back on first shift.  There seemed no hope of me achieving this anytime soon as a flanger operator, and I felt I needed to be at home with my sons at night.  The first job I bid on was press operator.  Geoff L. didn’t want me to stop operating a flanging machine.  But I had way more seniority than anyone else who bid on the job.  So he took the bid down without filling it.  That’s what he did when someone he didn’t want to get the job was going to be awarded the job.  The next job to go up on the board was polishing.  I bid on that one, too, and once again I had way more seniority than anyone else who bid.  Now he realized I was determined.  So I got this job.  I went onto second shift for a week to train with John R.  He was in his fifties, and had been a metal polisher all his life.  He was an excellent polisher and an excellent instructor.  In a week’s time he got me started with the basics:  the different grit belts to use for which finishes, how to set up and operate the polishing machine, how to check the finish for smoothness once you were done with an rms indictor.  The device pictured below is similar to the one we used.


Some quick basics about metal polishing.  Customers either requested a certain grit finish, such as 80 grit, which wasn’t too fine, or a certain reading on the rms indicator.  The most common reading requested was 15-25 rms.  Which means a reading taken against the grain can be no higher than 25, while a reading taken with the grain could be no higher than 15, the grain being the direction of the belt across the metal being polished.  Some customers requested a 4-8 rms reading on the finished product.  That is smoother than glass.  These heads were going onto tanks for a pharmaceutical company, to be used for processing medicine.  The tanks were thoroughly cleaned between batches, and there could be no imperfections in the metal for bits of liquid to be caught in.  A reading as fine as this required many hours of going over and over the surface with our lightest-grit belts, which were 320-grit.  We would wear one such belt down, greasing it well and adding polishing fluid into the head, and use it until the required finish was achieved.  If we broke such a belt, we would hopefully have an old used one on hand we had saved for just such an occurrence, if not we would have to start over with an new 320.  We even had one customer request a 0-4 rms reading.  Which was ridiculous, I have never gotten a reading of 0 on the indicator.  We just got it as low as we could and let it go.

There were two polishing machines, a large and a small.  There was an electric turntable upon which the head sat.  And it had to sit level.  If the head had a center hole, there was no problem in lining it up.  But if the head was a no hole, lining it up was tricky.  You put two screw clamps on the head, put a two-way chain on the hook of an overhead crane, lifted the head onto the turntable, then wrestled it around until it rested level.  Next, you started with a heavy grit belt, such as a 50.  We had a heavier grit belt, a 36, but that was never used on a head with a high-grit finish.  The 36 would leave grit lines in the finish that the 50 couldn’t get out.  So most of the time we’d start with a 50.  The arm of the polishing machine was spring-loaded.  We’d release the pressure, slackening the arm to put the belt on, then adjust the pressure back up, extending the arm back out and stretching the belt tight.  Then we’d start at the edge of the head and work our way to the center.  You never wanted to hit the center with a new belt, it was easy to thin out the center that way.  So as the head revolved on the turntable, you started the belt to spinning, then maneuvered the arm inside the head, bringing the polishing belt against the edge of the spinning head lightly, then started it on its way toward the center, adjusting the air pressure as you went, to control how hard the belt bore down on the spinning metal.

This was  tricky machine to operate.  If you hit the spinning head at the edge with too much pressure, you could either throw or break the belt.  If you used too much pressure while the arm was moving toward the center, the same could happen.  If you used too little pressure, you weren’t doing much polishing.  There were all kinds of difficulties.  If for some reason the arm stalled in moving toward the center of the head, it would polish a ring in the head that you couldn’t get out.  Also, these were pressed and flanged heads we were polishing, which meant they weren’t perfectly round, and could have humps and wrinkles in them.  Now as the arm traveled toward the center, you had to increase the speed of the turntable and the speed of the arm, because you were covering less and less surface.

You kept using 50-grit belts, like the one pictured below, until you reached the point where most of the pits and scratches and other imperfections in the metal surface were gone.


That’s when you climbed down into the machine on your hands and knees and searched out all the remaining imperfections, and ground them out with a patent wheel.

patent wheel grinder

You always used a lighter-grit belt, usually an 80 but sometimes a 120 if the finish was to be very fine.  Then you went back over the head with one more 50-grit belt in order to blend in the places you had hand-polished.  Now you were ready to start finishing the head.  Next came an 80-grit belt, being sure to cover up all the 50-grit lines.  Then came the 120-grit belt.  These you started greasing, to get a smoother finish.  Most of the time you ended up with a 180-grit belt, to get a 15-25 rms reading.  Of course, you might have to go over the head several times with a worn 180 belt in order to achieve this reading.  For finer finishes, you continued on with a 220-grit belt or on to a 320, whatever was required.  We even had a Scotch-Brite belt for really shiny finishes.

As you can tell, I’m just getting started on metal polishing.  It will take several posts to cover this topic.

flanging 70

I went onto third shift, for the second time, in February of 1988.  I spent a total of 2 years on third shift.  The first time was from August of 1985 until October of 1986, then this time from February of 1988 until November of 1988.  So far all I’ve mentioned are the hardships of third shift.  But there was a unique high point to working third shift.  Friday mornings.

A work week on third shift began at 11 pm Sunday and ran to 7 am Friday.  So my Friday began about 2 p.m. on Thursday when I woke up just before my sons came home from school.  I spent the evening with them, cooked supper, went over homework, went to practice with them, did whatever was needed.  Then they went to bed and I left for work at 10:30 p.m.  I worked 8 hours, then was off work at 7 a.m.  By this time I had already been up 17 hours, but my day was just beginning.  By the time I got home the boys were already on the bus on their way to school.  So I had the entire day to myself.  After cleaning up, I sometimes went to Al’s.  That’s the bar in Sharonville across the street from the union hall where we continued our meetings after they were officially adjourned.  The place would be packed, at 8 a.m.  Al’s was a favorite haunt of third shift workers from General Electric Aviation in Evendale, just down the road from Sharonville.  Few were there to eat breakfast.  Most were well on their way to becoming sloshed.  So I joined them.

Before you start shaking your heads in disapproval of men drinking at 8 a.m., you have to understand what third shift hours does to your internal clock.  It smashes it.  I mean you eat lunch at 3 a.m.!  So what’s so unusual about drinking at 8 a.m.?  After several hours at Al’s drinking with members of the ‘Zero Club’ ( don’t ask, I have no idea what it meant, it was just a tee shirt a lot of the GE guys wore), I’d drive home to continue the party at my house.  By 10 or 11 I was not only exhausted but also had several beers in me, but I never had any mishaps driving home.  Mason isn’t that far from Sharonville, there wasn’t that much traffic that time of morning, and the police weren’t patrolling for drunk drivers that early on a Friday.  Once home, I’d usually blast some music while I did whatever chores needed doing: laundry, house cleaning, yard work.  If it was spring I’d take my music and beers outside and work in my vegetable garden.  I’ve spent many happy hours hoeing with a 6-pack and a boom box.

By noon I’d stop for lunch, at which time I’d stop drinking so I’d sober up before school let out.  I’d usually settle down to watch a movie.  We had gotten hooked-up to cable in 1979, then had bought a VCR in 1987.  So entertainment was always at hand.  I knew a man who worked third shift before cable or VCR’s, and his biggest complaint about the hours was that there was never anything on TV when he was off work.  Then the boys would get home from school about 2:30 or 3 pm, and I’d spend the rest of the day with them.  We’d eat dinner, or go somewhere, it being a Friday.  Then I’d settle down in front of the TV about 9 p.m. and they’d amuse themselves.  By 10 p.m. Friday I had been up for 32 hours.  So my oldest son, who was 13, would wake me up at some point and tell me to go to bed, if I hadn’t made it there on my own.

So those Fridays on third shift were glorious.  I wouldn’t always go to Al’s.  There were other bars open that time of morning.  The Pleasure Inn in Mason, Tommy’s in West Chester.  And during the summer months I wouldn’t stop off anywhere, since my sons were off from school.  That first summer on third shift in 1986 I had just gotten divorced for the second time and my house echoed for the second time, so I and my youngest, who was 8, hit the yard sales to refurnish.  I’d come straight home from work and clean up, then we’d go out at 8 or 9, whenever they began, to get first pickings.

The second time I went onto third shift, in 1988, I was lucky to be seeing a woman who had Fridays off.  I’d come straight home from work and clean up, then go over to her house.  We’d spend the morning and early afternoon together, then I’d leave before her kids came home from school and be home when my sons got out of school.  It worked out great.  This one time we took a picnic to Winton Woods and spread a blanket out on the ground to eat by the lake.  While we were eating, a little duckling waddled up to us and snuggled up to my back.  I could feel it quivering against me.  I had no idea what was going on.  I have never had a wild animal adopt me like that, before or since.  We stood up and walked away, and the duckling chased after us, quaking insistently.  So we split up, but I was the one it followed, still quacking.  I ran through a bunch of ducks, hoping to distract it, but no luck.  The ducks parted before me, and the duckling stayed right on my tail.  My car was parked on the side of the road, and when we reached it the duckling charged out into the road after me.  So my friend picked it up to keep it from being run over and carried it down the hill.  I started my car, pulled out from the curb and opened her door.  Just as she jumped in the duckling came charging up the hill toward us.  So I sped away.  All the while I kept looking in my rearview mirror, expecting to see it running down the road after us.

So there was one redeeming quality to being stuck on third shift – Fridays!