By Ron Pestone - Hope you enjoy this true story.
In general and in construction in particular everyone has experienced bad days. You know, you had a crew waiting but the delivery never showed up. Or you lost a job you really wanted or one of your key men quit. And the list goes on and on. There is always going to be something that goes wrong on any given day and some days you have more things that go wrong than others. There is no sense crying about any of it, you learn at worst how to live with it and at best how to overcome it. If you want to live you learn early on to take these setbacks as they come and to shear them like sheep one at a time. Jumping up and down doesn’t settle anything but trying to approach these setbacks with the least emotion possible and hopefully with a little humor goes a long way. It’s life and its business and if you learn anything in construction you learn it is far from a perfect world and more can go wrong than anyone can imagine. All this is well and good and is an excellent practice for dealing with the normal screw ups and setbacks. But every once in a while a day comes down the road when your earth shakes and a day of horror on the scale of a tsunami hits you. It’s a day when you can feel your legs weaken and you have a strong desire to head someplace else. And that is a day when the cows come home to roost. This is not a miss quote, this is exactly what I mean, the day the cows come home to roost.
The day I’m going to tell you about actually happened. Nothing is exaggerated or added. Just the names and places have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty.
When my partner and I started our mechanical contracting company we rented a small one room office in a commercial building and used my four door Plymouth Fury as our truck. Within a few years we grew to a decent size and purchased a farm house and barn on a well-traveled commercial road and set up shop there. Almost all our neighbors were commercial enterprises except across the street was a large dairy farmer and livestock dealer whose operation looked like a Norman Rockwell painting.
We furnished our office with antiques and the barn we converted into a pipe fabricating shop and warehouse. Our new digs more than paid for themselves; they helped us land larger and larger contracts. We sold more than one prospective client by inviting them to lunch in our board room with its paneled walls and working fireplace.
Things were going well and we had long since traded my old Plymouth Fury for two beautiful Mercedes Benz cars, one for my partner and one for me. We also purchased a new delivery truck.
From day one the two of us had established the practice of never leaving on vacation at the same time. Stu, my partner, would go for a week and I would wait for a few months than I would go for a week. I was always careful never to take more than a week because my wife was the controller for the company so when we left for vacation it was an added burden for Stu trying to run the office shorthanded.
We were doing decently and always managed to have three of four major jobs at the same time. One summer when everything seemed to be running relatively smoothly my partner took a weeks’ vacation and left for Cape Cod. That Friday night my partner and his wife left for vacation; my wife and I said our good byes and enjoyed a very nice peaceful weekend.
Monday and Tuesday everything was normal. We were busy but it was business as usual. Normal late deliveries, General Contractors demanding more men, engineers claiming the extra work they forgot to put in their documents were not change orders, fighting to collect money and trying to keep our crews from fighting with the other trades as well as themselves. Like I said, nothing unusual, just business as usual.
When I got up at 5:00am on Wednesday morning I had no idea that this would be the day the cows came home to roost. I left for the office at 6:00am and as was our usual routine my wife would be in at 8:00am after she made the kids lunches and sent them off to school. When I arrived at work I saw my truck driver looking miserable standing in front of our truck its hood opened. When I asked him what the trouble was he said, “It won’t turn over.”
I pulled the dip stick and it was dripping with oil and water, not a good sign.
“How many deliveries you have today, Jim?”
“Two of them are just for some hand tools.”
“I’ll call the garage and have them pick up the truck and send over one of their rental cars. You make the two deliveries for the tools with the car. After your second delivery call me and we’ll know how serious the truck problem is.”
With that I opened the door of the office and walked in. By the time my wife came in the garage had picked up the truck and delivered the bad news. The engine was shot and couldn’t be rebuilt. They could order a new short block. But it would take a week to get the truck back on the road. Oh, and by the way it was going to cost $4,500.
So I gave the go ahead to do the work and had my wife call the local truck rental outfit and rent a truck for at least a week.
Around 10:00am my wife took my car and went up town for an appointment with our bankers. She wasn’t gone fifteen minutes when my secretary came rushing into my office and shakily blurted out, “Tony at the freight terminal is on the line.”
I looked up at her and asked, “Something wrong with the intercom?”
I thought she was going to cry when she squeaked out, “They shut down the job!”
“Who shut down the job?”
“Sheet metal union.”
I picked up the phone, “Tony what the hell is the problem?”
“They shut us down. The big bastard Tommy O’Riley set up a picket line.”
“What the hell for?”
“Our sheet metal sub ain’t in the union. Look I’m telling you all hell’s breaking loose. The GC is already screaming they’re going to throw us off the job and Old Yellow the freight company says if we don’t get this fixed in an hour we’ll be history.”
Before I could answer our two other phone lines lit up and as I picked up each one all I could hear was screaming on the other end. I told each to hold a minute and picked up on Tony again. “Tony stay calm. Get everything locked up and send the men home and then come in and see me at the office.”
End of Chapter 1
Don’t Forget: We Build America