By Chuck Wiser, I write the words to share what my eyes see and my heart feels
Last week I wrote of the many places from which I learn. One of those knowledge sources was from friends. I also teased that I would get specific about individuals. I think I am fairly safe in mentioning most of these by name as they have passed to a place beyond where the “Sun” shines.
I also mentioned that some learning was intended, or not. I will start with a negative influence that challenged me and determined not only the type of learner I would become, but also was a major contributor to the “depth” to which I enjoy learning.
My employment began in earnest after a short stint at Acme Electric in Cuba, NY, when I followed Darrell Bump, whose job I took at Acme, to The Air Preheater Company (APCO) in Wellsville, NY. The company is now known as Ljungstrom Arvos Custom Manufacturing Solutions in Wellsville. I had to take a breath halfway through repeating that name. I was hired by Alex Dahar, head of the Drafting Department at the time. My experience in that field was earned completely through my 3 years taking “Mechanical Drawing” from Mrs. Nancy McDermott at Friendship Central School (FCS). After a couple of years on that job I was assigned to the Development lab to work on a new product line, The Combustall, which was a “solid waste incinerator.” It was being developed as a new product, to burn cardboard, paper, and other “solid” combustible materials” in a line of other future products including the Fume Incinerator, which had an intended purpose pretty much as its name implies. As I continued through my career progression, I earned the job title designation as a Designer, and during that period was awarded a patent (US3742876A) for the design of a “Top Loading Door” which facilitated payloader top loading of the waste. My immediate supervisor, whom I will not name, gave me a stinging performance review one time, despite my having performed “above the level of my formal education”. He said: “Chuck, you’re doing fine in this job but I’m afraid you will never be a “deep thinker”. You can’t imagine the effect that comment had on me. As I look back, I think that comment was the strongest “motivator”, most likely unintended, that anyone could have given me. I said I wouldn’t mention his name but, his father’s name was featured in Christmas Carols and his name was the reverse spelling of that.
Shortly thereafter, I transferred to an “engineering” position continuing with the “Fume Incinerator” as we incorporated it into “Systems” where it was “married” to other components, such as “blowers/fans, air gas “scrubbers” (which do as the name implies), and the steel support structures, that are required to support, house, and access those components. In that capacity I was introduced to computer programming, where I learned how to, design and “analyze” steel support structures using STRUDL (Structural Support Language), one of the earliest advanced programming languages of the day.
At that time, I still was working with my basic High School diploma and “Mechanical Drafting” experience, plus a couple of formal “training schools”. I guess I was still not a “deep thinker” though. However, I had already developed my own hands-on learning capability.
During those years I worked with and was influenced by a couple of “Engineers” who taught me much more about “engineering and design”, and even life in general, than any formal education could.
One of my “teachers” was a supervisor named Norm Casagrande (Wellsville, NY South Hill resident Mark Casagrande’s dad), who was kind of my “moral compass” in work related experiences. His major influence however, tragically, came with his passing, way too early in life. I had been a smoker, developing a habit of up to nearly 3 packs a day, having started at the ripe old age of 10, when I would swipe “smokes” from my mother. I naively thought she hadn’t noticed. The day I learned that Norm had passed away from a smoking related medical condition, I quit smoking! I trash canned my half full pack of Pall Malls and have never looked back.
Another major influence during that time was fellow Friendship, NY resident Richard “Doc” Stockman. I could fill many pages with the wit and wisdom of “Doc” but will share only a couple. Doc was never my supervisor but was always my mentor. One day when he was reviewing one of my designs, he called attention to some of the support ribs, called “gussets” that I was adding to the side walls of a box like ductwork section. Gussets are a thin, narrow, piece of bar steel welded to a flat panel to “stiffen” it. Doc said to me: “Chuck, you don’t need those gussets there, and, even if you did, they aren’t big enough.” A story he enjoyed telling was about travelling through an airport one day with brief case in hand. His nickname “Doc” was stenciled on the side of his briefcase. As he came upon a lady in distress, and who was unconscious laying on the airport floor, he set his brief case down and asked those assisting her if he could help. Seeing his briefcase, and the name, they said “since you’re a doctor what would you do?” “I’m not a real doctor” he replied, “but I think you should take her to the hospital,” They thanked him profusely.
Shortly after I began my educational degree pursuit, while employed at APCO, I was talked into getting into the sales department as a Contract Administrator (CA). That was a “no-win” job and over the 6 or 7 years I spent doing that I don’t have many enjoyable memories, although I do recall specifically, some tough, smart engineers from the companies I dealt with. As a CA you are faced with being the liaison between the Customer and the company on contracts. In the proposal stages of a contract, you assist the Sales department by helping to “negotiate” the contract with the customer. Terms and Conditions were a nightmare. These are the “terms” that the customer must agree to, and, you must fulfill, on your side of the contract. They are always contentious and long-drawn-out battles involving the customers legal team, and engineers etc. The larger the contract the more contentious the “fight”. The sales price is seldom a problem but which “services,” before, during, and after the contract, are. When you buy a commercial product, you typically agree to the seller’s “terms” and sign a waiver declaring that you do. In a multi, million-dollar, equipment contract those terms are always negotiated. After the contract is “let” and production begins, the nightmares (for the Administrator) often become even worse. The last major contract that I worked on before being “laid off” by APCO, was with Shell Oil Co. for a Fume Incinerator System. Schedules and delivery dates had been “hammered out” and we started having problems from the “get go.” We were having a hard time reaching our project milestones and date deadlines. From the beginning (not “the big inning”) I was in the middle, having been forced continually, into lying and misleading the customer as to our progress on the project.
It was during the attempted fulfillment of this contract that I was “let go”. The excuse was that there weren’t enough contracts to justify my position. The department secretary had been terminated along with another “Administrator.” That was no big deal to me as I had at that time been doing my own secretarial work anyway due to a personnel conflict and situation within the department. Another, of the two other administrators had been let go as well. It was preposterous to present that we had too many administrators for the number of contracts to be “administered”. I won’t go into the details of who was transferred into the department to take over my job, but in my heart, or at least mind, I’m pretty sure I was sacrificed as a scape goat regarding the fulfillment of that Shell Oil contract. Actually, I’m not sure whether they ever did complete that contract 😊.
The last day on that job, was the beginning of the rest of my life. After a short time on unemployment, my life turned around completely when I began my 24-year teaching career at Alfred State College (ASC). I call my employment experience “The 16 years of hell, and the 24 years of heaven.” During the 24 years of teaching, I never called it “my job” or regretted going to “work.”
Immediately upon being hired to the faculty, as an “Instructor”, Professor Robert (Bob) Stahlman took me under his wing. Bob had been a short time supervisor of mine at APCO, before his leaving to teach at ASC. Just to name local names, and his daughter Elke (Stahlman) Peet was the Librarian at APCO. They were good friends before and throughout my teaching career. Bob taught me “how to be a College Professor” despite my “Instructor” title due to my lack of the requisite Master’s degree. Bob and I, in many ways, were like “Dutch Uncles” to many of the students. We felt that you could be looked up to by the students without looking down on them. We could and would, sometimes be strict and firm, and sometimes fatherly.
Flashing back to my FCS days two people there added to my public-school education. Miss Gieble, my third grade teacher taught me that it is impolite to sneak up behind someone and “poke them in the ribs” when she knocked me “flat on my ass” with a slap to the face. Bennie Whitwood taught me not to lip off to someone bigger than me when he bloodied my nose. Not sure who taught whom when I tried to swat a bee on the classroom window with my fist, breaking said window. Must be the windows of that era did not have the embedded wire mesh.
The last two I will include in this “Thanks for the Memories” piece are my mother, who I have mentioned frequently, and my “father figure” Charles (Charlie) Young, my one-time neighbor. I have written previously about my mother having to serve the dual role as mother and father. She took me on my first fishing trips; taught me how to throw and catch a ball, how to ride a bicycle, and other “fatherly” things. The other of the last to be mentioned is Charles (Charlie) Young, my neighbor, and whom I called my “father figure” starting shortly after we moved across from him on Back River Road in Scio. He wasn’t terribly fond of mowing, so he let me mow the grass on adjacent “grass lands”. I could mow what was technically his property, with his permission, if I waited until he completed his first cut of haying to feed his cows. One of his lesson quotes was: “You shouldn’t cut it or kill it, unless you can eat it or feed it.”
RIP; Bob, Norm, Doc, Nancy, NTBN; And especially Charlie and Mom.