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Thread: Slow Down!

  1. #1
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    Slow Down!

    Hello All. I would like to share a story with everyone . This story is especially for the younger techs starting out in the field .

    I hope everyone who reads this enjoys it and possibly learns some life lessons from it . Thanks and most of all enjoy !

    When I started in the field in 1977 I was fortunate to be exposed to a lot of variety in a short period of time. I found myself surrounded by many different teachers, mentors and some of the best people this field has to offer.

    You see, I was given the break I needed to get into the industry by my father. He made me a deal at a very young age. Go to tech school, get good grades, graduate and, he promised me a job at his place when I did all that.

    Long before and during my years in school he was in the process of rebuilding a troubled company he had been managing. You see after many years as a mechanic he took a position with a company as a service / general manager which for many years led the way in the Trenton area commercial refrigeration market.

    But that company had fallen on hard times. The very core of the organization , the mechanics were falling apart. Some were retiring, some had left to pursue other careers, and some were struggling with substance issues. The place was self destructing!


    He made a commitment to the owner to get the business back on track. One morning he called all 25 mechanics to the shop. One by one he fired most of the staff. He was left with 10 men most of which were new to the company. You see he used all of his resources for the past couple of years to recruit the best talent he could find and the process was not over yet.

    Some of the ten men left standing were very seasoned young techs from all walks of life and backgrounds. The others were the best of the best who had been with the company for many years.

    When this man took on this managerial position in 1960, the company was extremely profitable. However over the years because of this manpower issue the business was suffering.


    Well the year was1977 and I was walking thru the doors. By that time the company was again back on track with 18 field men and was once again on top.

    So by now your probably asking yourself, " why is he telling us all this?" The answer is, like I said before, I very quickly realized that I was working with and learning from the best of the best.

    One very important theme they all had in common was the ability to teach, coach and mentor. Now maybe it was because I was the bosses son but in hindsight that really doesn't matter. I was fortunate to be there and that's really all that counts.

    Another common theme I learned from everyone , including the boss and the owner was " kid it does not matter how long you take to do the job"" what matters most is you do the job right"

    It was explained to me over and over again that if you approach a service call, project or, inspection worrying about completing the task and moving on to the next, you will loose every time! You will make mistakes, miss something, short change the client, injure yourself , or even worse!

    Please never forget ,this industry involves danger around every corner. From getting to the job, to setting up, to signing out and everything in between, requires full concentration and attention to details. Even the littlest thing like greeting the client can make the difference between a job done right and well ,just completing a task.

    This is the type of stuff that was being passed on to me. And over the years I learned to try and evolve into this type of person. Not only at my job but in life as well.

    So, as I began working with this group I learned just how important this message of slow down was. The first two years, I worked with the installers. We handled many types of projects from new construction of supermarkets with miles of piping and very complicated mechanical systems to replacement of three ton residential splits and everything in between.

    Yes, every supervisor had in the forefront of his mind " we have to stay on schedule!" And yes they pushed us hard to do so, but... the guys in the trenches ( literally ) always made sure all the important details were not being missed. And when they felt something wasn't right, they pushed back even harder.!

    I recall a job where the overnight pressure test on a piping run was questioned by the lead installer. He didn't like the 1/2 psig drop. The field supervisor insisted we move on to the next set and chalked it up to a leak at the test station. Well this guy didn't buy it. Instead of causing a problem, we moved on.

    At the end of the day, he asked me if I would stick around for a while. After everyone left we walked the trench and leak checked every joint on the run in question. Sure enough we found a pinhole and repaired it. This was the type of passion and personel pride this guy had for the job.

    The job ended and we were on to the next. A field supervisor showed up and handed us each an envelope. I opened mine and found a $100 Bill with a note from the president of the company. He thanked our team for a job well done. Also included was a copy of a letter written to him by the owners of the supermarket job. They praised our company for an excellent project, completed ahead of schedule and completely flawless.

    Some of the most memorable things I learned from my time time with the install crew was, no matter how much pressure you are under to produce, always think about the potential results of a skipped detail. And, if you ever find yourself questioning the safety or outcome of a task or maneuver you are about to attempt, stop, think, and ask someone before you proceed.

    Next it was on to the service world. A world at the time I thought I would never like or be able to survive in. After all what could be better than install ? You get to see your accomplishments first hand! You turn a blank space into a modern work of art, and you are a real mans man!! Let's face it installation and retrofit is not for the weak. You go home sore every day. And just look at these muscles! Not like those wimpy service geeks.

    The first day in the van riding shotgun with a guy who said two words to me in an hour. I couldn't get over all the books and paperwork in the cab and what's with all the pens and pocket thermometers ! What a geek!

    We pull up to a big box store. On the roof he opens up the biggest Rtu I have ever seen! Holy Christ. Relays, wires, controls ! I'm quitting today ! Today's my last day! I'm asking the old man to put me back in install. There is no way I'm figuring any of this stuff out!

    "Excuse me sir ..... What are we doing to this thing" " Shut up kid, I'm trying to think!! " After an hour of dead silence and watching this guy take meter readings and talking to himself he started down the hatch after yelling to me to stay put he will be back. He came back up with a part, changed it and pushed me away , threw the switch and this monster came to life! I thought I was in the presence of the supreme being himself! How the hell did he figure that out???

    After another hour or so of watching him walk around this machine measuring this and feeling that, feverishly writing down notes he finally said " kid do you know what this system is?
    " Um ???.... A ...A ..." It's an air conditioner???
    " Well kid, your not far off, " It's a multi functional heat recovery / make up air system equipped with a Kramer Thermobank system. " It houses all the medium and low temp condensing units for the store and provides an environment where as the systems can be kept operating stable all year and utilizes all the heat rejected to temper the make up air to the structure.

    Those were pretty much his exact words. How can I say that . Because in 1977, on the way back to the shop, I asked him to explain that monster to me, and wrote it down.

    Well, shut my mouth! What the hell is he talking about ??? I have no idea what he just said and I am defintly heading for z hills after today ! There is just no way I'm cut out for this ****. This is real!

    After a quick pretty much silent lunch (this guy definitely was a man of few words ) , we headed back up to the monster. We opened up every door, panel and hatch on this thing. He began shutting off this, turning on that, and once again I was completely baffled.

    And then something great happened. He turns to me and says " kid now you are going to learn something". For the rest of the day he went over every piece of this thing with me from top to bottom and everything in between. He explained every component, fan, damper, tank, valve, switch and, relay to me. We even looked at wiring diagrams, books that were inside this thing and even the service lighting. Now granted most of the stuff he was saying went right over my head, I tried to convince this guy that I was capable of absorbing this and did ask a lot of questions.

    So I got home that night and pretty much collapsed in my room. My seventeen year old brain was sore. I was in full overload ! OMG! I hope and prey I never get sent back there by myself ! There is just no way. Not a chance in the world! I guess it's not too late to get out of this. But what about the old man? How do I tell him his son can't cut it !!

    The old man gets home. We eat that good homemade stuff mom always managed to put out. My brain started to cool down a little and I was feeling pretty good again. It's still early, I got that cool looking 65 Chevy in the driveway, I got a few bucks, hell time to go do what all kids in the 70's did at night. That's all I'm going to say about that.

    I get out of the shower, on with my bell bottoms and time to party! Wait! What's the old man want? "Hey pops what's up?"
    Holy ****! Why is he holding those books with the picture of the monster on the front !! No way ! Yes way, he had other plans for my night!

    Now I could have pulled the rebel kid routine and made a quick exit but I stayed and you could imagine the night. Let's just say overload, overload, Houston we have a problem !!!

    Looking back I still don't know why these guys spent so much time with this long haired kid but I can tell you most of the time and no matter who I was with, these guys made sure after every call they took the time to explain the equipment and go over the repair.
    And I was developing a trunk full of books, manuals and paperwork. And yes there were many more nights like that spent with the old man.

    Well the years went on and as you probably figured out I hung in there, and yes there were times when we were running and gunning and there was no time to teach but I learned that common theme from this group. It's all about cautious steps, advanced preparation and, the importance of reflecting on the day. It's the reflection part that you really learn the most from. It's another step in the learning process that you should always try not to skip.


    Now please don't get me wrong. There are times when you have to hit it and run in this trade but, it's always a good thing to remember that you have to strike a balance between a proper quick fix and just a plain waste of time. The latter will always be the case if you don't stick to a basic routine on any job: Is what I'm about to do safe? Did I fix this thing or just get it running? Do I need to get back on this ? And most importantly, Do I need to tell someone that this situation is going to require my full attention and a lot more time. And I need help and or advise here.

    After some time and for many different reasons I moved on to other companies. I found myself working with a group where all the good stuff I talked about above just was not the way here.
    Again they had a large install division and now I was running the service dept.

    Imagine that me the kid all grown up, a working service manager !
    Anyway, the pressure to produce on this install crew was outright wrong. And there was no push back. Just keep going and bang out these huge projects.


    Well my team, ( me mostly) was in charge of start up and commissioning these jobs. After all " we are so busy, you don't expect my guys to put all this in and make it work do you" " Besides, they followed the BLU prints and the engineers can't be wrong !" That was the words of our project managers and the boss man.

    It was July and about 100 degrees in the shade. I found myself on a Saturday night on a step ladder in the ceiling of the I. C. U. of Episcopal hospital with a mc tank and my soldering kit, the tile tucked neatly against my belly so I didn't drip any solder on the pregnant trauma patient in the bed below me, re piping three way chilled water valves on one of our newly installed projects. You see the valves were piped completely wrong and would not feed chilled water to the coils no matter what I did.

    " Cant you just put in one of those relays or work some other wiring magic you always do for us ?" This coming from the project manager who was pool side!. I could here the splashing !
    "Not this time dude, the valves are dead heading ! " Oh and maybe you can tell your guys those arrows on the valves do mean something!!! Click, enough of that guy !

    I had an I. C. U. up to around 100 degrees and a hospital engineer who told me to get him some air now ! And he was not shutting down the room. They are filled to capacity and there is no where to send patients.

    There are many more stories about my days with this group, many long nights spent in new buildings, many site meetings with engineers, architects and, controls groups, trying to convince them that what's on paper, well... Just is not going to work. And even more tense company gatherings, but perhaps the best lesson learned here....

    Like the carpenter says ... Measure twice, cut once.


    In conclusion , there are many journeys thru life we all take. I think if you have decided to take this path and commit to a career in H. V. A. C. + R. , you will have many choices. Yes you can hang around for a long time in this game and yes you will probably make a good buck just for doing that but... It takes a different kind of tech to know what is needed to conquer this ever changing world. One who knows when to take a step back, ask for help, push back even harder and resolve to a need to consistently plan, reflect and absorb.

    I'm sure by now the "monster" is gone. Replaced by another state of the art mechanical system, probably operated by a jace or something like that, but remember ... Somewhere there is another " kid" waiting in the wings to conquer it. And yes , after a year or two, or three, I made that monster my pet puppy dog. I did get sent there many times all by my lonesome and I learned just how easy it was to tame that beast ! ... If. you hang in there.... SLOW DOWN

  2. #2
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    Holy cow, I'm gonna need to get me a sixer with a bag of ice before I start to read that [it better be good!].

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  4. #3
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    Thanks for taking the time to share all that - sounds like you had some truly dedicated old school techs. The old man still with us?
    "...and pray it works, pray to God it works."

    ---Nick's Handyman

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGllepZY2HE

    I use Sta Kon

  5. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by BBeerme View Post
    Holy cow, I'm gonna need to get me a sixer with a bag of ice before I start to read that [it better be good!].
    I had 4 cups of coffee while reading it.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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    “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards". -Vernon Law-

    "Skilled Labor Isn't Cheap, Cheap Labor Isn't Skilled" - Unknown


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  7. #5
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    Figured I better build myself a fire as well. Got the fire going, boots off, and drinks on the table.

    It was worth it. Reminded me of myself. I kept getting thrown to the wolves, but I was able to tame the beast, so they threw me in again.

    Thanks for the story and bringing back memories.

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  9. #6
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    Thanks for the kind words guys . No the old man passed away in 97 .
    I owe him a world of gratitude !
    Maybe when the man upstairs calls my number me and him can sit down again and talk shop . Bet he would love to here how the industry has changed over the years. Thanks Again !!!

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  11. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by richper View Post
    Thanks for the kind words guys . No the old man passed away in 97 .
    I owe him a world of gratitude !
    Maybe when the man upstairs calls my number me and him can sit down again and talk shop . Bet he would love to here how the industry has changed over the years. Thanks Again !!!
    He'll probably hand you a manual for star # 523214598525521 at the end of galaxy 2542. Good luck with that.
    "...and pray it works, pray to God it works."

    ---Nick's Handyman

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGllepZY2HE

    I use Sta Kon

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  13. #8
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    LOL !!!

  14. #9
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    richper, great story.It tells the true story of this field. It is told by the men that care. You don't just work as as an HVAC/R tech/installer, you live it. For you young guys, if you don't have passion for what you do, you are screwed. Go find something else to do. If you decide to stay, you will be rewarded with a rich life full of memories.
    You have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life.

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  16. #10
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    Good read!

  17. #11
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    Slow Down!

    Thank you!!

  18. #12
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    Good read. Unfortunately, many of today's techs want to be told what is wrong or what to replace. I have a standard answer when a customer ask "why are you doing (this/that or the other)" the others never did that, I was taught the right way.
    Sadly, there are "techs" out here that think their knowledge is a national secret, not to be revealed.
    It`s better to be silent and thought the fool; than speak and remove all doubt.

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  20. #13
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    I think it was a different time where if you needed help all you had was a small pile of manuals and an upside down bucket in a dark corner somewhere. Stuff was actually hard for a new guy that didn't know what he was doing.

    Nowadays it's easy. You just have to pick up your phone and ask Siri or Google or another tech what the answer is.

    That was a very good story. I read every sentence and agree with everything that you wrote.

    I never knew the man, but I also thank your pops for everything he's done for you and for the industry in general.

    If at First You Don't Succeed, Skydiving Is Not for You.

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