Flanging 78

Before Trinity bought Brighton we didn’t get many visitors.  The Hocks were extremely secretive about their process.  I suppose this was because the founder, Alvin Hock Sr., supposedly sneaked in to watch how a competitor fashioned heads.  At least that’s the story I heard.  Anyway, it got worse once Geoff L. installed the new machining arms.  Whenever someone would be escorted through the shop the arms were covered up.  Geoff didn’t want anyone else to know what kind of machining arms we were using.

But since Trinity bought us, all that secrecy is gone.  We now have a lot of visitors come through.  Mostly they are prospective customers being escorted by salespeople.  They come singly or in pairs, or sometimes mobs.  They all have to wear PPE (personal protective equipment) such as safety glasses and ear plugs and hard hats.  But since they stay in the aisles and don’t come close to any machines, they don’t have to wear steel-toed shoes.  Most of these visitors are sensible enough to wear sensible shoes, but I have seen women come through in heels.  Our floor is so full of holes and cracks it’s a wonder none of them have twisted an ankle.  Anyway, these customer reps are shown all our operations.  They’ll stand in the aisle and watch me flange or machine a head, never saying anything, just watch, as the salesperson explains to them what I am doing.  Then they’ll move on.

We also have vendors come through.  They are people working on something in our plant.  Such as digging a pit and pouring a concrete foundation for a new piece of equipment to be installed.  Or someone installing new exhaust fans or pouring new concrete outside or repairing our roof.  We’ve even had people come in during the night after second shift left, when we weren’t running a third shift, to clean and paint the machines.  All kinds of people.  We’ve had window washers come in the spring.  People to replace our fire extinguishers.  People to stock the vending machines in our  break room.  Cintas gathers dirty work uniforms and delivers laundered ones.  One of the most interesting vendors to come in stocks our automated supply cabinets.  We’ve never had a stock room, with an attendant to dispense supplies.  If we needed something we rooted around looking everywhere for it.  It was very disorganized.  Our current plant supervisor, Mark L., finally got tired of people coming into the office and rooting around looking for stuff.  So vending machines were brought in and stocked with our most common needs.  It’s great.  You log in with your time card, like a plastic credit card, so they can keep a record of who is taking what, and the machine spits out whatever it is you need.  It’s one of the best improvements made since I’ve worked there.

We also have a lot of truck drivers.  They used to wander all over the shop, but lately they’ve been restricted to staying outside or waiting in our break room while they are being loaded or unloaded.  Truck drivers are a colorful lot, you see some strange-looking characters climb out of their cabs.  They always help the shippers with the loading and unloading.  They have to sign off on the load, agreeing it has been loaded to their satisfaction.  Which doesn’t mean the load is always secure.  We ship some huge unwieldy heads, and loads have shifted and broken loose during transit.  So far no one has been injured by any of our heads, none that I know of.  Although the office once got a call from a company about thirty miles away who reported that a bunch of our heads were laying in a ditch alongside the road.  Apparently the driver had lost the entire load and had kept going.  He must have known the heads fell off.  I don’t know what happened to him, if he was a new driver who freaked at losing his load or what.  But the company who saw the heads were a customer of ours and recognized what they were and where they came from.  So another truck was dispatched, along with a crane, to load them back up,  There have been other mishaps in shipping our heads.  When we ship really large heads by truck they are flagged as ‘oversize load’ and are escorted.  Somehow one such load was badly misjudged.  It was sitting too high, and got jammed in a low underpass on Interstate 75.  Sometimes, loads are so big they have to be shipped by barge.  Only Brighton is twenty miles north of the Ohio River.  So they have to be moved by truck to the river.  This involves plotting a serpentine route through the countryside to avoid anywhere the load won’t fit through, and traveling by night to avoid traffic, and having a police escort.  This can take days to move something really big down to the river.  It’s not always easy shipping the big stuff we make.  We frequently form big heads, then cut them in half to be shipped, and the customer will weld them back together once the halves are in their plant.

These are some of the welcome visitors we get on a regular basis.  But we have plenty of unwelcome visitors, also.  I’ll cover those in the next post.

Flanging 77

I mentioned Brent C. in a previous post.  He was the most fun person I have ever worked with.  He was a manic personality.  His nickname was Hippie, because of his long hair.  A lot of us had long hair back then, including me.  Anyway, he was always joking, always aggravating, always instigating trouble, never serious about anything, ready to laugh along when someone pulled a good trick on him.  It was just enjoyable being around him.  He was about the same age as me.  He said his older brother was already serving in Viet Nam when he was drafted.  Since there is a custom, or maybe a law, I don’t know, in the military that two brothers shouldn’t be on the battlefield at the same time, Brent was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone.  He said his entire tour there was like a day at the beach, especially considering he could have been trudging through the jungles of Southeast Asia like his brother was doing.

He was working at Brighton when I was hired in 1973.  He operated a spinning lathe on first shift.  Standard-size heads up to a quarter-inch thick could be formed on it.  A chuck, or die, was mounted vertically on the machine, and a steel blank was fastened to it.  As the die spun, a small forming roll shaped the metal blank to the dimensions of the die.  Once the head was in size, the edge was trimmed with a cutting tool as it spun.  Whereas a flanging machine could form any head to any dimensions the customer wanted, the spinning lathe was limited in what it could do by the kinds of dies that were available, plus the limitation of only being able to form up to a quarter-inch steel..  Still, once set up, the spinning lathe could produce these heads much more quickly and consistently.

Sometime in the early 80’s Brighton got rid of the spinning lathe.  To replace it they went to a hydraulic press, which could form thicker metal, and a boring mill to trim the edges.  Since press operators were expected to run the hydraulic press, Brent C. and the other spinning lathe operator at the time, Curt H., the man I had worked with at Deerfield Mfg. who had told me about Brighton and gotten me to put in an application here, were transferred to the flanging department.  Curt didn’t last long.  I don’t think he liked running a flanging machine.  He’d always had a problem with attendance, but once he was off the spinning lathe it got worse.  He was soon fired.  But Brent flourished on a flanging machine.

Brent suffered a serious injury on number 1 flanger.  It happened while he was lifting a head out with a jib crane.  The jib cranes all ran on air pressure at the time.  They have since been converted to electric.  The air lines can clog with grease from our compressor, which can effect the operation of any pneumatic system.  On this occasion the jib crane jammed as it lifted the head up out of the machine.  Brent was holding the top of the head to guide it up and out, and his hand was caught between the head and the machine.  One finger was crushed and nearly cut off.  Brent was off work for so long, nearly a year, we doubted he would ever return.  But he did.  Through several surgeries his finger was saved.  But it wasn’t very functional, and he claimed it ached so badly he’d been better off it the doctors had removed it.

When Trinity bought Brighton in 1987 Brent was part of the wholesale change in our union.  Nearly every officer resigned.  Ira B., who had been vice-president and became president when Ollie B. resigned, and Dave C., the treasurer, were the only ones to stay on.  Brent became a committeeman.  He was very good at it.  Being so personable, he got along with everyone, even the people in the office he argued grievances against.  After a year Ira B. resigned, and his vice-president, Richard D., became president.  At the next election, Harry S. became president, and Brent was elected vice-president.  But Harry only lasted one term.  Everyone liked him as president because he was extremely honest and open, there wasn’t a devious bone in his body.  But he was nervous, and the job became too much for him.  So Brent was elected president when Harry S. chose not to run again.  Brent was president when I resigned as financial secretary in February of 1994.  By the time I transferred back into flanging in the summer of 1995, his vice-president, Joe D., had succeeded him as union president.

At some point while Brent was our union president he transferred from flanging into inspection.  Not long after, he was promoted to foreman.  He went onto second shift.  At this time Trinity had two foremen on each shift.  Ira B. and Tom H. were first shift foremen, while Harry S. and Brent C. were second shift foremen.  In the late 90’s to early 2000’s Trinity became disenchanted with Brighton.  It became very difficult to work in management.  The dot com bust affected us, too, and work slowed drastically.  A lot of people in the office were let go, or quit.  I think Brent was fired.  I hear he went to work in a machine shop.  Most likely he’s retired by now.

It’s amazing how the people you work with for decades just disappear from your life.  They either quit or retire or are fired, and you never see them again.  Brent C. is one of those.  I worked alongside him in the flanging department for years, I worked alongside him as a union officer for years, then he just went away.  He was a very likeable guy, easy-going even when the going wasn’t easy.  I hope he’s fared well since leaving Brighton.

flanging 76

There have been very few women work at Brighton.  We’ve all seen images of Rosie the Riveter and Wendy the Welder, popularized during Word War Two and in the movie ‘Flashdance’, but in actuality there are very few women in those trades.  We haven’t even had that many women in the office.  Cheryl K. took over as personnel manager when Bob E. retired.  Everybody was so happy to see Bob go that she was welcomed with open arms.  Then there was Linda.  I don’t know what she did in the office, some kind of secretary I suppose.  I had no dealings with her.  I heard she was extremely vulgar.  Maybe she tried too hard to fit in with the boys club in the office.  But she certainly wasn’t stupid.  When the company finally got tired of her and tried to fire her, she filed a sexual harassment charge against them.  Seems the first shift foreman, Tom H., had written some insinuating letters to her, and she had kept them.  If they actually ever had an affair, I don’t know.  But she had the letters.  So the company made an out of court settlement with her.  I don’t know how much money she actually got, but she went away.  Somehow Tom H. kept his job.  It wasn’t long after that his heart started failing.  He was taken off the floor and given an office job, doing what I have no idea.  Brent C. was promoted to first shift foreman.  Tom filed for a disability, but the company fought it.  They kept him sitting at a desk in the office until he couldn’t even do that any longer.  He was in line for a heart transplant, but he never made it to the front of that line.  He died not long after he stopped working in the office.  After the trouble with Linda, we had meetings on sexual harassment.  Since there were no women working on the floor at the time, the meetings were kind of useless.  It was a while before there was another woman even in the office.

There have been a few women who worked in the shop.  We had a young woman operate a flanging machine for a while.  Ron H. trained her.  They had to find a step for her to stand on, she was so short.  She was quiet and kept to herself.  She lasted about a year.  Also, a sister of someone who worked there was hired.  She was a helper for a short time.  She was agreeable and never bothered anyone, and since she was somebody’s sister nobody bothered her.

Then there was Rose.  Not a riveter, but her name actually was Rose.  She was hard as nails.  She was a helper, which meant much of her time was spent cleaning heads after they were finished.  We had just gotten pressure washers to clean with, a big improvement over the mop and solvent in a bucket and water hose we had always used.  But we learned the hard way how to use them.  Rose was washing a head with one when she shot her foot.  The pressure was so high the water cut through her rubber boot and her leather work boot and forced some rubber into her foot.  Needless to say, the pressure was cut way down on all the pressure washers.  And Rose wasn’t off work all that much, if at all.  She was tough.  And she wasn’t shy.  Once while I was committeeman on first shift, she came to me with an injury.  Something had struck her in the shoulder, a head or a clamp, I forget what.  So she pulled up her sweatshirt to show me the large bruise.  She was wearing a bra, but it still seemed strange that she would do that.  So I went with her into the office to report the injury.  Everyone assumed she was gay, with her being so butch.  And she was.  When she worked on second shift her girlfriend often came by at lunch break to eat with her.  But that didn’t keep this one dumbass from propositioning her.  He offered her a hundred dollars.  He was lucky she didn’t knock the shit out of him, I’m sure she could have.  Instead, she reported him to the office, and he was reprimanded and disciplined.  He didn’t lose his job, but I think he got some time off.  Geoff L. must have been holding his breath, anticipating another sexual harassment lawsuit.  But Rose didn’t file one.  That wasn’t her style.  She worked there longer than any other woman who worked on the floor, and by all accounts she was a good worker.  She eventually quit, I don’t remember the reason why.

Now, in 2016, Katie works in the office.  She is the daughter of a long time employee, so everyone treats her nicely.  And since we all work with her father, she treats us nicely.

Those are the only women I can think of who have worked at Brighton.  Not very many, considering I’ve worked there 43 years.

Flanging 75

In 1995 I transferred back into flanging.  Nobody wanted me there, except the new plant supervisor, Mark L.  Joe D., our union president who was also a flanger operator, said it plainly.  He suggested that maybe he needed to transfer out of flanging for a while, to ease his nerves.  He must have been having trouble with his nerves at the time.  He was operating the largest flanging machine and doing the most difficult work, and I think this and the demands of the union presidency were getting to him.  It wasn’t long after that he resigned as president, then after that quit Trinity.  He went to work as a prison guard.  He said that was much less stressful.

Since I had been at the top of my pay scale when I transferred out of the flanging department, Mark started me back at the top of the pay scale when I transferred back in.  It made perfect sense to me.  But some of the other flanger operators didn’t agree.  So I was pretty much on my own.  The inspectors at the time were Harry S. and Bill R., and I got along well with both of them.  So it wasn’t a problem getting my work through inspection.  But the forklift driver at the time, Stan C., didn’t think I should be back in flanging, and I had a difficult time getting my machine loaded and unloaded.  Also, the first shift foreman, Tom H., didn’t like me being back on a flanging machine, either.  He made it as difficult as he possibly could, hounding me constantly about production times.  But I stuck it out.  Eventually, Joe D. told everybody to lay off me.  He said it looked like I was back to stay, that I obviously still knew how to operate a flanging machine and could do the work.

I was assigned to number 8.  This was one of the large flanging machines.  It had an old machining arm.  No one else liked running it.  So I got it.  This was when I got my reputation for being noisy.  No one could make that old machining arm cut right.  It was worn out.  Most of the other flanging machines had gotten new arms, the kind that Geoff L. had engineered, that were all hydraulic and electric powered (and the smaller ones were also air-powered, too).  But the one on number 8 had to be manually cranked into position, then turned down manually on a screw.  And nobody could get a good cut with it.

Except me.  But at a cost.  For every other flanger operator, the cutting tool in the arm on 8 would dig into the metal and chop at it, instead of machining the edge smoothly, like the new machining arms were so good at doing.  They accepted this, chopped the edge until they were finished, then spent a long time grinding the edge smooth.   But I found that you could grind the cutting tool to an angle that would barely graze the edge as the head spun.  That way the carbide tip scraped a very thin layer of metal off, instead of digging in and chopping at the metal.  The problem was it was difficult to find the correct angle to sharpen the cutting tool, since for each different-size head it was a different angle.  So you spent a lot of time grinding on the tool trying to find the angle which worked.  Still, it was faster than having to grind a choppy edge full of chatter smooth, especially if it was a very big head, and number 8 ran large heads.

The problem with this was the racket.  By peeling such a thin layer of metal off at a time, the metal squealed terribly.  Everybody in the shop complained about the noise I was making.  But nobody could argue that I was getting a better machined edge off number 8 than any other flanger operator had ever gotten.  So I just shoved my ear plugs in deeper and kept at it.

Another old flanging machine was brought in by Trinity, and I was moved to it.  Everyone was happy about that.  Including me.  The noise was getting to me, too.  People would ask me if the racket didn’t bother me, and I would answer, “What?  Speak up!”  Since I moved off 8 the company has replaced that worn-out machining arm with one of the new hydraulic arms.  So now operators machine as smoothly and quietly on 8 as on every other flanging machine.  But people still accuse me of being the noisiest operator in the shop.  Once you get a reputation it’s hard to shake it.  I’ve quit trying to deny it.  Pretty soon they won’t hear me at all.