A Few Everyday Incidents of Shop Management -
When the Old Man went East last month, he left a two-line hulletin notice that James Skeevers would act as general master mechanic during the absence of John Massey, assigned to other duties, and be obeyed accordingly. This was very discouraging to the signers of the famous petition. Skeevers forgot all about the petition, and was the only man about the place that did not worry about it.
Having a whole month of his own way, he looked around to see if he could improve something; but there was so much needing improvement tbat he hesitated where to begin. While he was thinking, one of his petition-signing machinists came in with a broken gear in his hand.
"Mr. Skeevers, I've got that cylinder borer all set in the '119's' left cylinder; but I find this gear broken. What'll I do with it?"
"How did you break it?"
"I didn't break it."
"Did you use the bar last?"
"No, sir, it wa'n't my turn."
"How's that? I saw that bar under your bench."
"That's where they usually keeps it; but Johnson used it last. You know, sir, us floor men take turns here, so's to even up the work. There's nine of us, and we take our turn boring cylinders, facing valves, putting in steam pipes, and the like of that."
"Well, you leave the bar where it is; I'll telegraph Stebbins for the use of his gear while we get a new one. By the way, Oscar, who takes care of the tools and wrenches and the parts of the boring bar?"
"Nobody, sir; each of us fixes it up when we use it; and when we git done, chuck the whole business under the bench."
"Who takes care of the plugs and gauges, etc., that you use in grinding in and setting steam pipes?"
"We all has plugs, or else borrows from one another."
"All right, that will do," said Skeevers. Oscar got to the door, when Skeevers stopped him.
"By the way, Oscar, about how long does it take you to get ready and bore a cylinder?"
"Well, sir, it spoils the best part of a half day for myself and helper to set the bar, rig up the rope drive and flexible shaft, and get the tools ground and ready, and then, well, say five hours for the cut. It's a job a man can't hurry, sir."
"Yes, that's so; well, I'll send for a gear. Do something else till it comes."
Skeevers telegraphed for the gear; then be took a scratch pad and figured up Oscar's time and that of his helper for the time of boring out one cylinder.
Skeevers has a great habit when alone of making a few hasty figures on a scratch pad, then pacing up and down the room, "thinking" out loud. If one could only get a phonograph in that den of his, one might get some valuable "thinks." His timekeeper, however, overheard the following soliloquy:
"I'll put one man on that job - that's the stuff. One man can fix up his tools and will keep the bar in good order. I dunno, maybe he'd spend more time tinkering with it than in working, same as that doggoned carpenter up at the house - files his saw twice a day, wears the darn saw out that way. Ah! I've got it. I'll put that job on piece work - that's the stuff. There's enough for one man - no, there aint! Yes there is, too, if I give him the valve facer, too. He can make better pay than day's work and save the company money besides. Le'me see, that measly tangle of rope and that stinkin' old snake-wobble of a flexible shaft takes more time than the boring bar. Flexible shaft - the very name of one is enough to make me swear - they ain't no good excepting for drilling or something like that. They are behind the age; better'n nothin', better'n a ratchet drill (and not so darn much, either), but they ain't in it with air - that's the stuff. If I only had air on the job I'd skin things. Got the air, but no engine, and I ain't got time to make one. That wim-wam wobbler is new, too. Jest like Massey, to go buy that when air is the thing. By George, I've got it!"
Skeevers jumped to the telephone, rang the bell and took down the ear-piece. Of course the telephone whispered, and the time-keeper couldn't note what it said, but this is what Skeevers said:
"Hello, hello! Say, give me 1327."
"Yes, yes; Davis' machine shop."
"Never you mind, Maggie, I'll do the talking and"
"Yes, this is the Great Air Line Shops. Is this Davis?"
"No, I want to talk to Mr. Davis himself."
"This you, Davis? Well, say, how's the shafting lathe?"
"Yes, good trade, eh? Well, say, how much are them little upright engines of yours worth-hey?"
"Hundred and ten? Oh, say, Davis come off!"
"Yes, I want to make another trade with you."
"No; got use for them ourselves. Say, you wanted that sand-blast for recutting files; I'll trade it to you for three of them engines."
"Nix, nix! cost $250 cold cash - we've got more tools now, and don't use files much; then, if we did, you could recut 'em for us, couldn't you, Davis?"
"Well, I'll tell you what I'll do; I'll throw in an air pump."
"Well, all right; send up that one this afternoon."
"Yes, have it any time."
Skeevers hung up the 'phone and rung off. He went to his desk and made a few figures - then commenced to walk again.
"The dog-goned sand-blast ain't much good anyway, recut files ain't no good - 'ceptin' to give to an engineer, who allus wants a file; can't hurt nothin' with one of them - air pump ain't much 'count, but it goes; if it wa'n't for getting Massey on his ear, I'd unload that flexible shaft rig on Davis for something - I will yet - see if I don't!"
Skeevers sat at his desk for ten minutes and made a sketch; then he walked through the shop leisurely and stopped, at last, beside Enoch Bridges' bench. Enoch is a young mechanic just out of his time, who seemed to Skeevers to be a man interested in his work. Enoch didn't sign the petition, because he was off when it was passed around, and he don't know just where he is yet; he likes Skeevers, but is afraid Skeevers counts him a kicker. Enoch is under suspicion by the old-timers, who stir the local pot; but he is trying to do the fair thing all around, and be decent - no easy job. He is repairing an asthmatic air pump, merely nods to Skeevers and goes on with his work.
"Bridges," said Skeevers, "will you come to my office in half an hour from now? I want to talk with you."
Skeevers wandered around for a while, and when he got back to his den Bridges was trying to pump the timekeeper as to what in Sam Hill was up.
"Bridges," began Skeevers, "can you take that boring bar and put it in first-class shape?"
"Why, yes, sir."
"Can you keep it so?"
"Well, that's a hard question to answer; you know everybody uses it, and nobody takes care of it; but I suppose I could."
"Valve-seat planer the same?"
"Let's see, Bridges, you are making 27 cents an hour now, are you not?"
"Would you object to making more - by a little extra work?"
"No, sir; I'd like it. Don't care for overtime, 'specially in summer; but I want to make more money."
"Well, I propose to take all the floor hands off and put them in pit gangs; such jobs as they do I am going to put on piece work."
"Piece work! I'm afraid of the gang, sir - they kick up a" -
"That's where the extra work will come in," said Skeevers, holding up his finger, "in keeping your mouth shut I am going to put the jobs into separate hands anyway, piece work or no. None of them will know whether you get three dollars a day or ten, unless you are big enough fool to tell them. In a year they will all be howling for piece work. Now, I am going to do away with that flexible shaft rig, and put in little air engines. I'll give you one to run the bar and the seat planer with. Here's a sketch of a heavy chest that I propose to have built. One end will hold the planer and the other end the bar, with a place for small tools; on the center here we will make a little pipe crane, big enough to lift the planer, a chest or a cover; the whole on wheels - you won't need a helper. You can oversee this job yourself, and get it just to suit you. You will face every valve and seat and bore every cylinder, either here or in the round-house. I'll give you so much a cylinder or seat; at first it will be just half of what it costs now, and if you don't make an average of five dollars a day the first month, I'll add enough overtime to make it five. At the end of that time you and I will settle on a price that will suit us both. You can fix up for this work and nothing else, and I promise you there will be no cut after the first settlement; all the improvement you can make is your gain. One man is going to have that steam-pipe job, and hire his own help; one man is going to have the rod work - at so much per joint - and so on to the end; no more floating floor gang for me. Each branch is going into the hands of one good man, who will be responsible for results - and I don't want any two-seventy men on these jobs - a man that can't make four dollars a day isn't the man for the work. You think this over until to-morrow, and let me know your decision. You struck me as a man likely to get out of a rut, and I'd like you to try it Keep your own counsel, and let me know what you will do at noon to-morrow. Good-bye."
"He's half scared to death," remarked Skeevers, as Enoch shut the door. "I wonder why it is that shopmen turn pale at the mention of the words 'piece work.' Why, every engineer on the road runs by the piece, and wouldn't run any other way. I know what it is, and you can't blame them; it's the greed of the bosses, that's what it is. They pay big at first to get the men to half kill themselves to do a lot of work, then they cut them down from that basis to just a trifle over day's pay. The mechanic makes 10 per cent. on the change, the company 500 - 'taint honest. I'll give that boy a five-year contract if he shows a saving of 25 per cent. - and I know he'll save 50 and it will be signed by the general manager, see if it ain't, or my name's not Skeevers. That steam-pipe job's a" -
"Misther Skaavers, sorr!" said Dennis Rafferty, foreman of the laboring gang, sticking his head into the door, "there do be a big cayrload ave iron, pipes and biler sheets on the supply house scales. Shall Oi dump it into the house or unload it where ye's want it, as ye did the lasth jag?"
"I'll go and look at it, Dennis."
"If ye's plaze, sorr."
Skeevers got up into the car and looked at its lading, and the longer he looked the hotter he got under the collar.
"Leave her where she is, Dennis, for to-day, and do something else. I'll see about it."
Then he went into his office and wrote the following letter to the purchasing agent.
"Wm. Shaver, Pur. Agt. G. A. L. R. R.:
"Dear Sir - We have in our yard a carload of material (car 1346) evidently not intended for us. If you will look over our requisition for the month you will not find an order for a single thing contained in this car. Please order it away, and notify us when we may expect the material ordered. Yours very truly,
"Acting G. M. M."
"You will get a red-hot one on that," said the timekeeper, as he pounded it out on the typewriter. "Shaver is a nephew of the Old Man!"
"I don't care if he's his mother."
Shaver didn't wait to write. The very next morning he jumped on the telephone (speaking in office parlance), and ripped Skeevers up the back. Skeevers kept cool, and let Shaver do most of the talking. Among other things, he announced that the Old Man would be home that night, and that he proposed to lay the matter before him. This just suited Skeevers, and he bid Shaver good-bye sweetly and hung up the 'phone.
To make a long story short, the Old Man did come home - leaving John Massey in the East. The purchasing agent told his story with indignation, a little of which the Old Man absorbed, and the Old Man 'phoned for Skeevers to come down in the afternoon. Skeevers went, loaded. The Old Man greeted him civilly enough, and sent for the purchasing agent.
"Skeevers," said he, "I'm sorry to see you commence quarreling with the other departments so soon; that's a thing that prevents many otherwise good men from going to the front. You run your own department, and let the other men run theirs - if there's anything that gets me wild it's quarreling between two departments, say the transportation and the motive power. Now, what's the matter between you and Shaver?"
The purchasing agent had come in and taken a seat.
"Mr. Wider, I have no desire to quarrel with anyone. I believe that all hands should work to one end. Now, you wrote me from New York that you would hold me responsible for results in my department. Can you do that if I have no authority?"
"But you have authority, sir."
"How much authority has an officer who orders a pail when another officer can, unknown to him, change the order to a quart measure?"
"Has that been done?"
"Worse than that. Mr. Massey says nothing; if you told him to make a boiler out of bass-wood, and carry 300 pounds pressure on it, he'd do it, excusing himself by saying it was orders. I feel responsible for the boilers I work on - and if one of 'em blows up, you will hold me ronsible, and I'll hold myself responsible.
"I am building a new boiler for our night express engine, and I ordered certain materials that I considered necessary. Mr. Shaver, here, saw fit to change that order to the materials he thought necessary. The only question now is, who you will put in charge of the work, who you think the best judge? If I do it, I will be responsible, and not you. I shall decline to build a boiler of a design I am afraid of, or to use materials I think unfit."
"Pretty strong language, young man."
"I know it, sir, but it's necessary; there's scarcely an order from our shops that is filled with good material. Mr. Shaver's duties are to buy cheap, and he can't see a thing on earth but price. We have had worlds of troubles with flues. We have a Midland engine rented here, and she has less than half the trouble; she is chain-ganged with the rest, so it's not our peculiar service. She has charcoal iron tubes that cost twenty-odd cents a foot. We use a cheap steel tube that costs 13 cents. This night express is our most important train; you know the importance of its connections. I want a boiler that will give the least trouble in service. Iron is better than" -
"Now, Mr. Skeevers, that's all agents' talk; we've seen chemical tests that show steel tubes are far better than iron," broke in Shaver.
"Agents' tests?" asked Skeevers. "I don't care a cent for such proofs; we have the proof right on the road. We have more delays to trains than any neighboring road - why? Because we buy the cheapest brasses, the cheapest flues, the poorest babbitt and the cheapest coal."
"Mr. Skeevers," asked the Old Man, severely, "are you not a little out of your line? I'm not asking you for advice about purchasing everything in general. What is it you don't like in this car of material?"
"I don't want those cheap tubes. I ordered best flange plate for that boiler, and got the poorest quality of steel rolled, not fit for tanks. I ordered Mushet steel for tools, and got some two-cent stuff that it's a waste of time to work up. I ordered a 9 1/2-inch air pump, and got a double-barreled thing of a bastard make.
"Mr. Wider, it's like this: either I know what's best or not; Mr. Shaver knows or not. I think my training has taught me what is needed; his has taught him to buy the closest. I am just as interested in doing things cheap as he is. But if he cuts the price in first cost he shows it to you, and gets congratulated right there and then. I have to live with his cheap material, and keep it in running order; if it's poor the running repairs are high. Do you 'go for' Mr. Shaver? I guess not; you come to the shop and want to know why our running repairs are higher than they were. Mr. Wider, I'll illustrate. it to you"
"That's it - give us one of them object lessons, Skeevers."
"You are a civil engineer; you built this road, and you don't ask Mr. Shaver's advice about track or bridge material. Suppose, when you ordered that seventy-five pound steel, Mr. Shaver, and an agent or two, had come in here and tried to convince you that sixty-pound iron was the proper thing; because you had it before and it was cheaper wouldn't convince - would it? Well, suppose Mr. Shaver didn't come in at all, but just ordered the sixty-pound iron and cancelled your order - what would you say when you saw the yard full of it?"
"I think likely I'd swear, Mr. Skeevers - yes, in fact I know I would."
"Would you keep the iron and use it?"
"No! and you needn't use that stuff. You're right about this."
"I can use the material for repairs; it's no worse than the stuff we have used; but I think the master mechanic should be allowed some discretion about the quality of material he uses."
"So he had, so he had; I'll fix this up with Mr. Shaver. I'm coming up in the morning, Skeevers, to see what you've been up to while I was East I hear you've raised the devil again." The Old Man pulled a drawer out of his desk and held out a box of cigars toward Skeevers.
"Shaver," said he, "come and take one, and smoke the pipe of peace; and Skeevers, let this be an object lesson to you - you do keep infernally bad cigars in your den up there; taste like they had oil on em.