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.

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