28 January 2010

And What Do You Do - Yawn!

You meet lots of interesting people out here with fascinating jobs. There’s an accountant to some TV and film stars, a chick-lit novelist, pilots, mega-yacht captains, photographers, villa builders, antique shop owners and my mate has just started his own wine business.

When we first meet new people, the conversation invariably turns to ‘what do you do?’ “I’m retired but I did work for British Telecom”, I reply. That’s usually the end of the conversation!

Obviously, the thought of quizzing me for 10 minutes or so on what I did in BT is not something they’d even consider in case it sends them to sleep (it was actually quite interesting) and makes them head for the bar but they don’t know the half of it. I could really bore them with some of the jobs I had when I first joined Chrysler in 1968.

Under the guise of a sort of management apprenticeship, we were shuttled around various parts of the car factory, trying our hand at different skills and administrative functions, the idea being that at the end of our 4 years we’d choose the function which suited us the best, or more likely, paid the most money! Whilst we all (there were 19 of us) tried our hardest to get into the Purchasing Department because all the girls worked there, we invariably ended up in dead-end places such as the Boiler House, the Training Department or, if you were particularly unlucky, as I was, the Die Shop.

Having previously spent one mind-numbingly boring month in the Boiler House (confusingly called the Siberia of the car plant because of its remoteness despite the fact that it was always roasting hot), I was then shunted off to the Die Shop which I embraced enthusiastically, despite not having a clue what it did. Anything to get away from boilers! I soon found out what happened in the Die Shop.

A car is made from a number of body panels; the roof, the bonnet etc. These panels are pressed on huge die machines (pictured) which take a piece of flat sheet metal and ‘mould’ it to shape. The die is the huge block of shaped and hardened steel on which the metal is moulded and in those days was hand-crafted. Today, I’m sure a robot takes over and carves the requisite shape but in those far off distant days, a huge cube of steel was delivered to the highly-skilled worker who then ‘scribed’ the basic shape on the block before it was crane-lifted off to be roughly machined to its basic shape. (Are you still awake ?).

Upon its return, the final shape had to be ‘carved’ out of the now misshapen block of metal using files, grinders and a variety of other tools but at the end of the day, it had to be hand finished and rubbed down to perfection. The tiniest flaw in the surface of the die block would show in every panel it ever pressed so the surfaces had to be perfect.

Now, whilst the guys who created the finished blocks were probably the highest skilled people in the factory, the actual job was almost as mind-numbingly boring as the good old Boiler House. Day after day, week after week, we'd rub away at the steel block, sometimes as big as a car itself, until it was a shining representation (in a reverse form) of the panel it would be used to create.

God I was bored. I couldn’t wait for my 3 months to end. It was like a life sentence! One of these days if I ever get stuck in a corner at a party with a rather unlikeable, pompous git, I’ll tell them exactly how they made car body dies in the ‘old days’. I'll be able to make them fall asleep faster than Paul McKenna!

Finally, whilst doing some research for this posting I found articles on, ‘Development and Manufacture of Dies for Car Body Production' and ‘Visualization of Subtle Defects of Car Body Outer Panels’. I fell asleep before getting to the end of the first article!

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