“So, Then, You’re The Screw Man…”: A Manufacturing Story

The ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ cocktail party may not have been the best place to discuss one’s occupation, but she asked. I answered, diplomatically and technically, at first. However, in my work, the description eventually gets down to the basics and then things can go ‘off the rails’. “I sell screws’”

“So, then, you’re the screw man”, she replied with a wink and a snicker.

“Yes, I guess you could say that, I am the screw man!”

That brief exchange about sums up my ‘not so formal’ introduction to our new neighbors. Thirty years old at the time and with an immature sense of humor, I thought it was funny. My wife, not so much.

Let me backup a bit. I worked for a fastener (screw) manufacturer in a northern Illinois city, Rockford, known as the ‘screw capital of the world’. No, not that, I learned later. It actually earned its moniker from the bevy of fastener (screw) manufacturers operating there, many that sprung from the original, the ‘granddaddy’ screw man, so to speak.

These manufacturing companies thrived for years, providing fasteners and other special metal parts to industries across the US for their cars and big trucks, compressors and air conditioners, aircraft and appliances, even toys. Just about everything that is held together used a threaded metal fastener, a screw, to do it.

Walking the factory floor of a compressor manufacturer, a vacuum cleaner company or an automotive parts supplier of air bags, fuel systems, frames and other components was an education in the magnitude of our US consumer driven economy. All these companies used our screws, by the millions, and the competition was fierce. It always is in sales.

As fastener manufacturer sales reps, I and a cadre of salespeople and engineers, spent countless hours in factories helping customers meet assembly challenges with a potpourri of specialty screw products, problem solvers.

Over years, I witnessed manufacturing and assembly go from manual to automation to robotic ‘pick & place’, from dirty assembly areas to clean room environments, from Made in America to made around the world. Manufacturing is a fascinating environment driven by costs and whims of customer wants and needs.

But ‘change is the only constant in life’*. The number of fastener plants has declined either through attrition or consolidation. Technology has lessened the demand for sales personnel with the advent of the e-commerce and even the reliable company brochure has moved online. Business can be done via phone calls, Zoom meetings snd webinars.

I’m out of the business, now. And while I might be considered a ‘dinosaur’, I can still look back at my manufacturing experience with satisfaction, knowing that at one time, I was ‘the screw man’.

Steve B

To sales reps everywhere who ‘walk the floor’ …

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* Heraclitus, Greek philosopher…Wikipedia

“Do You Mind If I Smoke?”

I was a young sales guy trying to befriend a prospect, hoping it would lead to new business.

“Do you mind if I smoke?”

He’s the prospect, he can do what he wants, right?

“Hey. if you got ’em, smoke ’em!”

Foolishly, I agreed to go on a late evening boat excursion up the Chadakoin River, through the heart of small town Jamestown, New York, with a prospective client and friends. Destination, a local bar in the seedy side of Jamestown, which we accessed through a jagged hole in a chain link fence above the river bank, a barrier against unwanted traffic. We must have been unwanted.

Buying lunch or dinner with a client was a common practice and expected as part of the normal business culture, an opportunity to be engaged with a prospect in a relaxed setting. But climbing through fences after dark for a beer? Not so much.

I was young, aggressive, enthusiastic, and naive.

After a couple of pops, we left the bar and managed to wiggle our way back through the hole, a couple of beers heavier but still upright.

Finding the boat was a relief and boarding it felt even better. My ‘prospect’ needed something more than two beers and asked if I would like to join him for a ‘smoke’. A nice courtesy, I suppose, but I declined. He cranked the motor, headed upstream, and lit up. I mean, he ‘lit up’*, ‘torched up’*, gleefully noted that it was ‘tea time’*.

I was young, aggressive, enthusiastic and naive.

It didn’t take but a good whiff to realize what he was smoking and it wasn’t cigarettes.

The prospect never became a client, but I grew up a bit that night, and thought a bit more about my own values, the how and where I should conduct business. Not in bars. or cruising on dark rivers with a boatsman smoking a joint. Not anyplace where I might be compromised.

Those are the same values for Life, aren’t they? Make good decisions and be the best you can be. It always works for the better.

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: The Facts, Just the Facts… ‘Did You Know Abe Lincoln Had A Sense of Humor’?

‘We miss your facts’, a student at my school crossing post offered. ‘Well, here’s something, did you know that President Abraham Lincoln had a great sense of humor?’ No, she didn’t and neither did other students. I didn’t, either, until I recently read* more about Lincoln.

‘His pictures always show him looking sad or serious’, another commented. ‘Well, he was often sad and serious. He had much to be both sad and serious about in his life’.

One can get a potpourri of facts by reading.

This is the stuff we talk about at the Curbside Classroom. Facts. But there’s more. And the kids love the ‘more’.

He changed the world for the better. Dr. Jonas Salk did that. I was working on March 26th and reminded the kids about Dr. Salk and his successful research into developing a polio vaccine on this date in 1953. We discussed what we could in the very brief time before crossing.

Tying the polio epidemic and the successful vaccine then, when I was a kid, to the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought, was interesting for the kids, as well as a couple of teachers or adults who happened to benefit from crossing at the Curbside Classroom, that day. Understanding that events in history often repeat themselves was a good lesson. And to have an eye witness, me, who experienced the anxieties of both, tell them about it, was a plus.

Some of these kids are graduating this year and it’s exciting to see them planning their future. It’s been a challenging year because of the pandemic but kids are resilient and they seem to have handled it fine, for the most part.

I like to think that the Curbside Classroom helped them kick start their days. I hope it will be a fond memory, as they continue along a successful Life journey and maybe, just maybe, change the world for the better.

Congratulations, Class if 2021!

Steve

* Team of Rivals’ by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Shovel (and me)

Credit: Wonkee Donkee Tools

I grew up in New England, in a working class neighborhood of 3-decker houses, large multi layered structures with a family occupying each floor. My family had the first floor, and why not, it was ours. Renters took floors two and three. From my earliest recollections, the house was heated with coal. A coal shovel, or two, was always laying on the dirt floor of our cellar, between the furnace and the coal bin

The ‘coal man’ would drive his delivery truck along side a ground level window above the coal bin, and deliver the coal via a long chute from the truck, through the open window and into the bin.

It was my dad’s job to shovel the lumps of coal into the furnace, regularly, to keep a steady flow of heat into the house. The heavy steel shovel with upturned sides was the tool he used for the job. It was laborious.

I was still a youngster when dad converted our furnace from coal to oil, but the shovel still had a purpose. It became my tool of choice, my only choice actually, for shoveling snow. Never mind the weight of a big snow, the shovel, itself, was a man’s size tool, heavy, and using it to move snow was laborious.

Along came the light weight aluminum snow shovel, specifically designed for that job. What a blessing. Of course, aluminum isn’t as strong as steel and it strained under the weight of a blade full of snow, rivets loosened, the cutting edges bent* and the shovel became less stable. Snow removal, became frustrating, as well as laborious.

Ahhh, plastic. So many products once made of steel are now made with plastic because today’s resins used in plastic are super strong, resilient. The plastic shovel has proven to be very light weight and durable. I have two that I’ve used for years. They moved with me from house to house and do quite well at removing snow. Nevertheless, the very task of removing snow, itself, is still ever laborious.

As time passed and I could afford something more elaborate, my choice of snow removal tools and methods changed. I bought a snow blower, or thrower. It’s big, powerful and noisy. However, while it shortens the labor time, I’m still challenged with the physicality of operating this machine. It’s remains laborious.

This year, I splurged and hired a plow service. While he plows the driveway with his truck, often before the first light of day, I watch from my kitchen window, between the slats, coffee in hand, slippers on my feet, and dressed for indoors in flannel pajamas. I find it to be less laborious.

Oh, yes, I still use a shovel to even the edges. Easy!

Steve (srbottch.com). February 2021. *thank you, Liz!

For more fascinating shovel info, check out ‘wonkee donkee tools, an English website and it’s not laborious https://www.wonkeedonkeetools.co.uk/shovels/what-are-the-parts-of-a-shovel

Today, I Built a Snow Fort

* (I wrote this story several years ago and thought it was worthy of a repost, considering the nasty weather we’ve been experiencing this winter. Enjoy!)

Living in western New York requires a hearty soul when it comes to weathering the weather. Every winter, Mother Nature throws her best punch at us. After lying mostly dormant this winter, she reminded us of her mood swings with a pummeling of snow that stopped drivers, closed roads and shut down businesses.  And some of us thought Spring was on the way.  Ha!

How do people along the Niagara Frontier handle Mother Nature with her long, dark winter nights, and mornings crisp enough to snap the nose off your face if you wiggled it? Only one way, we take what She’s blown at us and make it our playground.

We tug on long johns, wrap ourselves in downy coats, then race out-of-door to play, just as we did when some of us still could race.

Against cheek numbing winds, we schuss down snow-packed mountains on narrow flat boards. We clamp on snowshoes and break new trails in deep silent stands of nearby woods.

Dull skates and old sleds are rescued from dusty web covered garage lofts or backyard sheds. Blades and runners are honed and waxed to make perfect for gliding over new ice or flying down slick hills on our bellies.

The brilliant sunshine on a wintry day makes a frigid five degrees feel like a tepid ten. We are survivors!

Me, I call on a time when kids were always outside, playing games that strengthened our bodies and stretched our imaginations. Today, I built a fort in my backyard blanket of cold, cotton-like snow, a dugout snow fort.

My fort today was not unlike one I built back then, simple but strong. A mini fortress, big enough for a cadre of ruffians and a cache of snowballs, just in case real ruffians showed up, as they often did. And amid the screams and yells, and maybe a curse, was the splatting thud of snowballs finding arms and legs and an occasional noggin’.

Those snow castles gave us a place to escape, a place so cold that only the energy of our youthful exhuberance kept us warm, as a pint size ‘band of brothers’ huddled together, making plans for our next adventure.

And what better place to have that adventure than on a corner snow ‘mountain’, the high, hard packed hill of shoveled or plowed snow, perfect for a game of ‘King of the Hill’.

Winter is a great time to test our endurance, to demonstrate our vim, vigor and vitality. Come Spring, we will scratch a notch in our snowpant suspenders as a symbol of success against the elements. We shall prevail!

Today, I built a snow fort. And tonight, under the cold, star lit sky, I’ll climb a corner snow ‘mountain’ and declare myself, King of the Hill!

srbottch.com

Dedicated to the kid in every adult, builders of snow forts, and those who challenge themselves in the great outdoors

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: Extra Credit & Life’s Little Rewards

“Extra credit! I got extra credit!”

The red-tail hawk perched on the overhead traffic signal at my school crossing post had my rapt(or) attention, so I didn’t hear the initial shouts. And the glare of a low afternoon sun made it difficult to see her, at first. But when I did, it was plain to hear and see a very happy high schooler, eager to deliver some good news.

During the morning crossing, at the Curbside Classroom, in the minute the kids and I have together, I announced that today was Pearl Harbor Day. Now, for most middle schoolers, that drew blank stares. Some high schoolers had heard about it. So, how much ‘ancient history’ can you discuss in 60 seconds? Honestly, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be much.

Franklin Roosevelt, infamy, war…a minute, to get access to their memory bank and make a small deposit. Apparently, it worked with this student, hence, the happy announcement at the end of the day, this Pearl Harbor Day.

When called upon in class to offer today’s date, my Curbside Classroom ‘pupil’ gave more than just the date, December 7th. She confidently reminded her teacher and class the historical significance of this date.

I wasn’t in the class but learned that her teacher was ‘blown away’ and awarded her extra credit.

As a school crossing guard, or just as an adult tossing out bits of Life’s good ‘stuff’ to young folks, knowing that you’ve made a positive experience for them is a big personal reward. I couldn’t be happier for this student and it made me think a bit more about the importance of passing tidbits along to kids.

Sarah Caldwell was an American Opera conductor, who said, “Learn everything you can, anytime you can. There will always come a time when you will be grateful you did”.

And, William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, encouraged others to “act as if what you do makes a difference, it does”.

In my blog, “S’amusing”, I write about a myriad of Life stories. And within the blog, I have a series titled, ‘The Crossing Guard Chronicles’, which describes my experiences as a school crossing guard and my interaction with kids. We talk and talk and talk as I engage them with a potpourri of topics in our minute, or so, together. Questions, facts, brain teasers, poetry, music (yes, I’ll sing a tune), it’s a veritable salad bowl of topics to kickstart their day (and mine), generate some smiles and help create a positive frame of mind before they enter their ‘brick ‘n mortar’ buildings. And it works.

What a great way to start the day.

One more thing, that same week we talked about trees. I stumped them on ‘shoe trees’. I have to win, occasionally…

Steve Bottcher January 2021

Blog: srbottch.com. Instagram: @srbottch

Political Signs and ‘Teachable Moments’

note: this is a revision of a first attempt at expressing myself properly. My closing comments are not meant to be political. They are intended to address the tenor of political discourse. I welcome your comments, as well.

Another election season is in the books. I hark back to my first one, the 1956 reelection campaign of Dwight Eisenhower. Summer that year found me in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, where sun, sand and salt water taffy were my highest priorities, not politics. I was 10.

Nevertheless, thanks to the miracle of television, I got exposed to politics with its bombastic politicians, intrusive reporters and zealous conventioneers. It was the quadrennial convention season and every ‘black and white’ TV up and down the narrow cottage lined streets was tuned to politics, or so it seemed.

One week, it was the Democratic convention nominating Illinois’ favorite son, Adlai Stevenson, followed by Eisenhower getting the nod at the Republican convention. Everyone ‘liked Ike’ and Adlai encouraged the electorate to ‘go all the way with Adlai’. Politics seemed fun then with its banners, balloons and bluster, even for a 10 year old watching on television.

That’s how I remember it, anyway. Eisenhower was popular, a famous WWII general. He was well liked and had a winning slogan, ‘I Like Ike’.

Subsequent elections produced new characters; life long politicians, a peanut farmer, an actor, more politicians, and a real estate mogul/reality TV star, all running to be the President of The United States, ‘leader of the free world’. And with each election came new slogans.

John Kennedy in 1960, ‘We Can Do Better’, and his opponent with ‘Nixon’s The One’. In ‘64, Lyndon ‘All The Way With LBJ’ Johnson painted his opponent, Barry Goldwater, as a fringe candidate with this slogan, ‘In Your Gut, You Know He’s Nuts’!

Ronald Reagan won in 1980 with ‘Make America Great, Again’. Sound familiar? Bill Clinton, effectively reminded voters, ‘It’s The Economy, Stupid’ and prevented GHW Bush from serving a second term.

For the most part, slogans and signs have been innocuous, sometimes mildly insulting, but usually more funny than harmful. And the signs that supporters planted in lawns or on street corners, passively urged passersby to vote a certain way.

Not so today. Now, signs have appeared with a message in BIG, BOLD letters suggesting to the public that the current President, and by extension, his supporters, are ‘haters’. Love Trumps HATE!

Politics aside, because I’m not political, I get the message, but not the medium. A lawn sign to protest hate by projecting hate, itself? Explain that one to today’s 10 year old.

There are good places to discuss the role ’hate’ plays in politics, and in life for that matter. I would suggest the home. Discuss it often, with the family, not on a lawn sign. Make it a ‘Teachable Moment’.

Steve (Dec 2020)

For everyone and anyone with just a passing interest or a passion for politics.

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: ‘Change Is The Only Constant’ *

* The credit for this quote goes to a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who lived around 500 BC. He believed that permanence does not exist, everything is in a state of ‘change’.

Heraclitus was right, I believe. ‘Change’ is a force that moves us to modify our behavior, to adapt. We really have no choice.

The novel Covid-19 is an example of ‘change’ and how we have adapted to new circumstances with new patterns of behavior: the wearing of masks, social distancing, acquiring enough toilet paper for a family of 7 when there are only 2 of us, hoarding.

Schools are adapting to stay on mission, educating our youth, with different methods of teaching: in person, on-line, or a combination of both, a hybrid. The objective is the same but the delivery is different. Educators have a history of adapting, changing to the circumstances, and that’s a good thing.

Heraclitus and his philosophy would have been a great topic for discussion at the ‘Curbside Classroom’, as I waited to cross students along a busy roadway. But a change in my plans precludes me from being a full time school crossing guard this year, bringing the ‘Classroom’ to a close.

There will be a new crossing guard and the kids will have to adapt to the ‘change’, a new personality. They will, kids are resilient, and it teaches them at an early age that learning to deal with ‘change’ in a positive way can be a confidence builder.

Again, I’ll be back as a substitute crossing guard, so, kids, give a shout out when you see me. You made being a school crossing guard a wonderful experience. Have a great school year.

Steve B. (Srbottch.Com)

September 2020