A high price to pay

In his younger and more vulnerable years, Dave Wilson’s father gave him some advice that he’s been turning over in his mind ever since.

‘Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther’- F.Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby).

In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since: work as hard as you can at whatever you do, but never let the bu**ers drive you mad.

My dad knew what he was talking about. For twenty some odd years, he worked as the Chief Designer at a rather large outfit in Bedford that designed and manufactured rolling mills and flying shears. And for his sins, he was in charge of a fifty strong team of draftsmen who laboriously plotted over drawing boards designing the fabulous machines that he dreamt up.

These were the days before computers, before calculators and before CAD. These were the days when calculations were done by hand and meticulously written down in pencil in a large foolscap book with a crummy sticker on the inside that read ‘ Always Return To The Drawing Office’ after use.

And these were the days when Human Resource managers were non-existent. When there was no such thing as flexible working hours. When men punched into their jobs at nine every morning, took a one-hour lunch break at the company canteen and swarmed out of the factory gates at five on their bicycles. For some of those men, it was more of an existence than a life.

Because he was the head of the department, my dad sat in a secluded room at the end of the drawing office, where he looked out over the members of his team. Occasionally, he left the confines of the office to check on their progress.

On one such occasion, as he looked out over his team, he noticed that one of the men was sitting at his desk apparently doing nothing. Just sitting there at the drawing table with a vacant stare on his face. For half an hour, my dad looked on, until eventually, somewhat concerned, he approached the draughtsman to find out what was up.

The man had done no work for two days and was behind on his job. He had spent his time cutting and rolling up small pieces of paper into tubes and placing them carefully into his drawer. His desk was littered with them. An ambulance was called and the poor chap was taken to hospital, where he remained for several months.

I drove by the factory the other day. There’s nothing much going on there any more. There’s no-one in the building and there’s a bunch of weeds and several ‘For Sale’ signs outside. I heard they were going to turn the place into luxury condominiums, but I could be wrong.

And as I rode by, I thought of the poor fellow that it had become too much for all those years ago. And I thought about my dad and his words of advice.

Dave Wilson


The Engineer Online