Lessons from my Dad

As long as we are talking about life lessons, I am reminded of this story my father first told me in the 1970’s.

I was in my early teens, and unlike today, you could drive a tractor trailer with only a ‘chauffeur license.’ I had one of those courtesy of driving a school bus, (yes, I was one of the last generation of 16 year old school bus drivers. Life was simpler then.) Anyway, my very first trip out in our used, well-worn F model Mack was to a nearby factory to move a punch press. For those of you born after NAFTA, a punch press was the backbone of much of the manufacturing industries then, it basically consisted of a huge heavy flywheel attached to a crankshaft and rod, the end of the rod was fitted to a set of metal devices that allowed it to ‘punch out’ a formed part from a roll of sheet metal. This isn’t really important to know, except for this part: punch presses are very big, very heavy, and very, very difficult to move, as most of the weight is off center and very high. Moving one usually requires special equipment like tank rollers, small cranes, heavy fork lifts, etc.

We didn’t have any of the specialized stuff. We had some rope, some bits of pipe, chains and dogs (devices to tighten up the chains) and a grab-bag of the usual hand tools. We also had the loan of a fork lift with driver from the factory, and some tank rollers. That was all. As we started the process of moving the huge press one of the first things I noticed was that any time the fork lift tried to lift the press, the rear end of the fork lift would rise up off the ground. Not surprising, as the press probably weighed in excess of 10,000 lbs, and the fork lift was rated for 4,000 lbs. About this time I ventured the opinion that life would be a lot easier if we’d just call the nearest crane service and ask them to come over and lift that puppy up and plunk her down on the trailer, and save us a lot of work. There in came this story, as told by my dear old dad, after we had the press loaded.

Years ago, dad told me, this very same factory decided to replace one of the larger presses in the press room with an even larger, higher capacity model. The existing one was huge, so much so that it was housed in a pit some 4 or 5 feet deep inside the building, so that it would fit under the roof with some room to spare. The newer, bigger model would fit in the same pit, barely, but there would not be room enough for the rigging required to drop it into the pit. The company engineers were called, and asked for opinions on how to best get the massive machine into the hole. Two crane operators were also there, one local with rather small lifting capacity, and one from a nearby city with a huge crane. The consensus was they had two choices: the local company could use two cranes, one on each end, and cut a hole in one side of the building to allow the cranes to sling the machine into place and lower it into place. The engineers weren’t really crazy about this method, as it would shut down the plant for at least a day and the cost of cutting a hole in the building, etc. would be high.

The larger company’s crane could lift the press by itself, but to sling it into position would require a large hole cut in the roof, where by the crane could winch the press inside, lift it, and drop it neatly into place. Only the press room would be shut down during this procedure, but the roof would be very expensive to repair, never mind a hefty bill for the crane itself.

About this time one of the employees of the tool and die department spoke up, and told the engineers he could rig the press in place in one day, without disrupting plant activity, no holes in the roof or wall, and for a fraction of the price quoted by the professionals. Of course the engineers wanted to know how he wanted to do this, but he refused to give any secrets until they agreed to pay him up front, with the understanding if they didn’t like the plan they could ask him to stop and refund the money.

The next day the huge press arrived, on a flat bed trailer much like ours, and the truck was backed neatly up to the loading dock nearest the tool room. Walking was a bit tricky, as the concrete leading from the dock to the pit had been sprayed with water that had turned to ice over night in the cold February weather. There was enough room between the ice paths for a fork lift, and that path had been lightly sanded to give good traction. As soon as the truck was docked, our resourceful rigger was underneath the trailer with a bottle jack, raising the trailer just a few inches to match it perfectly with the dock plate, which was also slick with ice. A good tug with the fork lift, and ever so slowly the massive machine inched slowly over the concrete and toward the pit- which was filed to ground level with blocks and blocks of solid ice, purchased from the local ice company. When close enough, the fork lift switched ends, and pushed the press over the ice and into position. Once in position, several space heaters were fired up and heat directed at the ice to speed up melting. There was some concern about the ice melting evenly, and keeping the machine on an even kneel, but the concerns were unwarranted. The ice melted slowly and evenly, and the water was pumped out as it settled into place. Within a few days the machine was dry, hooked up, and ready for operation.

The moral of the story, dad said, was that you could get more done by using your brain and common sense than by having a bunch of expensive equipment around. He was right, as usual. By the way, the press we were moving that day went on the truck in less time that it would have taken the crane to have shown up, and without any problems.


Now I know how you learned to move gun safes.

January 18, 2009 at 3:00 PM  

great story:

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February 11, 2009 at 4:34 PM  

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