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.


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.


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