Thursday, April 2, 2020

Quest: Bazylewicz

The expedition pulled into the Bazylewicz compound an hour before sunset on the sixth day. Mike Bazylewicz willing, they would have a lay-over day there as well.

Steve could not think of any other description as they pulled up Fish Hawk Point Drive. The property was surrounded with a tall, high tensile fence as if it were an exotic game ranch. The gate was self-closing and latched behind them, with pipes that dropped over inch-and-a-hald diameter rods that protruded from the ground.

Within the fence, the grass was cropped short. There were no buildings visible until they had climbed more than halfway up the grade. Apparently there were sensors...although it could have been the dogs. There was a small reception committee waiting for them.

“And who might you be?” a older man wearing a leather vest asked. Steve introduced the party. “My name is Steve Straeder. This is my wife Sally. The other gentleman is Walt Shaw. We are from Eaton Rapids, Michigan and I bring a letter-of-introduction from somebody you might know, Rick Salazar.”

At Rick’s name, the man asked “So Rick made it through Ebola? I hadn’t heard. That is good news.”

“My name is Mike Bazylewicz” the man said, confirming Steve’s hope.

“Let me show you where to take the horses.” Bazylewicz said. Then turning to a young woman in the crowd he said “Michelle, have Ma put on the good china. We have guests.”


Bazylewicz read the letter while Sally and the men did a careful check of the horse’s hooves, groomed and fed them. Lay-overs were when they had time to reshoe the horses and Bazylewicz clearly had horses and even a small forge attached to the barn. Steve intended to ask about the fire-risk.

Dinner was delayed so the travelers had time to wash up and change into clean clothes.

The meal started with grace. Mr Bazylewicz included a list of things he was thankful for and included this visitors in the list. Then everybody around the table was expected to add one thing they were thankful for.

Dinner was around a large wooden table. In addition to Mike and Cindy, Michelle and Jason (daughter and son-in-law) and their brood of five children were in attendance. Three more diners were hardly noticable.

The first course was a salad served in large salad bowls. “Jason and Michelle have greenhouses and specialize in salad greens” Bazylewicz confided. "They brought the salad and many of the vegetables in the soup."

“We have a family over every day for dinner. Seven days in a week and seven families. It is as if God had a plan.” Mrs. Bazylewicz said jovially.

Mike Bazylewicz was extremely animated during dinner. He insisted that they call him “Mike” and told them how he and Rick had first met.

They had both been a couple of young engineers who had been thrown together in a plant retooling that went south. Nearly everything that could go wrong, did.

Mike had been the black sheep of a family of super high-achievers. Instead of becoming a professor or a doctor, Mike had gone into skilled trades and became a tool-maker. Then, even as he was working sixty hours a week, he went to college and graduated as a Mechanical Engineer, graduating in the top 20% of his class.

“Clearly you are smart.” Steve observed. “Why didn’t you want to become a professor or a doctor?”

“Even as a young guy I was bothered that knowledge was splintering. Experts focused on smaller and smaller bits of the universe. In medicine, General Practitioners were considered plow horses. You had to be a specialist to get ahead. Then it wasn’t enough to be a Dermatologist, you had to specialize in Skin Cancer. Then it was a type of skin cancer.” Mike said.

“But even as a 12 year-old, I could see that the interesting events, the failures if you will, happened at the boundaries.” Mike said.

“Can you give an example I would understand?” Sally asked.

“Sure” Mike said. “You cannot eat your way to good health. Nor can you exercise your way to good health. Surrounding yourself with healthy people will not make you healthy. The way to make yourself healthy is to FIT all those pieces together.”

“Anyway” Mike said, getting back to how he and Rick met “the change-over was a train-wreck. Everybody was covering their asses and protecting their turf. Nothing was getting solved.”

“They didn’t know what to do with a couple wet-behind-the-ears engineers who wore cargo pants instead of suits and carried backpacks instead of briefcases.” Mike said.

“So what kinds of problems were you solving?” Walt asked.

“Mostly they weren’t getting things done on time. The product they were producing did not meet EPA regs that were going into effect in six months and the way things were going the plant wouldn’t be ready to make the new product for eighteen months.” Mike said. “It was going to cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

“How did you guys fix it?” Walt wanted to know.

“Most of the answers were sitting in plain sight” Mike said. “Or they could be had for the price of a couple of cups of coffee.”

“The other engineers were going into meetings with management and telling them all the things that could not be done. Rick and I went into the tool-room and electrician cribs and bought coffee and listened.” Mike said.

“They didn’t have all the answers but they were closer to the real problems and had a better grip on why things weren’t falling together.” Mike said.

“Can you be more concrete?” Sally asked.

“Well, the first big problem we solved was that they were missing their tombstone dates by a country mile” Mike said. “An electrician on third shift told us what the problem was. Kohl, an electrician on first shift who thought he was God’s gift to robot programming was deleting second and third shift’s work because he didn’t like the way it looked. It made rate. It did not damage the product or equipment. It put the welds in the right place but it was not the way HE would have done it.”

“None of the other engineers came in early or stayed late to talk to the other shifts. They believed everything that Kohl told them.” Mike said.

“How did you solve that?” Sally asked.

“Rick and I wrote a memo authorizing that certain functions on the robots be enabled. Basically, all programming was downloaded to central files hourly and anybody who tried to reprogram a robot had to log-in with their unique ID and password. There was no way Kohl on first shift was going to be able to make his bullshit claims and get away with it.” Mike said.

“The other thing we did was to demonstrate that they needed four times as much prototype material on the line to program to. That was the only way to organize the job so one robot programmer could program one entire program without having to integrate his work with other shifts.” Mike said.

“Then I talked to the Union Steward. The union was getting a black-eye because the engineers and management assumed the skilled trades were deliberately under-performing. After talking to the Steward, word got around through back channels to Kohl that if his ID was found deleting anybody’s work that he was going to have an accident and every bone in his right hand was going to be broken.” Rick said.

“I learned that clear ownership is necessary for a tidy, well run ship. That is why none of my other kids mess around with greenhouses. That is Jason and Michelle’s expertise and they do it very, very well.” Mike said.



  1. Too bad Mike does not live close to Eaton Rapids. It sounds like he could fix just about any problem. People like that are all too rare, both in this story and in real life.

  2. I once spent all day upgrading a turning machine, adding keyways and calibrated turn screws for adjustment.
    I then dialed the perfect cut in to the product.
    The afternoon shift operator then came in and immediately pulled out a wrench to make an adjustment. I almost took his head off.


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