The Human Touch

Serving as an apprenticeship in a relatively up-to-date factory with modern equipment, I had been sheltered from the old ways of doing things. I received a call about interest in some new equipment from a company that manufactured bicycles. I pulled up in front of an old, but beautiful, well kept building. I went to the lobby and introduced myself to the receptionist (yes, they still had those then) and she called for a gentleman who came to get me and offered to give me a plant tour. Knowing what an honor that was, I quickly accepted. That was the beginning of my enlightenment. This company was known for its expensive, elite, beautiful bicycles and I was about to see how they made them happen. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but words cannot express my amazement when he led me down stairs to a room with several rows of tables where women were making wheel assemblies – putting spokes in the rims and then adding the tires by hand. The real shocker was seeing the earthen floors and the ceiling with line shafts that powered their machines.

My point is that it was my first encounter of a beautiful mass-produced product done with the most archaic methods. While these beautiful bicycles were not as efficiently produced by humans as they could be by machines – I have to wonder if it wasn’t the human touch that made them the prized possession that people desired.

Lesson Learned

It was the mid to late 1960’s and I was a young toolmaker embarking on a new career in machine sales. I received a call from a company wanting to buy a new punch press. Never having called on the company, this new lead filled me with a mixture of excitement, enthusiasm and fear. I already knew a great deal about presses having been a toolmaker from a company with many punch presses. However, I wanted to make a good impression and be prepared for any question that I might be given. I spent my last half hour in their parking lot studying and memorizing every single spec and feature for the machine that I would be quoting. In I go, armed with volumes of information. I felt confident that I could answer any question he could throw my way. Pete took me into his office and after a few minutes of niceties his first question was one that I couldn’t answer. It stopped me in my tracks. I would never have guessed he would want to know the answer to – What does this press weigh? What I didn’t know is that back then, many machines were purchased based on weight. The lesson wasn’t too costly. It hurt my pride, but I made the sale.

Count the Cost

As I think back, I always remember a new shop owner I knew who suffered with insomnia. He made many attempts to cure his insomnia with drugs, reading, counting sheep, music, etc. and none of them worked. It so happened that his new shop was in his basement below his bedroom and he could hear noises from the shop at night. One evening he had a job running that would cut off motor bell ends for which he got $0.25 each. As these parts dropped off the lathe in a box, they did so with a kind of rhythm. He started counting $0.25, $0.50, $0.75…It worked!  His insomnia was cured.