Friday, May 13, 2022

Industrial Fiction, Part II

The start of the story

Snodgrass was expecting it. His phone started ringing at 8:05. It was his boss.

“Where the hell are you!” Lonnie Cross blasted across the phone. Snodgrass thought, not for the first time, we use phones so we don’t have to shout.

“I am at a part tryout in the plant” Snodgrass said.

“Get your ass back to the office. Monsted is here and we have a contract to sign” Cross said.

“I can’t do that” Snodgrass said. “I am in the middle of a part tryout. All the players are here.”

“If you absolutely need to talk to me, you can come here. We are at station C-2, 35L” Snodgrass finished. And then he hung up.

Plant tryouts are a big deal. The inspection engineers measure the part to ensure it is dimensionally suitable. One part is fed into the process to see how it processes. If it “crashes” it is marked up and then Ganzer used a die grinder to finesse the next part.

Then two are are run back-to-back. Then four.

Once it appears to be not cause problems with the equipment, operators are cycled through the job. The part caused another hiccup when Sally Sweetfeed, a very short, left-handed Native-American could not install the part. Ganzer and Sweetfeed fiddled around and had something worked out in about thirty minutes. Sally was still not 100% with it but was confident she could master it with enough repetitions.

After that it was a matter of running parts and waiting for problems to pop up.

That is why there were people from HQ and Engineering and ergonomics and a bunch of other people who just seemed to show up.

Lonnie Cross, face red from anger and exertion came boiling up the aisle-way twenty-five minutes later. Monsted was bobbing along in his wake.

Cross was yelling even before he got to the station “Do you have any fucking idea how important this part is!” he trumpeted.

“You are demonstrating a gross lack of maturity and judgement by running a part trial on some piss-ant part when we are losing a quarter million a DAY because we don’t have the part Monsted is going to make.”

“Now I demand that you pull the plug on this trial and go back to the office so you can do the job you are SUPPOSED to be doing.”

Cross’s anger was palpable. You could have fried eggs on his forehead.

Cross had the attention of every person at the tryout.

It was a withering blast but Snodgrass held his ground.

“Do you know what is installed in this station?” Snodgrass asked.

“I really don’t fucking care!” Cross said. “I gave you a direct order and if you do not comply immediately I will call HR and initiate severance, effective right now.”

One of the nameless bodies detached herself from dumb-struck tryout group.

“Sir, I suggest you calm down” she advised him.

“And who the fuck do you think you are?” Cross demanded.

“I work with Mr DeLuca” the woman said.

That slowed Cross down. DeLuca was Cross’s boss’s boss. She was from HQ.

“What are you doing here?” He asked, suddenly wary. He thought swearing in front of production people helped him fit in and made him seem more masculine. People from HQ, especially women were a whole different kettle of fish.

“This is a very important try-out for the company” the woman said. If she had been intimidated by Cross she gave absolutely no sign of it. “As you noted, we are losing a quarter million dollars a day. This is a production trial of the part.”

Only then did Cross and Monsted bother to look at the parts being fished out of the tote and fed into the machine.

John Snodgrass had a multitude of faults. Being indecisive was not one of them. Being unaware of when he was in, over his head was also not one of them.

Snodgrass realized that he was in a no-win situation. If he gave the business to Monsted he was cheating the firm of profit that was rightfully his employers. If he gave the business to Hansen then he would be a pariah and the business would undoubtedly be yanked from Hansen and given to Monsted anyway.

The tell had been Monsted’s comments implying that his immediate management was in on the deal. “The skids have been greased”

Snodgrass called one of the wise, graybeards to ask his advice. Snodgrass could not know that the graybeard had been the one who made a few phone calls which resulted in Snodgrass landing in purchasing rather than the unemployment line.

The graybeard made a few more phone calls after talking to Snodgrass. The boy had done him proud and he wasn’t going to let John take the fall.

Cross started equivocating. “Hansen is not an approved supplier” he barked. He was unaware that he had accepted her authority by addressing her concern.

“Thats odd” the woman mused. “I downloaded the approved supplier list this morning and Hansen Industries Jax is approved for these kinds of parts.”

“Monsted’s company won the bid” Cross snarled. “Now we will have to retrofit all those units with Monsted’s parts.”

The tiny woman looked over to the line. “I don’t see Monsted’s parts here on trial. I don’t see how you can say he won the bid.” she said.

Monsted piped up “These are hand-made parts. They are not acceptable for mass production” voice triumphant.

The woman shot a sideways glance at Hansen. Then addressed Cross “According to Mr Hansen, these are manufactured on hard tooling and the plasma cutting tool is powered by hand around the race-track. Hand-made implies they are cut free-hand out of stock.”

“I don’t have time for your bullshit” Lonnie Cross snapped. “Snodgrass, this is your last and final chance. Come back to the plant or you are fired!”

Snodgrass had watched the woman pin his bosses ears back so calmly and efficiently that his boss didn’t even seem to notice*. Snodgrass knew a thing or two about how the corporation worked.

“I am employed to the end of the regular business day. You can call security to have me removed from the plant but I am not sure they will bend to your wishes. This is their turf and what they say, goes.”

“Call security and have this impertinent twerp removed!” Cross demanded of the biggest guy who looked like he worked in the plant.

“I don’t think I will do that. We will complete his part tryout and if Mr Hansen can deliver parts the way he says he can, and the other members tryout group concurs, we will build for two full shifts.

The tiny woman nodded at the beefy man. “Good call, Dean”

It is a curious thing. The glamour photos of executives that show up in official documents look nothing like the individual. Take them out of the make-up and the power-suit. Put them in plant environment in causal clothes and you would never recognize that the person standing in front of you was a Vice-President. Especially if she was short.


*I watched a tiny, Hispanic woman do this to my boss-at-the-time. He thought he was successfully shucking-and-jiving his way through a presentation he had not prepared for.

Her powers of observation, her wit and verbal skills left him in little bloody chunks on the floor. It took him a while to realize that she had not bought a single line of his bullshit and he was a little slow realizing that she was cutting him to pieces with a novocain-coated-scalpel. He dug himself a really deep hole before he had the sense to shut-up.

Mainly, she was pissed at him for presenting uncertain information as factual, information she needed to complete her mission.

Her name was Grace Lieblein and she was 26 years-old when I saw this happen. My boss was 37. It is my opinion that Grace is a class act. His name will not be revealed.

The next installment


  1. Grace is the perfect name for her. Wow. I'd love to have been in that gaggle.

  2. The blood of the Conquistadors flows in her veins

  3. Joe-

    I love your stories.

    However, you need a disclaimer up front: "This is part X of a multi-part story. If you haven't read Parts A through W, you're going to be lost."

    Mostly Cajun

  4. Looked up Ms. Lieblen on google. She has done quite well for herself. Obviously highly intelligent with a lot of common sense. Unfortunately she is probably too smart to run for elected office

  5. Very cool story. It may be that some of the names were changed. But DeLuca is a name that was in my (previous) chain-of-command at the General. As in my boss's boss's boss. Don't recall ever meeting Ms. Lieblen, but DO recall many mini-fiefdom tyrants in world wide purchasing. And MANY exceptional 24 hour per day, get 'er done suppliers. Good story.