Following orders

When I started as a Laborer at the railroad, I spent the first few weeks working with a senior member of the railroad. Bill had been with the company for over 30 years, and had figured out how to make his job as easy as possible. One of the policies the railroad had was to do a pre-trip inspection on any piece of equipment. Each piece of equipment had a check list that needed to be filled out every day before using it. Being caught operating machinery that did not have its daily inspection resulted in discipline. This morning we needed to use the old forklift. We headed over to the lift and pulled out the checklist. Bill read out “Seatbelt?” I replied “Check!”. “Tires?”, “Check!”. “Oil?”,”Check!”. Coolant?”,”Um, it’s low.”.


Well, we can’t run the forklift with low coolant, but that’s easy to fix, right? Just add water. Well, this is where it got interesting.  A normal person would just drive it over to the hose, and top off the radiator. However, the railroad is not a normal place. Bill wandered over to the trash can and pulled out a used paper coffee cup, one of the small 8oz paper cups. He then meandered over to the water spigot, filled the cup, and sauntered back to the forklift, about 100’ from the faucet, and poured it in the radiator. He then handed the cup to me, “Here, you do this, I am going to go get a coffee from the break room”, and he shuffled off.

Well, I was the new guy, and he was my trainer, so, I took the cup back to the spigot, filled it up, walked back to the forklift, and dumped it in. Huh, this was going to take a while. Good thing I am being paid hourly. A few more trips, and I still couldn’t see the water level. On my way past a different trash barrel, I saw a 16 oz coffee cup. Bonus!! I quickly grabbed that one, and immediately doubled my productivity. Finally, about 15 minutes and about 2 gallons of water later, it was almost full.

Right on schedule, there was Bill on his way back with his coffee, moving slowly so as not to spill his drink. When he got there, I told him that I thought that was about the dumbest thing I had ever done. He just smiled at me. “You can’t start the forklift until the checklist passes. You don’t want to get in trouble.” I wish I could say that this was some sort of initiation for the rookie, but this is the way Bill did his job daily. Oh well.

The forklift now running, we set off to do our similarly redundant task of filling a tote with lube oil from tank A in the shop, which was full, and taking it out to the tank B in the yard, which was empty. When both tanks were empty, they would get another delivery of oil, but only to tank A, and the process would repeat. Sometimes we moved too much and tank A would become empty before tank B, and we would pump oil from tank B, and bring it in to tank A.