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2022-07 #5 Douglas Justice

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

Working at Douglas was an eye opener in terms of large companies. There were a lot of things going on. I have already mentioned the brisk trade in stolen goods so here are some other things that happened. I mentioned that the foremen and management did not enter the planes. Well airplanes have huge fuel tanks in their bellies and giant manhole covers to get inside to maintain things like baffles fuel sensors and fuel pumps. Shortly after shift start you could find at least half a dozen people inside the tanks sleeping.


The craziest thing I saw around fuel tanks was there was a guy standing a little more than waist deep in a tank sort of leaning on the tank. It was that rare occasion when a foreman needed to find someone and came onto the plane. The guy looked like a nabbed burglar and the foreman called for him to get out of there. Well inside the tank was a young lady servicing his Johnson. In my first encounter with Douglas Justice he was marched to the induction hut and fired immediately. The young lady was a "Rosie the riveter" - a sheetmetal worker that I had seen on a couple of occasions. Aptly, riveters wore industrial kneepads as they spent a lot of time on their knees bucking rivets, and apparently doing other things requiring knee protection. I don't know what transpired but I still saw Rosie wandering the aisles in the weeks ahead..


In the hangar next door they built a few DC10s. In order to get the wings on they erected a huge scaffolding system to support the wings as they are joined by many hundreds of giant rivets. You could not see to the center of the scaffolding from the outside but every 30-40 seconds you could hear the giant rivet gun go off. It was not really allowed to wander around the facility but one Saturday we were called in for overtime. I arrived early and the DC10 hangar had what must have been a skeleton crew. I was early and curious how the join was done so I climbed in through the scaffolding hearing the rivet gun go off every 30 seconds. When I reached the middle there were 4 guys playing cards and every 30 seconds one of them would run the rivet gun against a big block of wood they had. Nice "work" if you can get it.

The next one was a bit sad but I had arrived to work about 20 minutes before shift. I guy I knew from another crew was sitting on a work bench. It was a hot California afternoon. All of a sudden the guy does a slow roll off the bench onto the floor. My immediate reaction was he passed out but as I made the few steps to him I could see he was convulsing. I had no idea what to do but I guessed epileptic fit and I remember you don't want them swallowing a tongue or something. so I put the wooden handle of a knife between his teeth and calmed him as best I could. He almost broke the knife with his teeth - later I learned you don't want to do this as they can break teeth and such. Well eventually they got an ambulance but by the time they got there he was recovering. In the second case of Douglas Justice this guy was fired for lying on his medical app. But he was a bit of a genius. He actually had 2 jobs at Douglas under different names. He would work day shift, clock out, sit around for 30 minutes and clock back in. I don't know if I could have handled 16 hour days like that. This all came to light as he identified himself and so on. I was reprimanded for getting involved in something that was none of my business. I guess they were worried about liability or something. He did thank me profusely as he was marched away to the induction hut. Our shift ended at 12:30. Nearby was a bar called "The Thirsty Isle." Their claim to fame was "schooner" sized beer for $1. They were actually mugs but I want to say they were 32 ouncers? We'd stop in after work for a "roadie" and maybe play some pool. One night me, surfer dude, Benji and a couple of other guys from our shift crew were there and Benji was playing a local girl a game of pool. This big blonde girl was pretty much trailer park legend and she was a bit mouthy. Benji was a good pool player, as we all were, he was small and slim and was mouthy. He had goaded her a couple times and she finally lets fly with, "Fuck you you God damned Flip." Flip being derogatory for Filipino, Benji flies back with, "Fuck you you fat fucking whore!" Needless to say the boyfriend jumps in and the fight was on. I looked at Surfer Dude who was looking at me. I said, "I suggest we put our backs to this wall and play defense." He agreed and so we drained our beers, smashed the mugs and weaponized ourselves. Other than having to shove a brawler or two away we came away unscathed.


Making airplanes can be a dangerous place. One night I was working at the base of the tail. Near the tail most planes had a hydraulic mule. It is a cart that supplies 2,000 psi+ of hydraulic fluid to the plane to test all those things hydraulic. When there is an open hydraulic line the mule is supposed to be "lock out/tag out" - i.'e. the key is removed and a red flag is attached - Do Not Operate." Our crew had a line off due to some screw up up stream and we had locked out the mule. Some other crew working in the cockpit ignored the lock out, fired up the mule and me and another guy got drenched with about 40 gallons of Skydrol in about 30 seconds. I was amazed at what a waterfall flood the open pipe was. We got to hit the emergency shower, were given paper overalls to wear home and given the rest of the evening off with pay once it was determined that we did our part right and the cockpit crew screwed up. One of their crew received Douglas Justice and a trip to the induction shed.


As I mentioned there are folks working out of position a lot. As a tinsmith you can get 3, 6 or 12 inch drill bits. Many a night I would be laying on my back in the cargo bay tensioning a control cable and a 12 inch drill bit would whizz by my crotch, legs or back wielded by an out of sequence tinsmith. Why use a 3 inch drill bit when a 12 incher might kill someone? Never got stuck thankfully.


Part of our job was to do the customer inspections. That is we would take a rep from the airline intended to get the plane and we would demonstrate certain things, One of the big ones was flight control limits - the tail was especially fun. We had these scissor lifts and we would raise the lift in turn to each of 6 hinges on the horizontal tail and show the rep the result with a protractor. You can see from the prior picture The MD80 tail was about 40 feet off the ground. We were required to clip onto the lift, which I always thought stupid cuz we weren't gonna fall out but would be attached to it if it fell over. It took a lot of time to lower the lift move to the next hinge and raise it up. We all disabled the safety interlock that inhibited traveling with the bucket up and usually lowered like 6 feet then moved. This was against the rules and if there was ever an accident I am sure we would get Douglas Justice (if we survived the fall) but it was also cool to do this because most airline reps would look at one hinge, get scared shitless by albeit too much swaying of the lift on the first move and sign it all off after two hinges. Except the Japanese. JAL, TOA and a couple of others. They wanted to see everything - Banzai!


I almost got Douglas Justice one night. We were supposed to tether our tools when we were in the lift and of course we never did. One night my partner dropped a wrench. It hit the floor about 8 feet away from Serta the Gold badge. He looked up, calm as a cucumber, sauntered over to the bullpen, said a few words and continued sauntering down the aisle. We were summoned down by the foreman and fortunately for me, my partner had dropped the tool, it was his tool with his name on it and he fessed up that it was his mistake. Unfortunately he was administered Douglas Justice and marched off to the induction hut never to be seen again.


The last story revolves around a cable. One night a plane came down the line and the cable installers were unable to pre-tension the cable, it had a sag in it and would not tighten up. This cable ran from the base of the cockpit all the way down the length of the plane and up into the tail. There were a couple of pulleys, a couple of bellcranks and separate cables going up to the cockpit and up into the tail.so the sag was isolated to the long run in the belly. We ended up calling "engineering" from on high after we had done all we could. I remember the night shift engineer was a young kid like me and thought he was in over his head. We measured the positions of all the brackets, pulled the cable out and measured the cable and even got a new cable as a hail Mary idea. The engineer was involved, collecting data and measurements and disappearing for days at a time. All along the airplane moved every 3 days until it was outside. We all wondered if the whole airplane was 2 inches short. Eventually they came with a cable and said, "Don't ask too many questions. Install this cable and finish the plane." Of course they made a short cable and somewhere there is an MD80 with a short cable in it, maybe still flying, maybe long retired. Thankfully it never caused an issue or accident because my name was all over that paperwork.


We were the only crews who went up the tails at our stations and beyond. After finishing the cable, our 4 man crew went up the lift, climbed out on the horizontal, clipped into the big D-ring up there and on a warm California evening proceeded to get high. That was a cool evening.


So one day around September, after 3-months, I get a call from GE. They do not have to offer me a job back as I am not vested but they want me back. So I get to work at Douglas and I ask my foreman what he thought of Douglas - "Best damn company in the world. You got a job for life. Never leave Douglas." At first break I called GE back and told them I could start on Monday. I have a pretty good bullshit detector.


At lunch time the foreman gathered us all up and handed out pink slips to everyone in my crew. A pink slip is a layoff notice. My slip, however was green. One of the crew asked me why and I said, "You guys got laid off and I quit at first break." In a minute or two the Disneyland trolley showed up and we all loaded our tool boxes onto the train. To be fair to the foreman, I am sure he did not know about the layoff when he advised me to stay. Surprise Ninja layoffs were common in those days.


The induction hut worked just as well in reverse as it did in forward. They first drilled off the name plate from your toolbox, you handed over your company tools, they took your badge, you signed some papers, at the last station they handed you a check and you walked out the door into the street. There were some mad and sad guys. Many had a debt at the company store and/or had lost their company tools. This of course was deducted from your pay. One guy had a $30 check. Guys were talking about who was hiring. Northrop, Boeing, General Dynamics. There was a lot of Aviation in SoCal and I realized then we were largely a migrant work force. Like grape pickers but a lot ore skilled. One guy said he had worked at Douglas for almost a year in total on three separate occasions. He reckoned one or two more cycles he would have enough seniority to stick at Douglas.


The most amazing end to the Douglas chapter is that me and 4 of my crew mates decided one last splash at The Thirsty Isle was in order. Somehow we loaded 5 tool boxes and 5 guys into a VW Rabbit and with springs sagging we groaned off to a Thirsty Isle send off of the Douglas chapter.


I learned over the years that aviation is a pretty small community. I don't remember his name but my carpool partner from Ontario to Long Beach was a good guy. Years later I bumped into him on an airport ramp. He had eventually gone to work for the airlines and spent a career out in the weather making airplanes fly. I would run across people over and over in the course of the next 40 years.


The Thirsty Isle, Home of the 34 ounce schooner! - A fine dining establishment in the heart of Long Beach. It is coded by Yelp as a dive bar. It warms my heart that 40 years on a new generation of trailer girls and Benjis are playing pool and drinking $1 schooners. If you are ever in Long Beach give this place a miss - 4317 E Carson St Long Beach, CA 90808










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