Jim Skeevers has Some Object Lessons
Jim Skeevers has his tool grinder; the boiler shop has the big grindstone; the blacksmith shop has only one fire on tool dressing; the men have the tools delivered to them; the lathes have more work to do - and the general master mechanic has a petition for Skeevers' removal as general foreman, signed by 97 per cent. of the men employed.
The worst of it was that the petition was circulated and signed before Skeevers knew a word about it. This, of all things, on Skinny Skeevers, who had the reputation over the whole road for "getting onto things."
Skeevers dropped into the tool room for the tenth time to admire the new tool grinder in the hands of Hiram Eddy, one of the oldest and steadiest hands in the shop.
Hiram sawed wood steadily until the other man in the room went out for something, then turning to Skeevers, he said: "Mr. Skeevers, I never got a chance to half thank you for picking out this nice easy job for me in my old age. I've run that big wheel lathe for twelve year, and was gettin' to notice the liftin'. It amounts to more to me than you think, and - well, seein' you've done something for me, I'd like to do something for you, and I reckon I can. When it comes to a show down on this petition you can count on Hiram Eddy, that's all, and damme if I don't"-
"What petition is that, Hiram?"
"Didn't ye know they'd all signed a paper to have ye discharged? The devil you didn't. Well, they have."
"That's it; there ain't a darned one of 'em can tell. You bet the' left me out, but they as't my boy Johnnie there, him as runs the radial drill, and he told me this noon."
"Who signed it?"
"All but eight; me and Johnnie's two, and I reckon you could name the other six - they are the best men in the shop. I told Johnnie you'd nip it in the bud; but, Mr. Skeevers, there ain't no bud - they took it to the old man last night."
"Say, Hiram, do me a favor and don't mention that you told me about" -
"God love ye, man; I was goin' to ask ye the very same - one of my mottoes is never to go out gunnin' for trouble; but if trouble comes to ye, why, make it red hot for that ere trouble!"
"Much obliged, Hiram; I guess it won't amount to much. I tried to do the square thing here by the men and the company. It takes two to make a bargain; the men don't seem to want the square thing; if the company is of the same mind, why, I'll move."
Skeevers went back to his office soberly. He noticed some pantomime performances among the men that would have passed unnoticed ordinarily, and after fifteen minutes of thinking over the subject he mentally resolved to let the shops of the Great Air Line go to the devil, put on his coat and went home at 4 :30 - something unheard of since he took charge.
Sarah Skeevers put down her work; she was constructing a new pair of pants for Skeevers Junior out of an old pair of "Skinny's" - rebuilding a mogul into a switcher, Skeevers called it.
"Well, papa, what brings you home so nice and early?" Mrs. Skeevers always addressed her lord and master according to her mood and the impression she wished to convey to the soul of the man she loved best. Her salutation when she knew he was tired, ill or worried, or when the children were ill or wanted something she thought they deserved, was always "Papa" - she might as well have added, "tell me, I want to help you; can't I do something?" - sympathy. It was "pa" when all was well at home and away; "James" for sympathetic seriousness; and "James Skeevers," with square, sharp corners, when she wanted to be severe, to reprimand or impress. One glance at Skeevers' face, and her work went down and her lips said, "Well, papa," while those cool, gray, inquiring eyes said all the rest.
"Sairy," said Skeevers, forgetting everything else, "where's that letter I got from the general manager when we moved up here, saying I could have my engine and run back whenever I wanted it?"
"Sit down, sit down, crazy man; I'll get you the precious letter after supper - tell me what the matter is. Has John Massey been up to some of his sneaking tricks?"
"John Massey's all right; it's the darned swine that I got the washroom for, whose pay I got raised, whose shop I made comfortable, whose interests I looked after without a word from them or to them - they are the ones who do the 'sneaking' trick, not John Massey!"
"Tut, tut, papa, don't have another fit like that till you tell me what's wrong."
"Wrong! Why, Sairy, you couldn't guess in ten years - they've got a petition signed asking for my removal."
"That's what got me - what for?"
"When did you first hear of it?"
"An hour ago."
"Well, it hasn't gone far, then."
"There's the hell of it, Sairy; that's what hurts worst; all but eight men signed it and took it to the Old Man before I heard of it."
"And he surprised you for once, did he?"
"No, he hasn't said a word; I got on to it outside."
"When did you see him?"
"And he had the paper then?"
"He must have."
"Well, James, then you bet that John Massey is up to something - he was going to spring it on you."
"I'll fool him, Sairy; I'll go down in the morning and throw up the job and demand my run."
"No, you won't; you'll just wait. Always play your hand out. He can't surprise you, and you always have a higher court - the one that appointed you receiver of the back shop. If it comes to that, go to the general manager."
"Not I. The general manager has always come to me. I'll - Say, but wa'n't it devilish mean of them cattle, them swine, the doggoned, low-down -
"Tut, tut. Sheep, papa, sheep - don't blame them all; they are sheep; they followed the bell-wethers. Just drive them into the pen again, salt 'em, sell the bell-wethers for mutton, and they will all be lambs again."
"Damn a sheep ranch, anyway I'd rather have the '318' on 'one' and 'seven' than all the darned shops between here and Tophet, anyway."
"James Skeevers, you know I'm not one of those 'I-told-you-so' women, but you may recall that I warned you that something would drop. John Massey is insanely jealous of any man that knows as much as he does, and shows it - I'm afraid you've showed something. But you take my advice, go back to the shop in the morning and see what happens."
"I'll take that letter, don't you forget it. I'm not going to fry and sizzle on the gridiron for days. Bet you a red apple I'll take 'one' out day after to-morrow!"
"Not till you see the Grand Mogul."
"He's going East to-morrow night for a month - we fixed his car up to-day."
"Don't he always come to the shops before he goes off on one of his trips?"
"All right, pa, something will happen to-morrow."
The next morning Skeevers went to work as usual; his fit of disgust was over; he was the same shrewd, cool, keen Skeevers. He had had an object lesson and learned something, as he told Sarah the last thing before he went to sleep, and that was that a man in his position must not pay too much attention to mere mechanical operations, but must look after his men, keep in touch with them - in fact, improve the human machines as he improved the iron ones. A successful manager of a shop knows more about handling men than about handling machines.
Skeevers made his usual round, looked over his shop orders and placed them, checked up his time card of work, took an extra run through the boiler shop, and then went into the Old Man's office.
The three scratchy pens of the three clerks stopped scratching all at once - they expected something.
The G. M. M. was polite, but as cold as the soul of a moneylender; but he said "Good morning" civilly enough.
After answering a half-dozen questions, the Old Man asked:
"What did you send Martin Tobin in here for?"
"Wouldn't obey orders."
"What did he do? What orders did he disobey?"
"The order not to take tools to the blacksmith shop to be dressed, nor to grind tools himself."
"He says he was doing a special job that required a special tool."
"Johnson did it easily with the standard shape."
"The men seem to be quite dissatisfied. I don't like it a bit."
"What are they dissatisfied about? Their pay has been raised, the shop improved, and" -
"Well, they are dissatisfied with the boss. Mr. Skeevers, I could surprise you with the extent of their feeling. How many friends do you suppose you have in the machine shop?"
"Mr. Massey, you can't surprise me for a single second. You are referring to that petition you winked at, which was given you day before yesterday. It was signed by all but eight men in the machine shop. I don't care a damn for it. I could get a bigger one to have you hung, if Martin Tobin, John Welsh and a few others signed it first. You could have saved yourself lots of trouble, Mr. Massey, by coming to me first. You seem to think I am in the way."
"Your resignation would not cause any tears around here, and the sooner I get it the better."
"Well, you won't get it. I've a letter here from you signed by the general manager, that I can have my engine back - and I want her. As far as the shop job is concerned, Mr. Massey, you, can take it and shove" -
"Hist! Hist!" said two clerks at once; "here comes the Old Man!"
The G. M. M. melted at once as the door opened. "All right, Skeevers, come in at 3 o'clock and we'll fix things up. Good morning, Mr. Wider."
Skeevers was mad again. He laid out the foundation, in his mind, for a plain talk to John Massey, went back to his office, picked up a few things of his own, and thought he'd take a final walk through the shop before dinner - for he knew that the leaders would know of the row in the office ten minutes after the officers left it. Some clerks love to peddle gossip of this kind.
The G. M. M. wanted to keep Skeevers and the general manager apart for that one day - he didn't intend to spring the petition until his superior was well on his way to the Far East - so he steered into the boiler shop first. In going from the boiler shop to the main shop they went through the wing used as a bolt room.
"Great guns!" said the G. M. "What are all those stacks of bolts for?"
"What bolts are them, there?" asked the Old Man of Mike Daly, the "straw-boss" who ran the first machine.
"The bridge department, sorr!"
"Why, Massey, you told me you couldn't do all your own bolt cutting, and asked for a new machine not three months ago - I sent track work out on account of it. How many bolts of your own are you cutting now?"
"I haven't the figures with me. I'll look it up."
Mike answered for him.
"The same as ivver, sorr. We used to be workin' overtoime to do it before that man Skeevers came; but he do be the roarin' divil for doin' things. First, he makes them little pumps to kape squirtin' ile all the time and does away wid the squirt can entoirely; then up he hops the speed av the cutters, an' no more do we git used to that than up he hops it again. Wan av thim machines would be oidle now but for the bridge work as he took away from Davis - and mad enough he is about it."
"Skeevers is a wheel horse, ain't he, John?" said the Old Man - but Massey was busy looking at a piece of iron.
When the general manager opened the door to the main shop, he stopped short and exclaimed:
Skeevers had every machine tool in the place painted white; they were clean, and the light fell in dark places heretofore unknown except to gloom.
The Old Man looked around admiringly.
"It's a parlor, John; neat as a pin; now, if you'd a' asked me if you could paint them tools white, I'd said 'No,' and thought you was crazy to boot, but when it's done a fellow sees it's just the right thing. Bet you a hat the Midland will paint their tools white inside 0' six months; everybody will. It's great."
"Here's Skeevers," he continued, as that worthy showed up at the side entrance, and stopped to speak to a man on the axle lathe. "Skeevers, this here ghost show is great - I approve of it, in red ink - but, say, what are you cutting that old axle in two for?"
"An object lesson."
"Good enough; it's like a conundrum, though. I give it up; where's the lesson?"
"It isn't ready yet, but I might say that this axle is one that broke under the '18's' tender last week; a clean break, you see, but looks as if the iron was crystallized. I have cut half a dozen axles and seven or eight broken pistons in two and etched the surface with acids, to see if I could find out what made them break, or rather prove what breaks them. I know already, I think."
"Well, I expect it's bad material; these damn supply houses are getting worse and worse."
"But, Mr. Wider, this and all my samples are 'our own' best selected scrap material and finished in our own forge shop."
"That's curious; nothing better than selected scrap, is there, John?"
John nodded assent.
"Of course, I know both of you won't like to hear this; but it's my opinion that all our trouble with broken axles, crank pins and pistons comes from the sole and simple reason that we make the material ourselves."
"The devil you do."
"I do, just the same. Now, you cannot, at this day, select small scrap carefully enough to prevent a little steel from getting into the material. Look at the end of this broken axle; see that bright spot there. Nothing under heaven but a piece of mild steel; it won't weld. When your fagot bar is at a welding heat, the steel (which melts at a lower temperature) has burned out - a wreck is the result."
"We count that we save money on our scrap, though."
"There's lots of difference between figures and results. Wrought scrap is worth about $9 a ton. If I was boss I'd sell it at $4, if I could get no more, and buy new muck iron from the pig. Any good forgeman can make good axles of that."
"Yes, but we've made a feature of this, and I've sent blueprints of our furnaces and photographs of our scrap bins to my friends, and advised them to go into it as an economy. I don't see how a piece of steel is going to get in. Don't we have a blacksmith pick it all out?"
"Yes, he is supposed to pick it out. But he don't, and he can't. Then you should tell your friends to count the cost of breakdowns and repairs, and charge it up to 'our own selected scrap;' it's only fair."
"Let's go look at those specimens."
They visited Skeevers' office, where the Old Man viewed the broken ends of "selected scrap" material, and nodded as Skeevers pointed out the apparently crystallized part where the fracture started.
"Then, Skeevers, you want to give up making scrap axles, do you?"
"I don't care a cent, Mr. Wider; but that would be my advice if you asked it. All I want is some new iron or steel pistons and axles in engine '318,' and I guess she's got 'em yet."
"Well, your old engine is a good one, Skeevers; but you can't take more interest in her than the rest."
"I can't run but one - unfortunately - and so I must confine myself to the '318.'"
"You've run your last engine here, my boy."
"But, sir, I've got a letter signed by you, saying I could have my engine back, if I didn't suit here, or"
"Well, who the blankety blank says you don't suit?"
"Mr. Massey asked for my resignation this morning; he's got it, and I'm" -
"Mr. Wider," broke in Massey, "I received a petition signed by all the men under Mr. Skeevers, except eight, asking for his dismissal, and I" -
"You be damned. Go, get them other eight names; then throw the measly thing into the turntable pit. Tell 'em that the officers of this road are going to send them a unanimous petition that they expel their 'grand, worshipful, high-muck-a-muck;' to kick their preachers out of church; to get divorces from their wives - we'll petition them awhile; it's just as fair."
Skeevers picked up a piece of blue paper that had been laid on his desk in his absence, glanced at it, and said:
"Here's my time, anyway, signed by my superior officer, Mr. John Massey."
"John Massey be damned. You are going to be high-cock-a-lorum here for a month, while John goes down East to watch the new engines being built at Baldwin's. I forgot to tell ye, John; but you can go with me to-night. So skip home and get ready. Skeevers, if you want to take down those furnaces out there, and sell the scrap, do it. Do anything, buy anything - you have my authority to order anything you want - provided, Skeevers, and don't forget the provided part, you get it as cheap as you did the tool grinder!"
The Old Man turned round in the door, with a twinkle in his eye, and asked:
"What would you take for Massey - in a trade? Scrap hose ain't worth much," he added. "But I'll tell ye, Skeevers, if ever you take your time from John Massey without coming to me, I'll couple you onto him, and make a runnin' switch of ye both up the graveyard branch, where the weeds are so high that ye can't see the telegraph poles."