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7 World Trade Center and Frankel Steel

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Long before I was a high school teacher or a house-builder or a ship-yard worker, I served a spell at the Frankel Steel fab shop in Milton, Ontario.

During my tenure, that shop did the structural steel for a Trump casino in Atlantic City, an addition to the Toyota plant in Cambridge, and various towers in New York City.

One of those towers was 7 World Trade Center, which would get famous almost twenty years later.

Quite aside from the fame, that project was memorable because some of the structural columns were far from ordinary. Apparently the building was going up over a subway station or power station or something, and you had some really interesting stuff to figure out to make that happen. As a fitter-welder, I had to do math I’d never imagined before, just to get the angles on the connector plates right.

About a year into my stay at Frankel, an opening came up in the QC department for a welding inspector. I wrote a CWB exam and got a Level 2 Welding Inspector ticket and had the job.

I was relatively young and naive, and liked the job, and therefore tried to do it better than anyone had ever done it before.

Big mistake. To be honest, I should have known better. By that point I was well acquainted with shop-floor culture.

Doing a bang-up job resulted in me doing 3X the inspections of the guy on the opposite shift, who’d been an inspector for twenty years. Inspector was a bargaining unit job, and you simply don’t make your union brothers look bad.

That was the shop-floor code.

The head of QC, while not in the bargaining unit, may have been getting nervous that this keener was just a little too keen.

I was in the habit of leaving well-written and highly entertaining reports for the head of QC. He seemed to enjoy them. One night I left a note recommending he get lawn chairs for the welders, so they could stay out of my way while I’m doing inspections.

When I got to work at 4 pm next day, every welder on the shop floor had a copy of that hilarious note. None of them found it amusing.

I did the only honourable thing I could do at that point; fall on my sword. That was my last day at Frankel Steel.

It only occurred to me recently that there may have been more than shop-floor etiquette in play.

During my brief tenure as an inspector, I had flagged three columns in the shipping yard that were fabricated on lower grade H-beams than what the specs called for. If the engineers specify a certain sheer strength in the steel there’s probably a reason.

Those cheaper H-beams saved a lot of money. Maybe I had to go because using lower grade steel was more than an innocent mistake? 


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