On the Monday afternoon, 3 pm, of my fifth week of employment at Brighton, I was on my own. Sort of. The second shift foreman, Jim D., kept a close watch on me. But he had never operated a flanging machine, he had been a press operator (more about them later). There were other flanging operators on second shift. Roy H. had told me to go to them if I got in trouble. Some were helpful. Such as Leotis W. and Ron H. Some were indifferent, or harmful. Charlie D., in particular.
One day the foreman told Charlie to help me flange an aluminum head, since I had never worked with aluminum before. Aluminum is very soft. Some grades of it you can scratch with your fingernail. After I set up my machine for the job, loaded the first piece and was ready to begin, Charlie told me not to squeeze it. Then he walked away. I squeezed it. It was scrap. Leotis couldn’t believe Charlie didn’t help me more, this being my first time with aluminum. When Leotis confronted him, Charlie shrugged and merely walked away. That was the last time the foreman ever asked Charlie to help me. And it was a while before I was allowed to work with aluminum again.
Another time Charlie switched the direction of the shaft rotation on my machine without me knowing it. I was used to it spinning in a clockwise direction, and suddenly it was spinning counter-clockwise. I didn’t have a clue. So I asked the foreman about it. He slipped a finger under his toupee and scratched his head, then went and got Leotis. Who realized what Charlie had done, and switched the direction of the shaft back to clockwise. Leotis said I was lucky I didn’t get a finger(s) smashed between the icr (inside corner radius) roll on the end of the shaft and the metal head I was forming, since I wasn’t expecting it to be spinning that direction. When he confronted Charlie about it, Charlie smiled and walked away. He could be mean. But he was going through a difficult time. While he had served in Viet Nam his wife had left him. So he was kind of moody. He quit not long after. I heard later he had a nervous breakdown.
Leotis was much more helpful. His nickname was Bad-Eye. His father had shot him in the face when he was young. I don’t think it was intentional. One side of his face was kind of twisted, which caused one eye to look weird. He could see out of it, he said. But he was always willing to help me out. Ron H. was willing to help, also, but he was less accessible. Leotis had the bad luck of being closer.
So it went like this. I would do something dumb. Try to fix it myself. I would inevitably make it worse. The foreman would come by and ask me if I knew what I was doing. Of course I’d say I did. After he walked away I’d go to Leotis. He’d come look at what I’d done. “How in the Hell?” I’d shrug and say something stupid. Then he’d say he couldn’t fix it on my machine. So I’d bring it down to his machine, which was more modern, and he’d fix it. This became a common routine. It got so he’d run away when he saw me coming. Ron took up for me, saying, “You never learn how to fix anything unless you mess it up to start with.” To which Leotis replied that I’d soon be an expert.