This – is where I stand everyday for eight-ish hours a day, and work. Sorry about the blurry – probably transmission fluid on the lens of my phone. There are six separate transmissions in this picture – some apart, some rebuilt – the shelving unit in the back corner is full of units that I’ll get around to at some point – and to the right of this picture is another entire ‘shop sized’ room with at least another two hundred units jammed here and there – half of which should be scrapped.
This – is the view from where I stand on ‘my’ side of the bench. I’ve got two units on the go on the bench, the big blue thing is the parts washer, to the left of that are units I have to get rebuilt and back into inventory.
This – would be the pile to the right of me, when I’m standing behind my bench. The bright silver repainted units are ones that are ready to go on the shelf, the rest is a hodgepodge of work I need to get done.
Hence – the title of my post ‘Crazy Making’.
I am, by nature, a bit of a neat freak. A place for everything, and everything in it’s place kinda gal. On that note alone, where I work is crazy making. Aside from the MESS, there’s the LOUD howling parts washer, and if you were able to see through the parts washer you would see the big roaring, clacking compressor. In the last picture, if you were to look up at the ceiling, you would see – well, no ceiling. There is a leak, somewhere on the flat roof of our very old building, the gyproc has long since been torn down, along with most of the soggy insulation as the boss tries, on occasion, to find the source of the leak and stay ahead of the ever encroaching mold. When it rains, it literally pours past the rafters and onto the floor, maybe into a bucket or two or three should somebody have a mind to toss a bucket under the deluge. What you also don’t see, is there is no heat to be had back there. No windows. And although it looks ‘bright’, I used my flash – out of the ten banks of fluorescent lights above me, four are completely out. On occasion, the boss wanders back, looks at the lights, then spends the next hour dragging a ladder around and generally being in my way, while he swaps fluorescent tubes around because he’s forgotten – again – that it’s the ballasts that need replacing. When he remembers that, he also remembers that he’s not going to fix any of them until he can upgrade the entire shop to the new high efficiency fluorescent fixtures. At which point, he drags the ladder away and gets distracted by something else.
Oddly enough – THIS place, is an enormous cut above the last place I worked. I have now stood behind that bench for nine years.
I am now at a crossroads – actually, hardly a week passes where I don’t feel like I’m at a crossroads – do I stay, or do I go? And if I go, where do I go and what would I do?
So I’m going to backtrack a bit. When I started the first installment of this blog (at least the farming/house rebuilding part), I wrote some about the place I started working at when I moved here. (I think I’ll get my daughter to hack into my blog and tag a link to that post here)
So now as bad as I wanted out of that place, I hadn’t really made much effort to get out. It’s not like there were a hundred other places I could go rebuild transmissions, and though I gave some thought to going back to being a service writer – it’s simply not my favorite thing to do – the face the public sees when they need their vehicle fixed. Did that for years, quite happy hiding out in the back forty these days. As it so happened, the guy that owns the Snap On Tool truck wandered by the shop for his weekly sales pitch, took me aside one day and told me flat out that I should really go and talk to John over at xyz shop. Apparently he had fired his rebuilder and really needed another. They had spent a beer or two discussing me it seemed. Of course John knew who I was – women who rebuild transmissions are a rare sort – and decided to send the Snap On guy over to recruit me.
I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic, I had a feeling I would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire, and still had some vague notion that I would hit upon some genius idea of a better job that did not involve me swimming in broken transmissions all day. I did nothing. A few weeks later, I picked up the office phone to find John’s service writer on the other end of the line – he suggested I stop by the shop after work for a beer and talk about a job. I told him I didn’t drink beer and declined the offer – but it did get me to thinking some about the idea. Another week and another phone call later, I finally agreed to stop by after work.
The shop wasn’t much different from any other shop I’ve worked in, they’re all pretty much the same. Chaotic, noisy, messy, full of exhaust fumes, the smell of gear oil, grease, and things that have been torched. I found John in the back, frantically trying to finish up a unit that was supposed to be shipped out before five o’clock. It was five thirty – but no matter, the freight guy was willing to wait. We actually talked about nothing in particular – we both knew why I was standing there……at some point he finished what he was doing and we headed for the office.
‘Want a beer?’
‘Whatever made you decide to get into rebuilding transmissions?’
Now I should clarify – it’s not that one has to be an egotistical, full of themselves personality to do this job – but one does have to have a very larger than life confidence in themselves and their abilities to take apart something that has sometimes hundreds of pieces, all of which can go together the wrong way as easily as they can go together the right way. You have to have a really good grasp of hydraulics. A good understanding of electrical, and computers and be able to grasp why and how this and that functions and so on. When you send a five thousand dollar unit a thousand miles in some direction to another shop to install – it has to work. At least three quarters of the units I build, do not get installed in our shop.
I left a few minutes later – he didn’t offer me the job, I didn’t ask for the job – it was one of those kinds of interviews. I told him I’d drop by in a few weeks to talk again, he went back to work. I stopped by and dropped off a copy of my build book, a few days later, told the service writer to give it to John to read. A ‘build book’ ( and I don’t know of anyone else who keeps one) is simply a record of ALL of the transmissions I have rebuilt. I like to keep track – and in this case, I had something to show what I was capable of building. Domestic? Covered. Imports? Covered – and so on. I then did something I have never done – I asked Bruce to wander over there with a six pack of beer one night and get a read on my ‘maybe’ new boss. I was not in good shape at that point, physically or mentally, and had a deep seated paranoia that I was maybe making a bad decision. I didn’t feel capable of judging the man.
Bruce did so, and returned with his take on the guy – he figured I would be making a good move. Now we had to get to the nitty gritty. On the next visit we hammered out the details – or I should say – I hammered out the details.
‘I only want to work four days a week. I want every Thursday off.’ (I was finding it impossible to ‘farm’ only having weekends off – I picked Thursday for no other reason than it popped into my head at the time.)
‘I don’t see a problem with that.’
‘I don’t want to build any standard transmissions or transfer cases.’
‘No problem. I can do those.’
‘I can start at the end of the month.’
And on it went. He agreed to buy any specialty tools I might need that he did not yet have, he agreed to my asking wage – and it was a done deal. I heard many weeks after the fact, from a customer that was there at the time – that after I left, John literally did a jig around the shop – apparently he really really wanted me to work there.
So. Nine years after the fact and there I still stand, behind that bench. It certainly hasn’t been all sunshine and roses – the space where I work was actually hard fought for – I started out with a portion of one bench cleared for me to build on – which he thought was plenty of space for me to work in – NOT. For nine years I’ve asked for heat in the back – for nine years he’s promised me heat – so far – no heat. I have built transfer cases and standard transmissions – despite saying I wouldn’t – for the simple fact that when there’s work to be done, I do it. John can’t always and seldom does devote any time to building. The MESS – is the most crazy making thing of all. Despite the fact that we get along well – there are time when we both get into a shop deafening shouting match over one thing or another – usually when he thinks I’m going to don my imaginary Wonder Woman cape and build three things at once. The MESS was shouting match worthy just last week. The reason my area looks like a bomb has gone off, is twofold. One, I’m the only one there that builds transmissions – so everything that needs to be rebuilt, lands in my space. Two – the man is incapable of throwing anything out. Ever. The old old useless units that have no value, the scrap metal that never gets taken into the scrap place, the cardboard that makes a mountain in the back, the thirty bags of trash that never seem to make it to the landfill often enough to keep the mice out of my toolbox. For years the mess has slowly but surely been encroaching on my space – this year, it’s finally taken over – there is actually nowhere to throw anything so it is out of your way. CRAZY MAKING.
Last Wednesday it all came to a head when somebody ordered a unit that should have been in inventory – but wasn’t. It was actually a ‘half rebuilt’ unit that I’d had to put aside because at the time something more urgent landed on my bench, and I had yet to have a chance, or room enough, to get back to it. John ‘suggested’ I get back at it. I ‘suggested’ he explain to me where exactly I could make space to do so – and the war was on.
‘Look at this place!’ I yell. ‘I CAN’T WORK IN THIS MESS!!’
John is above all, a peacemaker – and he tries to calm things down. ‘I’m going to clean it up – I’m going to get the scrap yard to drop off a big bin and throw out all those old cores, and make room in the back, and get the trash gone, and the cardboard gone…..’
‘You have been saying that for NINE FREAKIN’ YEARS!’ I will not be pacified by that line again.
‘I’ll tell you what.’ he tries another tack. ‘That unit we need is almost done – give me the valve body and I’ll do it for you on my bench.’
I stand there dumbfounded, looking around in a panic because I actually don’t know where the damn valve body for that transmission is. It has been swallowed up by the mess. I move some stuff, I throw some stuff, I find it. I hand it over. He takes it over to his bench, puts it down, disappears to return with a phone, dials the scrap yard and orders a LARGE bin dropped off at the shop.
Progress. The old cores are getting tossed out the door as we speak. Bin load number three is nearly full. The trash is gone. The cardboard is gone. I caught him measuring the distance from the waste oil furnace to the wall of my space to install some ductwork so I can at least not freeze all winter. He handed me a rattle can of yellow paint with instructions to mark ANYTHING I think could go to scrap. He has new paint for the office that’s getting repainted this weekend, new flooring for the office as well. He is actually trying to figure out what to do about the leak in the roof – trying to figure out how he can figure out where the water is coming from. He has thrown out enough old cores from the shop itself that when I build something, there is actually space to put it on the shelf – instead of having to trip over it in the back. He has purchased shelving for all the tech manuals that belong to the shop – where they sit right now, it takes twenty minutes of moving paint, antiseize compound and various cans of junk to get at them. He actually came and asked me to come look at an entire transmission seminar’s worth of manuals (a seminar that we missed), that are now available for purchase – to see if I wanted them. Of course I wanted them – the industry is ever evolving and in my head anyway, there is no such thing as too much information. He ordered the entire lot.
So. Progress and a little less Crazy Making. Think I’ll stand at my ‘crossroads’ a little bit longer and think on it some, and stick around – for now.
And THAT is my life when I’m not farming 🙂