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BY Davey H

11/01 Direct Link

At this juncture – one that sees electric overhead traveling crane operators like Davey performing their task with acquired skill – it is fair to put in a Davey plug regarding this.

It was after several months of operating that Davey had the profound privilege of handling some big moves with the beefy 50 ton crane.

He is among the few, the proud, but not singing too loud that can accurately state that he lifted an entire boxcar by himself!
Of course the machine did the work, creaking and swaying as she went.
Dave Rodenbach, Bob's younger brother, was overseeing this operation.

11/02 Direct Link

Davey looked down intently from his perch approximately forty feet above the shop floor as Dave Rodenbch looped stiff wire 'rope' around the belly o' th' beast, then listened above the ambient din as Rodie shouted instructions for Davey to pluck the boxcar from its normal support atop wheel assemblies, carry it 30 feet or so laterally, then gently alight it atop 4 sturdy jack-stands.

Of course Davey proceeded gingerly, indulging in a bit of soft porn allegory, straining to hear a slurp and gurgle of lubricant as the boxcar's kingpin was loosed from its happy home between the wheels.

11/03 Direct Link

Up in the crane, did Davey feel pain?
No, you know, but then again,
the time moved slow, his lost thought train
a lofty occurrence, not all in vain.

So Davey spent a fair amount of time in the burly 50 ton crane, though not as much as the 35 tonners. And it was in one of those bigger lifting stints that he came across a paperback by one Dr. Atkins entitled “The Atkins Diet Revolution” or some cheesy nonsense like that.

This was an indicator of the nature, and yes, the bane of a crane operator's earthly existence: waiting.

11/04 Direct Link

Yes, it seemed that he wasn't the first nor would he be the last poor sap to spend hours aloft with nothing to do but fidget or read books. Ironically, Davey didn't find any pornographic material in the crane cab – something the venue would surely have supported.

So back to that paperback. Davey thumbed through the first few yellowed, dirt smudged pages to land on the Introduction.
It was in that group of words that Davey knew he could never be a successful carnivore; the good doctor immediately launched into a didactic riposte against sugar – not exactly a bad thing.

11/05 Direct Link

Atkins began extolling the benefits of steaks, eggs, and whatever else was stripped from animal flesh, all in the name of that great American need: losing weight

And oh, by the way – the dear gullible reader should slather said steaks with lots of butter. Yum?

Davey was okay with that, the butter thing, you know, but that was the bus stop where he got off.

No, butter – instead melted and heated to the cusp of caramelized state – was preferably slathered on a serious stack of whole grain ground flax hotcakes prior to application of piping hot Grade B maple syrup.

11/06 Direct Link

Davey felt like puking at the very thought of his incisors cleaving animal muscle fibers, though he had intermittently enjoyed such repasts in the not-too-distant past; it was just that this friggin' Atkins guy was so gawd-dayum extreme.

Thoughts began to wander along those lines: just what would it be like to give up sugar and just start eating like a coyote?

Loud hollers and dog whistles sprang up from the shop floor as Davey was jolted from his daydreaming and reading exploits.
It was time for another yank, pull, lift, or tweak and Dave Rodenbach was making eye contact.

11/07 Direct Link

It was back to the grindstone. This was SO typical in the intermittently busy life of the electric overhead traveling crane operator.

Indeed, how many times the OPERATOR would love to travel – only to be stuck inside those four walls going left, right, boom up, boom down, boom in, boom out.

The ever so proverbial days
blended into a dusty haze
with welding, burning grinding craze
all throughout each ensuing phase.

After those aforementioned turnstiles were finally up and running, after much ado, mind you, the crane operators were largely enlisted to assist in the nascent stages of car construction.

11/08 Direct Link

This aspect of employment was not to be taken lightly, as our fair company had eagerly begun dangling its toes in the waters of actual car making, but for the ever-fidgety Davey, if you care, it lacked the flair of arduous car repair. In fact, it was quite lackluster by comparison.

Everything about the hopper car construction seemed so out of place in this facility: the dull drab gray colored primer on the prefab car sections, the equally dull dullards – who most likely came in on a two-tiered pay scale contingency – and the humdrum state of affairs each assembly entailed.

11/09 Direct Link

It seemed an eternity before each shift could even complete tacking together of longitudinal sections to car ends.
And that meant sitting,
waiting,
watching,
debating,
as workers appeared like ghosts,
ducking,
weaving,
then vanishing.
For Davey, 'twas late,
and it meant no debate;
with those dullards he had to commiserate,
and the process was so deflating.

But although Davey rants here
nearly forty years hence
of how he craved for the crane's recompense,
he really at times just sat on the fence.
And then the time came
for him to make
what with him to blame,
was his biggest mistake.

11/10 Direct Link

It began innocently enough:
the oh, so slowly moving assembly workers
had hollered for a lift
and Davey was not so easily miffed.
As metal fumes he repulsively whiffed
he saw in those rooms an action-packed gift!
And so rather than cause a snide rift
he hastened his cable so able and spiffed.

The first pull went okay, and workers released the hook, at which point Davey and Nicky Jeanette – working in the neighboring 35 ton – began traveling south for the next pickup.
Davey now recalls making some kind of crude joke with Nicky while shouting above the floor's din.

11/11 Direct Link

Remember, these cranes were very old, and hardware quality in 'the old days' was quite superior in terms of strength. And in sheer thickness of material – read: overbuilt – these old contraptions held assurance that they would be around for the long term; several generations of operators and maybe their grandchildren could attest to this fact.

However, gutsy composition and ballsy performance do not a safe combination make. In fact, no emergency stops existed on the cranes whatsoever.

The 'block', which contained a series of pulleys designed to multiply lifting power, could be hoisted until it contacted the upper pulley rack.

11/12 Direct Link

As Davey found out the hard way, this could be a destructive process.

Still laughing, with all three switches engaged: traveling left, boom coming in, boom going up, Davey failed to stop it in time, despite a red-faced Nicky yelling, pointing and gesturing frantically at Davey's boom. In seconds flat, danger overshadowed the floor below as Davey's crane pulley crunched disastrously into the upper pulley rack with an awful cracking sound. Pieces of broken pulley wheel rained down on the shop floor as Davey, now flabbergasted, halted all his open switches, pausing to catch what was left of his breath.

11/13 Direct Link

An unlikely hush fell over the normally noisy shop as workers continued scurrying for the exits – or at least out of the way of Davey's 'drop zone'. One particularly forward fellow piped up, “Is you TRIPPIN'?” To which Davey replied, “F##k, no – is YOU?”

But the damage was done. Davey knew damn well he didn't have a leg to stand on; aye, not even a dick to balance himself in that legless situation. No, not even one of those, but whatever balls he still had were sure to be on the chopping block and heads would definitely roll: namely his.

11/14 Direct Link

Nothing else in the world mattered in those ensuing moments: not any stupid football playoffs, welding fumes and black snot expelled from engorged nostrils, after-hours alcohol consumption, his superiors' balding pates, his companions' love of Steely Dan or the fact that he hadn't been laid in over a year.

Nothing figured in the realm of importance. What was done could not be undone.
It conjured that Apostles' Creed which sordidly stated the same: “We have done those things we ought not to have done and not done those things we ought to have done” – though not necessarily in that order.

11/15 Direct Link

Struggling now to remember the slowly unfolding series of unpleasant events after the crane crackup, Davey still keenly recalls the awful ooze that seemed to envelop his quivering carcass as stark reality set in: BOY, YOU JUST F###ED UP.
And worse than the fact that his hands had flubbed the operation and FAILED was the glibly glaring obviousness that it was entirely AVOIDABLE.
Indeed, dithering Davey had violated what would be the FIRST common sense rule in anyone's playbook anywhere, anytime:
FIRST, PAY ATTENTION.

It would be the longest, coldest clamber down that ladder ever. But face it he must.

11/16 Direct Link

Now it was time to truly 'sweat the load',
and Mara, it seemed, did so Davey goad.

Thoughts arose and swirled furiously, not in the least curiously, around a centerpiece of onerous dread:
would Davey be FIRED
or much worse yet, dead?
In fear he was mired,
that much could be said.
He felt dirtily attired,
and with fear-garbage fed.

Would the frowning, aghast Nicky still be a friend? Davey wondered, consulted briefly with Nicky and a growing gaggle of onlookers, but felt totally alone, not surprisingly.
Some of the dullards stood and stared
not like, fercrissake, that they cared.

11/17 Direct Link

Okay, so Davey has been a little tough on those hopper car builders (referred to as dullards) up to this point, but hey, after all, they were merely working stiffs just like the rest of us, so maybe he should cut them some slack.

The manufacturing process had many predictable hiccups during the first year’s batch of not exactly spit & polished ‘machinery gray’ hopper cars; some potentially disastrous.
For example, when equipment got overused – as tools and gadgets often did – accidents awaited users like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Add oxyacetylene to that mix, and it could be explosive.

11/18 Direct Link

Duh. I mean, like, take a 15 to 1 ratio of oxygen to acetylene – hence the searing high operating temperatures achieved by this mixture – and should it, for the sake of conjecture, be contained in any semblance of a closed container with possibility of ignition thereof, well, BOOM.
But we'll visit that later.

For the most part, fires and accidental explosions were avoided during the manufacturing phase of operations as flux-core® wielding welders kept pedal to metal, but one occurrence stood out like a body cast on a supermodel. And the drama that ensued?
You couldn't have planned it better.

11/19 Direct Link

It was a normal mundane day – most likely a Monday – and the morning coffee klatch & shit-shootin', expletive-slingin' session had expired, so arcs were flickering, fumes were rising, grinders were shrieking, and banging and screeching noises of metal on metal could be heard throughout the cavernous shop as workers turned to.

Perhaps a car was nearing delivery time, so the push was on in the gray area.

From atop one of the cars, a shower of sparks sputtered and cascaded down the side of the car, some landing directly on the tank cart, AND onto the oxygen and acetylene gauges!

11/20 Direct Link

A few workers noticed this glaring safety hazard and began shouting, but the torch operator just kept-a-cuttin'. Hells bells, he either was partially deaf or more likely inured to what amounted to near constant din in the shop, including shouting of all kinds. So why were people shouting? He may well have wondered.

In an instant – a moment that shall be seared into memory of any bystander who witnessed this potentially disastrous happening – the acetylene gauge caught fire.
As fate would have it, this gauge was either worn out or just plain broken, so it leaked just enough to catch.

11/21 Direct Link

That the gauge was able to catch fire was bad enough; worse, some dummy had attempted repair by applying electrical tape to the valve stem. So the tape started burning, too.

Davey doesn't clearly recall the precise sequence of events that happened next, but nobody mustered the courage to turn off the acetylene valve, so the flame grew larger and nastier.
Finally, somebody climbed up into the car and literally wrestled the worker from the hatch, pulling him along with the rest of the crew to the shop floor, where workers gathered in a gaggle, some scrambling for the exits.

11/22 Direct Link

Funny, you couldn't have guessed that attendance was so high; this event was drawing such a large crowd. Where, oh, where did these little guys hide most of the days?

This was reality check time. Somebody offered to do a head count as it appeared the entire shop was now gathered as spectators to what they did not yet know.

Sure enough, PHEEEEOW! The acetylene tank blew, its safety features (in the form of overpressure safety blowout plugs) working properly, and the fist-sized flame mushroomed to a foot in diameter. Mortal fear enveloped the gawking crowd of nearly speechless workers.

11/23 Direct Link

“It's gonna blow!” Someone yelped. But the workers stood staring, transfixed on this monumental action – the most they'd ever seen outside of horror movies.
Then, as they watched in morbid terror, the oxygen tank blew, having been heated sufficiently by the burning acetylene.

The noise was incredible; the loudest, bawdiest hissing, whistling screeching that anyone present had ever heard. And the flame? It immediately morphed into a giant two-story inferno that kissed the shop's ceiling girders.

The pressure was still high in those fresh tanks and the BOTTOM of the flame started two feet off the top of the gauges!

11/24 Direct Link

At this point, nobody knew what to do. Stand there quaking in your boots. Yup, THAT was it.

Conversation nervously erupted as a growing black patch of expelled carbon dusted the ceiling between the girders. 'Good thing it wasn't a wooden structure', someone quipped.
THAT would be building murders!

The gravity of this situation would remain unknown for awhile, as no doubt an OSHA assessment was in the offing. For now, the flame-watching worker collective enjoyed an impromptu respite from the daily grind, albeit whilst pondering if, a) they would be sent home, or b) if their jobs remained intact.

11/25 Direct Link

As Davey attempts to recall along the way
the resultant ensuing remains of the day,
on the clock, yes, still were they
with none to dock, were here to stay.
Slippery schlock in fettered fray
with mental block to join the fray.
So let's rock – yo, what do you say?
It seems that interrupted day
was indeed cut short, be that it may.

Understandably so,
but the next day,
and the next,
and the next,
back to the grind they did go.

Now keep in mind that this was nearly 40 years before David Bowie's 'The Next Day' album release.

11/26 Direct Link

With a cursory inspection of the noticeably singed ceiling girders in the offing, pending an OSHA visit, it was still some time before the okay was given, and Davey, for one, was coughing, albeit whilst slightly driven.

You see, he still hadn't the common sense to quit smoking, let alone practical joking.

And although he could still muster good work at times, the urge to cut up, make a sh**load of noise, and/or BOTHER somebody just was too hard to resist.
Of course it stands to reason he was happy not to have his fingerprints on that tank burning incident.

11/27 Direct Link

Moreover, Davey's crane operator-ship should have been cut short following that brief haphazard interlude that had led to property damage on the crane itself.
But that was another educational experience.

The company still entrusted Davey with competent operation during the rebuild of the rigging unit, and that was a mighty delicate affair.

He was asked to tweak the controls ever so gently during the urgent repair.

The crane technician was himself a seasoned operator; seems it ran in the family. His Dad had operated and no doubt taught this fellow, who also took a keen interest in the inner workings.

11/28 Direct Link

That amazing repair dude knew where to get parts for this ancient apparatus and where and how to install them.
He made sure he had eye contact and clear, concise communication with Davey, who felt like a kicked dog hiding in the cab, tail tucked between his legs.

One false move – or a stupid or ham-fisted one, and the repairman's fingers could be crushed like Al-dente pasta.

“Lift it up just a hair!” Meant just that.
A friggin' hair was a friggin' hair.

Eventually the pulley rack wheels were completely installed and the #2 hobbled 35-ton crane was back online.

11/29 Direct Link

Outside in the not-so-cold distance, Davey and a few fellow crew members got a chance to see this REAL crane operator do his stuff one evening.

It so happened that a shipment of dull-assed gray hopper car pre-fab sections had been delivered that day and needed to be unloaded, perhaps so the flatbeds upon which they resided could get on down the tracks from whence they originated.

Davey and the other workers simply hooked and unhooked cables as the crane man literally picked those massive steel hulks and plopped them down with such precision as to render riggers' rigors unnecessary.

11/30 Direct Link

What a scene that would have been for videotaping and posting on YouTube!

The sheer effortless skillfulness of that operator was breathtaking: The rough-shewn rail car pieces seemed almost to float along under their own steam, lifting, lilting, swaying, with cables as mere appurtenances.
And let's keep in mind that all this was taking place during the latter portion of this, the 3 to 11 shift.
City lights and some yard lighting helped, but still a hell of a lot of ability was being demonstrated with these large objects being expertly jockeyed around power lines, parked vehicles and scurrying workers.