A Few Object Lessons by Jim Skeevers -
and One by His Wife.

Jim Skeevers made some reforms in the roundhouse, if he didn't find out whether he was an "official" or "one of the hands."

Skeevers' roundhouse is a big one, at a point where three divisions end - the north, the middle and the Granger branch. It's funny how some things about railroads get their names - the Granger "branch" is longer and runs more trains than the three main-line divisions put together.

When Skeevers took hold the Old Man told him that he'd like to see an improvement, but didn't expect it. Blithers was a good man, and it was a mean, low-down trick for the Midland to offer him more money for a smaller job.

Skeevers had never run into Granger regular, and didn't know much about the roundhouse, but after looking around he made up his mind to one thing, and that was to clean up a little.

There were piles of scrap everywhere, worn-out air pumps and injectors, and lubricators were piled around under the benches, with old boots and discarded overclothes as companions.

A fringe of broken castings lined the battlements of the cinder dump, and between the roundhouse doors, facing the turntable, the thoughtful and foresighted Blithers had for years stored up partly worn castings that "would come in handy some day for repairs."

Consternation reigned when "the new boss" ordered all this loaded on fiat cars, and shipped all the scrap, good, bad and indifferent, to the main shop.

Brass scrap was hauled out from under benches and ruthlessly ordered away.

The old carpenter, who put in cab windows and repaired pilots, was put to work making cupboards "two feet wide and deep and seven feet high," one for each mechanic and helper in the house.

Skeevers ordered every man to put what he valued as personal belongings in that cupboard, and ordered the sweepers to gather up all the old shoes, and over-coats, and hats, and traps, and put them n the cinder cars - and to take everything not in the cupboards.

The traveling engineer - a fossil who kept his job by virtue of his age and a hold he had in a judgment for a broken leg - came down on Skeevers here and remonstrated. Skeevers called up the machinists one by one, and asked them if they ever remembered repairing a broken-down engine with any parts off the select and sacred scrap piles between the doors.

None of them had.

"That's an object lesson for ye, Rory," said Skeevers. "Tons of that iron ought to have been melted up years ago; a little blacksmitli work and bolt-cutter work will make lots of it useful, but I can't do it here with only ten men and seventy odd engines to keep going."

"Well, Skinny, I don't like them clothes coffins; they cost something, take up some room and make the men feel sort 0' like they was in prison; no nachurel freedom"

"A man that ain't clean enough to want to put his clothes in a clean box in a dirty shop ought to be in prison; the place used to look like a boar's nest around every bench," answered Skeevers.

Skeevers had clean cinders put between the turntable tracks, and raked even and level, and the whole yard cleaned up in the same way, before the Old Man visited him.

"It looks nice, Skeevers," said he, "but it would cost $50 a day to keep it so."

"A laborer at $1.10 a day will keep it clean, and sweep half the house beside. You see, sir, it's an object lesson in itself; it's clean, and no one will think of throwing anything dirty there - why, if a pair of old overalls or a broken brake beam was thrown out there you couldn't see anything else; the men keep it clean because it is clean."

"Mebby that's so," said the Old Man thoughtfully; "if it don't cost no more than that you might try it for a while."

Skeevers "requisitioned" nine barrels of lime three straight months in succession to whitewash the shop, but it never came. When he spoke to the traveling engineer about it, Rory told him that the shop had been built eleven years and never needed whitewashing, and he reckoned the Old Man was right in refusing to go to the expense.

Skeevers bought a pailful of lime and painted a big white cross on the shop wall, right opposite the door. It stood out of the surrounding gloom like an honest man in Congress, and everybody noticed it and thought that Skeevers must be getting religious. Six weeks after, the general officers came down on a tour of inspection, and the general manager started when he saw the cross.

"What the devil is that?" was the pious remark he made.

"An object lesson," said Skeevers.

A light began to dawn in the mind of the general master mechanic, and he was half mad.

"Who's that object lesson intended for, sir?"

"Myself," said Skeevers. "I wanted to whitewash and couldn't get the lime, so I bought a quarter's worth and painted that to see if I could notice the difference."

"Why couldn't you get lime?" asked the G.M.

"I cut off the requisition," explained the G. M. M., "on account of expense - not the expense of the lime so much as the whitewashers."

"If you give me the lime I'll do the washing with a laborer and an air hose without a cent of extra expense."

Skeevers got his lime.

The Granger roundhouse was built with the promise of putting big shops there, but the company wasn't just ready yet, and they decided to use five stalls on one end of the big roundhouse as a back shop "temporarily." Alas! like other "temporary" shops, it was destined to be the permanent one, and the "big shops" live and die in blueprints.

When they put up the partition on those five stalls, ten years ago, the general master mechanic decided to use a large stationary engine he had rebuilt after the car-shop fire at headquarters. It was one of those old, sleepy, plain slide-valve affairs, with a 16-inch bore and a 36-inch stroke, with a flywheel 14 feet in diameter and weighing 9 tons. It occupied the place of one pit, took lots of room, used lots of steam and made 21 strokes per minute.

Every tool and every man in the place worked in perfect unison with the moving power.

The big boiler house - to be - was planned to stand where the cinder pile was now, and being yet in the blueprint stage, they put up a good, 50-inch shell, upright boiler in a corner of the shop to furnish steam for the Jonah that stood in the center.

The "shop" consisted of the big engine, four pits, three lathes, a shaper, a drill press, a wheel lathe and a grindstone, and Skeevers figured that under proper conditions the big engine could run forty-six shops like that and never sweat a hair.

He walked through this place daily for four months noting the peaceful effect it had on everything; the men talked slow and walked slow and worked slower; his own pulse dropped the minute the door was shut on the rushing sound of blowing-off steam in the roundhouse, and he felt drowsy and dreamy and lazy - but Skeevers was thinking.

Out in the yard stood an abandoned steam shovel that had been in a wreck; Skeevers surveyed her, and rescued a little engine from her interior, and had it taken to the shop.

This little engine only had a 7x10 cylinder, but it had an amazing hustle between the governor and the piston somewhere. Skeevers set it up near the boiler and piped it up one Sunday. The men thought he was going to use it to pump water into the boiler.

Skeevers figured on its speed, and got a big pulley for the main shaft. He put on the belt Saturday noon and, lo! the little engine carried the work just as easily as if designed for the place; but her little piston was hopping back and forth in the cylinder 261 hops a minute.

Sunday, Skeevers had a gang of men there. They skidded the old engine out back of the shop, tore up her foundation and put rails back on the much-needed pit.

From that day on there was a perceptible improvement in the time and motion of that shop.

Last Tuesday week the general officers were again on their rounds. The G. M. had admired the clean walls of the house for the hundredth time, approved of the new doors with the big windows, said the moving of the smoke jacks so as to "head" the engines in was an inspiration, and many other compliments, when he suddenly turned to Skeevers and asked:

"Any more of them object lessons around handy?"

"Well, yes," said Skeevers, "come out in the shop."

When they went in, a fifth engine was on blocks getting her tires turned. The little monitor near the boiler tapped a quick waltz time; the boiler-maker, in a firebox, was trying to keep up the stroke - and was a little behind. Every tool was on a higher feed than it had ever known; the men stepped quickly. Dave Turner was putting a lathe dog on another piece of work, so as to clap it right into his machine, and save time after the present cut. A man outside was washing the windows with a swipe of his long brush that indicated that he didn't intend to make a winter's job of it. In fact, things seemed to hum.

"Well, I'm damned," said the pious G. M., "this here is an object lesson. Say, Mr. Skeevers, how do you account for this 'git-up-and-git' here - you've got the same men and the same tools?"

"Yes, sir, but another prime mover. The way I figure it is this - a man cannot be much better than his surroundings. Give a machinist a nice new lathe in a dirty, foul, dark shop, and the angel of death couldn't make that man keep that tool clean long - in a clean shop he wouldn't think of letting it get dirty. It's the same way with engineers. Give the best engineer in the land a dirty, rickety, badly cared-for engine, and you will soon have a dirty, rickety, careless engineer, and dirty, rickety, careless work. Herd men with swine and they will soon become hogs. On the other hand, surround men with comforts, cleanliness and order and their service becomes like their surroundings and their lives like their work. Order and cleanliness save time and money, for it is easier and quicker to do a thing right than to do it wrong. That more work can be done is proven right here. We rebuilt the last five engines in just one day more than it formerly took to rebuild four, and this five will be gotten out in the same time. I have never said a word to a man, either; I just gave 'em an object lesson with the engine and the whitewash."

"There's one object lesson we've overlooked ourselves, John," said the G. M., turning to the G. M. M., "and that's Mr. Skeevers' ability. Now, if I was general master mechanic of this road and couldn't find any other way to move the corpse you have in charge of the main shop, why, I'd promote him and slam in a - well, say an object lesson."

Saturday there was a bulletin notice that James Skeevers was hereby appointed general foreman of the entire road, vice Amos Slocum, promoted.

Skeevers took the notice home and showed it to his wife.

"Sairy," said he, proudly, "there's an object lesson for you - shows what a little git-up-and-git will do for a man."

Sarah read it through carefully, looked up at Skinny through those cool gray eyes of hers and said: "James Skeevers, you're the dearest old fool on the whole road; can't you see an object lesson in advance? Don't you know that John Massey was a no-good mechanic, and that he got to be general master mechanic by accident, and that he's a twenty-two caliber - a little scant - and jealous of every man under him that shows ability above his own? Don't you see that the general manager has forced his hand in this matter, and can't you understand that when he gets you into the big shop that he'll make things very interestin' for you? Why, James Skeevers, he'll have your hide hung on the shop wall as an example of a man who knew too much! You mark my words!"


Prev     Next
Site Map