Explosive Developments

Setting aside a couple of short stints as a full-service Texaco gasoline jockey in Burleson Texas and Arlington Texas, my first job after high school was in manufacturing at a plant in the Grand Prairie Industrial Park near to the original “Six Flags Over Texas”.

It was a slightly better than minimum wage hourly job with Crown Machine & Tool Co., which was founded in 1956 and originally specialized in what came to be called “styrofoam” disposable drinking cups using small polystyrene beads impregnated with an expanding agent and their patented closed mold machinery.  By the time I went to work for them, they had expanded their product line and were manufacturing not only cups, but coolers, flotation devices, and more.

I loved it.  Primarily because I was working the graveyard shift and could do all my chores and errands and sleep during the day when all my friends were at work and then party with them at night.  And, since we partied virtually every night, I was normally under the influence when I reported to work at midnight.  But no one ever caught on because I was always focussed on the work.  So much so that my foreman was very satisfied with my performance – My guilty sobering-up output was bigger than that of the first and second shifts combined.

I at first was assigned to a couple of small machines that produced disposable 50-count hard molded 45case.45 caliber cartridge cases with four-up molds and it didn’t take a genius to understand how the equipment worked.  First the two-piece mold would close and then the polystyrene beads would be injected. Just as with styrofoam cups, applying steam to the mold caused the beads to expand and fuse and after a set amount of time cold water would course through the mold to slightly shrink it so that when it opened the cartridge cases would fall into a collection bin.

The most irritating part of the job was that variability in the beads meant occasional inconsistency in the product, which manifested itself by failure of the product to automatically drop off the mold when it opened.  But there were a couple of ways to deal with that, the first of which was to spray both halves of the mold with a silicone spray for a couple of cycles.  The second tactic was to set up the machine for a double hot/cold cycle to further shrink the mold  before it opened.

After a couple of weeks on the job, they put me in charge of an additional, but much slower machine for making the tops and bottoms of 3′ X 4′ two-up cases for 12″ land mines one set at a time. Mind you, that machine was huge.  It was more than ten feet high and eight feet wide.  When open, the mold faces were about five feet apart and it had six 8″ diameter closure pistons with enough hydraulic power to counter the tremendous pressure from the steam processing and keep the mold closed.

Of course and as expected, it wasn’t long before the land mine cases started sticking to the mold, sometimes so tightly on one end or the other that the top, bottom, or both would break when the mold opened.  But I had the solution for that, or so I thought.  First try to make the mold more slick with the silicone spray and if that didn’t work, set the machine for a double cycle and go back to the other machines until it cycled through and opened again.

Thing is, nobody told me that despite having identical controls and being based on the same hot/cold cycling principle, the cartridge case maker and the land mine case maker didn’t cycle the same way in that on the second cycle the land mine machine went straight to the steam production stage without first flushing the cold water from the previous cycle.

After setting the machine to double cycle for the first time, I hadn’t been back over at the cartridge case machine more than about three minutes when the closure pistons of the other machine were overcome by the extra pressure created by converting the water that hadn’t been flushed into additional steam and the machine blew not apart but completely open with an explosive report so strong that it shook the building and when I looked around, all the other employees were either hunkered down at their work stations or prone on the factory floor and looking decidedly worried.

I might have lost my job over that, but my foreman took responsibility and explained to management and the plant safety officer that he hadn’t told me about the difference.  But I did get fired later because of a decision I made when I asked for New Year’s Eve off to party with friends and he refused me.  Naturally I wasn’t too happy with that but when I clocked in as usual and found out that HE had taken the night off, I clocked right back out.  And all he had to say when we next met was, “If you aren’t gonna be here when I need you, I don’t need you.”

Now, fast forward a few years to the time when I had beyond shoulder-length hair, was firmly against the war in Vietnam, and was staying with my parents at their full-time waterside home on Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas’ Palo Pinto County a few miles from the town of Graford and had as weekending neighbors a young, highly successful general contractor from Arlington, Texas, his family, and their friends, among whom were both guess who as BFF and guess who’s stunning, blue-eyed, blonde wife.

When BFF’s wife and I first laid eyes on each other, it was all over.

Unfortunately, it was a bit too obviously all over.

When BFF’s wife and her BGFF – the general contractor’s wife – said they thought they’d stay over another night instead of heading home with everybody else, they were overruled and it was some month’s before I saw them again.  By that time, BFF’s wife was obviously preggers and when she saw me she just shrugged her shoulders and gave me a dude-what-can-I-say look.

But that’s not the end of the story.

This is.

Fast forward again to the early ‘80s when I’m working as a Computer Specialist for USAID and while watching a documentary about the earliest days of our open involvement in the war in Vietnam what should I see but a couple of U. S. sappers removing 12″ land mines two at a time from white styrofoam cases.

To my mind, that’s one Hell of a way to come full circle…