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2020-07-#3 First Days

The guy that hired me was named Frank and he was a transplant from the main new engine factory in Ohio. Frank was a lifelong supervisor/foreman, smoked a pipe and rarely did things get him excited. Ontario was only an engine overhaul facility and had a reputation for having a pretty radical union. I never found out whether he was brought there because of that or not but Ontario was never a really high performing shop from a productivity standpoint.


The day shift leadman - an hourly employee that supervises hands on - was Pete. He was an older guy and really knew his stuff. This was 1981 and no one was treated with kid gloves. You got to hear the good the bad and the ugly all the time. New folks got hired all over the shops but there were a lot of different job categories. Everything from Janitor, to Bench Repairman, to Rotor Build, Machinist, Welder, Engine Assembly Engine Test and many others. From a pay perspective Machinists, Welders, Engine Testers and Plasma Spray Operators made the most money due to the certifications and skill levels required and leadmen in all the shops basically were at the top of the scale.


The scale was basically an "R" scale. A janitor might be R16 pay and a Bench Repairman R19. A leadman of machinists could make like R29 pay. On the salaried side GE was heavily layered. with an "L" scale. A foreman might be an L7 and the top executives like L15. Ultimately under Jack Welch they blew up the layering system and initially went into 5 group layers with broader pay scales within.


So being a greedy bastard and pretty smart I ended up starting as an R19 night shift Bench Repairman. This was a job where engine piece parts would be sent in for various repairs. Typical work was blending, grinding, masking, polishing and so on. A bench person might blend out a crack and prep it for welding, send it to the welder, receive it back and grind, smooth and polish the crack.


The night shift leadman was Reggie and he was typical of the ontario union mentality. When work was slow, we go slower in order to not run out of work. On one level this makes sense but I am not one to just sit and twiddle my fingers. My first job was to take a tube that had a screen concentric with the tube. The screen was held in with 6 metal grommets. It was my job to use a chisel, unseat and deform the grommets and take the screen out of the tube.


Reggie gave me the first one, told me what to do and in 10 minutes I was done. So he gave me a second one and said, "OK. Take your time on this one." 10 minutes later I told him I was done. He gave me a third one and basically said, "This is your last job for tonight. I don't care if you do it in 10 minutes, I am not giving you any more jobs tonight." So dickhead me I finished it in 10 minutes and went to see Frank.


We worked in giant "Quonset" hut type buildings. There was a newer flat roof building where I worked called Component Repair that was permanently attached to the south end of Hangar 2 that had all the rotor shops, Hangar 3 had all the machining and Hangar 1 had the cleaning line and engine assembly. This photo shows the layout on the southeast end of Ontario airport. After this photo and before I worked there a test cell was installed in the area circled.


Inside the Quonset huts and the hangars the foreman offices were little trailers. So I went up, knocked on the door and in my most innocent way asked, "Hi Frank. I'm new here and Reggie has told me not to come back to him for more work. I've finished 3 vent tubes and now I am wondering if I am supposed to go home, read a book or what." - Needless to say Reggie was not happy with me. I got a sense that Frank didn't like Reggie and it was only a month later that Reggie retired and I became the night shift leadman. R21 pay, baby!


Of course the union was pissed off because there is only one rule they go by and that is seniority. It was ridiculous. I don't remember how he pulled it off but really engine mechanics made R21 pay so you couldn't "bump" by seniority into a lateral job. There was an R21 opening, I was qualified but the union argued that an R17 janitor should be offered the job. Frank must have gone to battle over skills and won, I don't remember. Maybe it was something like you can only bump up one R level - who knows?


So now I am an R21 leadman in component repair. I got a long great with Frank and Pete and I built up a lot of respect for each other. He was always complaining about the "union assholes."


Interestingly, joining the union was optional. Paying the union dues was not - WTF? I never have joined a union and didn't join that one. But they took their $25 a check or whatever it was as long as I was hourly.


But my career at GE was about to get a big interruption...










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This gold, I never really knew what you did for a living in your early years.


Fun fact - when you retired last year you had been at GE for around 40 years. This means that when you started there must have been similar dudes who had been in the company for around 40 years, in other words since WWII ! Any good stories about J-35s or J79s (yes, I did my research) ?

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Dan Deutsch
Dan Deutsch
07 jul 2022
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There was a guy named Sully who was a field engineer. I met him like once. He had 47 years with GE. Starting at 20 years old I always expected to beat his tenure when I retired at 70 but that's a record I am sorta glad I didn't beat.


Yeah I did work on some really old stuff. Probably the oldest was the J47. The J47 marked GE's entry into big time manufacturing. The J47 was a development of the J35 which was Americas first axial flow jet. GE inherited/bought the Whittle engine rights from England - bad call England and was a leader in Jet engine design. Interestingly the J35 was built by Allison and later Chevrolet. The…




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