Gilbert F. was another old long-time employee who was operating a blue valley flanging machine when I came on first shift in 1979. He was a short squat guy, but when he was younger he was strong as an ox. There was the story of him lifting a full-grown man standing in shovel scoop, just by picking the shovel up by the handle. But he was vain. He had coal black hair. Except when the cheap coloring he used wore off. One day his hair would be peppered with grey, the next day it would be coal black again. Of course, he denied putting anything on his hair. He was good on a blue valley, but like Bernie T. he had no desire at his age to learn how to operate a newer flanging machine. In the late 80’s Geoff L. persuaded both he and Bernie to transfer out of the flanging department into the metal cutting department. They really didn’t have a choice. The blue valley flanging machines were being phased out. Several years after that he retired.
Gilbert was good at what he knew, the blue valley flanging machines, but what he was remembered for was his politics. He was from West Virginia, and before coming to Brighton had worked in the coal mines there. West Virginia was strongly unionized and strongly Democratic. He ranted about politics a lot, especially during election season. He railed about the Eisenhower recession, and how the Republicans had ruined the country during the 50’s. Was there a recession in the 50’s? I don’t know, but Gilbert was sure there was. He said the unions had to vote Democrat, if we didn’t we were cutting our own throats. On election day in 1980 Gilbert brought in $100 to bet on Jimmy Carter defeating Ronald Reagan. Most people thought Reagan was going to win, but no one took Gilbert up on the bet. There was a good story about when he first moved to Ohio that he tried to go into the voting booth with his wife. He told the poll workers his wife didn’t know how to vote, that he had to go in to make sure she did it right. Was he allowed to do this in West Virginia? Probably. Anyway, they wouldn’t let him do it in Ohio.
Gilbert had a serious disconnect with his politics. He was dead set against raising taxes. Any time a levee was on the ballot, he railed against it, even to writing letters in to the local newspaper. Yet Democrats raised taxes more than Republicans. He was a die-hard anti-tax Democrat. Figure that one out.
Gilbert’s nemesis was Badeye. He was as dedicated to the Republicans as Gilbert was to the Democrats. People think politics is poisoned now. Our break room during election season would put today to shame. Gilbert and Badeye would get to screaming at each other over politics so badly people started staying out of the break room until the election was over. And the first shift foreman, Tom H., would come in to stir things up. He could care less, I don’t know if he even voted, but he’d come in talking about politics and get Gilbert and Badeye at each others’ throats, then walk out. He’d just do it for fun. We complained to Geoff L. about it, and he got Tom to stop doing it. But Gilbert and Badeye didn’t need much stirring.
Gilbert was also a heavy drinker. He talked about waking up in the morning with a hangover and drinking a shot of whiskey before getting out of bed. He called it the ‘hair of the dog’. He roamed the local bars, driving with one eye closed, he said, so he could see the road. He told of being so sick one time from drinking bad whiskey that he had to sit on the toilet with diarrhea while leaning over to vomit into the bathtub, but he was so short it was a stretch for him, so he ended up not getting much into either. But he was a functional alcoholic. He came into work every day, and did good work. His drinking never seemed to interfere with his job.
I lost track of Gilbert F. when he quit Brighton in the late 80’s. He lived nearby in West Chester, within five miles of Brighton. I heard he didn’t move away, that every election he was still putting up ‘Vote Democrat’ signs in his front yard and was still writing into the local paper against raising taxes. But I haven’t heard anything about him lately, so I don’t know if he’s even still alive.