Ira B. was another flanger operator I began working alongside when I transferred to first shift in 1979. He was 10 years or so older than me. He ran number one flanger. This was one of the bigger machines. It could form three-quarters inch thick steel cold, one inch thick steel hot. But he wasn’t on the machine for long after I arrived on first. In the early 80’s the first shift inspector, Don M., retired, and Ira took over his position. Which was good for me, because that opened up number one. I began splitting my time between the blue valley flangers and number one flanger.
It was good having a former flanger operator as inspector. Ira understood what could and could not be done on a flanging machine, and what was important and what was not, and what could be let go and what had to be maintained. Sometimes inspectors could be picky about things they didn’t really understand. On the other hand, sometimes you could snow inspectors who really didn’t know what they were doing. But we couldn’t snow Ira.
Ira B. didn’t remain in inspection for long. The first shift foreman, Al B., quit working because of his heart, and Ira was promoted. He was okay as a flanger operator and as an inspector, but he was rotten as a foreman. He hounded the men constantly about taking too much time on the jobs and talking too much and leaving their machines. He got worse when Tom H. joined him. In the mid 80’s third shift was discontinued, and the foreman came to first and worked alongside Ira. It was a bad situation. Tom H., a former press operator, was put in charge of the presses, while Ira, a former flanger operator, was put in charge of the flangers. Tom was as bad of a foremen as Ira, but they both became worse as they tried to outdo each other. If something was wrong with a head, Tom blamed the flangers and Ira blamed the presses. It got really toxic between them. They were both big guys, and I thought they’d come to blows.
In the late 80’s Brighton bought a metal fabrication plant in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on the Mississippi River. Ira was promoted to plant supervisor. He, an engineer, and a salesman moved there to run the business. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We have difficulty shipping really big heads. The plant in Sharonville is twenty miles north of the Ohio River, and some wide or tall loads have to follow a torturous path to get there to be loaded onto a barge. Whereas the plant in Arkansas was on the Mississippi River. So they could fabricate oversized heads then load them onto a barge at their site. But Ira had problems from the get-go. They couldn’t find enough qualified machinists and welders to do the work. And the ones they hired were really hard to manage. Hunting season would open up and the plant would have to shut down, everyone took off to go hunting. Ira was part of the problem, too. He was abrasive as a foreman, I can’t imagine what he was like as plant supervisor. And these Arkansas men weren’t taking any lip off him. It got so bad I heard some of them came by the house he’d bought and threatened to burn it down. The salesman, Rich W., was the first to come back. Apparently he and his family had been threatened, too, and he insisted he either came back to Sharonville or he was quitting. As for the engineer, I’m not sure, but I think he did quit. He ended up going to work for Jeff Hock in the early 90’s when he started a head shop at Enerfab in Cincinnati. Ira was fired. I think Brighton blamed him for the failure of the Pine Bluff plant.
Ira B. moved back to Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, and opened up a second-hand store. He had always been good at trading and swapping. His nickname was Haney, the character from the old TV show ‘Green Acres’ who could swindle anything out of anybody. He must have done good with his store, because I never heard of him doing anything else.
About a year ago, I heard he had brain cancer. It’s inoperable, and he’s been given only months to live. But for the last 20 years or so he at least was able to do what he enjoyed doing, trading and wheeling and dealing.