Oil Economy and the Hereafter -
Jim Skeevers has had a rest for a couple of months - no vacation, of course; they only come in the higher official circles - but the "Sphinx," who is president, and the "Old Man," who is general manager, went to Europe in June. Besides that, Sullivan, the general superintendent, let a livery horse run away with him and break his leg; the chairman of the Grief Committee was elected sheriff, and quit the road; Sarah has a new Skeevers baby, and in many forms things have "been goin' his way."
Before "goin' foreign" the Old Man ordered Skeevers to suspend all new work, reduce the shop hours, and to "choke things" until after election.
"When we get this sixteen to one business settled we'll do something," wrote the Old Man.
Skeevers knows to a dead certainty that in his secret heart the Old Man is for silver, and he also knows that the "Sphinx" is gold to the gizzard, so he keeps wondering which side must win to get that mysterious "something" started. He is strongly of the opinion that "something" will be done if there is freight to haul this fall, regardless of who is elected.
The "38" is still standing in the back shop, the "pinch" stopping work on her, and the new form of cylinder fastening and frame fit, and all that, will have to wait for trial until "this sixteen to one business is settled."
Skeevers knew he would get no vacation, and that it was absolutely useless for him to ask vacations for his division men, but he sent them on trips to look up certain matters in various shops and take notes of anything worth imitating. It might not have been all accident that he sent each of them into the neighborhood of his old home, and it was certainly intentional when he told each to "take it easy." He got passes for the wives, too, and told each man to put in a bill for expense while away.
Some railroad officials would object to the expense, but, now that the last one is home and has made his report, Skeevers figures out that the information gained is going to save the road over $400 this year alone.
Just before the Old Man went away he called Skeevers into the office, gave him a cigar and a seat, and then pulled out a roll of blueprints.
"Skeevers," said he solemnly, "I want to jest call your attention to these performance sheets of the six roads that touch ours. I am not satisfied with this oil service - not by a darned sight."
"Neither am I," said Skeevers.
"Well, why don't you stop it?"
"I don't think it would pay."
"Oh, say, Skeevers, I'm in earnest."
"So am I, sir; and if you will listen I think I can turn some light on the subject for you!"
"An object lesson?"
"No; just a plain statement of facts. Mr. Wider, you know that your wish, my policy and the only way to conduct business is for the head of each department to mind his own business"
"Yes; you just bet."
"Therefore, I have no criticism to make, although I may appear to do so. My department uses all the oil; who orders it?"
"Well, I do; you know it's a sort of hobby with me."
"All well and good. I don't want to order it; but if I did I should cut the amount down at once."
"Is this a conundrum, or the string you pull the '0. L.' out with, Skeevers?"
"No; neither one nor the other. I think your standard of measurement is wrong. I should change the measure at the oil house."
"One of them fool sixteen to one jokes coming now," said the Old Man, half to himself.
"You buy three grades of oil and mix them at the oil house - a formula you bought. Our engine oil costs about eight cents a gallon, and cylinder oil, say, twelve and a half. Is that about right?"
"Yes; just about."
"You change the measure at the oil house and we will come up somewhere near the other roads."
"False bottoms in the measures?"
"False measure altogether."
"I'm listening, Skeevers."
"You throw away the pint cans and measure by a dollar bill and see where the Great Air Line would be."
Mr. Wider consulted the blueprints.
"It's in pints on 'em all."
"So it is. But take the Midland; they oil by contract with the Galena Oil Company; their oil is worth three or four times as much per gallon as ours, but a dollar's worth of it will run farther with safety than a dollar's worth of ours."
"I never had any use for that scheme of oiling by contract - seems like callin' in an outsider to attend to your work; but blamed if I don't believe if they'd a' put it to me that way I'd a' listened. If you say you will run farther on a dollar's worth of their oil I'll buy some; we don't want no contract, though."
"Mr. Wider, the men have been educated on this poor oil; they must make up in quantity what it lacks in quality, and they use more than they should if the oil was good. When the new oil comes they will waste a lot of it, and we will have six months of work an4 worry. You want results, and the best results could be had by giving the contract outright for engine and car miles. Your economy commences at once then; they will send men well up in 'oilogy' to train the men. Their plan will knock the pints on the performance sheet into the figures you want to see, and the road will be ahead on the dollar-bill measurement."
"By ginger spruce, I believe you're more'n half right."
"I know that is right, Mr. Wider. If all performance sheets were figured on the dollar standard, instead of pints and pounds, some of the record breakers would be sick, and people might see why it is possible for some of our roads to pay dividends and yet have a bad oil record. Oil is only the blossom on the vine - the potatoes are under ground and out of sight."
"Here comes another," chuckled the OldMan; "have another cigar, Skeevers?"
"Thanks! If you want some net results to show the president when he gets back, give me authority to do as I want to in the matter of fuel, and I will agree to save you a dollar bill for every postage stamp you can save in the oil business - do what you will."
"Say, Skeevers, who's givin' this lecture and who's the audience? I called you down here to set out your packin', and blast me if you ain't doin' all the talkin' - but go ahead; I'm a enjoyin' of it."
"You perhaps haven't thought of it in that light, but there are a great many ifs to the oil economy scheme. It's economy if no damage is done, no cylinders cut, or valves and seats scored, or axles hot and brasses ruined, with their resultant delays and losses for repairs, and the engine being out of service. You remember the Bible question: 'What profiteth it a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' Railroad managers should not look alone on the few cents saved in the first place, and not, also, look ahead into the hereafter - there is a red-hot sizzling hereafter to some of this oil economy. Not so in coal economy; a dollar saved there is a good, clean, clear dollar made - and no fear of a hell to follow."
"Say, if my wife gets hold of you there will be a man about your size teaching Sunday school in Dr. Parker's church."
"When you come back I'll have a new performance sheet that measures oil in dollars and cents - you said you'd contract the oiling or buy better oil?"
"Yes, and I'll abolish the fuel department and put it under you."
"No, I don't want it; let the fuel agent buy and distribute the fuel, but order him to buy one kind for my department, and not to change the kind or quality without my consent. Now, he will change for ten cents a ton, and we are burning four or five distinct kinds of fuel; an engine drafted properly for one kind will not burn the other at all with economy. With one kind l'll put them all in shape, and then we will ask the boys to be careful. We will labor with 'em, instruct 'em, interest 'em in the work and encourage 'em to save coal. The new performance sheet, figured in dollars and cents, will interest them more than pints and tons. Let promotion, preference for runs and standing depend on how many cents a man can haul a ton of freight a mile or a hundred miles for - then you will get results. If you let me do this my way I'll consult the boys. I'll say to 'em: 'Here, boys, we have been giving you oil that cost seven cents a gallon; we are going to give you some that costs twenty cents and will go five times as far - be careful of it.' I'll let 'em vote for the kind of coal they want, and tell 'em we don't care a continental how much it costs, we want the best results; we know we have the best men in the country, and we propose to give 'em the best fuel to work with. Every mother's son of 'em will vote for Frost Creek coal - it costs - lemme see" -
Two seventy a ton," said the G. M.
"Two seventy, as against one ninety for Eldorado" -
Good deal of difference there, Jim."
Yes, sir, in tons; but a dollar's worth of Frost Creek coal will haul a ton of freight more miles than a dollar's worth of Eldorado - you don't care for tons; it's dollars, remember. The Frost Creek dollar does more work for you than the Eldorado dollar, and we can't maintain 'em at parity any longer."
"James Skeevers," said the Old Man, as he took "Skinny" by the hand, "if our party wins this fall I'll be tempted to make a trip to Washington to get ye appointed Secretary of the Treasury - there's only one thing that stands in the way - and that is that I want you right here. When we get back I want that dollar performance sheet and some net results. When the 'Sphinx' comes out to the annual meeting I'll put him into a trance, or else this here hypnotism of yours is a joke and I'm a jay from Jaytown."
Skeevers and the boys have been wrestling with the fuel problem all summer; the Old Man has just returned, and Skeevers tells me that he's getting some figures on coal that will interest people - perhaps he'll tell his wife a secret; my wife and Sarah are friends, and if he breathes it I'll let you know right away.