Part 1 – By Ron Pestone
Early in my career I bid a steam and water tunnel job for a large institution in upper New York State. The project consisted of removing 10” and 12” steam and condensate piping and 8” and 10” potable water piping and replacing it with new piping in thousands of feet of small connecting tunnels which originated in the power plant and fanned out to all the buildings on the campus.
I was busy at the time putting in 10 and 12 hour days which left me little time for bidding. I put together the bid in the office after a long day and other than looking at the specifications to see what new piping materials and their connection the owner wanted I passed over everything else.
I sent the bid the next day to Albany with my truck driver and that afternoon I found out I was low bidder at $297,000. The problem was I had left a ton of money on the table. To say I was low would be the same as the Captain of the Titanic telling his passengers not to be alarmed they were only taking on a little ice.
First thing I did was to unroll the plans in my plan room and go over my estimate. I checked the scale, it was right. I took off the job again, the quantities were right, I checked my labor extensions, they were tight but I was ok with them and then I checked my material prices and they were also ok. The job looked ok to me, maybe a little tight but ok. At that point I still had only looked at the specifications for the new pipe and the connections that were required.
I was called to Albany to go over my bid because the government was concerned about the amount of money I had left on the table. I could understand their concern but I had grown up in the business and like any contractor when I had a sure deal I would fight like hell to keep it. I also understood that like most contractors when I needed work I could always convince myself that I could do the job, regardless of the number. I knew if pressed the government would award me the job because I was putting up a payment and performance bond, so they were covered.
In Albany I met with a small group of seasoned government pro’s and went over my estimate line by line. Their quantities matched mine and everything else was more or less in line. During the meeting their lead guy asked me about the red brass we were taking out and on instinct I said it was mine. Truth being, I had no idea there was any red brass on the project, never mind that is was mine once I took it out.
Long story, short they awarded me the job that afternoon and as soon as I got to my car I grabbed the spec book which I had taken with me for the meeting and for the first time read it cover to cover in the parking lot. As unbelievable as it seemed we were supposed to take out thousands of feet of 8” and 10”schedule 80 brass piping that ran in all the tunnels and replace it with ductile iron piping. Now I had been around piping all my life and I had never seen schedule 80 brass pipe. I had seen schedule 40 brass pipe but never schedule 80 and one thing I was sure of in that parking lot that day was that even at scrap prices that schedule 80 was worth some serious money.
The next day I went to the job and walked a few of the tight tunnels to see it was really true and sure enough that big beautiful brass pipe was in all the tunnels I walked in. It was a God send.
Now I was faced with a dilemma. Like I said I had grown up in the business and the unwritten law was that the mongo belonged to the men [for those of you that do not know what mongo means, it is the scrap that gets removed from the job]. I had always run my business that way. But this was different. I had a tight job and that red brass could mean the difference between a good job and a bad job. So I was determined to keep the red brass, sell it for scrap and put the money into the company’s coffers.
I knew I had a problem and unless I could solve it I would never see a dime from the red brass. The problem was the only foreman I had available to run the project was a guy by the name of Nicky and there was something about Nicky I didn’t trust. I couldn’t put my finger on it but there was something not right about Nicky. He was a good foreman, he knew how to bang a job in but on his jobs material and tools were always either coming up short or were stolen. And there was something about his eyes that left me uncomfortable. As crazy as it might seem eyes can tell you a lot and his eyes were not good, they reeked of distrust. So I knew if I put Nicky and his crew on the job I was sure as hell never going to see any money coming in from the red brass. But I had no one else.
Then it hit me, Alex. Get Alex! Alex and I had gone to college together. He was a tough Swede who was as honest as the day was long. He was smart, did not scare easily and was good with his hands. In short anybody with reasonable intelligence knew they would be better off having Alex as a friend instead of a foe. Even Nicky would get it. I called Alex, explained what I needed and being the good friend that he was he told me to give him a couple of days to clean up some loose ends and then he would be ready to start. We settled on two weeks. Only Alex never thought to ask what he was going to be paid.
When Nicky heard he was going to have some company on the job he came to the office after work on Friday with two of his top guys and kicked up a storm. He tried everything even threating to quit because by putting Alex on the job it showed I didn’t trust him. In the end I told him it was my money, my company and my decision and if he didn’t like it he could walk.
Red in the face he stormed out with him men but he showed up sulking with his men on Monday, reluctantly ready to work.