Angela and the Chip Drag

The hi-lo came charging at her. A huge machine, powerful, with a heavy load. The grey-haired, muscular, bearded driver may have had a partially obscured view. Barreling down the narrow aisle he was driving forward because he carried one steel basket, loaded with parts. Normally they carried two baskets and traveled backwards, looking over their shoulder as they drove.

It scared Angela more when they drove backwards. She stepped back into the pedestrian walkway, thinking to let him pass before she moved on, and promptly stepped on a steel-toed foot. “Hey!” The young worker behind her deftly removed his toes from under her foot and hopped around her to keep moving into the bowels of the factory.

She backed against the wall, just for a moment, hoping no one would notice. Shook it all off in her head, straightened her shoulders, and made a note to watch the hi-lo drivers in this plant. The job she was transferring in for, a skilled trades’ apprenticeship, spurred her on.

Done reminiscing of her first day, she stretched her arms as far into the narrow opening as she could reach. Because of her height, she needed to press her whole body against the section of line in which she worked this day. Thank God I don’t work in the annex all the time. The slime and the smell assaulted her nostrils. She had to work with her gloves off, which made her cringe. If my mother could see me now. She often thought her poor mother would not be able to bear the sight. Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. Angela always goofed up when the part she was changing over was upside down.

The real challenge came later in her overtime shift. This day was hot, and she felt hated.

Randall, the journeyman assigned to her for the day, oozed testosterone. He was known to over-tighten bolts to throw the female apprentices off their game. Her cheater bar wouldn’t even help her. But today was different. She and Randall both put all their weight into removing the broken fixture. “You hold on,” he instructed, while placing her hands on the section to hold, “tight as you can.”

Again Angela pressed her body as close to the stinky, filthy steel guarding as was possible without blending into the machine herself. She bent her knees, planted her boots, strained her muscles in her arms, and squeezed. “Ready? It’s gonna be heavy when I break this last bolt.”

Randall crouched slightly to meet her eyes behind her safety glasses. Angela hoped he would count down to the release point. Three, two, one. Or maybe he’d give her a reassuring smile, while trying to hold down on his end of the fixture as well, breaking the bolt and assisting her. We’ll bring the fixture in together. Around the guard, down to the floor. Then we’ll get a better grip, transfer it to the cart, and we’ll be off to the tool room. One, two, three. No problem.

         Angela felt the fixture give, and promptly flip away from her, right out of her hands, heading straight for the chip drag flowing beneath the machining line. A sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach yawned wide and traveled up to her throat. The yelling started almost immediately. She caught the tail end of the sentence as she watched Randall’s distorted face, wild eyes, and flailing arms seeming to swing oddly away from his body as he made his point.

“… YOU WILL HAVE TO EXPLAIN THIS TO THE SUPERVISOR, STOP THE CHIP DRAG, CLIMB DOWN AND GET THAT FIXTURE,” Randall was still talking as he walked away from her, jumped in their cart, and drove away, “come get me in the crib when you’re done.”

Angela looked at the machine operator, Charlie, quietly standing a few feet away. He was shaking his head, no. Once Randall disappeared from view, Angela spoke. “I was holding on as tight as I could.”

“I know.”

“He didn’t tell me it was heavier on his end then mine.”

“I know.”

“I don’t want to stop the chip drag fluids. I can’t even go down there—it’s confined space.”

“You can’t go down there,” Charlie was reaching behind the gated door guard, pulling a very long steel rod, hand over hand, “watch out.”

Angela backed up to the machine again, leaving a clearer path for Charlie. “We’ll try the hook.” As he cleared the end of the rod toward the station she and Randall were attempting to repair, Angela saw the huge hook welded on the end of the rod.

“Haven’t seen you much out here in the annex,” Charlie stated the obvious, “maybe this’ll work.”

The station operator had a round, pleasant face, which seemed to blend together with his whole body, a little puffy, probably a heavy beer drinker. His blue veiny eyes were kind as he showed Angela where to hold onto the rod with him, as they shone their flashlights down into the drag. His right hand and her left hand were on the hook/rod. Opposite hands held the flashlights.

The milky ivory chemicals mixed with dirty water washing over and around the part they were hoping to fetch from the murky, chip-filled river under the machining line. Angela let Charlie maneuver the hook toward a section of the fixture that might work as a lift point. She slipped her flashlight into her pocket and used both her hands behind his one-handed attempt. It wasn’t working.

“Hold on, no, let go.”

Angela was afraid to let go. She didn’t want to drop the hook/rod into the chip drag along with the part.

“I got it,” Charlie didn’t look up at her, but she saw part of his reassuring smile before he hunkered down, “you hold both flashlights on the part.”

The hooked fixture was ready, according to Charlie. “Okay, put down the flashlights and help me pull up.”

Angela did exactly as the experienced operator instructed, and, after a good twenty minutes and several aborted efforts, they stared at the fixture, unhooked, lying on the uneven floor of the machining station. “Thank you, Charlie.” She couldn’t have been much happier. The simple plan worked.

“No problem, you can buy me a coffee later.”

The universal payment accepted by most of the journeymen and operators with whom Angela worked, coffee, the classic currency to say ‘thanks.’

“I’ll go get the cart.”

Angela promised to come back with coffee later in the shift, while she set off at a brisk pace for Randall and the cart, parked cribside.

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This entry was posted in authors, bad days, chip drag, factory work, female apprentice, reminisce, short story, working with a journeyman and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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