Metcalf at Waimet (later Howmet) from June 1956 to July 1957
The new title, Junior Metallurgist, had a nice ring to it and my pay was above the magic $10,000 with possible bonuses. The work at Waimet taught me the business of metals. The heart of the business was buying scraps and not getting cheated. I became very good at that part of the business. Nickel was in short supply because of labor troubles at INCO in Canada.
Our sister company, Michigan Standard Alloy (MISCO) could get a nickel allocation for the Hastalloy B they purchased from Waimet. There was about 50-tons of this alloy scrap in the pipe line and nickel price was 65 cents and in the black market it was fetching up to $4.50 per pound.
There was only one trouble. Our melting process using scrap would not pass the ductility tests. Using a lance I first increased the carbon in the melt with acetylene, then reduced the carbon with oxygen, and as a final step used a mixture of Freon and argon. The melts were more than satisfactory.
Selling Hastalloy generated more scrap since the casting tree and risers in the investment casting process Using an old Ajax 2000-pound furnace that Waimet rented during the night from the stainless steel foundry we produced 12-tons per day. Liquid metal was poured into a ladle and transported by crane to the large shot tank. The ladle poured into a refractory lined box with about five hundred small holes in the bottom. Like rain when molten liquid metal falls it turns into drops. These drops fell into water that was circulated to keep it from boiling. The shot product was collected in a wire screen basket that sat on the bottom of the water tank. Seven of these melts were stored in drums until chemical tests were run. After they were cleaned and blended in a large rotating drum blender to make a "Master Melt". A small sample of the final blend was investment cast to make parts for tests. These results were certified and material could be sold to several customers.
Pat Gibbons ran the Waimet operation for Roger Waindle, the founding owner, who was working for the government establishing quality controls standards for the new aircraft metals.
Pat announced without warning that he has accepted a teaching at the University of Colorado and would also be a consultant for Coors working on their new thin beer can. I was now alone in management with a German immigrant that did the accounting. I began to understand that the war with Germany had two sides as far as the humans are concerned. Our second daughter, Barbara, was born in 1956. The doctor was the same man we saw at the Detroit Lions football game each Sunday. He was their injury specialist.
A customer in Cleveland had a problem with an alloy that contained 50% nickel and 50% iron. The little gear shaped casting he was making was cracking at the root of the gear due to sulfur impurities in the metal. My chemical handbook had a possible solution. The data indicated that sodium sulfide would boil away. I purchased a pound of sodium pack in kerosene and booked a flight. This was my first flight that used turbojet engines on a United Airlines aircraft named the Viscount. My only other flight had been in Army planes and the DC3. This engine felt like it was screwing into the air as it climbed. The DC6 and DC7 along with the DC3 were the workhorses of air travel. Hughes had the deluxe model that he used on TWA long flights with some first class sleeping quarters.
Five hours to Europe that Northrup's fiction predicated was just around the corner because Boeing had the military version of the 707 airliner on the drawing board.
The foundry had a 500-pound melt ready when I arrived. I put on asbestos coat and gloves and covered my face with a plastic shield. I wired the sodium to a piece of rebar and plunged it into the molten metal. A gusher of metal rose to the foundry roof and fell down around us. My only burns were to the hair on my head. The foundry men poured about 100-pound of the remaining metal and the castings did not crack. Back in Detroit I found some electrolytic iron that had very low sulfur to make a better mix.
Some disturbing events were taking place in Eastern Europe. The East Germans revolted and the Soviets quickly put it down. Elections were forced to attempt to make East Germany a nation. A revolt in Hungary was put down with a heavy show of force. Americans generally viewed these events as Russian problems, but NATO viewed them as dangerous and the soldiers and equipment along the German border were put on full alert.
Their tanks and field artillery were equipped with battlefield nuclear shells. NATO started flights up and down the Soviet border to test their defense. Two American airplanes were shot down. This event was kept secret from the American public. President Eisenhower ordered these flights stopped and activated the secret U2 to fly spy missions over the Soviet Union.
I worked hard for Waimet as the business grew. At a local meeting of the ASM I had a heated argument with Dr. Nick Grant on the subject of vacuum melting of superalloys. It was my position that using inert gas and slag control offered more possibilities in metallurgy.
The investment casting facility in downtown Detroit was bursting at it seams. There was another operation growing in Whitehall, Michigan and they had installed a vacuum caster. The metallurgist and management at Whitehall felt that a local supplier who had just installed a vacuum melting furnace was producing higher quality metal. Waindle hired two experienced metallurgist in the fall of 1956. One of them had a Ph.D.
I felt there was no future for me in the company.