Old ways

Dave Wilson fondly recalls how engineering used to be practised five years after the closing overs of the Second World War.

‘Old ways can be a ball and chain.’ – Neil Young.

In 1950, five years after the end of the Second World War, my dad found himself employed as the Chief Engineer at a firm that was in the business of designing, manufacturing and selling rolling mills.

At the time, my dad was in charge of a team of thirty odd draftsmen. And one of his many tasks was to approve all the engineering drawings that came out of the department. After giving the drawings his blessing, he would then take them to his secretary so that she could log them, index them and file them where they could be accessed by the chaps in manufacturing at some later date.

One day, my dad happened to notice that before she filed any drawing, the secretary was making a copy of it. And then, in an even more bizarre twist, she was leaving the engineering department with the copy, walking over to another building on the lot and then returning without it.

After watching her for a period of a few months, my dad’s curiosity got the better of him. And he asked her what she was doing.

Without hesitation, she told him that it was her assigned duty to copy all the drawings she was given and then file a duplicate in an office five hundred yards away in case the engineering department was hit by a German bomb and all the records destroyed.

Even as she told the story, it did not seem at all ironic to her that the Second World War had, in fact, ended five years earlier. A fact that my dad pointed out, I’m sure, as tactfully as he could.

The upshot of the conversation, was of course, that the redundant duplication and filing procedure came to a swift end that very day. Down the pub that night, the engineers all had a little titter over the now superfluous role of the unfortunate secretary.

But oh, dear reader, they had all laughed a little too soon, hadn’t they? Because less than one year later, a great fire consumed the engineering department and all the newer drawings were lost.

It took three months to rebuild the place. And after it had all been done, my dad quietly took the secretary to one side and asked her to reinstate the procedure of copying the engineering drawings and filing them in two separate places.