FLANGING 100

When I started this blog I never thought I’d do 100 posts. This is number 100.  A good round number to quit on.  So for my last post I’ll relate my last day of work.  I say ‘work’, although I did absolutely no work on that day.

My last day was December 22, 2016.  This was the last working day of the year, the beginning or our Christmas and New Years holiday.  On this last day before the holidays first and second shifts only worked 8 hours.  First shift began at 5 am and quit at 1 pm, while second shift began at noon and quit at 8 pm.  That way the two shifts overlapped  for an hour so we could have our Christmas dinner together.  First shift quit work after 7 hours at noon, and second shift didn’t start to work until 1 pm, so they, too, only worked 7 hours.  Which meant I got to sleep in until 4 am.  People told me I should come in late whenever I felt like it, that I would get paid for a complete shift no matter how many hours I worked, but I wanted to be there on time.  This would be my only last day of work ever, and I didn’t want to miss any of it.

I did absolutely nothing.  I walked around talking to everybody, telling everybody goodbye.  The hardest work I did was cleaning out my locker and throwing away all the stuff I wouldn’t be using anymore, and turning in tools I also didn’t need anymore.  And me and Gary B. loaded my fire pit into the trunk of my car.  I have flanged dozens of these things.  They are really sharp looking.  A plate of stainless is dished on a press, then the edge is turned up horizontally on a flanger.  Then it is polished, and legs are welded onto the bottom of it.  This was part of my retirement gift from the company.  It will look good in my back yard.

611a_retirement fire pit

 

At 11:00 I went out to the weld building to help them set up for the Christmas dinner.  About 11:30 second shift began arriving.  Shortly before noon first shift began coming in.  Randy V., who had been retired for years, showed up to play Christmas carols on his guitar.  Several other retirees showed up, too.  Mike W. and Heginio C. and Ron H. Barbecue dinners were catered, and there was plenty of sweets, both purchased and home-made by some of the women on the sales force and in the office.  I had a retirement cake, too.

After everyone finished eating I got all the good stuff.  Mark made a nice speech (no mention of  rubber boots or grease sticks), and gave me more presents – around $500 in gift cards.  The men in the shop had taken up a collection, nearly $300 in cash, to give to me.  And the Boilermaker Union gave me a very nice watch, with the Boilermaker Seal on it.  It is the only watch I wear now.  Then I picked up my Christmas ham the company passes out to everyone, and drove home.

I am thoroughly enjoying my retirement.  I am writing this final post to the blog in Silver City, New Mexico, in the Gila Wilderness Area.  I’ve driven my 23 foot motor home to see many new things and gone places I’ve never had the opportunity to go before on this trip through Texas and the southwest.  I even saw Trinity’s shop.  I and my wife were visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards, and their plant is right next to that.  I didn’t stop in.  I’ll continue this trip on into Arizona, Utah and Colorado before heading back home.  Retirement is fantastic.  Everybody should try it.

Trending
Winnebago Trend motor home

flanging 99

In the early 10’s the oil industry in America boomed.  Fracking, a new method of extracting oil from the ground, came into wide use.  New pipelines were planned to carry all this new oil to market.  But environmentalists objected to this, claiming the new oil was even dirtier and more polluting than the oil already in use.  Also, the pipelines themselves harmed the environment, with the inevitability of leaks and the potential for disastrous spills.  Obama sided with the environmentalists, and the pipelines were tied up in court.

As Mark L. says, environmentalists are our friends.  That oil is needed and valuable.  It will get to market, one way or another.  If not through pipelines, then it will be transported by rail and truck.  And that means tanks.  Lots of tanks.  Tanker cars on trains and tankers hauled by trucks.  And for each tank there are two tank ends.  With no pipeline, business was set to boom for us.

I often see my work when I’m driving.  Many of the tankers hauled over the road are emblazoned with the logos of our customers.

air products tanker

Also, when I’m sitting at a railroad crossing and watching an ugodly number of cars creep by, many of those cars are tankers.  Some of which have ends I have fashioned.

rail car tanker

After 43 years of forming tank ends, my work is all over the world.  I recently took a tour of the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado.  We’ve had several big contracts with Coors.  So most likely some of the large copper vats they brew their beer in I saw that day had their ends formed by me.

031_Colorado

Anyway, we were flooded with work.  We worked 12-hour shifts.  I could have worked every Sunday, too, but I didn’t.  By then I was in my 60’s, and needed some rest.  Also, a lot of people were hired.  At once.  Which can be disastrous.  Flanger operators and press operators cannot be hired off the street.  There is no technical school that trains people how to operate our machines.  They have to be trained on the job.  And the learning curve for flanging machines is much steeper than for presses.  A new press operator can be up and running long before a new flanger operator.  Mark L. got in trouble once for mentioning that.  He said that monkeys could be trained to operate presses, that it was much more difficult to train flanger operators.  As you can imagine, the press operators took offense to that comment.  Bananas began showing up all over the shop.  Every press had a banana or two hanging from its control panel.  Even years later, if you wanted to insult a press operator all you had to do was quickly scratch both sides under your arms at once and hoot.

With so many new operators, the lead men had their hands full.  Poor Curtis W. hardly worked at his own machine, he just went from one disaster to the next.  The new workers were given the easiest jobs.  Still, there was a tremendous amount of rework and a lot of scrapped heads.  But the work kept pouring in, and Mark kept hiring more people.  This was the most people I had ever seen working at Brighton.  I trained one young man on a flanging machine.  He did okay.  It just takes time, it is not something you can start doing overnight.  I know a lot of shoddy work went out the door.  Our customers were so desperate for tank ends the company had no choice.  We had so many employees now Matt H. had the parking lot enlarged.

Then the bottom fell out.  OPEC undercut us.  Fracking is a more expensive way to get at oil that is deeper underground.  The oil OPEC was pumping was less expensive to get out of the ground.  As long as gasoline was up to $3 to $4 a gallon, this didn’t matter.  Fracking was worth the extra expense.  But OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, slashed the price of their oil.  The price of gasoline plummeted to below $2 a gallon.  And all of these new fracking oilfields closed down.  That’s the official story.  But some people believe the big international oil companies control the price of oil as much as OPEC and Saudi Arabia does.  These new fracking operations were mostly wildcatters, independent operators.  So maybe the big oil companies got together with OPEC and Saudi Arabia to price them out of business.

As a result, this glut of work we had been struggling with quickly dried up.  Eventually, every one of the new employees were laid off.  We were back to our original work force.  After having all these young guys around, the place now looked like a retirement home.  And that big new parking lot looked awfully empty.

flanging 98

Enerfab finally gave Brighton an office.  A real office building.

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When I first started there were three offices in our plant.  One for the plant supervisor, the maintenance supervisor, and the quality control supervisor.  There was a scheduler’s desk at a window looking out over the shop.  And that was it.  But at that time Brighton also owned the fabrication plant next door, and all of their offices, our sales offices, and the Hock’s offices were over there.  I never worked in the fabrication plant, so was rarely over there.  We did have a series of meetings there for a while.  But these meeting never lasted, not until the new and improved safety program (another post).  Every other time we ever started regular meetings, for whatever reason, they were discontinued, for whatever reason.

When Trinity bought Brighton, they closed the fabrication plant and sold the building and land.  Cincinnati Sub-Zero moved in.  I have no idea what they do, but they have been doing it very well, since they just built a huge 3-story building on the site.  Anyway, several storage closets adjoining the office were gutted to make more office space in our building.  Geoff L. threatened to kick us out of our break room and turn it into offices, but he never did.  Several crappy looking trailers were brought in and took over a good portion of our parking lot, to make offices for our sales force.  They were pretty shoddy looking.  It wasn’t an impressive sight to present to prospective customers, I’m sure.

When Enerfab bought us, the sales force and most of the management personnel were moved into offices at the Spring Grove plant.  Several were let go.  Matt H., our maintenance supervisor, and Rick S., our quality control supervisor, were fired, since Enerfab had their own supervisors in those positions.  But Mark L. and Bruce K. relocated to the Spring Grove plant.  The only office person to remain at Sharonville was the second shift foreman, Larry F., who became the first shift foreman since there was only one shift, and a skeleton crew at that.  9 months or so later, when the head shop closed at Spring Grove and moved into the Sharonville plant, all of the office personnel moved back with it.  Matt H. and Rick S. had been called back to work by then, also.  But the sales force and the material requisition personnel remained at the Spring Grove plant.  There was just no room for them at the Sharonville plant.  Those crappy trailers had been moved out after Enerfab bought us.

So Mark L. began agitating for a new office building.  Sometime in the late 00’s, I forget exactly what year, Enerfab relented, and built a stand-alone office building.  The sales force came back to Sharonville, and Mark L. moved his office into it.  It’s a good-looking building.  And Mark was determined to keep it looking good.  He insisted we either change out of our work boots to come over there, or put on plastic slippers over our work boots.  This didn’t bother me, I was used to wearing these slippers.  If I had to climb into a head with a finished polish on the inside, I put down felt to protect the finish, and also slipped these plastic things on over my work boots, just in case I stepped off the felt.  No way was I taking a chance to mar the surface and have to put the head back onto the polisher.  Anyway, the material requisition people remained at the Spring Grove.  They must have liked it there and wanted to stay, or I’m sure Mark would have made room for them in his new office building.  Their office had been out in the weld building Trinity had erected when they first bought us, before they started sucking all the money out of our operation.  So Rick S. moved the quality control office out there, which opened up an office in our building for Bruce K.  Before him, there was never an office for the foreman, he was expected to remain out on the floor.  Our personnel manager, Cheryl K., was also let go when Enerfab bought us.  She never came back.  Mark agitated for our own personnel manager, too, but Enerfab never relented on that.  We have the same personnel manager as Enerfab.  It’s worked out fairly well.  Melinda G. handled the partial disability payments I drew for the 2 times I was off from work for an extended time, 2 months in 2010 and nearly 3 months in 2016, and she helped me set up all the paperwork for my retirement.  So I’ve had no complaints.

The only complaint I have about the new office building is it took over prime parking spaces.  More about that in the next post.