Jim Skeevers Takes an Object Lesson Himself -
Tool Grinder and Oil Economy -
A Visit From the Old Man.

Jim Skeevers had been general foreman of the main shops just one month to a day when the general manager came up to see what was going on. He is quite interested in Skeevers' way of doing things.

Skeevers and the G. M. walked through the shop.

"I can't see much improvement, Mr. Skeevers," said he, "'pears to me things are going along at about the same old jog, devilish slow. I kinder looked for some reforms by this time, one of your what-de-call-'ems-oh, object lessons."

"Object lessons are not all of one kind, nor is the same one perceptible to all men. I have used a big one of myself since I came here, and it's done the road lots of good and saved some money.

"How's that?"

"Well, I came up here determined to make a show. I had not been in the shop two days before I had figured out ten changes in the shop, marked two or three drones for dismissal, spotted two apprentices for promotion, and contemplated changes that would cost the company some thousands of dollars. I had it all down pat, made up my mind - and dropped it all in 15 minutes."

"What made you change your mind?"

"Your quarterly statement and a scrap of paper."

"Well, well."

"I went home that night and got mad at Sairy for tearing one of my back number copies of Locomotive Engineering to put on a closet shelf. While I was hunting for the place to patch it up I read part of an old editorial on 'What not to do' - then I read the quarterly statement in my daily paper. I made up my mind then and there to go slow. In the first place, the road is not earning anything above operating expenses and fixed charges; there is no business to make from; if it comes out ahead it must save the amount - I am going to try to save something."

"That's good, that's good; but what about the piece in the paper?"

"Well, I can't say it off to you, but it was something like this: 'When you are promoted don't think your reputation depends on how many changes you can make. Look around, study conditions, cause and effect, and perhaps you will find a reason why some things are different than you would advise or expect. A fairly well organized place will run itself for a while; you simply get aboard and ride, but keep your eyes open. Never make a reform or change except for economy, safety or increased efficiency - never for the mere sake of change. A manager's success depends very much more on what he does not do than upon what he does' - and so forth. That made me drop several things I had in mind."

"Well, what?"

"I had made up my mind to dispense with the services of that white-headed old reprobate there, in the link gang. He is off three days after every pay day on a drunk; he is lazy and slow and quarrelsome - spends more time in nagging apprentices than in doing work. But I found out that he is the only man in the place that can set valves. Slocum and he came from the same shop; they believed in keeping trade secrets, and out of nearly a hundred machinists, mostly made here, not one can set valves, or at least none have had experience. There's going to be a revolution over it; but if I don't have ten men setting valves here in a month my name ain't Skeevers - that change is deferred.

"I made up my mind to move that big wheel lathe to the other end of the shop, where the engine pits are, and save rolling every pair of drivers the whole length of the shop - but I found that at that end of the shop was located the out-of-date fire pit for heating tires, and most of the wheels have to go up there anyway. I was for moving the fire pit, but found out that it affected our insurance rate - that old wooden car shop is so near. I'll rig up an oil or gas burner and take those tires off in the shop pretty soon; then will be the time to move the lathe and save hauling wheels so far.

"That's only a sample. I have in hand now a little change that I figure would increase our capacity at least a third; it won't cost a cent, but I expect it will be hard to bring about - no precedent for it."

"Damn the precedent; if it don't cost anything, let's have it. What is it, anyway?"

"You would have gotten a letter about it from the general master mechanic before now, but you know he has gone East on account of a death in the family."

"Well, you explain what you want; maybe John won't recommend just what you do. I want to know which is best."

"What would you say if I asked for one new tool to cost, say, $1,200?"

"Under the circumstances, Mr. Skeevers, I'd have to" -

"You'd cut it off the requisition; that's what I thought. You are like all other managers. You don't want any money spent for betterment in times like these.

Well, suppose I asked for twenty-five more machinists; we need 'em and" -

"Now, Skeevers, you know we can't think of it for a minute."

"Yes, I know. You and the directors look at the pay-roll when you want to cut down. You won't buy a new tool now, but I have a plan to get the new tool and the extra men without expense - listen:

"This road hasn't bought a new tool in ten years; but the shop management had to have some, so they made 'em. They ain't so good as boughten tools and really cost more, but they did not appear in the requisitions nor in the pay-roll - all charged to repairs.

"The manager before you encouraged the plan of 'making things ourselves,' and when this new shop was equipped they bought a shafting lathe and a pulley lathe - there they are'. We can't use either of them ten days a year on our own work, and if it wasn't for doing outside work for Davis they'd be still most of the time. Davis needs those tools and is willing to pay a fair price for 'em. I want to sell 'em both and buy a tool grinder."

"What's the matter with the grindstone and all them emery wheels around the place? - seems to me a tool grinder is a refinement for manufacturing places."

"Just come up into my office. There, now, you see we are in the center of the shop and 6 feet above the floor. You can see every tool. Now, look down that double line of lathes - how many are idle?"

"One, two, three, four - seven. Seven standing still! Why's that, Skeevers?"

"Well, you see one man is setting his work; that's all right. The others are idle because the men have gone to the blacksmith shop to get their tools dressed, or are at the stone grinding them. If I had a tool grinder I'd stop every man from going to the blacksmith for peculiar shapes and temper. I'd stop high-pay men from standing around the grindstone, and we would buy but six sizes of steel instead of seventeen. I'd put the grinder in the tool room; one good man would grind every tool in the shop for lathes, planers, shapers, drill presses, etc., and there would be no pet shapes or pet tempers."

"Yes; but the men would stop their tools and go to the tool room for 'em."

"No, they wouldn't. I'd have two sets of tools delivered to each man every day. I'd arrange a call bell in each aisle, so that any man could send for any tool he needed and a boy would do the running."

"Yes, and the men would kick; maybe strike."

"No, they wouldn't; nine out of ten men want to do the right thing. They are willing to keep their tools going, but there is no other way now than the way they do. Some of the old-timers will cry for their pet clearance, or rake, or something; but when one and all do their work with standard shapes - all will that stay - I figure we could do a third more work. I want to get the row of cripples in the graveyard track reduced; but with 20 per cent. of the men off and the rest working eight hours five days a week, it's slow. We've got to save time and expense somewhere, and I don't know how to do it any easier. Do you?"

"Say, Skeevers, have you got a telephone?"


"Ask Davis what he'll give, spot cash, for them tools."

Davis named a price, Skeevers repeated it to the Old Man, and he replied:

"Take him up, and tell him to come up and get 'em right off. Gimme that address and what you want, and I'll telegraph for the tool grinder to-night. You had an object lesson, as you call 'em, on tap, after all. Well, I must be goin'. Let me know how the grinder goes. I'll send an order for you to deliver them tools to Davis. That'lI keep you straight with John. Oh! by thunder! I almost forgot what I came up for. Got a notice from the engineers that the grief committee was going to call on me to-morrow about Murray's case - what do you know about it?"

"Nothing officially, but I do know what he was suspended for, and have an opinion on the decision, for all that. I'm not representing the department now, mind you, but speaking as James Skeevers to the general manager. Jack Murray is as good an engineer as you have; he burned off an eccentric on the '18' last week and cut a driving axle. I heard he got thirty days."

"What made him let 'em get hot?"

"Economy of oil for the mechanical department on one side, and an ambition of the management to run an Empire State express on a sand-ballast road."

"Economy of oil, hey; some of these fellers use too much oil - altogether too much."

"Yes, sir. Economy - so called - made Jack try to keep inside his limit. His engine was new and snug, and the time fast. Allow me to observe, perhaps you never thought of it, but did it ever occur to you that it was impossible to use too much oil on a locomotive?"

"Great Scott! man, there's enough on the platform down at the depot to run the road a week!"

"Ah! but that was not used, it was wasted. All the oil you can use is better for the engine and more economical for the road; but oil on the outside is wasted money. Every bearing ought to be flooded with oil at some part of its movement."

"Maybe that's so, but everybody is saving oil, and we are using more than double what some of our neighbors were. I started that oil-saving scheme myself."

"I know it; it's the style, and we must be in style, cost what it may. We did waste too much oil, and some of it needed saving; but the road would have been money in pocket if there had never been any row made about it. A little quiet work by a live traveling engineer would have cut down the waste - for, as I said, the more you use the better.

"Did it ever occur to you, sir," continued Skeevers, "that you could save more money in a minute by watching the coal pile than you could save in a week by measuring out the oil by the thimbleful? I was looking the matter up last night. Our performance sheet - awful lot of guessing, by the way - shows that of the three men on the flyer, Barney Conners is the slickest man on oil, then comes Murray, then Sandy Macdonald. Sandy used over twice as much oil last month as Barney did - probably didn't steal any - but he ran the same train the same number of trips with nineteen less tons of coal. Let's see. You count coal worth $3 on the engine - three times nineteen is fifty-seven - now, which of these two men is the best for the company?"

"No two ways of looking at that, Skeevers."

"Yet the head of this department put up Barney's name as the most economical runner on the road, and gave him a nickel-plated oil can - with Globe sights on it. It was such a reputation that Murray coveted, and that cost us the use of the "18" for eight days and $110 for repairs. Sandy is making double time now, and you can bet he won't get anything hot for want of oil - he wastes some, never does know when a cup is full until it runs over, but he can be cured of that."

"Then, if you was me, you'd put Murray back to work?"

"Yes, and pay him for the time he has lost."

"I don't know about that."

"Well, the man is either to blame or not to blame. If he is blameless, he deserves his full pay; if not to blame, let him stay off his thirty days."

"Well, you send him out on his run. I guess you're right."

"Thanks, for Murray; but you think about that coal saving, and for the Lord's sake let up on the oil famine, or we'll have the graveyard so full of engines with cut bearings, broken eccentrics and burnt pins that we'll have to borrow power to haul our mail trains. Goodbye, sir."


Prev     Next
Site Map