Sixty-nine Years of Useless Work on a Clinker Pit -
Did you ever notice how things go by threes? Jim Skeevers went down to the roundhouse one night last summer, fell in a pit, and was carried home - that was three on Skeevers.
While Jim was laid up the general officers of the Midland visited the shops. When the general manager is absent, Massey, the general master mechanic, always speaks in the first person - "I" did so-and-so, "I" made this change and "I" saved so much. It was an "I" day, and Massey showed up all the kinks devised by Skeevers and said "I" every time. The Midland people were impressed with the results, and, being progressive and not averse to "taking men away" if they could better their own service, the manager wrote Massey an offer of the position of superintendent of motive power of the Midland at better pay than he was getting where he was.
Massey had no idea of going, but thought - short-sighted man - that the G. M. would "see" the pay offered to keep him. But Mr. Wider congratulated him so hard and advised him so strongly to take it, saying that he and Skeevers would worry along somehow, that really Massey had no choice but to accept - that was three on Massey.
It was also three on the Midland.
When Massey's resignation was safe in his desk, the general manager smiled a satisfied smile, shook hands with himself and took up his pen.
He wrote a notice that the position of M. C. B. was abolished. Then he wrote another that James Skeevers was appointed superintendent of M. P. and R. S., vice John Massey, resigned, and took them in to the first vice-president for approval, got them signed and had one hundred copies of each printed.
Two days afterward they were posted in all shops and offices on the road - then he hopped into his buggy and drove up to Skeevers' house.
Skinny was sitting in one chair on the porch, nursing his leg in another, reading.
After the usual courtesies, the old man pulled out a copy of the notice and handed it to Skeevers, with much the same feeling that a man has when presenting a child with a new toy. Skeevers knew what the notice said well enough, but he read it through gravely, and, turning to the general manager, said:
"Mr. Wider, I thank you for the compliment paid me in this appointment, but before accepting it I want to talk with you about it a little; I have never said anything about wages before, but may I ask what your intentions are as to pay?"
'Oh, it pays better than usual. Massey got $3,000 a year."
"And Mr. Green, the M. C. B.; what did he get?"
"And you are proposing to pay me -?"
"To do Mr. Massey's work, as well as Mr. Green's?"
"Well, you'll oversee everything on wheels, of course, and"
"Well, Mr. Wider, as I said before, I am obliged for the compliment, but I don't want the job at that figure."
"Don't want the job?"
"Good Lord, man, what do you want? Ain't the earth good enough for ye, or shall I telegraf for a couple of planets of something? Why, there ain't a man in the department but what would jump at the chance."
"I know it, sir; and that's just what's the matter; they are so eager for position that they have disgraced the job of master mechanic to the lowest round of the railroad ladder. The heads of this department do more work, take more responsibility, have to have a longer training and more experience than for any other job on the railroad, and - get less pay for it. Now, I can't reform the whole system of disgrace, but I can keep one sucker from getting into the hole, and his name is Skeevers."
The general manager was dumbfounded. He looked at Skeevers for ten seconds, and then said: "Well, I'll be - ; say, what do you want, anyway?"
"Mr. Wider" continued Skeevers, "you don't think anything at all of paying your general superintendent $6,000; your division superintendents get $250 a month, but your master mechanics get $150. Our general superintendent was an operator, then a dispatcher - he's a good man, but he has had less than ten years' experience as a railroad man, and all that in an office - your division men all came from conductors. Two master mechanics were engineers here of many years' experience, good men, both of 'em; one was a machinist, and he's a daisy. These officials have a larger force of men under them than all other officers combined. They can save or waste more money than any other officers, and every one of them has introduced reforms within a year that save more than their wages, yet you think that they are well paid. Why, sir, not one of 'em but what has engineers under him that get more money. You won't pay them more because it's the custom to pay the best men the worst. As for me, I have made up my mind to go braking - I'd rather get into the transportation department, where the hours are shorter, private cars possible and pay higher - to say nothing of the work being lighter."
"Well, Mr. Morality - not that it'll make much difference - I'd like to inquire for what consideration you would condescend to take charge of our motive power and rolling stock departments for - say - a year?" asked the general manager, with half-mock formality.
"Well," said Skeevers, musingly, "I don't just like this cold-salary figuring, but since you've asked me I'll make you two offers: First - I'll take the job for one-quarter of the saving I make over the past year's management; that, I figure, will not be less than $10,000 for me. But, if you like the straight salary scheme, here's a second offer - I'll take the job for $5000 per year, if you will pay my division men the same as you do division superintendents. I want 'em to hold up their heads and 'feel their oats,' as horsemen say."
"Why, Mr. Skeevers, our president wouldn't listen to it for a moment; he'd hold up his hands in holy horror and tell me what the other roads were doing, and he'd" -
"Oh, no, he wouldn't, Mr. Wider. Do you remember when we took him over the road and you tried to tell him how much we saved by some shop changes, and how he stopped you and what he said?"
"Well, what did he say?"
"He said, 'Mr. Wider, that's what we've got you for. Don't, please, bother me with details; what I want is net results. Come to me with them.' That's what he said. You just ignore precedent once; pay this department what it deserves, and I will give you some net results to take to the 'Sphinx,' as you call him - he won't ask what you pay your superintendent of motive power or your master mechanics - it's net results he wants."
The Old Man poked a morning-glory blossom with his cane for ten minutes before he thawed out; then he said:
"Well, Skeevers, this is a clean case of highway robbery, but you are the doggondest man for having your way I ever run up against. Your object lesson on pay is good enough, but I tell ye there must be some net to show for this - some object lessons."
"Thank you, Mr. Wider; you come up to the shops next Saturday week, and I will show you one object lesson, if not two, that will help pay this extra; and, by the way, I should like very much to notify my master mechanics of their raise in pay - you to approve letter."
"All right, Skeevers - er, by the way, did I hear you say that you had a small, brown box that you wanted me to examine - a paper-trimmed box, with a tack for catch, paper hinges and a - ah! thank you, Mrs. Skeevers, you are a thoughtful woman; anyone would think these were dollars instead of cigars, the way your husband keeps 'em hid."
That was three on the old man; so you see the whole thing went by threes. In due course Skeevers notified his three master mechanics that "on account of faithful services and the intelligent use of their brains, they had shown themselves worth more to the company, and the company was pleased to notify them that hereafter their pay would be increased," etc. Of course, that discouraged 'em wonderfully.
A week from the following Saturday the Old Man showed up at the shops and entered Massey's old office - things were changed.
The old M. C. B.'s office at the car shop had been shut up and the two best clerks brought to Skeevers' office; the three others were relations of Green's, and Green was a brother-in-law of Massey's, and Massey had made place for 'em all on the Midland. Skeevers had saved four men, counting Green, by the deal. That pleased the old man, for the pay-roll was the bane of his life, and the one thing that the "Sphinx" looked into and commented on - wanted to know where the net was.
As Skeevers steered him toward the roundhouse they went through the boiler room.
"I saved two coal-handlers here," said he; "we used to dump coal into these big bins on the side of the house; it was 30 feet from rear wall to boiler fronts; had to keep two men wheeling coal ahead. We built a framework in there of old bridge timbers and planked it over on an incline, and now all the coal dumped slides ahead to shoveling distance. Bins only hold half the coal, but that don't count; we have lots of it in the yard all the time."
"Good idea, good idea," said the Old Man.
At the sandhouse Skeevers pushed the door open and disclosed an old, crippled pensioner sitting before the drier.
"We piped this place for air," said Skeevers, "and put false bottoms in our bins, so that the sand, as unloaded from the cars, will slide toward the drier. We elevate it by air and draw it into sand-boxes instead of putting it in by hand with buckets. All this man does is to keep up the fire and move a lever now and then. This belt of buckets fills the drier, and the dry sand runs to the pressure tank, from which it is elevated - saved the work of three men."
"Object lesson No.2," said the general manager. "Very good; why don't you duplicate this plant at Granger and the other engine terminals?"
"I can beat that by putting in another drier here and drying all the sand for the system; or, if you will buy air-jet sanders for the engines, this drier will take care of the whole system, save buying half the sand and hauling and handling it, besides wiping out five sandhouse gangs."
"Yes, but we've got the driers."
"Certainly, but labor and the cost of extra sand goes on forever. I meant to get those sanders before you knew it from the saving here; but here we are; this is what I wanted to show you.
"Now," said Skeevers, "this roundhouse has been in use for twenty-odd years. For all that time, night and day, two men, and sometimes three, have been working at this cinder pit.
"Look at it; 40 feet long and 4 feet deep, and for twenty-odd years every engine that went into that house has dumped her ashpan and cinder hopper here; the men have put a barrel or two of water on to the cinders, and then got into the pit and shoveled them out on to the ground. When the pile got so big it was in the way, some cars were pushed into this side track over here, 20 feet away, then the cinders were shoveled up into them and hauled out into a siding. When there were ten loads the road department, after much telephoning, would consent to take them out where they wanted them and unload the cars. Five to seven handlings, depending on the weather; for in winter the wet cinders froze in the pit, the pile and the cars.
"Long ago I determined to do something with this place, and it's the first thing I tackled when I got back to work. After I was half done I found in the pigeon-holes of my desk no less than five letters from yourself, the general superintendent, the roadmaster and the chief engineer, telling why this very change could not be made; but it's made, and it has cost none of the departments a cent. I dug this pit with the cinder-pit men and the laborers I saved in the sandhouse and boiler room. Those cast-iron posts on one side Massey had made for the purpose more than a year ago, feeling you would let him put in the pit. You refused, and he hid the castings.
"Now, you see we have dug a pit this side of the cinder pit, deep enough to drop the top of a gondola below the bottom of the cinder pit, which has been half filled up. One man cleans the fires and hoes all the cinders into the cars as fast as taken out - no frozen cinder pit, no shoveling or piling up of ashes. When these two cars are filled, and we find they are filled in about three days - we take an engine and throw them out into that spur. As long as we have cars I don't care when the road department gets rid of them.
"That wall we made of old material, with the exception of the cement; we have saved three men's work and no end of trouble - what do you think of it?"
The general manager looked, but Skeevers couldn't tell from his face whether he was pleased or displeased - he had become a Sphinx himself.
Skeevers continued: "The engineer said we couldn't get the track in on this curve, the foundation wouldn't stand, and that the car pit would freeze up. The roadmaster said it would cost his department $150 to dig the pit and lay the track. The superintendent said it had done well enough for twenty-three years, and he couldn't see the use of investing four hundred dollars in an 'innovation,' and you said we couldn't afford it; and all the while the machinery department was hampered by it, and went on paying three laborers for twenty-three years because we couldn't spend, say, $200. Just think of it; we have paid a man's wages for sixty-nine years for want of that pit improvement."
Then the Sphinx thawed out: "And this is official object lesson number three, hey? Well, Skeevers, it's a good one - a devilish good one!"
"I don't call this an object lesson at all; it's an incident of shop management. The real object lesson I hoped you'd see does not seem to have struck you at all."
"Ho, ho!" said the Old Man, "gettin' thick-headed, am I? Well, damme if you don't take the cake - but maybe you ain't so far wrong - the pit's a good thing; what else have ye got hid? Where's the lesson?"
"You think the pit a good thing; do you approve of my building it?"
"Yes; why, certainly. I can see on its face that it'll save money.
"Well, then, Mr. Wider, it seems to me the object lesson lies in that fact. I would call your attention to your letters, showing that at five different times you have refused to fix this pit. Mr. Massey asked your approval of or your permission to do everything. His only idea of getting the pit fixed was to have trackmen dig the pit and lay the track, masons to build the wall and engineers to plan - I did the whole job with my own laborers. You have refused to build the pit, but never refused to let us do it ourselves.
"My old father used to quote a maxim something like this: 'Never tell what you are going to do - do it.'
"To call a manager's attention to every detail and change one anticipates calls for action on his part, and in times like these, action means to turn down anything that costs fifty cents. To ask advice calls for criticism, discussion, argument and delay. I am best fitted of your officials to say what we need in the way of a cinder pit; I knew you would refuse to spend money on it, and I have built it out of savings elsewhere; it has cost the company practically nothing.
"I know what our expenses for last year were. I propose to keep below that expense month by month, and make some needed changes without money outlay before winter sets in. I feel sure the best way is for me to go ahead on that line and not bother you with details. Before the next annual meeting I will show you some net savings, but now is the time for you to say whether it shall be my way of working or Massey's. Of course, any change that costs extra money should go to you first; but about things like this, what do you say - the Lady or the Tiger?"
"Gimme a cigar," said the Old Man, and Skeevers fished one out of his vest pocket.
"Skeevers, it seems to me that the difference between you and Massey is that he talked about things and you do 'em."
"I hardly think you are fair to Massey; he was held down, never allowed to do things, good or bad; but it was because of his everlasting asking if this and if that. The only if you ought to care about is if the head of this department is capable of taking care of it. It's results you want, not the way I think the results might be had if you would take the responsibility."
"Yes, you bet; net, that's what I want; some net results to show up when our president comes out. The Tiger is my choice, Skeever; but, mind ye, a regular tame tiger, that a feller can lead round if he wants to; none of ye'r wild, yowling man-eaters that keep a feller up a tree half the time. And, Skeevers, you'll consult me before you incur any extra expense?"
"Certainly, and you'll be satisfied if my total expenses are less for each month of this year than they were for last?"
"And suppose I can show a saving over the previous month as well, for, say, a year, you won't interfere with the how?"
"No, nor the why eyether; get me some net. The 'Sphinx' will be asking for nets before he gets off his car; when do ye expect any in, Skeevers?"
"Got the books full of 'em now; there will be more nets than usual in the next month's report," said Skeevers.
And that night, as the Old Man finished telling the general superintendent about the interview, his highness asked if that was what he called one of Jim's object lessons.
"Object lessons?" said the Old Man; "why, sir, it's a whole liberal education. Sullivan, me boy, cultivate that man Skeevers; he'll be president yet - he does things."