Stories of Earl Brinkman: Stories from the Plant

Coolant Blues

There are many stories of things going wrong in the plant. Most were just human error or ignorance and I guess you could say this incident is both. The men in the turret lath department were plagued by dermatitis on a regular basis. The machines coolant sumps would be pumped out and cleaned and the problem would go away for a while only to return. One night, Dad was walking to his car which was always parked in the garage by the heat treat department. He walked around the corner from his office and saw one of the night shift operators urinating in the sump of the turret lathe. The guy was to lazy to walk around the corner to the men’s room. Problem solved!

Stripped Naked

You would think safety would be a common sense thing. But as they say, if it’s common sense, why is it so uncommon? Dad was walking through the plant one day and happened to see an operator duck under the bar stock of a turret lathe while the machine was running. (Could it have been the same guy from the above?) Anyway, Dad lectured him on how dangerous this was as it was before OSHA, w-a-a-ay before I suspect, and the bar ran on a support without a tube around it. Of course the guy didn’t listen and sure enough one day he ducked under again. Only this time he wasn’t so lucky. The revolving bar stock caught him by the collar and he went around the bar about a dozen times until all his clothes were wrapped around the bar. It spit him out and he slid across the floor without a stitch of clothes left on.. Needless to say, he never did that again!

Setting the Blocks

Dad was always a stickler for quality although it was way before SPC, Six Sigma or any of the modern techniques of quality control. The company started to get complaints about the machine not repeating spindle to spindle so he went down to the assembly to investigate. He asked the man setting the blocks to show him how he was doing it which he did. There was an indicator on a fixture but Dad could see that there was room for error. He designed a better fixture that would eliminate any chance for error and instructed the assembler how to use it. The repeatability problem went away, but only for a while. They soon started getting complaints again and the servicemen on the road confirmed that the problem was back. Dad immediately went down to the assembly to check on the fixture he had designed and asked the assembler whether he was using it or not. The assembler said, “I’ve been doing this for twenty years, I ought to know how to do it by now.” Now the old timers will remember my father as a quiet spoken man who rarely raised his voice to an employee. (Customers were another matter.) But, when he heard this he said loud enough to be heard across the plant, “And you’ve been doing it WRONG for twenty years, now use the Goddamn fixture.” The problem never returned.

Visitors from Foreign Lands

Dad’s reputation was world renowned and he enjoyed the international aspect of selling machines all over the world. Whenever foreign visitors would visit Davenport he would always have them out to the farm on Buffalo Road for lunch. Mom would make Reuben sandwiches or something fresh from the garden. Once we had a man over from Scotland. At that time my sister had many horses and right after lunch she came running into the house to tell Dad that there were two fox out in the field behind the barn. Fox were never welcome around the farm as they not only were a menace to the chickens, but they occasionally carried Rabies. Dad grabbed his .257 Roberts rifle and we all headed for the barn. From the hay loft above there was a perfect view of the field and the two fox. We all waited and waited for Dad to shoot and finally whispered up to him. “Why don’t you shoot?” to which he replied “Shut up!” In a few minutes he did indeed shoot and killed both fox with one shot. The Scotsman said, “Man, you’re lucky.” To which Dad replied “I’d be on that shot any day of the week!” Then the Scotsman said, “No, I don’t mean that, I mean you’re lucky that you had three witnesses!”


Mom and Dad always entertained a lot and they never catered anything, always doing all the work themselves. One of the annual events was a clambake that grew and grew until there were over a hundred people coming to the farm. The preparation took several days and we scrummed clams for hours the night before and soaked them in corn meal to get the grit out. This was always a fun affair until the final year. Dad was hustling through the house making sure everyone was taken care of when a woman he didn’t even know said, “Hey you, get me some more butter.” Well, Dad figured that if there were people there that didn’t even know that he was the host then it was time to call it quits. That was the last clambake.

Sharing is Caring - Tell Someone Else About This Article

About the Author