FLANGING 75

In 1995 I transferred back into flanging.  Nobody wanted me there, except the new plant supervisor, Mark L.  Joe D., our union president who was also a flanger operator, said it plainly.  He suggested that maybe he needed to transfer out of flanging for a while, to ease his nerves.  He must have been having trouble with his nerves at the time.  He was operating the largest flanging machine and doing the most difficult work, and I think this and the demands of the union presidency were getting to him.  It wasn’t long after that he resigned as president, then after that quit Trinity.  He went to work as a prison guard.  He said that was much less stressful.

Since I had been at the top of my pay scale when I transferred out of the flanging department, Mark started me back at the top of the pay scale when I transferred back in.  It made perfect sense to me.  But some of the other flanger operators didn’t agree.  So I was pretty much on my own.  The inspectors at the time were Harry S. and Bill R., and I got along well with both of them.  So it wasn’t a problem getting my work through inspection.  But the forklift driver at the time, Stan C., didn’t think I should be back in flanging, and I had a difficult time getting my machine loaded and unloaded.  Also, the first shift foreman, Tom H., didn’t like me being back on a flanging machine, either.  He made it as difficult as he possibly could, hounding me constantly about production times.  But I stuck it out.  Eventually, Joe D. told everybody to lay off me.  He said it looked like I was back to stay, that I obviously still knew how to operate a flanging machine and could do the work.

I was assigned to number 8.  This was one of the large flanging machines.  It had an old machining arm.  No one else liked running it.  So I got it.  This was when I got my reputation for being noisy.  No one could make that old machining arm cut right.  It was worn out.  Most of the other flanging machines had gotten new arms, the kind that Geoff L. had engineered, that were all hydraulic and electric powered (and the smaller ones were also air-powered, too).  But the one on number 8 had to be manually cranked into position, then turned down manually on a screw.  And nobody could get a good cut with it.

Except me.  But at a cost.  For every other flanger operator, the cutting tool in the arm on 8 would dig into the metal and chop at it, instead of machining the edge smoothly, like the new machining arms were so good at doing.  They accepted this, chopped the edge until they were finished, then spent a long time grinding the edge smooth.   But I found that you could grind the cutting tool to an angle that would barely graze the edge as the head spun.  That way the carbide tip scraped a very thin layer of metal off, instead of digging in and chopping at the metal.  The problem was it was difficult to find the correct angle to sharpen the cutting tool, since for each different-size head it was a different angle.  So you spent a lot of time grinding on the tool trying to find the angle which worked.  Still, it was faster than having to grind a choppy edge full of chatter smooth, especially if it was a very big head, and number 8 ran large heads.

The problem with this was the racket.  By peeling such a thin layer of metal off at a time, the metal squealed terribly.  Everybody in the shop complained about the noise I was making.  But nobody could argue that I was getting a better machined edge off number 8 than any other flanger operator had ever gotten.  So I just shoved my ear plugs in deeper and kept at it.

Another old flanging machine was brought in by Trinity, and I was moved to it.  Everyone was happy about that.  Including me.  The noise was getting to me, too.  People would ask me if the racket didn’t bother me, and I would answer, “What?  Speak up!”  Since I moved off 8 the company has replaced that worn-out machining arm with one of the new hydraulic arms.  So now operators machine as smoothly and quietly on 8 as on every other flanging machine.  But people still accuse me of being the noisiest operator in the shop.  Once you get a reputation it’s hard to shake it.  I’ve quit trying to deny it. After I retire they won’t hear me at all.

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