I haven’t mentioned much about maintenance men. We’ve had some doozies. One guy was a good carpenter. He bought and rehabbed old buildings. But skill at carpentry doesn’t necessarily translate into being good at repairing machinery. Besides, he was old, had a bad limp, and didn’t do very much, probably because he wore himself out on his other jobs rehabbing. Then there was Fifi. I forget his real name, that’s what everyone called him. I don’t know if he was really effeminate, but the name stuck. He didn’t last long. When number 8 flanger was first installed, it had a low arch you walked under to get to the controls. Fifi banged his head on it and claimed he injured his neck. He won his lawsuit and got a partial disability, then quit. Spacers were added to the arch to raise it so people could walk under it without stooping. I was glad to see Fifi go. He nearly dropped something heavy on me. He was working on a manlift on something right above the flanging machine I was operating when he dropped something. I don’t remember what it was, but it hit the floor right behind me with a bang. I’m sure it would have hurt if it hit me. And I wasn’t even wearing a hard hat. They weren’t required until Enerfab bought us in 2002. They insisted we wear them. But most of my time at Brighton I didn’t wear a hard hat. Even a hard hat wouldn’t have helped me another time something fell out of the sky at work. I was operating an overhead crane in the flange bay when the trolley motor came loose and fell to the floor. It landed about 5 feet away from me, and pretty close to another flanger operator, Curt W. This thing weighed several hundred pounds, and would have killed me if it landed on my head. The maintenance supervisor, Matt H., said the bolts holding the motor to the bridge had come loose, and that there was no way of knowing this just by looking at the crane from the floor.
The best maintenance we’ve ever had were the Bobs, Bob O. and Bob A. They worked together on first shift. Bob O. was a big bear of a man, while Bob A. was smaller. It seemed like the machines were in better shape when those two worked on them. Later when Bob O.’s health was failing, Bob A. did most of the physical work, although Bob O. was still good at diagnosing problems.
The maintenance room has moved all around the shop since I’ve been at Brighton. When I first started it was in the front of the shop, in the southeast corner. After that it moved into the northwest corner. Finally, it migrated into the large shed just north of the northwest corner, which it shared with our small machine shop. A hall was built to connect the shed with the plant. This seems to be the best location, as they have plenty of room to work in there, and also store parts.
The maintenance room isn’t the only thing to move around the plant. I heard the company gets a tax write-off for installing machinery. So every so often the small drill gets moved. It is the smallest and easiest piece of machinery to relocate. Since I’ve been there it has been in at least five different places. The big drill isn’t as mobile, and has only been in three different places I can remember. The polishing machines have also been tried in several different spots. The small polisher was set up in what is now shipping, in what was then the southwest corner of the shop, before the pickle room was added on. It then moved into the pickle room, along with the big polisher, which was purchased at that time. When the pickling operation was expanded, the two polishers were moved to the shear bay. Where everyone complained terribly about the dust. When the new Farros-Bladder polisher was bought, it was originally installed at the west end of the press bay. Once again, more complaints about the dust moved it out to the weld building. Then it ended up back in the pickle room. The small flangers and presses get moved occasionally. A small heat treating furnace was installed at the east end of the press bay, then migrated to the middle of the flange bay, then back to its original location.
Some things didn’t require much effort to move. The scheduler’s desk has come and gone from being a desk behind a window to the shop offices, to a desk in the middle of the shop, to a small room attached to the front of the shop office. Inspection has been moved around a lot, too, from the middle of the flange bay, to the east end of the flange bay, then back to the middle. Now both the scheduler’s desk and inspection area has been done away with, since we flanger operators take care of our own scheduling and inspect our own heads. More work piled on us, with no compensation.
A brief detour. Mentioning polishing reminded me of something I haven’t thought of before. How polished heads are protected for shipment. Now we shrink-wrap the smaller ones in plastic, and cover the larger ones with carpet to protect the polished surface. When I first started at Brighton they were coated with peel filmite. This was a liquid plastic-like substance that was sprayed on the polished surface, which hardened when it dried. It did a good job of protecting the polished surface, and as the name implies could be easily peeled off by the customer once the product had arrived. Only the stuff was wicked toxic. The young guy who ran the polisher when I first started there was often found wandering around the shop after spraying on peel filmite, totally looped out of his head. I think he enjoyed the buzz, which must have been potent. But the company quit using the stuff. It’s amazing the chemicals we carelessly used that were once considered harmless. We used to keep open buckets of industrial solvent, and even washed out hands in the stuff. There was also an aerosol, lay-out fluid remover, that was taken off the floor because of its toxicity. Of course, this was after we had already used it for years. And after grinding on stainless steel all my life, I now learn the chromium in the steel is bad if inhaled, and people now wear a respirator while grinding.
Back to the Bobs. They installed new machinery, also. New to us, not newly-made. But even they could be stumped. A CNC (computer numerical control) milling machine was bought. Apparently the machine was in pieces when purchased, at a very good price I heard. The Bobs assembled it, but could never get it to work right. I think the machine was outdated when they purchased it. Outside contractors were brought in, and they got it running. A edge of a small tank head could be machined on it. And several other applications were attempted. But the machine was so difficult to set up and so cumbersome to run that it was never practical. Yet they had to justify its expense. When people from Trinity headquarters in Texas came to visit, I swear, a small head was set on the machine and a small pile of metal turnings were put on the floor below it, to make it look like the CNC was being used. Eventually, the company gave up on it and took the machine out.
Another boondoggle has been the spinning lathe. This one is much larger than the small one the company used to have, and it operates horizontally instead of vertically. This took place after the Bobs were gone. Yet once again they had to bring in outside contractors to put the huge machine together, then again to get it running. Several heads have been done on it. But just as it became operational in the mid-teens, the oil market dried up, and it has been sitting idle. At least it hasn’t been removed. Perhaps if the oil market ever comes back it will prove worthwhile.
Bob O. suffered a stroke at work. He was rushed to a hospital and saved, but not in time to prevent serious damage. He never recovered from the stroke, and died several months later. Bob A. retired not long after. But his wife died almost immediately. So he tried to come back to work. There were some issues with the union over this, so he didn’t work for very long. I heard he remarried, and enjoyed himself for a while, taking trips and doing things he never had the chance to do while working. Maintenance department has always worked insane amounts of overtime. But he, too, has died. It gets depressing sometimes, writing about all these dead people. But at least Bob A. got a chance to have some fun late in life, while Bob O. never had that chance.