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Depression Era Machine Shop Ramblings

By Fred Boland, Machinist 1928-1980
Bayshore Shops, Southern Pacific Railroad

One of the machine shop jobs we did was to make all kinds of bushings for brake rigging, draft gears, and so forth. We would select tubing of about the right size and bore it for clearance of the pin that would be used, and fit the outside diameter to a press fit in the hole that was to be fitted. Maybe we would make one bushing, or maybe many, until the length of tubing was used up.After a few years service, unlike the Diesel, with all parts standard, the steam engine had a infinite variety of diameters and surface measurements to cope with.

This tubing steel would not curl over and break up as other mild steel would, with a 5 degree rake angle on the lathe's cutting tool. If you used no rake, the steel shaving would break up alright, but it took extra amounts of power and the work got red hot. As a result we cut it with a tool shaped for mild steel and used a hook to keep removing the shavings as they built up.

I, along with many machinists had developed the bad habit of putting my hand on the chuck to slow and stop it, getting so used to it we never even looked. This day a couple of strands wrapped firmly around the chuck. The strands cut my thumb nearly in half, but the extra braking power stopped the chuck a little short of losing the thumb.

To prevent reporting a reportable accident, I was put in a gas electric car to help Louis Pardini if I could, but also to stay out of sight. When in due course the car was repaired and went out I was back on the extra board. This extra board generally consisted of five to ten machinists without enough seniority to hold a job, but also prevented them from being laid off altogether. We would come in and if someone was off we would fill their job for the day or more while they were gone. If there was no work, we stood around for a while chatting while the possibility of something more might show up. This was swell for the Company, especially at the start of the Depression, as they had forces outside the gate to call upon, and while it helped us with our expenses, it kept us from actively seeking employment. When the I.A.M. finally signed an agreement in 1934, after an absence of 12 years, this board was done away with.

This day, with my bad thumb, I draw a laborer's job in the roundhouse. I reported to Frank Bull, Roundhouse Foreman. He looked at me and said "you will have to talk to Jesus". Not knowing him as I did in later years, I thought "what kind of a man is this?" He looked around and suddenly said "There's Jesus!" Sure enough, there was Jesus Martinez at 8:30 AM standing in a track doorway leaning on a broom with a sleepy, faraway look in his eyes.

The Foremen and Enginemen's change locker had a tiled bathroom with toilets and sinks it it. Jesus put me in there. Handicapped or not I was always ready to put in a good day's work. At the end of the day, with rags and scouring powder, no church Ladies' Rest Room was cleaner or shined more. And with a couple of hundred grousing females you know a janitor really has to be on the ball to keep the criticism down.

Speaking of hiding reportables, one of the floor machinists named Leonard, his last name forgotten, broke his leg. He came in every day, sat in one of the offices, and at quitting time, on crutches walked out to the roadway leading to the gate, where one of the other men gave him a ride home. One day he walked squarely into Jimmy Jordan, Division Superintendent, motoring out the gate. Anyone who worked then can picture the scene that followed. Amid a string of cuss words he allowed this was going too far. Jimmy was secretly pleased that one reportable was never reported to the I.C.C., but he was a square shooter and knew it was not fair to other parts of the Division or to other Divisions.