BY Davey H

10/01 Direct Link

As Davey was prattling @ the end of September
his keyboard a-rattling as he can remember
thirty days that month had,
and that batch he got done
but wished oh, so bad
that he had thirty one.

Ergo, he picks up where he ostensibly left off: chronicling the miserable performance he turned in at the railcar repair facility during that first year of employment.

Suffice to say it wasn't entirely devoid of enjoyment; he managed to befriend some peers, such as Bill Bauman, a high school classmate, and Carl What's-his-name, a red-haired fellow who shared Davey's interest in Steely Dan.

10/02 Direct Link

Carl played a mean guitar – or so he said – and he commented on how many chords were in the chorus, body of the song as well as the vamp in Steely Dan's smash hit “FM”, that had recently debuted.
Not that any music was worth listening to during work hours; quite the contrary. All the clanging and banging drowned out most boom boxes.

For a time, Davey got assigned to work with aforementioned high school acquaintance Bill Bauman, and spent a few months in that station. Bill could be tense at times and would occasionally chew Davey out for minor reasons.

10/03 Direct Link

“It's STEEL, not WOOD!” Bill snapped, as Davey impulsively mentioned a possible shortcut to straightening some angle-iron.

This was the story of Davey's life: a perpetual underling, it seemed, he possessed the requisite characteristics of naivete, 'nice guy' softness, and gullibility that made him the perfect target.
Additionally, his thin skin and commensurate fair complexion meant easy pinkness.

But Bill had garnered his own critics among the working class grunts, having been pegged as a “kiss-ass”: he was often seen consulting with various non-grimy white hats in the office cubicle – a definite no-no on page 1 of the worker's playbook.

10/04 Direct Link

This “kiss-ass” mistake
was one Davey couldn't make
as onward and upward he fared;
for he figured that's
best left to white hats
and kissing their ass he'd not dared!

So no matter the season
Davey had reason
to not be a snake in the grass;
he continued welding
as if he was melding
and summarily just busted ass.

Yes, folkters, rolling over weaknesses was any worker's destiny en-route to ladder climbing and overall self-betterment. So Davey continued to apply those welding skills – at least on his better days, at times getting the nod from some of the white hats.

10/05 Direct Link

This was a curious and ever-present dichotomy for the steelworker in that particular setting:

One had to get ahead
and get that raise,
regardless of dread
or words of praise.
Neither treading heav'ly nor too light;
and never too friendly with hats of white.

Harold Brown, the older guy in town – who may well have been eligible for Social Security at the time – scrutinized Davey's handiwork one day upon completion of small under-girding I-beam sections on a Pickens boxcar.

Harold subsequently came out with eyebrows raised in a favorable stance, sharp pencil in one hand and clipboard in the other.

10/06 Direct Link

Harold said simply, “looks good.” A man of the proverbial few words – unlike Davey.

That under-girder project had been immensely satisfying for Davey, as he got to just burn hell out of 7018 rods in overhead position – one of the most challenging and potentially painful configurations due to falling slag, hot metal, and ever-present sparks that would burn the cowlick of any head they landed on. And oh, by the way: your work must defy gravity.

Davey had learned early on to mash the puddle, weaving gently, keeping a hold on the vertical plate but maintaining penetration on the overhead.

10/07 Direct Link

This minor victory on that boxcar's under-rump was a boon to Davey's progress, and if Harold's reaction was any indication, it would put Davey on a sort of medium fast-track toward 1st class mechanic status.

So Davey continued his welding efforts, most days barely taking note of the massive power source for such operations: that hulking multistage, multi-user 440-volt Miller welding machine bank that hummed unceremoniously by the equally ponderous compressor.
Perhaps this was a bit of “brand loyalty” or “exclusivity” on the part of the company, utilizing mostly Miller machines, not unlike those silly “cola wars” at major retailers.

10/08 Direct Link

Miller's modern day logo and self-aggrandizing slogan is “The Power of Blue”, and we can rest assured that they have it, too.

Miller certainly faces – as they surely did back then – relatively stiff competition from other major players in the field, namely Hobart and Lincoln.

This is but a trifle in the life of a welder; as long as her/his power source is steady, effective, and if need be, fully adjustable, she/he has no qualms about puttin' pedal to the metal in discharging of metal melting obligations.
Thus, against this firm backdrop, countless welders consider welding to be profoundly meditative.

10/09 Direct Link

Like many welders before him, Davey GOT IT: once the manual rote repetition of welding is firmly imprinted in the brain, it becomes second nature. Some old timers say they could weld in their sleep!
Well, leave it to the working class to come up with exaggerated braggadocio like that

Davey would see his comeuppance on many occasions, such as when glancing at the unbelievably skilled work of John Berardo – a World War II generation master welder who hobbled around with what looked like a wooden leg.

Shop legend had it that his foot got gnawed off by a shark.

10/10 Direct Link

Oh, everybody repeated that 'bit off by a shark' tag line, often in hushed tones, perhaps in fear someone would hear, but beneath the surface, Davey intuited that almost nobody believed that Berardo had lost his foot in such a fashion.

No, Davey – having confided to others – to this day thinks Berardo made up a tall tale to cover his shame and ultimately embarrassment at (no doubt) having stepped on a land mine during the war, then suffering severe loss of pride at the prospect of being shipped back home with a medical discharge while his buddies stayed the course.

10/11 Direct Link

No matter; let's patter.
This was now, that was then,
Berardo the former and all else the latter
(and how!) could weld like holding a pen.

He made it look simple, like popping a pimple
on his chin a dimple and then;
to the lunchroom he'd hobble
for some gnosh to gobble
and shoot off some steam with his friend!

Yes, Berardo had a commanding presence, and everybody seemed to like – as well as revere him; a phenomenon evidenced by his place at the cafeteria table: nobody would sit too close.

He joked with a select few; none questioned it.

10/12 Direct Link

Davey got the chance of a lifetime when watching the master work. On one occasion, Berardo was tasked with rejoining two sections of a ‘center sill’ – otherwise known as the ‘spine’ of a rail car.

To digress, the center sill was the main 'trunk' of the car, an exceptionally strong, 1+” thick forged steel configured in a ‘C’ channel – with additional flat abutments on each side of the C – which ran from fore to aft, terminating in couplers at each end. Complete replacement of such a critical and bulky component would be exorbitantly expensive; usually straightening would do the trick.

10/13 Direct Link

So for most of the damaged cars that entered our shop – and you can bet they got many real cream-puff doozies – some heatin' & beatin', in addition to the addition of a sprinkling of new parts, would be all that was necessary to return such major hardware into serviceable condition.

However, severe derailments that sent rail cars rolling down an embankment or jackknifing into each other were such cataclysmic events that could produce forces capable of bending a center sill. So this twist was extreme enough to warrant cutting, sectioning and replacing the sill with Berardo masterfully at the helm.

10/14 Direct Link

This was a great gig for Berardo – and indeed a bit of spectator sport for such aspirant novices as Davey.

You could only see Berardo's butt on the stool, a little of his tawny leathers as they stretched across his sinewy back and the stroboscopic blaze of the arc that danced and flickered as he labored under the car.
Davey couldn't resist ducking behind the great Berardo and watching the consummate master lay down serious bead.

He seemed to be at it for a couple of days, chompin' cigars, burning the root pass, then finishing up with 3/16ths 7018 rod.

10/15 Direct Link

Davey managed to duck in to peek at Berardo's masterful weaving during lunch, as some residual heat still slowly dissipated from the sill.
Wow – what a stunningly delicate and highly artistic 'bowtie' pattern of symmetrical perfection lay across that otherwise nondescript hunk of steel! The vertical sides had that 'fillet' pattern perfectly blending at the edges and laid down like flower petals, then joining the top plate with hardly an errant drip or break in the pattern. Virtually zero 'undercut', 'overlap' or 'danglin' grapes' were in evidence.

What a damn shame to have to grind that woven artistry down flush!

10/16 Direct Link

Now, with the passage of 35 years, it is difficult to remember who did the grinding on Berardo's sill, but it had to happen. After all, though boxcars were big, hulking behemoths of apparent chunkiness, things still had to FIT. Hells bells; if Davey had any say in the matter that veritable ARTWORK would have been left untouched.

This wasn't the only opportunity to look over Barardo's shoulder. One day Davey had to bring a stainless piece that required TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welding of the most intricate variety to Berardo's corner of the 'passenger' car wing of the plant.

10/17 Direct Link

Davey watched through his shade 12 lens as Berardo wielded the welding rod with BARE HANDS only inches from the live electrode! Dayum – didn't he get UV burn? What a tough cookie he must have been!

It didn’t take long after that for Davey to grasp the true depth of what ‘master welder’ actually meant—and indeed what a long road it would be to its culmination.
In the meantime, he had begun to have concerns about toxicity and acrid fumes borne by welding processes, as mentioned in previous posts, namely ozone and nitrogen oxide, among other bad gaseous players.

10/18 Direct Link

He had become wary,
yes, and that so very
of the welding process,
with no need to guess,
particularly those rods with blackened plumes,
a-smokin' in excess
such as the searing ‘Jet rod’,
burned in cavernous rooms,
yes, the fat, cigar-like 7024
that laid a clean kerf
whilst on the welder's turf
staked out on the gritty shop floor.

Now to digress further – a habit Davey has so far culled and utilized in the extreme – the '2' in '7024' indicated that this particular rod be used EXCLUSIVELY in flat and horizontal positions.

This was indeed a hard and fast rule.

10/19 Direct Link

So the '7024 rule' was never, ever violated by any whatsoever in the know; anyone that even attempted to run 'uphill' vertical with 7024 would not only yield miserable results, but also run the risk of getting scorched by falling slag.
No need to nag.

And when a worker was blazing away with 7024, watch out! All standers-by would keep a wide berth, much as they would when someone was oxy/acetylene torch cutting.

One day, Davey watched absentmindedly as a worker finished up a thick splice plate utilizing 7024 rod. Sparks and molten slag balls seemed to be flying everywhere.

10/20 Direct Link

He paused, lifting his nearby coffee cup to his lips, took a long pull on the by-then lukewarm java, and let out a hearty “ahhh!”, adding, “Wow – I just got some slag in this here coffee! And ya know what? It tasted damn good!”

Like many, this fellow was glad just to have a job, however miserable the conditions might in fact be. He wasn't sweating the fumes.
But yet the exposure was slowly and surely poisoning him as well as any worker who didn't take at least the most basic safety precautions in discharging their molten metal slingin' responsibilities.

10/21 Direct Link
Further incursions into Davey's gung-ho hopes-for-a-career-in-welding bubble would be forthcoming, one in the form of an affable but normally morose coworker named Kowalski.
(Of course, to his knowledge, no relation to the bellicose “Killer” Kowalski, star of that fake wrestling circuit)

Kowalski sported a pockmarked face, a glaring characteristic that invoked images of him as a disheveled zit-ravaged teenager.

Kowalski sat hunched against a wall one day as Davey inquisitively pumped him for details about welding procedures.

Kowalski looked down with that grim expression and began,
“it's only about a fifteen year lifespan.”

Davey, stunned, replied, “What do you mean?”
10/22 Direct Link

“Welding.” Kowalski stated simply, adding, “even if you wear a respirator, the gasses still get to ya.”

Davey felt slightly nauseated – a feeling he can still conjure to this day – and holds that historically rich discussion within his fading memory cache folds as being a major pivotal point, a life-changing experience indeed.

Kowalski went on to express some more lucid details, citing one (still!) living example of a victim of such livelihoods: a recent hire in the form of a shrunken little man who ambled about the shop in a hunched-forward position and seemed always to be short on breath.

10/23 Direct Link

Yes, this poor chap – name never recalled – was a former gung-ho, freckle-faced, doe-eyed welding enthusiast just like Davey, and had cut his eye teeth doing 'tank work'.

This, to the uninitiated, was, at least back in the “good old days”, an absolute insanity in terms of worker safety. Welding INSIDE a tank? Holy Shit!

As anyone with a lick of sense could well imagine, available oxygen would be used as well as displaced quickly in such circumstances, the void filled by nasties such as the aforementioned nitrogen oxide, ozone, and byproducts of melting metal and flux, not to mention particulates.

10/24 Direct Link

Of course OSHA eventually stepped into such voids and forced compliance and adherence to safety protocols for such companies and workers steeped in ignorance of the dangers inherent in these operations.
Not that everyone obeyed every rule every time, but at least awareness would be planted and workers could bitch if put at risk.

So the Kowalski discourse and little shrunken man played key roles in Davey's ongoing evolution as a steelworker.
Eventually, these twin obelisks of learning would be not only ominous but serendipitous: a second shift overhead crane operator position opened up, and Davey put in for it.

10/25 Direct Link

It was around that time that the company also had begun moving in some serious machinery, hiring a backhoe to excavate below the multilayer shop floor to install a couple of giant turnstiles. This would figure prominently in the company's future, dangling their toes in the manufacturing and fabrication business.

So with the 7% shift differential being offered for the crane operator job slot, Davey would give it as much as he got.

Adjusting to the 3 to 11 shift was no problem; Davey had traditionally been a bit of a 'night owl', carousing with buddies, not giving a flip.

10/26 Direct Link

The honeymoon phase of Davey's crane operator-ship wasn't marred by any egregious mishaps, but needless to say it quickly became boring.

Those newly installed turnstiles (to wit: with a horizontal axis of rotation) would soon play host to assembly and welding operations consisting of pre-fab hopper car sections which, once tacked together, could be rotated on axis to allow workers to lay flat position welds on everything.

This may have been cute and a convenient configuration for the plant, but it was onerous and quite frankly noxious for the poor sap stuck up in the crane huffing all those fumes.

10/27 Direct Link

In order to man the nascent hopper car fab endeavor, new hires – some pretty mangy-looking oddballs, to be sure – began trickling in to people the shop floor. And to arm those legions in their quest to hastily assemble and push cars out the door, the company had seen fit to purchase a slew of new “fluxcore” welding machines for the purpose.

To the uninitiated, this “flux-core” technique was not only a unique and innovative welding paradigm; it also meant less product maintenance.

Flux-core, a variation on 'MIG' – or 'Metal Inert Gas' welding, built upon MIG's already robust and proven technology.

10/28 Direct Link

In MIG, a welding wire – not rod – is fed via electromechanical means, a.k.a., a rotary motor, through a tube along with Carbon Dioxide or a mixture of CO2 and Argon, terminating at the welder's nozzle, the point of inert gasses being to protect pooled weld from oxidation until it cools.

So with flux-core, the welding wire is actually HOLLOW, filled with flux, which, when you pause to think about it, is quite amazing in the sense that as the weld is being laid down, the flux has to boil and end up ON TOP of the finished weld as slag!

10/29 Direct Link

So somebody came up with a flux-core formula that worked – and they probably got quite rich selling their idea down many avenues.
It didn't put ordinary MIG out of business, but it did save companies from having to continue buying bottled gasses, and it provided a straightforward welding technique that any shit-for-brains could perform without making gaseous adjustments.

Flux-core had its drawbacks, of course, namely the incessant spatter encountered by the operator, along with difficulty obtaining correct amperage settings, but for the most part, flux-core machines ran relatively smoothly, and workers could run bead like the robots they essentially were.

10/30 Direct Link

So Davey whiled away many an afternoon into many an evening watching many a dweeb on the shop floor as they sluggishly swarmed about many a hopper car.

When asked to lift, Davey would lift,
sometimes 'twas a gift, often it miffed.
In, out, up, left, right, down;
so friggin' mundane all the way around.
But one thing is pretty damn sure:
the crane and sling became a bore.

Well, not all the time; Davey had learned early on – primarily gleaned from the life experience of growing up as a boy – that he needed ACTION, and preferably many a toy.

10/31 Direct Link

One would think that such a delightfully mechanical toy could clinch the boyish interest of a somewhat puerile boy such as Davey, and it did, to some extent. On the face of it, these machines would have been retired long ago, but were still in active daily service after 60+ years.

The cranes ran on 250 volts D/C, their ancient switching and variable speed 'rheostat' mechanisms frequently spitting spectacular blue sparks, arcing as operators attempted getting just that right setting, a task difficult to achieve but important when, for example, lowering such gigantic loads as boxcar bodies precisely onto stands.