Skeevers Runs Up Against a New General Manager -
You remember I told you about Skeevers' staybolt improvements, a long time ago. Well, Skeevers has had trouble since then.
The first-off everything went well. Skeevers captured all the staybolt taps on the system, and sent the new ones in their places. All the bolts were made at headquarters, and the subject seemed settled, and settled right.
But one morning last winter an engine came out of the house draped in black and white. Soberly, solemnly, slowly, silently it took its place on the turntable, and as slowly and silently moved down the yard.
Another and another draped in the same way crept out into the daylight and the cold and moved away.
There's always something funereal-like and solemn in a draped engine by day-light, and something weird and uncanny and ghostly at night.
The Old Man had been promoted. The genial, bluff, honest old general manager had had a tussle with pneumonia and been defeated.
Like many another man, he was a martyr to his inherent desire to lead. He went out with a snow-bucking brigade and met the enemy.
There was genuine sorrow on the road - a friend had gone - the engines wore their weeds for the regulation thirty days, while all employee's, high and low, wondered what the new manager would be like. For, mind you, corporations wear no crape, mourn no dead, nor do they miss anyone very much. In due time a new general manager came on from the East.
He was young for his position, say thirty-five; he was someone's son; he was a graduate of a technical college; he had worked several years as assistant freight agent of a big road, of which his father was a director, and always asked the reporters to mention him as a self-made man who came up from the ranks.
He made a great many people connected with the G. A. L. very tired before he got through with them. Being authorized to put M. E. behind his name, and thinking that the book-cramming of mechanical lore that had been stuffed into him ten years before was better than all practical experience in the world, he bothered Skeevers a good deal.
The first day he came to the shop he shook hands with Skeevers warmly, said he always liked to meet a mechanic, was a mechanic himself, graduate from Slightem, and asked Skeevers what "tech." he graduated from.
Skeevers pointed to a long freight train that was toiling up the grade just beyond the shops and the long line of narrowing ribbons of steel that stretched away toward Granger and the setting sun, and remarked, laconically, "That." The new G. M. just gave him one of those "Oh, you poor, ignorant cuss!" looks and turned away. He never asked Skeevers' advice on things mechanical after that - he advised Skeevers, or oftener ordered this or that done, without consultation. This made Skeevers itchy; if Mr. Wider had been there he would have demanded his engine back, but Skeevers was past that now; be must remain superintendent of motive power or nothing.
One day, six weeks ago, Mr. Toping - that's the new G. M. - was taking a turn through the shops towing Skeevers in his wake. He was hunting for something to order changed.
They had got through the blacksmith shop, and the new G. M. M. E. had his hand on the latch of the boiler shop door, when that Acme header of Skeevers' started up. The G. M. M. E. went back to it.
"What have you here, Mr. Skeevers?" he asked.
"A bolt-header, sir. We upset these staybolts at the ends so that the center of the bolt is a little smaller than the root of the thread; we have to cut less threads, the bolt is lighter, and does not break so quick; besides, we have a system of" -
"But, my dear sir," interrupted the manager, "you break the fiber of your iron in this upsetting process; that's bad engineering, sir, bad engineering!"
"It works very well in practice. We have no trouble with staybolts since we have used this system, and" -
"Yes, yes; that's all right, Mr. Skeevers, but this is all based on a theory that is radically wrong. You get a copy of 'Rodam on the Metallurgy of Metalology,' or 'Spinkham on Molecules, Globules and Fibers of Iron and Steel,' and you will find I'm right. This upsetting breaks the fibers, sir, and makes your larger end actually weaker than the smaller part not so mistreated."
"But, Mr. Toping," said Skeevers, quietly, "I have a more recent work on the subject that goes far to disprove the broken-fiber theory, and if you will suspend sentence on the whole process until to-morrow I'll show it to you."
"Who is the author?"
"Well, I must confess I have something to do with the authorship."
"You - writing on metals - why, what do you call the book?"
The idea of this ignorant man writing on a mechanical subject sort of took his breath.
"Well, sir, the name is hardly decided on yet; thinking of calling it 'Some Recent Experiments with Staybolt Iron.'"
"Oh, it's only in manuscript yet?"
"Hardly that, sir. If Mr. Wider were alive he'd call it an object lesson. I'll bring it down to you in the morning."
"All right," said the G. M. M. E., as he went into the boiler shop, and in his mind he pictured how bare and poverty-stricken and uninfluential a title page would be without a list of colleges and professorships and association symbols following the name of the author. How dare a man do it?
Once rid of his visitor, Skeevers went right back to the smith shop, he sorted out several pieces of staybolt iron himself, marked them, had each one heated as he wanted it and headed them up in the machine.
He carried them himself to a planer hand and had them carefully planed half in two and polished, then he took them to old Jimmy Simpson in the tool-room and went to his office.
That evening old Jimmy left a package on Skeevers' desk, and Skeevers took it home, and the next morning he put it into his overcoat pocket and went down to the general office.
Mr. Toping was anxious to see Skeevers. The fact that Skeevers, his master mechanic, was liable to write a book on metalology seemed to impress him, and, truth to tell, he hardly knew whether Skeevers was about to make a fool of himself or be admitted to the circle of immortals who write technical books, but he leaned strongly to the fool theory.
Skeevers unrolled his samples of staybolts and, with a twinkle in his eye, said:
"Mr. Toping, this is my 'book' - just a practical demonstration about that fiber theory propounded by you yesterday. I must confess I could not answer you then, for I did not know. But, sir, this is an important matter, one on which my reputation and yours, the reputation of the company and the possibility of its losing lots of money on a misjudgment depends. We can't afford to he wrong, sir."
"Very true, Mr. Skeevers, but" -
"This," said Skeevers, interrupting "will, I think, settle that question. These experiments cover all the irons we can use and all the ways we can upset it; now, you be the judge."
"Now, sir, after you went away I personally collected these specimens and saw the work done. This specimen, numbered 1, both on the bolt itself, and this print taken from the face, was etched on a bolt of Taylor staybolt iron upset with one blow at white heat - our regular practice. No.2 is Taylor iron upset with four blows at a dull red heat. No.3 is United States iron upset with one blow at white heat. No. 4 is United States iron upset with four blows at red heat. No. 5 is common iron rod upset in our box dies with longer fillet - an improvement in shape - upset at white heat. No.6 is common iron not upset.
"Now, sir, in all these cases it was necessary to rust these specimens in order to show the fiber. I don't think you can find any evidence whatever of a broken fiber in any of these bolts."
Skeevers glanced at the G. M. M. E., but there was no sign of a give-in - he himself had said it, and if those fibers had not broken so much the worse for 'em.
But Skeevers is a tactful man, and he was beginning to understand the weak places in the G. M.'s armor. He couldn't be made to own up and give credit as Mr. Wider could; he would never pat Skeevers on the back or brag on him if he ran the engines ten miles on a pound of coal. Skeevers aimed lower, and before his opponent could fire a short.
"I met Mr. Dix, superintendent of the Mathematical Bridge Works, in the car coming down this morning, and asked him if they used upset threaded ends for truss rods, etc., in the best work, and he says they don't use anything else. Mr. Dix is a graduate of the Slightem Polytechnic - the G. M.'s alma mater - and says that Professor Thrashem made some experiments three years ago to test the strength of such work, and was so impressed with its value that he has prepared a paper on the subject to be presented to the British Society of Mechanical Superiority, which will afterward appear in book form."
The cloud on the brow of the G. M. M. E. cleared up.
"I'm mighty glad to know that," said he enthusiastically; "leave Professor Thrashem to find out the truth. If he says that upset ends of bolts under tension are correct it would be idle to dispute it - they are all right, go on and make 'em, it's undoubtedly a new step in engineering.
"And besides, Mr. Skeevers, my clerk has been telling me about your staybolt work, and showed me an article in 'Locomotive Engineering' about it. It is a good thing, and as nearly perfect as anything I have found here. Go right ahead and carry it out strictly to the letter - I believe it's perfect. Good morning."
Such praise was praise indeed, and Skeevers whistled softly to himself all the way back to his office, stopping once in a while to say in a whisper, "Nearly perfect; I believe it's perfect;" then he whistled again. Queer chap, is Skeevers.
When Skeevers sat down at his desk the first thing that met his eye was a letter from Owens, at Granger, saying they were in trouble about staybolts for the "218" After some preliminaries, he wrote:
"I think the trouble is in the cutter; the bolts are larger; they can be forced in with a 20-inch wrench, but it's work. Evidently the test plate with hole tapped by standard tap is worn by constantly screwing bolts into it, and has allowed the operator to let his dies wear large - what shall we do?"
Skeevers wired Owens to wait until he came down, as the "218" was in no hurry, and went home wondering what was wrong with his "perfect" system.
Before Skeevers could go to Granger he was called East by a death in the family, and while in New England made up his mind to see a few men and a few shops he had long wanted to visit.
It so turned out that within a week from the time the G. M. M. E. had pronounced Skeevers' staybolt scheme "perfect" that Skeevers climbed the stairs in the old stone office of the B. & A. at Springfield, Mass., to make the acquaintance of the Supt. of R. S., Thomas B. Purves, Jr.
Mr. Purves was in the midst of a pile of interchange repair bills and cigar smoke when Skeevers' card was put on his desk.
"James Skeevers, S. M. P., Great Air Line, show him in!" said Purves, going to the rail to shake hands with his visitor.
"Say, Skeevers, seems as if I had known you for ten years; been reading about you, and - how's the object lessons? - have a seat - have a cigar."
In ten minutes he was calling Skeevers "Skinny," and Skeevers was calling him Tom, and they were "railroading."
"By the way," said Purves, as he shut off his talk to relight his cigar, "I adopted your staybolt scheme the minute I saw it; best thing I ever saw."
"Well," said Skeevers slowly, "hope you won't be disappointed. My new G. M. says the system is perfect, but I'm not dead sure that he knows. We struck a snag the day before I left."
"Bolts wouldn't go into holes. My division man says we've let the bolt cutter die get large, and of course the tendency is all that way, but he seems to forget the tendency of the tap is also to wear small. Anyway, they are off, and the 'perfect' system needs perfecting.'
"We've been all through that, and have it down to a nicety - I'll show you."
Purves pulled out some drawings.
"Well, here's a picture of my taps and gages. I don't happen to have a set here; but now, just as you say, the tendency is for the hole to become smaller from wear of tap, and the bolt to become larger from wear of die. Here's how we take care of all that.
"In the first place, we provide a standard male gage - we'll say this is our set for 7/8-inch bolts. This male plug is hardened and ground twelve threads to the inch, United States standard, and gets no wear, for it is only used to test the size of the adjustable female gage.
"This female gage is used to test the staybolts daily, and they must all just screw into it, and it is kept just right by the male master gage.
"Now, we have a hob for trueing up the dies. It's plain that by this plan you can keep your bolt output right up to standard size.
"The staybolt tap, with reamer on end to true up hole - same as yours - cutting threads and the guide threads to enter the outside sheet and insure the threads in the inside sheet being in alignment with those on outside sheet.
"Here's where you are liable to get into trouble - this tap will wear, and almost before you know it some outlying shop has tapped a lot of holes a thousandth or two too small.
"We take care of this by our adjustable tap; we can adjust this to the female die and run it through the sheets to clean up the holes to the standard and not stop the work. This is only used after the error is enough to notice; and a new tap is asked for at once. If your man at Granger had one of these he could have gone right along, corrected his work, kept to standard, and only bothered you for a new tap."
"S. W. Card Mfg. Co.," said Skeevers aloud, as he copied the maker's name in his book. "When I go home I'll have a set of those taps and gages or know the reason why."
"Say, Tom," said Skeevers, "I'm going home and tell the general manager that I have adopted the Purves staybolt scheme, and don't you ever tell anybody else you've adopted mine, and don't josh me about object lessons; you're full of 'em yourself."
At about this stage of the game they were joined by another master mechanic, who had called to pay his respects to Purves. He is one of those self-conscious old fossils that stood well up in his business twenty-five years ago, and can't realize that he is still away back yonder twenty-five long years - one of the kind that calls petrification by the pet name of conservatism.
All the staybolt business from A to Izzard had to be explained to him - he never heard of Skeevers - he never reads.
"And you tell me," said he, "that by a cuttin' of these bolts on a lead screw bolt cutter you can get a true thread, and that by a watchin' of all these gages and taps and bobs you can make all the bolts in one shop and send 'em to the other shops and they'll fit, and they'll go in with a little 6-inch socket wrench without squarin' the ends. Well, now, tell me what ye've saved."
"Trouble," said Skeevers.
"Money," said Purves.
"Well, now, boys, ain't you a settin' up a straw man to knock down? Ain't the old threaded-all-the-way staybolt good enough? Ain't the common bolt cutter and the home-made tap good enough? What's the use in cussin' the boss that's carried you over the creek?"
"I'll tell you," said Skeevers, "you say you are running 130 pounds pressure yet on a small road using small boilers. Your company sells coal and lets you waste money on your engines. We have to watch every cent, have to spend money for these tools to save money in the work and repairs.
"First, we do a better job. Second, we save money.
"We upset our bolts, at first using a straight bolt - what's the use of a stay-bolt larger than the root of the thread? - this leaves the skin of the metal on, is stronger, prevents rust, and instead of threading 5 and 1/2 inches of bolt we only thread 2 and 1/2 inches - less work. We save more than half their cost by cutting them all at one place especially fitted up for it. Now, in Mr. Purves' latest design of staybolt he retains all the advantages of the first form and saves, on 3 1/2-inch water space bolts three-quarters of a pound per bolt, a saving of 4¼ cents each where 6-cent material is used - this is enough to pay for cutting the bolt and tapping the hole. Besides that there -"
Tom touched Skeevers' foot and winked. Skeevers stopped talking and lit a cigar - the old man was asleep.