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The time I cheated death at the mill

Many in this industry have, sadly, witnessed accidents, fatalities and tragic occurrences, and this truthful writer came very close to what easily could have been a deadly accident in 1963.

All paper machines operating before OSHA 1974 enactment had potential of mangling or death to the employee who worked without caution. For example: Nip guards at winder, Calendar Stacks, Press Section, Conveyor belts, ETC. were NOT equipped with personnel safety devices.

I came VERY NEAR of being a fatality. For you see, the Paper Company located in Pine Bluff, AR was equipped with a Black Clawson hydra-pulper located under the last top dryer of the 4th (after Size Press) section.

The after size dryer section was not equipped with a bottom dryer felt allowing any dryer wraps to be speared and dropped downward onto the fast moving rubber belts leading into the top of the hydra-pulper. The same hydra-pulper served to repulp paper from both calendar stacks as well. Those belts located in the basement was on an incline from floor level to lead into the open hydra-pulper near the last bottom dryer at the end of the section.

As a 'utility hand' (my job) was my assignment to gather the start of the full width paper streaming into the floor at a web break before the size press onto that fast moving hydra-pulper belt. That belt had two start / stop locations. One in the basement where I worked and one at the 4th dryer section console on the operating floor.

As mentioned, the after size press dryer section was not equipped with bottom dryer felt. In the event a dryer wrap occurred at the time of a web break in the vicinity of a stationary I beam under the dryers it was a faster duty for an employee (4th hand) to cut the wrap by hand versus a spear pole. The event I shall mention was exactly that as being where Henry "Shug" Calvert was appointed to cut the wrap off by hand. Much the same as slabbing a roll. Should the wrap occur at a place different than where that I-beam was located it had to be 'speared' off.

NOW, my story of cheating death on a day in 1963.

1.) A web break occurred. I was late getting to the location under the size press. So, I quickly hurried to the start / stop location of the belt to start it. However, the paper was piling up onto the floor and falling away from the belt. So, I got up onto the pile with paper streaming down on top me to jump on the belt giving the dry paper traction to follow the fast moving belt. It worked!

My plans was to ride the paper upward towards the entry to the pulper where there were low hanging pipes. I had gripped them before in a similar situation steadying myself to vacate the fast moving belt with footing between the floor area absent of the 5 belts.

2.) HORROR! As I neared the site to vacate the belt I was knocked down onto the belt from a large slab of paper being cut from the dryer by our 4th hand!!!! I could not get out from under the heavy slab and only inches from the pulper when it suddenly stopped?

So sheepishly, I crawled to safety out from under the paper slab to search and find the one who shut the belt down for me. NO ONE was to be found??? Well, I stayed downstairs until it was clean. I was shaken to my soul of what had just happened.

3.) I later went upstairs to the operating floor to help clean that area. Ole "Shug" came over to me to apologize. He told me, "I sure hope you are not upset with me for shutting down the conveyor belt". Adding, "I know how difficult it is to clean up the basement when that belt has been idle". I was so shocked I could say nothing. He went further to say, "when I have to cut get inside those hot dryers to cut paper it makes me dizzy to see that conveyor running underneath". And, "I must shut it down before I crawl inside".

I was so shaken I could say nothing other than, "That is quite alright"!

Nobody knows that story to be true but me. I never told anybody in that mill how stupid I was NOR did I perform the likes again.

Looking back to that time and to where I am today, I am convinced it was NOT Henry who shut that conveyor down but rather the HAND OF GOD! It was Henry, the one acting on GOD'S behalf. For God knew Bill Chavis was not ready for death as my soul of a sinner would surely be assigned to Hell's fire.

Well, that was then and now is now. I have known Jesus since 1995 knowing there are no more conveyors to stop in my age counting 81 years. I don't intend to preach or anything like that ... but one must know eternity is too long to be wrong!

Bill Chavis is a well known retired papermaker and contributing writer to Paperitalo Publications.


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Members Opinions:
March 27, 2024 at 3:49pm
Great story, Bill. Nice one here at Easter especially.

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