Lime & Scurvy

One of the things I have discovered since I began writing for fun three years ago, was the diamond mine of story ideas originating from my work experiences.  The number of characters I have encountered over the years, from my paperboy job at 9 years old until now, are worthy of a series of Dickens’ novels.  Experiences with champions and chumps, saints and scalawags, have provided the basis for several fiction stories and for some of the tales I have related to the memoir group.  This story is of an incident that occurred in the late 1970’s.

The company I worked for had devised a new technology for improving the quality of steels used for pipe and tubing applications.  Word of its benefits spread quickly throughout the steel industry and soon demand was exceeding the capacity to make the material, a wire product with a calcium metal core.  To keep up, extra work shifts were necessary and people to staff these shifts were needed.  Help wanted ads were put in the paper and within a week, candidates were being interviewed.  Now, sometimes, well many times, the image a candidate presents during the interview belies the real nature of the individual.  Such was the case of one of the people hired.  I just happened to see this person sitting in the lobby, awaiting his turn with the hiring team.  Thinking I was one of his interviewers, he stood up eagerly and said “Hi”.  I nodded and said “Hi” and noted he was wearing a button down casual shirt and crisp new blue jeans.  I sensed he was expecting me to take him somewhere, but I just said someone would be with him shortly and went on my way. 

I saw this person again about a week later.  Now an employee, he presented an entirely different appearance than the one at his interview.  His oxford shirt and new jeans were replaced by a leather jacket with the colors of his motorcycle “club” on its back, a black Harley Davidson t-shirt and not so blue jeans.  Within a few days, stories began to filter through the factory of the new guy being a “real piece of work”, and a “scurvy dog”.   A quick inventory of his personality revealed a surliness and arrogance, and a propensity to intimidate people.  His frequent mention of his affiliation in the motorcycle “club”, a well known one of notorious repute, would cow some of his co-workers.  If an associate called him out for his unsavory behavior, he would invade the personal space of his antagonist, glare in their face, and roll back his upper lip to reveal the words “f*** you” tattooed across his gum line.  He was shrewd enough to display congeniality when his supervisor was present, however be as scurvy a dog as ever was when nobody of authority was around.  I believe his name was Steve.

Steve’s gum tattoo was far more outrageous than this one

After a probationary period, Steve was assigned to a material handling position because he was familiar with driving a forklift – albeit recklessly when his bosses were away.  One of his tasks was to perform a “calcium reclamation” process.  It involved placing sections of scrapped calcium metal wire and calcium metal pellets into 55 gallon drums of water.  Within a few seconds of being placed in water, calcium metal reacts violently.  The water bubbles as though boiling and a steam cloud develops over the open top of the drum.  The calcium reduces to lime, which settles to the bottom of the drum and can be used to make more calcium metal. The 2nd byproduct is hydrogen gas present in the steam cloud which makes it explosive, and flammable – think of The Hindenburg.  To prevent a violent reaction, the calcium metal had to be placed in the drum of water in very measured, small quantities.  There were scales and measuring devices that were to be used to ensure that an overload of calcium metal was not applied.  And absolutely, positively no smoking or open flames were allowed near this reclamation process.  I apologize for the brief chemistry lecture, but it makes what happened a bit clearer..  

Lab experiment with Calcium metal in water. Hydrogen gas is present in the steam.

About a month after Steve was hired, my boss and I were in the company cafeteria drinking cups of coffee.  The cafeteria was on the second floor of the factory and had windows offering a panoramic view of the facility.  Sipping our coffees, gazing out the windows, we noticed Steve performing his calcium reclamation task.  It became readily apparent that he was not following protocol because he was bypassing the weighing scale and just dumping large amounts of calcium metal scrap in the 55 gallon drums.  A fairly sizable steam cloud was billowing above one of the drums.  Becoming very concerned about what we were witnessing, my boss hastily left the break room to call Steve’s supervisor to alert him to the potential hazard.  Leaving the cafeteria and going outdoors, I began the walk to my office which was in another building.  I looked over at the reclamation station and noticed the steam cloud had grown considerably.  I was shocked when I saw Steve pop a cigarette into his mouth and pull his zippo lighter out of his pocket.  I shouted “NO!”, but it was too late.  A quick flame, followed by a loud WHOOMP, and a geyser of white, foamy water shot skyward.  The explosion made Steve stagger back a few steps. Fortunately, for him, the energy of the explosion was directed upwards toward the sky and not sideways.  Stunned, he was staring wide eyed at the geyser, his cigarette dangling from his mouth, his lighter had fallen to the ground.  Still looking up in disbelief, a the geyser of water and lime now came back to earth and landed squarely on him.  I had been running over to see if he was okay and shouted his name.  He turned to look at me and I had to stop.  He resembled the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  Steve was coated in white slime from head to toe, with the exception of his eyes which had been shielded by safety glasses, lime slime even dripped from the bent cigarette still in his mouth.  I again asked if he was ok.  Others now arrived on the scene, I heard some snickering as people saw how he looked.  Spitting out his cigarette, the only words Steve uttered were, “I quit”, and he squished off to the locker room, refusing any offers of help.  Back in my office, I heard the loud roar of a Harley and caught a glimpse of Surly Steve as he sped past my window.  Lime had tamed the Scurvy Dog.

Ernie Stricsek

Chatham Memoir Group

7/29/22

4 thoughts on “Lime & Scurvy

  1. Another excellent story. Your stories have depth and width. The illustrations and video attachments add so much flavor. I can picture the StayPuft Marshmallow man and the appearance of this worker.

    Liked by 1 person

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