flanging 82

I’ve posted about meetings we’ve had for various reasons.  But we’ve had regular meetings, too.  Before Trinity bought Brighton we had department meetings.  The flanger operators would gather in the break room with the foremen and plant manager and quality manager and sales manager to discuss problems.  These meetings became so predictable the company quit having them.  We would complain about the condition of the machines or the lack of tools or the amount of time allotted to jobs, while they would complain about our production (lack of) and our rework (too much of).  We’d try to explain difficulties we had with jobs.  But they didn’t know what we were talking about.  As I’ve said before, management has no idea how we do what we do, they just expect us to do it faster.

There was also something called ‘BAD guy’.  They posted flyers about it, put down footprints in the hall and break room, did a real production, before revealing what BAD was.  It was an acronym for ‘Buck A Day’.  We were supposed to come up with cost saving ideas for the company, no matter how small, the idea being saving a buck a day adds up over time.  We were supposed to turn these ideas in for free.  As you can imagine, the program didn’t last very long.  For a while the company offered bonuses for ideas that saved money.  But most of these pay-outs went to maintenance men, since they knew the machinery better than anybody else, so that was discontinued because the company came to believe that innovations like these should be part of their job anyway.

For a while when Trinity owned us we started our work day by doing exercises.  This didn’t last long, either.  Everyone was goofing off, and it was taking too much time.

Now with Enerfab we have safety meetings.  I’ll get to them at a later post.  But recently we have started having quarterly production meetings.  These are interesting. Management gives presentations from every aspect of the business:  production, quality control, maintenance, sales, and safety.  The meetings last about an hour.  The sales presentation is the most interesting.  We learn a lot about our customers, information the company had never revealed before.  The meetings last about an hour, for which we are paid.

There are also regularly-scheduled tests.  We get an annual hearing test.  My hearing has deteriorated, but not as badly as you might think, with me working in such a noisy environment.  I’ve always worn good hearing protection.  The test is given in a van.  It is a painless procedure.  We also have an annual fit test for our respirator.  We are supposed to wear them when grinding on stainless steel, to protect us from airborne chromium. Everyone has been issued a half-face respirator.

half-face-respirator

For the test, I put this on and adjust it for a tight fit, then the person administering the test squirts some vile vapor in my face.  I don’t know what the stuff is, but it’s wicked.  If your respirator doesn’t fit tightly and you get a whiff of it, you can’t help but cough.  But these respirators have caused a big uproar.  To get a tight seal on your face you can’t have any facial hair.  A lot of men I work with have beards.  So they have been forced to either shave their beard off, or trim them in a way that allows a tight seal.  Some men really like their beards, so this has caused a lot of grumbling.

We also have to pee in a cup.  Every three months or so the company draws so many names at random, and you are grabbed with no warning for a drug test.  You can’t leave the room until you can provide a urine sample.  If they nab you at the end of the shift, you can pick up some easy overtime pay that way.  You remain on the clock until you can pee.  I’ve been selected just after going to the bathroom, so I end up foundering myself on water, trying to force something to come out.  Of course there is never a question of me passing a drug test.  I quit drinking 24 years ago, and I’ve never taken any hard drugs.  One of the biggest problems is prescription drugs.  In the kind of work we do there are a lot of back injuries, for which people take pain killers, and these can be potent drugs.  If we are prescribed a narcotic medicine, we not only have to inform the company but we have to bring in a release signed by the prescribing physician that we are able to perform our job while taking this drug.  I have had several injuries and surgeries over the years where I’ve been prescribed pain medication.  I hate taking them, and quit as soon as I can stand to.  They make me fuzzy-headed and drowsy, and I hate that feeling.  I’ve never had to take any while working.  So I’ve never had to ask my doctor to sign that form.  No matter the reason, if you fail a drug test you can’t go back to work until you pass one.  On top of that, you have to enter a rehab program, for which you are required to pay yourself.  But the company won’t fire you, at least not the first time.  I’m not sure how many chances you get.  But once you return to work after completing rehab, the company can test you at any time, it doesn’t have to be random.  I’m sure if you continue to fail, they can eventually fire you, I’m just don’t know how many fails you are allowed.  It’s never been a problem with me.

We have an open house every so often.  The company has food catered, and we bring our families through the shop to show them the kind of work we do.  Of course, the company has us scrub the shop clean beforehand, so our wives can’t understand how we come home so dirty when we work in such a clean place.  Ha!

We also have health screenings once a year.  A nurse comes in and takes a blood sample, upon which a battery of tests are run.  This is how I learned I was pre-diabetic.  So the tests are worthwhile.  There are other health-related events the company sponsors.  A nurse is brought in to give free flu shots to us and our spouses.  There is a van that comes annually to give a free mammogram screening to our wives.  Back in the 80’s a van came by annually for blood donations.  There was good participation for this, until AIDS became such a scary thing.  People were afraid the disease could be contracted by donating blood, which of course it can’t.  But when the AIDS scare first swept through the country there were all kinds of rumors.  So participation became negligible, and the van quit coming.

flanging 81

I haven’t mentioned much about maintenance men.  We’ve had some doozies.  One guy was a good carpenter.  He bought and rehabbed old buildings.  But skill at carpentry doesn’t necessarily translate into being good repairing machinery.  Besides, he was old, had a bad limp, and didn’t do very much, probably because he wore himself out on his other jobs rehabbing.  Then there was Fifi.  I forget his real name, that’s what everyone called him.  I don’t know if he was really effeminate, but the name stuck.  He didn’t last long.  When number 8 flanger was first installed, it had a low arch you walked under to get to the controls.  Fifi banged his head on it and claimed he injured his neck.  He won his lawsuit and got a partial disability, then quit.  Spacers were added to the arch to raise it so people could walk under it without stooping.  I was glad to see Fifi go.  He nearly dropped something heavy on me.  He was working on a manlift on something right above the flanging machine I was operating when he dropped something.  I don’t remember what it was, but it hit the floor right behind me with a bang.  I’m sure it would have hurt if it hit me.  And I wasn’t even wearing a hard hat.  They weren’t required until Enerfab bought us in 2002.  They insisted we wear them.  But most of my time at Brighton I didn’t wear a hard hat.  Even a hard hat wouldn’t have helped me another time something fell out of the sky at work.  I was operating an overhead crane in the flange bay when the trolley motor came loose and fell to the floor.  It landed about 5 feet away from me, and pretty close to another flanger operator, Curt W.  This thing weighed several hundred pounds, and would have killed me if it landed on my head.  The maintenance supervisor, Matt H., said the bolts holding the motor to the bridge had come loose, and that there was no way of knowing this just by looking at the crane from the floor.

The best maintenance we’ve ever had were the Bobs, Bob O. and Bob A.  They worked together on first shift.  Bob O. was a big bear of a man, while Bob A. was smaller.  It seemed like the machines were in better shape when those two worked on them.  Later when Bob O.’s health was failing, Bob A. did most of the physical work, although Bob O. was still good at diagnosing problems.

The maintenance room has moved all around the shop since I’ve been at Brighton.  When I first started it was in the front of the shop, in the southeast corner.  After that it moved into the northwest corner.  Finally, it migrated into the large shed just north of the northwest corner, which it shared with our small machine shop.  A hall was built to connect the shed with the plant.  This seems to be the best location, as they have plenty of room to work in there, and also store parts.

The maintenance room isn’t the only thing to move around the plant.  I heard the company gets a tax write-off for installing machinery.  So every so often the small drill gets moved.  It is the smallest and easiest piece of machinery to relocate.  Since I’ve been there it has been in at least five different places.  The big drill isn’t as mobile, and has only been in three different places I can remember.  The polishing machines have also been tried in several different spots.  The small polisher was set up in what is now shipping, in what was then the southwest corner of the shop, before the pickle room was added on.  It then moved into the pickle room, along with the big polisher, which was purchased at that time.  When the pickling operation was expanded, the two polishers were moved to the shear bay.  Where everyone complained terribly about the dust.  When the new Farros-Bladder polisher was bought, it was originally installed at the west end of the press bay.  Once again, more complaints about the dust moved it out to the weld building.  Then it ended up back in the pickle room.  The small flangers and presses get moved occasionally.  A small heat treating furnace was installed at the east end of the press bay, then migrated to the middle of the flange bay, then back to its original location.

Some things didn’t require much effort to move.  The scheduler’s desk has come and gone from being a desk behind a window to the shop offices, to a desk in the middle of the shop, to a small room attached to the front of the shop office.  Inspection has been moved around a lot, too, from the middle of the flange bay, to the east end of the flange bay, then back to the middle.  Now both the scheduler’s desk and inspection area has been done away with, since we flanger operators take care of our own scheduling and inspect our own heads.  More work piled on us, with no compensation.

A brief detour.  Mentioning polishing reminded me of something I haven’t thought of before.  How polished heads are protected for shipment.  Now we shrink-wrap the smaller ones in plastic, and cover the larger ones with carpet to protect the polished surface.  When I first started at Brighton they were coated with peel filmite.  This was a liquid plastic-like substance that was sprayed on the polished surface, which hardened when it dried.  It did a good job of protecting the polished surface, and as the name implies could be easily peeled off by the customer once the product had arrived.  Only the stuff was wicked toxic.  The young guy who ran the polisher when I first started there was often found wandering around the shop after spraying on peel filmite, totally looped out of his head.  I think he enjoyed the buzz, which must have been potent.  But the company quit using the stuff.  It’s amazing the chemicals we carelessly used that were once considered harmless.  We used to keep open buckets of industrial solvent, and even washed out hands in the stuff.  There was also an aerosol, lay-out fluid remover, that was taken off the floor because of its toxicity.  Of course, this was after we had already used it for years.  And after grinding on stainless steel all my life, I now learn the chromium in the steel is bad if inhaled, and people now wear a respirator while grinding.

Back to the Bobs.  They installed new machinery, also.  New to us, not newly-made.  But even they could be stumped.  A CNC (computer numerical control) milling machine was bought.  Apparently the machine was in pieces when purchased, at a very good price I heard.  The Bobs assembled it, but could never get it to work right.  I think the machine was outdated when they purchased it.  Outside contractors were brought in, and they got it running.  A edge of a small tank head could be machined on it.  And several other applications were attempted.  But the machine was so difficult to set up and so cumbersome to run that it was never practical.  Yet they had to justify its expense.  When people from Trinity headquarters in Texas came to visit, I swear, a small head was set on the machine and a small pile of metal turnings were put on the floor below it, to make it look like the CNC was being used.  Eventually, the company gave up on it and took the machine out.

Another boondoggle has been the spinning lathe.  This one is much larger than the small one the company used to have, and it operates horizontally instead of vertically.  This took place after the Bobs were gone.  Yet once again they had to bring in outside contractors to put the huge machine together, then again to get it running.  Several heads have been done on it.  But just as it became operational in the mid-teens, the oil market dried up, and it has been sitting idle.  At least it hasn’t been removed.  Perhaps if the oil market ever comes back it will prove worthwhile.

Bob O. suffered a stroke at work.  He was rushed to a hospital and saved, but not in time to prevent serious damage.  He never recovered from the stroke, and died several months later.  Bob A. retired not long after.  But his wife died almost immediately.  So he tried to come back to work.  There were some issues with the union over this, so he didn’t work for very long.  I heard he remarried, and enjoyed himself for a while, taking trips and doing things he never had the chance to do while working.  Maintenance department has always worked insane amounts of overtime.  But he, too, has died.  It gets depressing sometimes, writing about all these dead people.  But at least Bob A. got a chance to have some fun late in life, while Bob O. never had that chance.

flanging 80

I mentioned a plant Brighton owned in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  There have been several other ventures.  There was a plant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  I’m not sure what they did, but Brighton eventually closed it.  Also, there was a plant in Hamilton, Ohio, just a few miles from our plant in Sharonville, called Hamilton Kettles. They produced heads for the food processing industry.  This business had originally been done here in Sharonville, then expanded into this plant in Hamilton when business picked up.  After several years the Hamilton Kettles work was brought back to Sharonville, and the plant in Hamilton was closed.  Also, Brighton has recently opened a small head shop in Mississippi.  It is still open, but not very successful.  We’ve reworked some heads they tried to make there, and they were in bad shape.

The most successful plant Brighton opened was a head shop in Chicago.  It stayed open for years.  When it eventually closed the foreman and a flanger operator moved from Chicago to work here in Sharonville.  The foreman was originally from this area, so he was glad to move back home.  He worked as a foreman for a short while here, then retired.  The flanger operator was Higinio C.  It took him a while to get used to Brighton.  Apparently the standards at the plant in Chicago weren’t up to our standards.  He kept insisting his heads were good enough, while the inspectors kept rejecting them and making him do them over.  Eventually, he stopped arguing and began forming heads to our specs.  He was fast.  I’d say he was the second fastest most productive flanger operator we’ve ever had, second only to Badeye.  He retired about ten years ago.  I heard he is driving a school bus.

Higinio C. came from Puerto Rico.  We’ve had other immigrants work here.  Although I’m not sure is someone from Puerto Rico is actually an immigrant, since Puerto Rico is a possession of the United States.  Anyway, Johnny S., a press operator, was from the Philippines, so I guess that makes him an immigrant, since the Philippines once was a possession but no longer is.  His father was an American sailor stationed at the large naval base there.  He used to get kidded about his name, since he took after his mother much more than he did his father.  “Johnny S., really?  What’s your real name?”  He insisted his real name was Johnny S.  But he could dish it out, too.  There was this huge black press operator, Chip M., who Johnny kidded with.  Johnny was a short scrawny guy, and Chip was huge, three or four times his size.  But Johnny would raise one arm up and dance around Chip, pretending he was holding a spear, and call Chip a spear-chucker.  Chip could have squashed Johnny like a bug, but he just laughed.  They were good friends.

Johnny had some good stories about the Philippines.  Such as how there were hardly any stray dogs there, and the few there were would never come when you called them.  Johnny said that was because the dogs knew if they came they would be bashed on the head and cooked on a grill.  So stray dogs weren’t a problem in the Philippines.

People are all the time bringing in foods for other people to try.  One popular item is hot sauce.  Someone once brought in a sauce called “Ass In Space”, with a logo of a man with a very painful expression on his face sitting bare-assed on an outhouse flying through outer space.  Everyone was warned how potent this stuff was.  Everyone else only put a drop or two on their food.  But Johnny claimed he grew up on spicy food in the Philippines and could eat anything.  So he doused his sandwich with the stuff, then bit into it.  I thought we’d have to call an ambulance.  He gagged, could hardly catch his breath, got violently red in the face.  But he survived.

Johnny S. quit sometime after Enerfab bought Brighton from Trinity.  He hasn’t done very well since.  Once he was established in this country, he had brought his wife and children over from the Philippines.  Then she divorced him.  I don’t know what kind of problems they had, but some of us believe she might have married him just to get a ticket into America.  Some women have married men for less.

Flanging 79

Now about unwanted guests.  Let’s begin with nonhuman ones.  When I first started at Brighton mosquitoes were a terrible plague in the summer.  Out plant sits in a low-lying area that once was wetlands.  The natural habitat of mosquitoes.  Some of those blood-suckers were huge.  But Sharonville must have done something to rid the area of them, because they are practically extinct now.  But back in the 70’s I donated several pints a year, and they weren’t picky about my blood type.  Rats are also a popular intruder.  It’s very discouraging to find a dead rat in a vending machine.  Kind of makes you lose your appetite.  Also discouraging is finding a dead roach floating in a cup of coffee dispensed from a vending machine.  I bring in my own coffee, and buy very little from the vending machines.

Before I get off the topic of rats, they can be entertaining, too.  A dead rat was once tossed into a press John M. was operating, I don’t know by who.  The top die came down and splattered it all over John.  I heard he lost his lunch.  Another dead rat was tossed into a flanging machine Badeye was running, to be smashed under the icr roll.  Once again, undigested food was dispensed onto the floor.  It’s also fun to toss a dead rat into a pickle tank, and come back later to find shiny bones afloat.  We’ve had great fun with dead rats.

Recently, raccoons have been a problem.  Traps were set, but I don’t think they worked.  We’ve got a lot of hunters working here, and someone was allowed to bring a rifle onto the grounds to shoot it.  Birds fly through the shop all the time, but no one ever bothers them.

Humans have passed through uninvited, too.  I already mentioned the young Moonie girl who came through the shop passing out flowers.  More recently, we had a man walking through our parking lot looking into cars.  We think he was searching for a car with the keys in the ignition.  Someone working in shipping saw him and challenged him.  Instead of leaving, he walked into the shop.  He had a belligerent attitude.  When the plant supervisor Mark L. learned what was going on, he came out of the office to confront him.  When he wouldn’t leave, Mark took him by the arm to escort him out.  He slung his arm loose.  But he then left of his own accord.  There was a road construction crew working on the railroad tracks that crossed Mosteller just south of our plant.  The guy found a truck there with keys in the ignition and drove off with it, heading north on Mosteller.  A policeman directing traffic at the work site  jumped in his car and gave chase.  The man crashed before he got off Mosteller, and was arrested.  I never heard what his problem was.

The most common uninvited people we get have been thieves.  We keep a lot of metal stocked in our yard, some of it exotic and very expensive.  People have come during the night and ripped us off.  The property was eventually fenced in the 90’s, but some thieves just cut through the fence one weekend night and drove off with some metal.  Yet some are so brazen they have come onto our property in broad daylight while first shift was at work. These people drove a truck through our open gate to the back yard where the metal is stored.  Lonnie F. saw them loading metal into their pick-up and asked them what they were doing.  They jumped in the cab and drove off.  And Lonnie grabbed the truck!  Like he was going to stop them!  They just drug him along, until he finally let go.  I don’t think he was injured, but with Lonnie it’s hard to tell.

You might wonder why our yard isn’t guarded.  We’ve had guards from time to time.  There was even a little guard shack constructed for them and put out in front of the gate.  But one weekend Mark L. came by the plant while nothing was going on, to find the guard racing around the shop on a forklift.  We’ve not had any security guards since.