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.