I was assigned to operate the smallest flanging machine in Enerfab’s head shop. It was newer and in better condition than the flanging machine I was used to. But it had hydraulic controls. I was used to electric controls, so it took a while to relearn them. Also, it had an old-fashioned machining arm that had to be manually turned on a screw. And I had to use a long wooden four-by-four to force the arm to cut smoothly. I hadn’t done that for over 20 years. But I got used to it, and didn’t destroy any heads.
The flanging machine next to me was the next biggest, and was run by Calvin H., a long-time Enerfab employee. He was very skilled on that machine. There was a larger flanging machine. Ron N. was originally trained to operate that one, but he only lasted 3 days. I forget who ran it after he disappeared. Curt W. was trained on the largest flanging machine. The problem was that it was incredibly slow. The metal didn’t spin, it crept as it was being formed oh so slowly. There was no way to speed it up. Also, it was supposed to be computer assisted, but they could never get the program to work correctly, so it was still manipulated by manual hydraulic controls. There were also four or five presses in the bay, and a drill, and a burning table, a small polisher, and a shipping department. All jammed together.
The small flanging machine I operated was directly in front of the shipping garage door. And it was December. So it was cold. There was no heat, like there was no heat at Brighton. So I was used to working in the cold. You just dress for it. But I wasn’t used to working in front of a garage door that spent more time open than closed. It got really cold. I’m sure it was much worse on second shift at night.
Most of us were disgusted trying to learn equipment we weren’t used to while working in a shop we were totally lost in. But I tried to make the best of it. I mean, I was still employed, doing the same work I had always done and receiving the same pay and benefits I had always received. It took a while to get the hang of the hydraulic controls. And the machining arm was worn out. But other than that, the machine I was on was in good shape. The biggest challenge came when I ran a flange only. Flange-onlys are tricky. It is so easy to warp them up. And it had been a long time since I had formed one using hydraulic controls. But it came out alright. I had a crowd watching me flange the head. I learned later that Enerfab’s head shop didn’t do flange-only’s, so this was the first time they had ever seen one formed.
They also didn’t do no-holes like we did. Their flanging machines were not designed to run heads without a center holes. To run a no-hole the head was flipped over, then laid out to find the center, then a nut was welded onto the head, then the head was bolted to the center post in the flanging machine. After the head was done, it was flipped back over and the nut was cut off. A very tedious time consuming process. Since I didn’t weld, whenever I had a no-hole to run I got Gary B., a Brighton welder, to weld the nut on for me. I could cut it off myself.
A quick note about welding. They welded everything at the Spring Grove plant. I don’t believe there was a bolt in the shop. Whenever anything got relocated the welds that held the machine to the floor were cut, the machine was moved, then it was welded to the floor again. I’ve never seen anything like it. If anything was attached to a machine it was welded on. If anything sat still for too long, it got welded in place. Welding classes were offered for free after work. I briefly considered. But then I remembered Randy V.
Randy V. was a press operator when I first knew him. But he had hired onto Brighton as a welder. He said it was very hard work, and transferred out of it as soon as he could. Sitting down and operating a press was much more to his liking. Before coming to Brighton he had been in a jazz group playing mostly in Las Vegas, but he said they also went on the road throughout the west. He told of going on this one gig way out in the country where he didn’t see another black face for days. I failed to mention that Randy was black. But he said they always were treated nicely, never had any trouble, and the people seemed glad to have them perform. For a lot of these people it might have been the first time they’d heard any music without a steel guitar and a twang in the singer’s voice. After he quit playing music for a living he settled in Cincinnati and went to work for GE. But I don’t think that lasted very long, he got laid off and came to work at Brighton. But he stayed involved in music. He had his own recording studio and video company. He performed in churches, and made video recordings of church services which were aired on the local community-access cable channel. He also did wedding videos, commercial videos, all kinds of odd jobs. So he stayed very busy.
A quick side note to what has become a side note. Being a musician, Randy was out late at night frequently. He said if a policeman pulled him over, he always stuck his hands out the window so the officer could see he was not holding a weapon. And this was long before Ferguson, or any of the police killings. But that was how Randy was, very practical. He didn’t protest bad treatment by the police, he just dealt with it in a practical way.
Another side note, while I’m on race relations. Chip M., a press operator, told me a funny story. He had a Harley. When he was younger he said he rode his bike to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for Black Biker Week. He said the police set up checkpoint after checkpoint, that they couldn’t go anywhere in Myrtle Beach without going through a police checkpoint. It was a hassle, he said, but he assumed that was just the way it was, because of the way people felt about bikers, especially large numbers of bikers, even if they weren’t really biker gangs. He said he went to Black Biker Week for many years. Then one year he was invited by a white friend to go with them to some other big biker gathering in Myrtle Beach. He said he couldn’t believe it. There wasn’t a police officer in sight. No checkpoints. They could go anywhere in Myrtle Beach without being hassled. So it wasn’t bikers the locals were worried about. It was black bikers. Chip said he never went back to Myrtle Beach.
Now where was I? Yeah, I declined to take any welding classes. I was 51 at the time, and not really interested in learning a new trade that was so physically demanding. So I never learned to weld. I just learned to operate that hydraulic flanging machine and kept my head down. And then I became much happier when the small flanging machine I used to operate at Brighton was brought to the Enerfab head shop and set up there. Welded in place, of course. Needless to say, I began running my old machine. So by the holidays I was settled in and fairly content. But over the New Year’s holiday I got a phone call at home from Bruce K., my old foreman from Brighton who was working as foreman at the Spring Grove plant along with that old guy I mentioned. He told me to report to work at the Sharonville plant the first of the new year. That made for a very joyous holiday. I drove down to Enerfab on the chance someone would be working during the holiday, found the door to the head shop unlocked, went in and cleaned my locker out, and have never set foot in the place since. Except to eat, but that’s a later post