Hub gets in late, sighs heavily as he unlaces his boots. Covered in the usual layer of grime, grease and wood dust, he reaches a dirty hand into the fridge for a cold beverage and plops down at the table, looking beat. He pops open his drink and lets out another long sigh before taking a swallow.
For many years Hub has been the lone mechanic at this place. Not because they only need one mechanic, they need about five! Many men have come, many men have gone. Some only make it to first coffee, go to their car and drive away never to return. This place separates the men from the boys! So Hub is used to going it alone. He’s at the top of the food chain, which isn’t saying much. He is always under the gun, behind the eight ball, putting out fires. He is never caught up because the rolling stock is never out of production. His job is like being an emergency room mechanic, putting together one wreck after another. Patch it up, limp it back out into the yard. Down machines are money lost. He helps the millwrights when they need a hand, he runs the equipment too if an operator is away. He is expected to be in 8 places at once. And then he gets a new mechanic.
In fact, he currently has 2 new mechanics. One has come out of retirement because his wife was going crazy with him underfoot all the time. So to avoid becoming a retired, divorced guy, he went back to work. Hub thinks this guy is the greatest thing since sliced bread! Old Guy knows his stuff, knows work culture and hierarchy, is not there to impress anyone or take anyone’s job. He is just there so his wife doesn’t go crazy. Hub wishes he’d had this guy years ago! Old Guy needs no supervision. But Young Guy! Oh my goodness, Young Guy is a problem!
I ask Hub, what did Young Guy do today? Hub shakes his head because it goes against his nature to speak badly of anyone. He wants to believe the best of everyone and give them the benefit of the doubt. But some days it is very taxing. So Hub tells me the story about Young Guy’s adventure for today.
He said, “Young Guy and I were working on (insert name of machine, I don’t really pay attention to this part because they all look the same to me). We were replacing a cylinder which was behind a very thin piece of steel plate. I told Young Guy to just pop the plate off and that makes it easier to get at the cylinder, then spot weld the plate back in when we’re done. But then I got called off to something else and I had to leave him alone.”
Hub takes another swig and sighs, looking wearily into the distance before he continues. “When I was on my way back I could hear this loud banging noise as I got closer to the shop. Inside, the millwrights are looking mad, there is smoke in the air and the Young Guy is beating on something with a huge hammer. One of the millwrights comes over and tells me the Young Guy was grinding away on something, not paying attention, sparks were flying all over the place and started a fire in some oily sawdust on the floor. The millwrights had to drop what they were doing and put out the fire while New Guy just kept grinding away, oblivious that he was starting fires. One of the millwrights told New Guy to pay better attention and then New Guy got upset and there he was, angrily bashing away on something.”
Hub rubbed his eyes and took another long drink. “He had got the cylinder back in okay. But for some reason he had decided to take a hammer to that steel plate. It is so thin! You can practically bend it with your fingers. You just need to gently tap it with a hammer to flatten it. But he was wailing the crap out of it with this massive 2 pound hammer. I said to him, “Hold on there Buddy, what are you doing? This is just light steel, you can’t beat on it with a hammer like that!” But it was too late. He’d pounded it so bad he’d thinned it through the middle and actually made it bigger. Now it was too big and curved like a banana. He’d beaten that piece of steel into a useless banana.”
Hub finished off his drink and stood up. “Had to toss that piece of steel and cut a new one. I can’t leave that guy alone for 5 minutes!”
I patted him on the back. “I’m sure he’ll get better,” I said. “Why don’t you go have a shower before dinner?”
Hub looked glumly at the floor and wandered off. I do not know if New Guy will actually get any better because this is just one of many, many blunders he has made. It’s not that he’s bad, he’s just young and new and over enthusiastic about bashing things with hammers. But I always hope, and so does Hub. He hates anyone to feel bad and hates to speak up. But wasted material and wasted time are two major annoyances in Hub’s life, and New Guy seems to do a lot of both. All I can do is listen and nod sympathetically and hope New Guy finds his groove soon.