Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Quest: Pencil Whipping

Gilmour Hendry had his ass-in-a-crack, big time.

Gilmour was smooth-talking, urbane and handsome. He was also adverse to hard work.

He had been given a daily progress check-sheet to fill out. Rather than checking every item, he foisted it off on one of the crackers with grease beneath his fingernails, some joker named Thibodeaux.

Thibodeaux tried to tell Hendry that he was not a cracker but a coon-ass, but Hendry gave him discipline for making a racial slur and still made him fill out the check-sheet.

How could anybody use the word “coon” in the two-thousands was beyond Hendry’s ability to understand.

Thibodeaux filled out the check-sheet. He checked everything as “On-Target”.

Hendry signed and dated it and turned it in. He didn’t give it a second thought.

Hendry’s supervisor was delighted. The project had been seriously behind but now was back on track. Clearly, the "wrong kind of people" had been in charge but that had been fixed.

Hendry’s supervisor was supposed to perform two reviews a week where she verified Hendry’s reviews, but since the reviews were back-on-track she decided to pencil whip the reviews and use the time to catch up on her other paperwork.

The supervisor’s boss was Gretchen Wokes-Cold. She had absolute confidence in her hand-picked underlings and skipped her weekly review. She signed off that everything was on track.

Except it wasn’t.

Wokes-Cold had pushed the rapid bridge deployment into the master requirements and therein lay the problem.

Repeated attempts had proven that the bridge design was exquisitely sensitive to variation in the four points of contact. The points had to be absolutely level and in-a-plane. Any variation resulted in the stabilizing spars matchboxing, the sections collapsing and the bridge dropping into the drink with the load.

The fix had been to install hydraulic levelers on the far end. Shortly before touch-down, laser measurements were taken to the surface, the levelers extended to proper distance and the last few feet of unfolding completed.

Wokes-Cold’s now-official requirement was that the bridge unfold and deploy in less than sixty seconds. With the hydraulic levelers the bridge took over ten minutes to first off-load from the top of the ladder truck and then open up like a step-ladder until the two “legs” were horizontal and locked.

The hydraulic pump and the vast amounts of hydraulic fluid were the limiting factors.

The shit hit the fan when Hendry’s boss showed up to perform her first bi-weekly review after missing two weeks. It was clear from Hendry’s ineptitude that it was the first time he had ever performed the audit.

Hendry’s boss gave him a public ass-chewing. She was livid. Not only was Hendry’s career on the line, so was Hendry’s boss's.

Hendry was beside himself. He knew that Wokes-Cold would cheerfully eviscerate him. He heard what happened to to Karl Mankey. Gilmour was not a mud and mosquitoes kind of guy. He liked his comforts. He liked the pretty ladies. He liked staying alive.

He did the only thing that made sense to him. That crakka-ass, Thibodeaux got him into this problem. The crakka-ass would get him out.

Thibodeaux was thoughtfully savoring a cigar on the sunny side of the maintenance barn when Hendry found him. Cigars were forbidden in Washtenaw County. Hendry pretended to not see it.

The best defense is a strong offense. Hendry said “You fucked up. You said the program was on-track. You got all of managment’s tit in a wringer.”

Thibodeaux worked the cigar around to the other side of his mouth, pulled in a mouthful of smoke, savored it for a few seconds and expelled it. The dense cloud came very close to Hendry’s face. Deep in Hendry’s subconscious, a note was written, “Some forms of intimidation are ill-advised when the subject is smoking a cigar.”

“Wahl, you gimme dat piece o paper and tell me to fill it out. I be done with all the items on MY daily list. So that be what I done fill out on the paper” Thibodeaux drawled.

Hendry never knew if Thibodeaux was playing him with the hokey eBonics or not. Hendry decided to let it pass.

“The bridge has to unfold faster” Hendry demanded.

“You mean like NASCAR faster?” Thibodeaux asked.

“Hell ya” Hendry said. That was it. He just had to speak a language this dumb-ass could understand.

Thibodeaux suddenly looked downcast. “You know, winning NASCAR teams bend the rules.”

“Making that bridge unfold faster, we might have to shave a little bit here-and-there on the rules” Thibodeaux said.

Hendry was not a poker player. The relief lit up his face.

“Do what you have to do. Just don’t put anything in writing” Hendry said.

Thibodeaux already had a plan. The specifications required that the bridge could be pulled up and redeployed elsewhere. All of the hydraulics were sized to lift the “cheerleader doing the splits” off the floor and back onto the truck.

The fix was to run a cable from the top of the cheerleader, across a pulley on a gin-pole on the ladder truck and thence to a drum===>then a transmission===>then a viscous coupler. Gravity pulled the cheerleader into the split. The viscous coupler slowed it down. A gang of brakes stopped the bridge just before it touched down on the other side so the heights could be measured and the levelers deployed.

Furthermore, Thibodeaux removed lots of extra weight. He removed the mechanical locking system for the levelers. The spool valve would keep the hydraulic levelers in position long enough for the brass to approve the design.

The buy-off by the Brass involved painting a broad, blue stripe across the pavement to represent the West Branch of the Red Cedar River.

The ladder truck screeched to a halt just short of the river, the inertia of the sudden stop assisting the four-bar linkage that transferred the bridge from the top of the truck to the vertical, folded-step-ladder position.

Thirty-seven seconds after the truck came to a quivering stop, the bridge was down and locked.

A fork truck that had been pre-staged gently placed a load in the center of the span, validating its structural integrity.

Wokes-Cold was promoted. An order was placed for 12 copies of the prototype.

None of the brass was around when four fork-trucks were required to fold up the bridge and place it back on the ladder truck.

Two of the fork-trucks lifted on the center of the span while two more pushed from the far end. Notably, all four trucks had to drive across the blue paint at some point in the evolution.



  1. Eh. Good enough. Wokes-Cold will drown when the ladder truck plunges into the river crossing her insta-bridge. The rest aren't going to be around long enough to try and cross another river.

  2. I've worked with a lot of cajuns, or coonasses. They are really hard-lving, fun-loving people, but don't ever, ever cross them. There is a saying, south of I-10 in Louisiana: "Don't get mad, don't get even. Get ahead."

  3. Heh, the 'other' Cajun saying is I'm cut you tree ways, high, wide and deep...


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