Thursday, 25 December 2014
First of all, one must be kind to the snowbirds. After all, for the majority of the year, they are home, working the farm or other businesses, and then, when harvest is done, they start making their plans to fly south for the winter. JC could never blame them. In later years he has even opted to work toward similar goals. Places like Mesa, AZ, or Needles, CA, where the winter weather is favorable, and there is a car show every weekend, has a lot more appeal than shoveling snow and scraping ice off the windshield just to be able to get to work. Back in the day, JC envied snowbirds to some extent, although there were times he locked horns with them.
The trouble with snowbirds is that, when they close the door to the machine shed, all thoughts of what might need to be done to the tractor (or truck) to have it ready for the spring season seem to vanish--out of sight; out of mind, so to speak. So many repair shops in the country are all but devoid of work during the winter while hundreds of hours of potential revenue are languishing in the sheds on the farms in the region. Spring comes around, the equipment comes out and then, when it's needed the most, the grim reality of what should've been done during the off-season sets in. And the tractor, truck, or whatever is rushed to the shop, only to find a lineup of broken-down equipment ahead of them.
A television ad from fifty years ago comes to mind: Why wait for spring; do it now...
Well, Steve (his real name was Howard but that doesn't matter right now) and his wife had spent yet another glorious winter in Mesa, taking in that wonderful desert air; going to the massive market; eating pizza at the Organ Stop; square dancing (they weren't into collectible cars so BJ's auction was out), and just taking in the winter months with easy strides. Of course all good things must come to an end and come spring, it was back to the real world. And so, farming had begun for the year and Steve was busy getting tractors ready, and trying to motivate a couple of unmotivated boys who had spent the winter at the home Forty, doing very little other than party throughout the winter. The tractors and equipment were pressed back into service and it wasn't long before the memories from last season came flooding back.
The big four-wheel-drive tractor's clutch resumed slipping until it would barely pull itself downhill with a tailwind. The smaller tractor resumed its rhythmatic clunk-clunk-CRUNCH, clunk-clunk-CRUNCH, emanating from the depths of the front driving axle. To make a long story shorter, both tractors were soon lined up at the shop awaiting their turn to get repaired.
Now, I might add right here that Steve was also one of the original shareholders in the shop where JC worked--there were ten originally but when one shareholder bought the business from the others, it was under the condition that he alone called the shots. No longer real participants in the daily operations of the business, all the founding shareholders still had privileges of buying their cars, trucks, and farm equipment at cost. And they all expected a little bit of priority when they needed work done.
Seeing that he was about to get put off for the better part of a week, Steve went to JC and told him the situation. JC told him the truth: Steve was likely a week away before repairs to his tractors could even begin. Steve countered with a typical story where he absolutely had to have his tractors running because he had fertilizer coming; he had seeding to do; I'm sure that if it would've done any good, he'd have told him that his wife needed to get to the hairdresser and he couldn't take her because his tractors were broken.
JC apologized and told him that he already had everyone in the service department spoken for and even had some work going on outside because they couldn't fit it all inside the shop. That didn't sit very well with Steve; there might be other ways to influence whose machine came into the shop next.
JC was in the shop attempting to stem the tide of small jobs by spending time at the bench repairing starters, alternators, hydraulic control valves, fuel injectors and whatever else needed to be done; that also kept the rest of the crew working on the larger jobs. Evenings would find him in his office closing out work orders, writing up warranty claims and generally handling the administrative duties of a service manager. It was a demanding time of the year and he was doing his best to stay on top of things. What he didn't need was interference.
JC saw Steve and GL coming through the shop and heading his direction. Actually he wasn't surprised because many customers, thinking that they could gain extra consideration, made it a habit to talk to the boss, maybe even cry on his shoulder: my family is starving; my kids need new shoes; I can't afford to replace my three year old RV so I'll have to suffer through another winter in Arizona with my old one; my wife has to get to the hairdresser...
'Why can't you get Steve's tractors in the shop?' GL demanded, not caring that he had butted in ahead of two other customers.
'Because we're backed up solid,' JC said a trifle irritably. 'I've already got things double-booked.'
GL took a look around the shop. 'We're gonna have to bump somebody!' he said in a commanding voice. He pointed to a tractor in an adjacent bay that appeared to be mostly together. 'What about this one?'
JC quickly apologized to the customer he was waiting on and went over to deal with the boss. 'Jimmy's tractor? The water pump had young ones and the fan went through the radiator. Rob's pulling it out as we speak.'
'What about this one?'
'Matt's? Final drive is out. Tell you what, why don't you pick any one of those tractors that are in here. I'll get the customer on the phone and YOU can tell them why Steve deserves priority over them. Maybe we can get Steve on the phone with you and you both can tell them why they've got to be sidelined.'
JC didn't give GL a chance to counter. Patience completely worn through, he pressed his attack:
'All winter you've threatened to lay everyone off because there's no work in the shop, and I've been begging you to keep everyone on, just to keep control of things when spring work started.' He gestured around the crowded shop. 'Tractors and trucks have been locked in sheds all over the country; they've all had problems but we couldn't get in touch with anyone, or there's been a massive pile of grain in front making it impossible to get the machine out! Whatever the reason, we had an empty shop all winter and now I've got guys working overtime to get everything fixed up!
'I can't help it if Steve is down in Arizona basking in the sun while his kids are partying up a storm up here all winter. Last fall Steve mentioned that he should get his tractors in for some work but then he was off to Arizona. I spent half the winter trying to round up someone on the phone so we could go out and pick the tractors up, but I failed to do that. Consequently I had to put up with threats of layoffs and closing the shop down!'
JC turned and headed back to the workbench. GL called after him: 'We've got to do something to help Steve out--.' Steve, realizing that JC was right, grabbed GL's arm and pulled him away. 'No, GL, JC is absolutely right; it's entirely my fault and I'll have to wait. It will never happen again. Steve continued to steer GL away and they both left the shop.
Three days later, JC succeeded in getting the larger of Steve's tractors into the shop and make the necessary repairs which took an additional couple of days. Steve went home and raised supreme hell with his two boys, one of whom called it quits and now works at a tire shop in the city. The other one took his lumps and is still on the farm, the sole operator of that establishment to this day. Steve no longer has to worry about the problems that life has to offer as the Big C took over a couple of years later; he is now off to his eternal reward.
And putting off repairing broken machinery on Steve's farm during the winter has never happened again.
There's always someone who is trying to get something for nothing. Often times he (or she) is moderately successful and that only gives him the confidence to try it again. Each continued success gets them in a little deeper until they get mired down in their games of deceit, and eventually has them convinced that they are in the right. It's too bad because all too often it lands them in a great deal of hot water. If that doesn't happen, having someone confront them with their devious plot often provokes a heated argument. The upside of this is that the perpetrator realizes that not everyone is about to fall for their fraudulent acts.
For some reason attempts at fraud seem to happen quite frequently in a service department. Maybe it's just because of so many staggering repair orders. My good friend Kurt, who worked in a shop out in New England, told me how he was accused of ruining a customer's radio while performing a brake job (could no longer tune into his favorite radio station). My other friend, Ernie, who worked in a shop on the west coast told me that he was accused of substituting an entire engine while performing a tuneup--the police were even summoned for that one. I might add that some of those investigative programs on television, showing how fraudulent repair shops can get, tend to go viral and have everyone in the world thinking that all mechanics are crooked. The best way to counter such claims is for the service department to be accommodating and honest. But also to stick to its guns when a customer isn't willing to hold up his end of the bargain.
We met Elmer a few stories ago when he took his relatively new 3/4 ton pickup ice fishing. As a second truck, he had a one ton pickup that was probably fifteen years (or so) old at the time. It had once belonged to the power company and therefore got used a lot during its tenure there. Elmer had purchased the truck at a dispersion of surplus vehicles and was content to use the truck around the farm as a fuel truck/service truck. As such it was more subject to neglect than anything else; it didn't get all that many miles in a year so routine maintenance kind of got forgotten until something went wrong.
Springtime and a busy time of year for any farmer. Crops had to be sown in order to have a good chance of growing and maturing so that harvest could be accomplished and a living derived. Elmer was as busy as any other farmer, working long hours and trying to beat the calendar, not to mention the weather. One day he was heading to the field with the old tried and true one-ton when suddenly there was a clunk, followed by an ear-splitting screech from somewhere in the engine compartment. Seeing steam come out from under the hood, accompanied by the smell of antifreeze and Elmer pretty much knew what was wrong.
JC watched as the older truck was being towed to the shop by the newer, super clean, farm truck. It was dropped off at the shop entrance where JC helped the guys push it inside. It didn't take long to determine that the water pump bearings had seized necessitating replacement of the pump itself. The fan belts had suffered severe damage and would've been replaced anyways because they were cracked and frayed from normal use over the years. In fact, the radiator hoses, heater hoses and the thermostat were replaced because of age and if they failed, it could cause further damage. Of course JC knew Elmer well enough to know that if anything else failed he'd try to hook the shop for damages. JC also ensured that the antifreeze/coolant was replaced because it was likely the same age as the truck itself.
Well, the repairs were completed in less than half a day. Elmer was presented with a bill that he thought was completely outrageous and told JC so. Elmer also knew that he couldn't get a better job done elsewhere for that kind of money; he also knew JC well enough that attempting to argue with him would've been totally futile. He simply paid the bill and stormed out and back to the farm.
It was about three days later when JC was in his office finishing up some warranty claims when Elmer burst through the door. He held a crumpled yellow paper out to him. 'You guys wrecked my taillights and I got a damned ticket!'
JC took the ticket and examined it. Sure enough the ticket was issued the day after the truck had been in the shop. The truck had been pulled over on the road less than a mile from Elmer's farm and cited for non-functioning taillights. Fair enough but a question came to mind.
A typical truck is of the front engine/rear wheel drive variety and has been that way almost since the beginning when the tongue was pulled off a wagon and someone stuck an engine into the works. Now in Elmer's case, the engine was in front where it was supposed to be, and that's where the work was done. The taillights are way the heck and gone in the back; let's see, the bed of the truck is nine feet long; the distance from the back of the cab to the firewall is a good five feet and the engine is ahead of that. The work took place at the front of the engine--well they did replace the heater hoses, so the work actually went as far back as the firewall but that was still--fifteen feet from the taillights? The question still remained: How the hell would the work performed on the engine affect the taillights? No point in arguing, just get the truck back in the shop and find out what happened.
JC did just that. He also opted to be there himself, dismantling and checking; maybe he'd actually learn how something like the Process of Osmosis might have wrecked the taillights. He first noticed that the red plastic lens on the right hand taillight was broken and that the cavity was half filled with fine sand. He removed both lenses and blew everything out to have a closer look.
The bulb on the right side was broken, leaving a jagged shard of glass still attached to the brass base of the bulb. The socket was jammed, requiring a great deal of pushing and twisting to get the bulb free. The left side was almost as full of dirt as the right, probably due to a long failed gasket. The bulb itself wasn't in any better shape than the right except that the glass was intact. JC switched on the lights and was rewarded with two evenly matched headlight beams on the wall of the service bay. He tested the tail lamp sockets and found that there was no power. He had the mechanic step on the brakes and operate the turn signals, which resulted in no power in those contacts either.
JC laid down on a creeper and slid underneath to inspect the wiring. He was rewarded with an almost total lack of wire or harness from the bulk head on the firewall, along the frame and back to the taillight assemblies. The taillights had quit working years ago!
Of course JC confronted Elmer with that. Elmer predictably responded with a blast of profanity that would've made the average sailor blush (probably make the average teenage girl swoon but that's for another story). Suffice it to say that Elmer told JC that he was lying and was merely trying to get more money out of him. JC held his ground: 'Elmer, those lights haven't worked in years.'
'Those lights were working when I brought that truck in here for that damned, overpriced water pump!' JC kept his cool. 'Elmer, they weren't.'
'They were working the last time I checked them.' Elmer's story was (again, predictably) beginning to show some cracks.
'It was obviously a long time ago because they haven't worked for at least five years,' JC maintained.
'You calling me a liar?' That was always the final attempt from a customer trying to get something for nothing.
'Elmer--.' JC gazed at him, not in an accusing manner but just to show the customer that JC was in charge and wasn't about to cave in. The broken taillights were due to a total lack of maintenance on the part of the owner; nothing more, nothing less.
Elmer started to give in. 'Well, I guess they've got to be fixed, but I still think that something happened to them while it was in the shop.' These types never completely give in.
JC had the mechanic replace the entire rear harness and replace both sockets as well as lenses and gaskets. When they were through, the taillights worked, and so did the brake and turn signals. Even the backup lights worked.
Elmer grudgingly cut another check for the repairs then, shoulders slightly stooped, ambled out and drove his truck home.
Saturday, 6 December 2014
Anyone who is involved in public service is going to encounter all kinds of people. Happily, most of the customers encountered in the service department of a dealership are relatively easy to deal with. In many cases customers evolve to become friends who are always welcome and often bring a special atmosphere to the shop. Of course there are others who about as welcome as a turd in a swimming pool; they are their own worst enemy and tend to drag everyone down with them. Unfortunately the service department hasn't got the ability to pick and choose whose unit the work on; they have to take on each on individually. But through the years, guys like JC have few regrets as to his choice of profession. He often said that the few undesirable customers just made him appreciate the desirable ones all the more. The following posts are part of a series in the collection of customers that JC had to deal with from time to time. All too often the personalities blend with others so there might be some similarities but still there's enough uniqueness to show what place they are in.
BILLY BIG RIG
Everyone in a service department has had at least one run-in with one of these. Billy is usually someone who has been put down most of his life so he surrounds himself with expensive toys, almost always drives a large diesel 4X4 that never gets used as a 4X4. He usually is height-challenged so he has some of that Small Man Syndrome (big mouth) and has had someone install (what I would call a masculinity enhancer although there are a lot more explicit terms) a lift kit to jack his truck up at least six inches. He's got a fairly good job, or at least very good credit; he desperately needs it because the wheels, tires, lift kit and performance chips will set him back in the neighborhood of ten grand. His truck owns him; not the other way around. When he drops his truck off to be left overnight for service the following morning, he's completely adamant that his truck be put inside.
There was a time when he might have driven a Class 8 truck around the block or into a service bay at a shop where he once worked, and since then he's become a full-fledged trucker. To this he'll talk trucks with anyone who will listen (and half of those who won't) and knows a lot more about them than anyone in the service department. He doesn't think he's got any power unless he sees black smoke pouring out of those exhaust pipes faster than the stacks of a Chinese factory. He usually has some moronic label across the rear window of the cab that says: 'Hybrid Exterminator' or something to that effect. And to prove it he floors the accelerator at every green light in an attempt to obliterate the vehicles behind him by engulfing them in a cloud of black smoke.
JC once talked about one particular Billy who wanted a Jake Brake installed in his Dodge/Cummins diesel truck. JC got out some information and tried to explain the two kinds of engine brakes that were available.
Now the term Jake Brake (Jacobs Engine Brake), over the years, has been loosely attached in the trucking industry. No doubt everyone who has been near a freeway, highway interchange, or truck stop has heard them deploy; they make quite a racket and have thus been banned by most municipalities. Developed by Clessie Cummins (yes, that's him), it uses engine compression to slow the vehicle down in an attempt to preserve the wheel brakes. It was first available on the Cummins engines on large highway trucks, but was later adapted to Detroit Diesel and Caterpillar. Variations of this have been built by Cummins (itself) and Mack. For lighter applications, manufacturers have brought out exhaust brakes which essentially close or highly restrict the exhaust passage in a deceleration condition. Not as effective as the good ol' Jake but still worth it.
Back to our story: JC tried to explain what was available. However Billy wasn't interested in that Pansy stuff, he wanted the real thing; he wanted to be able to turn it on and let it blast away just like the big rigs. Long story short, JC didn't sell him an exhaust brake and Billy would spent many years vainly searching for a real live Jake Brake.
Well, Billy Big Rig, and all the variations to the theme, is here to stay. Like it or not, he's going to be stopping in at some unsuspecting service department where he'll not only request a job be done but will also instruct you on how to do it.
LOOSEY LOVE MUFFIN
Imagine a cartoon showing the man of the house scanning a bill from the repair shop. He scowls at the bottom line and says: 'Those guys down in the shop are stupid; they only charged you five dollars for a new transmission.' He hasn't seen it yet but his wife is in the bedroom getting undressed and her dress is covered with greasy hand prints. The smirk on her face tells it all: the World's Oldest Profession isn't always on a street corner late at night.
Believe it or not, in the forty plus years that JC has been involved in the service business, that has happened to him more times than he'd care to mention. Most of the time the women were sort of single; that is, living with someone. The majority of them gave the impression of Rode Hard and Put Away Wet. The singer, Jim Stafford, made the famous comparison: 'Would make a freight train take a dirt road.' JC ran into them time and again, picking up their boyfriend's/common law husband's truck then offering a way to take something off of that astronomical bill. In those cases JC just politely sent them on their way, minus their money, and fringe benefits aside, and thanked his lucky stars that he wasn't so stupid and desperate that he might've gotten a communicable disease, or a busted head. But the real shocker was yet to come.
Think of a well-respected family; active in the community, good kids. The man of the house was a decent customer and always dealt at the dealership. JC always thought of them as pillars of the community, and always gave them the respect they deserved. Now just imagine that image; that aura of strong family values getting shattered when the wife suggested that maybe they could get a sizeable discount on the work order if she offered something like a personal service to help out. It first happened to JC after he'd been in the business about five years. Of course in trying to be a gentleman, he first ignored it. When the proposition was repeated, JC just chuckled; just a friend teasing. But then, by the third time he suddenly realized that she wasn't kidding; she was downright serious!
Now JC was no prude but that was the last straw. No, if the lady wanted to jeopardize her marriage that was her problem, and she'd have to proposition someone else. JC refused to even consider it. The interesting part of all this was when he attended some update courses. He was in for quite the surprise when it was revealed that some of his colleagues actually gave in to that.
Well, Loosey, I just told the world about you, but I kept your real name a secret.
Anyone who has read the works of James Thurber knows who this character is. Very, quiet, humble, soft-spoken, polite. Never expects any miracles, and never asks for anything special. Overall, a nice guy to do business with. A typical service department isn't likely to take him for a ride because he exudes honesty; sort of akin to one of those 'Support Your Favorite Egg' ads on TV from forty years ago, where a monk says: 'Hello, I'm soft-boiled and I'm a candidate to be your favorite egg...' That's all well and good, BUT, this guy is usually married to someone like Zelda from one of my earlier posts.
His wife is capable of taking the paint off the walls without using a scraper or sandpaper. All she has to do is open her mouth. She calls him down, telling him to develop a backbone, and any other insult she can come up with.
For this post we'll Borrow a name from James Thurber; she'll be known as Ulgine. And we'll refer to Milton and Mr. Martin.
There was an incident in JC's shop where Mr. Martin brought a garden tractor in for some major work on the transmission. It was a time when, luckily, JC had someone who could get right at it. The tractor was tested, a diagnosis was made, the mechanic stripped it down, and parts were ordered. JC advised how long it would take, and Mr. Martin left, happy that he'd left the fate of his tractor in the hands of a qualified crew.
Monday morning came around and Mr. Martin phoned to inquire about the job. JC told him that they wouldn't have parts until the next morning but there was a very good chance that it would be completed on Wednesday. JC also advised him to call ahead and make sure that nothing had gone wrong.
Well, as luck would have it the parts didn't come in till Wednesday. The mechanic, knowing that the owner needed to get his machine back to work as soon as possible, went right at it and by noon, had the transmission reattached to the tractor, and had managed to test it before his lunch break. All that was needed was to put the operator's platform and seat back on, and connect the wiring. Just before lunch hour was over, Mr. Martin walked into the shop.
'Ahem, is my tractor finished?' JC told him that they still had some final reassembly to do and that the mechanic would be at it shortly. He also reminded Mr. Martin that he should've phoned ahead. Mr. Martin appeared satisfied and headed out the door. JC thought all was well and proceeded to organize the shop for the afternoon's workload. The sound of high heels on concrete told JC that things might not be all that good after all.
'Who's in charge?' a female demanded. JC turned around to see a rather attractive, fairly well-dressed woman facing him.
'Can I help you?'
'Why isn't our tractor ready? You promised us it would be ready on Wednesday!'
'We're just finishing it up, Ma'am. We'll have it out in half an hour or so.'
'You promised it on Wednesday!'
'Yes, ma'am, I did,' JC said wearily, 'today's Wednesday, and it will be ready. Now I advised your husband to phone ahead, which wasn't done. So you'll have to wait.'
'We shouldn't have to wait around no damned filthy shop!'
That one got JC's dander up. 'Ma'am, we're doing the best we can,' he said shortly then turned and headed back toward his office.
Obviously, that didn't satisfy Mrs. Ulgine. She had more to say. Don't turn your back on me when I'm talking to you..!'
JC stopped. What was wrong with this bitch anyways? Did she have to go to the bathroom that bad? He turned again. 'Ma'am, I told you that we're working on it! You'll just have to wait!'
He turned his back again but she reached out and grabbed his shoulder. JC spun around and pointed his index finger at the bridge of her nose, between her eyes. With his finger almost touching, he half-snarled. 'Ma'am, don't even think about it! Now, get yourself out of here and and wait!' He turned and headed back to the office.
Less than twenty minutes later, the job was done. JC even went out and helped load the tractor into Milton's truck. He noticed that Ulgine was sulking in the passenger's seat. No doubt Mr. Martin got many an earful on the way home.
JC felt sorry for him.
This kind of customer isn't exclusively attached to the personnel in the service department; they are found everywhere retail sales happen. One might even equate Bobby with the aforementioned Billy but Bobby is usually above average in height and somewhat on the stocky side. A bully in every sense of the word, he loves to boast about the deals he made and came out on top, smiling. One such individual showed up at JC's place of business and his attitude rang loud and clear.
The secretary/service writer noticed that his truck was fairly new and asked him about it. 'Ha!' Bobby responded in a voice that probably carried on to the next town, 'those guys in that dealership thought they had me where they wanted me but I showed 'em. I got the price of that truck down almost six-thousand bucks when they finally said they couldn't go any lower. I sort of let it go, then when I cut that check I dropped it down another thousand; told 'em that was all they were gonna get. And they fell for it--stupid bastards!'
That show of arrogance really got JC's dander up. He'd seen it time and again, always with the Bobbies of this world; they were convinced that they could bully anyone into giving in. Besides that, JC had worked for a dealership long enough to know that there wasn't a lot of mark up between cost and retail of a new vehicle--the complete opposite of what the average car-buyer thought. If it was well-optioned then the margins were higher; but JC had seen with some, especially compact cars, where the margin could be as slim as $800.00. Maybe the dealership made out OK with Bobby, but JC had his doubts.
He continued to eavesdrop as the conversation turned to other things. 'Who owns that old red Ford pickup off to the side?' He was referring to a '47 Ford pickup that JC had used as a parts truck for his current restoration project.
'I don't think it's for sale,' Bona responded, 'JC is planning to haul it home when things dry up later this spring.'
'Everything's for sale!' Bobby said confidently. 'Let me talk to him.'
Bona went back to the shop and asked JC to come up front. JC frowned and reluctantly followed her. He preferred to avoid what was about to happen but he also had to admit that he enjoyed tangling with those arrogant asses. Bona introduced JC and added that he owned the truck that Bobby was interested in. JC also noticed several others hanging around the reception area awaiting their turn to be helped.
'How much for your truck?' Bobby's question sounded more like a demand. 'It's not for sale,' JC responded evenly.
'Oh c'mon, everything's got a price!'
Not for you, buster. JC never said that aloud even though he was tempted. 'I told you it's not for sale,' he repeated himself.
Bobby pulled out his checkbook. 'What'll it be? Five-hundred, maybe six?' JC smiled grimly and stood his ground. 'Maybe after I'm dead and gone, my kids might want to sell it--.'
'Whaddya mean, after you're dead and gone? I want to take it home now; I've got plans for it.'
No doubt he had plans for it. Butcher it into something barely recognizable, with a small block Chevy engine to add further insult to injury. JC hated this guy and there was no way he was willing to sell it to anyone, especially this jack-ass. But he knew that the guy wouldn't take no for an answer. The only way out of it was to give the guy no place to go. He pulled his mouth into a tight line and leaned across the counter to glare at Bobby.
'You--haven't got enough money!' he half-snarled then slowly backed up, keeping his eyes leveled at Bobby's. Bobby was the first to turn away, his face an expression of shock and defeat. JC turned around and strode back into the shop. He could hear Bobby muttering something to Bona but couldn't make out exactly what was said. But then, JC really didn't give a rat's backside either.