That strike, not to
likestayed in Davey’s mind,and despite the pay hikehe
just thought it unkindto both the white hatsand the workers
so grimy but well, sadly that’sa justified stymie.During
that time, nothing got produced, Davey deduced. What’s more, a
whopping utility bill and no doubt some loans needed to be paid for
all that machinery sitting idle.And what had actually been
accomplished?Twenty cents an hour? Thirty?Memory doesn’t
serve on that one.But for Davey – ever the restless striver
who needed to MOVE – that strike was a waste of time.
crack at the branch, the rail-car repair paradigm had weathered that
characteristic which could be construed as somewhat of a schism when
adopting the manufacturing sector. This kind of thing can lead to
weakness in the bottom line for many companies, when they lose their
focus. So even when industry best practices are followed, an
inevitable dilution occurs, which, if not directly and swiftly
ameliorated, can lead to overall loss of forward momentum.The
company had been pushing those dingy 'machinery gray' hoppers out the
door with some consistency as winter descended upon the sleepy little
village of sorts.
inside the salt mine, clangin' and bangin' proceeded unabated as
Davey climbed the ladder – not only whilst taking on the 3-11 pm
crane shift – but also making it all the way to First Class
Mechanic.This was mildly flattering but mystifying to Davey, as
he had not thought his abilities raise-worthy.Maybe it was that
under-car overhead welding performance early on that had impressed
his superiors; more likely it was a more recent door framing job he
had brought almost to completion, having dusted the project off with
skills absorbed through osmosis during his tenure under Bob
intermittent bickering between repair shop workers and those employed
in the manufacturing section, things were going along as usual,
with occasional spectacles created when locomotives arrived to pick
up the newly constructed cars.These metal Methuselahs tipped the
scales at 100 tons, on average, and it was a freak show watching them
spin their steel wheels on icy tracks. It seemed the slightest
incline could effectively prevent the locomotive from getting back up
to the main line despite its ponderous weight and heft.The car
pickup had moderately inspirational timbre; it gave fellas a chance
to catch a smoke.
all the gung-ho-ness that intermittently prevailed in Davey's
oft-rattled head, the words of Kowalski and Tony Mavis still rang.
“It's only about a 15 year lifespan.”“Until then
[ostensibly attending college], maintain your cool.”A new
guy showed up later that year, slightly younger than the other
hunched-over lifelong welder [who may have been chronicled in former
posts], but rapidly declining nonetheless.His name was Jerry, an
affable, rapidly balding guy who apparently was coming on as shop
steward, at least on freight's side.This was GREAT NEWS! That meant
no more NUT – at least not in our faces.
times, Jerry would double over with fits of coughing, as if he would
soon begin spewing lung tissue. Since he was so totally new in the
pack, rumors flew, some from the back.The good thing about
Jerry was that he was good. That may sound facile or outright stupid,
but after butting heads with crazy-assed Nut, Jerry was indeed a
blessing.But poor guy, he was a victim both of industrial
toxicity and his own destructive habits.“Doctors told him to
quit smoking, quit drinking, and quit welding,” Jim Bowen had said,
apparently privy to Jerry's health status.
had many years' experience under his belt, and we never heard him
yell. But surely he wanted to!Sadly, he moved on, leaving the
company in less than a year.Jerry's fast arrival and just as
brief tenure provided another chink in the armor of Davey's
gung-ho-ness. Here, for lack of a better term, was yet another ghost
in the machine. And that machine was built around cold, oh so cold
steel; little else.Other ghosts remained, aging, shriveled,
hunched over not only physically, but mentally, as prospects for any
kind of future outside the steel box were grim.
all, what else could old washed-up welders do? Who would hire them at
their age?That shop steward position may have been the best thing
Jerry, for one, could hope for.And his tale lends a bit of
sadness to the mix for more than one reason; Jerry may have 'lost his
hand', maybe falling victim to what in common medical parlance is
known as 'manganism'.Of course it figures that Spel-Chequer would
flag this word, but it is an actual, highly accurate term for a very
real condition, assaulting its victims with an all-too
Parkinson-esque heavy metal-induced symptomatology.
and by the way, 'symptomatology' is a word, too. No need to rely on a
pathetically understocked dictionary's admonitions to the contrary.The constellation of manganism symptoms experienced by any given
steelworker can be highlyunique to the individual as well as
far-ranging. But one thing's for sure: with a tremulous set of hands,
your career as a welder is sunk.Notable exceptions to this
tragic onset of malaise are the likes of the remarkable Berardo, who
in addition to being the subject of many a Davey rave, managed to
steer well clear of any threats to continued excellence.
had so obviously been a great inspiration to Davey, who watched with amazement
as the great man dusted off significant projects with the greatest of ease.
But that sinking feeling – and of course the bubble-popping realizations
uttered by Kowalski – pointed to a not-so-bright future as a welder for the
vast majority of us.
Even with a burning desire – pun intended – could the average Joe last 40 years
in the trade like Berardo had?Not likely.
And still, arc welding's ultimate dark side beckoned through the facade:
Berardo's eyes appeared like footballs, enlarged behind what seemed like
quarter-inch thick glasses.
the not so lucky – and certainly not as skilled sidekicks who populated the
field? They, like Jerry, could evolve into supervisory positions, should they
demonstrate the ability to manage others. But as we saw, that depended on
whether they could still BREATHE. It's possible that the dusty, fume laden
environment of our shop had been against Jerry's doctor's orders. So he went on
down the road to the next dustbin to see if it was a little cleaner. Who knows?
Maybe he did. It's all idle speculation.
But what about that little hunchbacked fellow that shuffled around the shop?
poor chap – let’s call him ‘Eddie’ – showed up around the same time as the
ostensible shop steward Jerry had. It was as if they had come in on the same
shipment of fresh meat.
Eddie walked with a slight tilt to the starboard side, limping a bit, seeming
to favor one leg or the other, depending on how you looked at him. But that
awful upper torso arch he had!
His was the kind of empathy-inducing appearance that made you want to ask him
what was wrong.
His chin, it seemed, was in a battle to reach his belt-line.
Eddie’s chest area was concave to the point of bizarre. In
fact, it was hard not to stare at it. This, of course was the contrapuntal
opposing surface to his convex upper back, so the symmetry made sense from a
strictly structural standpoint.
But the mottled, burnt and blanched masses that underlay his caved-in chest
were the real kicker that haunted this particular ghost.
It didn’t take any sharp-assed rocket scientist to presume that Eddie’s lungs
were long gone, sacrificed to the whims of his corporate masters long ago –
those who prioritized production over all else, including basic worker
An ‘air-supplied’ respirator could have saved Eddie. It
could have saved his career, maybe added years to his life. But as Jim Bowen
had noted, Eddie was a victim of “tank work”.
This practice, which, when one thought about it, was INSANE , was quite common
in the ‘good old days’, when men could easily be forced into situations (Tank
welding with NO ventilation!) they’d NEVER otherwise agree to.
The puffed patriotism and nationalism that swept the country prior to World War
II meant droves of men driving to shipyards and any other facility tasked with
hastily assembling war machines.
industry figured prominently in this saber rattling and war machine
constructing, especially leading up to World War 1, before long distance over
the road trucking became the norm.
But men in those days didn't give a flip; they were too grateful to have a job
– even a SHIT job. And tank welding, sans any inkling of respiratory
protection, fit that bill splendidly.
But wages? You can bet they SUCKED. Top rate for welders in the 1920s would
probably be around 50˘ an hour if they were lucky.
And the industrialists were all too happy to employ the hapless.
This ode to the shrunken gentleman
who traversed this place of purveyance,
was with more than a little sadness, then,
to tell with much conveyance
that his sunken chest bespoke
a wanton shortness of breath;
and later on, the risk of stroke;
most certainly early death.
He tried and cried and played the game
whilst climbing each work ladder's rungs;
alas, with all things being the same,
he had paid for it with his lungs.
And although the welding life
had gone and treated him rotten,
he put up with the constant strife
but now he was oh, so forgotten.
Long after the thrill of weldin' was gone,this poor old sap
had lingered on.
And so, if anyone reading this cares,
they could keep him in their prayers!
On a more positive note, springtime brought a host of ventilation options to
the fume-spewing shop operations, and after a couple of run-ins with OSHA,
which Davey will delineate in a minute, the company made a pathetic attempt at
exhaust fan installation.
It so happened that some workers, though few, had become irate at the toxic
atmosphere engendered in daily proceedings, and wanted to force change. Not surprisingly,
someone called OSHA.
A lone payphone, still costing 25˘, graced the wall in the
break room, situated at eye level over by Lew Smith's bigass toolbox.
That was where the call originated, in this era far removed from the
instantaneous bleeping of hand-held microwave radiation devices [otherwise
known as cellular telephones].
Under pressure from a suddenly interested OSHA inspector, the company was found
not in compliance with some basic safety procedures, principle among them being
the lack of a cage surrounding the ladder leading up to the cranes.
But that didn't begin to touch the dust and fumes guys were breathing every
This was an improvement, but no cigar, as per the old adage.
And though cigars tasted rank, these welding boys would not go in the tank.
So perhaps the cigar analogy stinks.
The workers who had bitched were not satisfied with the inspection results,
particularly in light of the air lack-of-quality situation.Funny – or perhaps
not – the day of the air inspection saw all doors opened front and back. Two
large bay doors in particular had never been opened, to anyone's recollection,
but they sure were that day. This would make for a favorable, yet highly
unrealistic, hence inaccurate reading.
The OSHA officials seemed sincere enough in their efforts to
help bring about better working conditions, but even a casual observer couldn't
help speculate if it was all a setup.
In other words, had the inspection been unannounced, and workers had assumed
normal bust-ass operations with fumes spewing accordingly, with doors CLOSED as
they were most days, the results would have been entirely different.
As it was, though, lots of fresh air was allowed in for the occasion.
Nonetheless, the OSHA boys fitted the crane operators with mini air sampling
devices and sent them up to do their daily duties.
If memory serves, though it frequently swerves, the air test
results came back partially inconclusive, though enough crap was detected to
warrant installation of a louvered ceiling fan up past the girders toward the roof ridge line.
The tale of the tape would have pegged that fan at around 20” – hardly
sufficient for a facility of this size – more along the lines of a homeowner's
As an aside, aside from the fact that the CFM capacity of this rotating air
handling device was woefully inadequate for the task at hand, it crapped up
within a couple of weeks.
This non-turning fan turn of events came as no surprise to
anyone with a lick of common sense, regardless of how well versed they were in
the realm of 'sealed bearing' versus non sealed electric motors: the very air
which circulates through such a motor for the purpose of cooling said motor, carried, in this
case, such a particulate load – especially pernicious, as it contained mostly
metal particles in varying states of ionization – as to completely clog the
shaft and armature, rendering the motor useless.
So with the fan not spinning,
above the pen
the men started sinning once again.
What those naughty OSHA snitches needed at that point was a
Rush Limbaugh to say:
“See? I told you so!”
Then the joint would surely glow.
For after all, you can surely see
that a free-for-all with a market so free
did not need such shackles and drags
of safety for those worker scumbags!
Davey's fine cohorts,they took it in stride
and if they had doubts,they kept them inside.
‘Twas better to stay employed and pallid
sans safety concerns, however valid.
Inspection day, it came and went;
with much fuming worker energy spent.
One could say they won.
Having at least garnered a smidgen of workplace safety awareness
during this brief imbroglio with outside authorities, Davey and a few others
felt a bit of righteous dignity. After all, though they knew their place in the
hierarchy, they could at least remain semi-HEALTHY peons in this gritty, often
hazardous game of manufacturing and refurbishment.
Off to the non-races,Davey got shuffled,among
many places,his strident voice muffled. And his exposure to different situations – as well as the
personalities that came with them – served to widen the scope of accomplishment,
despite his continued penchant for ethanol and late-night partying.
Davey already knew but handily ignored in the quest for alpha
wave-inducing euphoric delights: alcohol directly damages the heart,
liver, and brain. But what did he care? Life, after all, was for
partying. All else – work perk, earning, turning, spurning,
learning, burning – would be mere cannon fodder for the purpose of
sustaining homeostatic existence until the next available
bacchanal.This concept was not lost on Davey's next First
Class Mechanic mentor, an affable African-American fellow who went by
the name of 'Tweed'. Oh, his actual birth name was Wendell, the
'proper' name utilized solely on his time card and paychecks.
how, one may ask, did Wendell come by the curious nickname of
Tweed?It evolved in a process of human ingenuity and pure genius,
the likes of which cannot be taught in any college or school –
outside that of the school of LIFE and of course hard friggin'
knocks.It so happened that Wendell sported a penchant for
wearing sport coats, mostly dull, dark brown and snug fitting suits
that seemed to suit him just fine.During an intense welding
and burning session one day, Wendell's suit caught fire. No harm
done. The small blaze was quickly stomped out.
this much-dramatized singed vest,Wendell might have given his
best.During the fire, he was heard to shoutand 'twas damn
good that he put the thing out!Wendell hadn't lost much in
the way of monetary value, but most notably he had lost face in the
pecking order of the all male shop full of cackling, laughing
roosters.Yup, the gig was up,and with vigor and vim'twas
his ass they'd whup:yeah, the joke was on HIM!So this is
the only factyou will need:with his suit not intact,his
name was now TWEED.
enjoyed his short time with Tweed, because having a soft-spoken teddy
bear as supervisor suited just fine. Race was never an issue with the
Tweedster, either.Davey's lily-white, pink nosed Waspy-ness
and recumbent naivete was more than enough to elicit muffled chuckles
from Tweed.Davey's short patience and temper could get him in a
bind on occasion when presented with frustrating or aggravating
projects, but Tweed never fell prey to such weakness; at least if he
was pissed, he managed to suppress it.When prodded as to how
or what he was doing, Tweed's classic response was:“fo 'clock!”
4 o'clock was the supreme, the gleam, the giving off steam; the
reason, the season, for teasin', not wheezin'. Each day, it would
seem, it was like a dream; for Tweed, it was mighty damn
pleasin'.Despite his obvious skill with air-arc and all the
low hydrogen rods, Tweed never bragged or showed off his work. His
was the measure of humility. And of course, at times, he seemed
almost beset with boredom.This would be understandable after so many
years in this type of work; the glow had long since worn off.Hence
the four o'clock hour awaited.
Tweed did once he got out that capacious shop door was a mystery to
all but those closest to him, but it wasn't hard to figure out. Only
the location remained unknown to most of us.Apparently, he and a
close knit group of imbibing cohorts had staked out a claim along a
rock wall somewhere up the street from the shop. Much drinking,
carousing, cavorting and dousing commenced upon work's expiry, with
particular emphasis on Fridays.Tweed might often be heard to
utter such profundities as, “come Friday at the wall, I'll be
layin' down next to it.”
Tweed may well have been toward the end of his
steelworker career. And if Davey's memory swerves, it seems Tweed also smoked
cigarettes. But hell's bells, who didn't?
Most steelworkers were NOT health nuts let us not forget.
When combined with welding fumes, steel dust and grit, cigarette smoke meant lungs
taking a HIT.But truth be told,in cursive or bold,the men would give nary a
So Tweed didn’t want any nanny state;
no, he’d not need not to smoke for a spate.
Davey never lost track of Tweed in all his uniqueness.
Viva la the wall!