This is the flow of work through the shop.  Metal comes in through shipping mostly by truck, although the largest pieces come by rail.  Most metal is shipped to us in one of three ways:  in pre-cut circles, in sheets (that we cut circles out of), or in segments (that we weld together to form a circle, on an automatic welder called a seamer).  Most of the flat circles of metal are then sent to the presses, where they are pounded into dish, or bowl, shapes.  Most of these pressed heads then have a center hole drilled, or burned if they are too large for the drill.  Most of the bowl-shaped heads (drilled and undrilled) go to the flangers, where they are spun to form an inside corner and a straight flange, and the edge is machined.  Stainless steel heads are then pickled (acid-cleaned); the rest are washed.  They are then marked-up and/or stamped with relevant information.  Then shipped out.

All of this metal is moved through the shop with forklifts.  From electric walk-behind pallet stackers

walk behind stackerto 50-ton diesels.

50-ton forklift

Although most of our forklifts are much smaller, and run on propane.


When I first started I wasn’t qualified to operate one.  A license is required.  Then one day help was needed in shipping.  My foreman at the time, Tom H., brought me into the break room and gave me a written test, and a booklet where I could find all the answers.  I quickly became qualified.

Driving a fork lift in our shop is tricky.  The aisles are narrow and sometimes, when we are crazy busy, crammed with material.  The machines are tightly situated, so you are loading a very large head into a small machine in a tight area.  You pick up this piece of metal that can weighs tons, maneuver it around stacks of metal scattered everywhere, while people dart in front of you, behind you, wait impatiently for you to finish so they can use the fork lift.  You load a flanging machine by lining up an inch and a half center hole (in a head with a diameter of 100 to 125 to 150 inches, or even bigger) onto a pin you cannot see.  Without wrecking the machine or the piece you are loading, or the fork lift for that matter.  Fun.

Actually, it is.  It’s a break from the routine.  Designated fork lift drivers have come and gone.  At times we’ve had them, other times we are expected to go get a fork lift and take care of things ourselves.  Felan R. was the best.  That old man  could drop a huge dished head onto a inch-and-a-half pin first try.  When he’d see me having trouble lining a center hole up with the pin, he’d joke, “Put a little hair around the hole, you’ll find it.”  Recently, laser pointers have been installed on the larger flanging machines.  It is directed onto the top of the center pin, so that when you load the head you merely line up the laser beam with the center hole.  But the machine I usually run never got one of those.

I’ve never done any damage with a fork lift.  Never wrecked any material, never crashed into a machine, never run anyone over.  Which has happened.  Stan C. was carrying a large head on his forks and didn’t see the golf cart in the aisle in front of him.  The golf cart was totaled (but the driver escaped injury).  Another time an operator left a fork lift running as he got off.  Which people do all the time.  Only this time he also left it in gear and the emergency brake off.  The forklift continued on driver-less down into a loading pit, about a 6-foot drop. And garage doors are a favorite target of people driving a fork lift, every single one has been damaged or crashed through, some numerous times.  Which will endear you to your co-workers if it’s the middle of winter and it’s your fault that a damaged garage door is hanging open while gale-force winds at sub-zero temperatures whip snow into the shop.

I have done things like spill a load, where a head or a stack of heads will slide off the forks.  Or lose control of a head as I’m loading my flanging machine, where a head will slide out of the machine onto the floor.  Usually hitting the floor with a bang, kind of startling to the guy working with his back to you at the next machine.  And I’ve gotten a fork lift stuck in the mud.  You can’t get off the pavement in the kind we have, they are too heavy.  Mike H., another very good forklift driver, laughed at me trying to get unstuck, unsuccessfully, for quite a while.  Then he showed me.  If you ever get a forklift stuck, merely run the forks down into the ground.  This forces the front wheels up enough that you can back out.  Some practical information for the next time you are driving a forklift.


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