Monday, August 29, 2016
Early on, I had tried to talk them into creating a Reno branch office. Just because it would be fun to see all the people I knew once again. They almost did. We talked with guy who said he could run it for us and we even did a small job over there. It made no money and I never saw any of my old friends. I didn't have time.
Of course there were lots of flights to Kansas City where our corporate offices were in Lenexa KS and small group, Strategic Development, offices were in Shawnee Mission KS.
I could write about Tennessee because we had two branch offices there and I was able to make some interesting side trips from each of them
Monday, August 15, 2016
The L.A. branch had become very successful. Great estimators had been 'stolen' from various contractors and since PCI was an attractive place to work, they had stayed and made a lot of money for the company.
The branch manager, chief estimator and one of the better estimators made a pitch to open a branch of the L.A. office in Las Vegas. There was supposed to be a lot of work there and that idea was approved. I was soon on an airplane headed to Las Vegas; the first time since my last trip there when I worked for Solari. When the plane landed and I made my way through the airport, I saw that not much had changed in the dozen intervening years.
The new branch manager was a great guy and he had thoughtfully booked a room for me at the Rio Casino Hotel. That really wasn't my style but I gave it a try. I parked my own car (no valet) and made my way across the casino floor, dragging my suitcase with me. (check-in is in the center of the casino) Crowds are always a problem for me, as well as seeing all the drinking. I'm an alcoholic and though not tempted, I still didn't enjoy seeing so much alcohol being consumed.
Enough of that, I already knew that I would be making my own reservations from now on. On to the office! It was a small one in a commercial area just east of the airport and maybe a few hundred feet north of the glide path of all the air traffic coming into Las Vegas. It's not really a glide path as they have to use power to make it onto the runway properly. Noisy power. And then I found that most of the estimators were unhappy about any kind of training and resisted it any way they could. They would have to go to a client's office for some reason, or they had a bad cold, or whatever they could think of.
I was able to get in some training time with a few of the estimators. The rest would have to wait till I returned. I had a corporate mandate to train them all! This news did not make them happy. I had a nice talk with one these holdouts and I explained my position. It was understood and we started to become friendly with each other. Except for one...I never saw his face. He had skillfully made his way in and out of the office each day without me seeing him. He was an English Quantity Surveyor and it appeared that he wanted no part of our estimating system.
I would return to this office many times over the next few years. And I found a nice hotel in a neighboring town that was close to the office and had no traffic to contend with. The office soon became a permanent Branch office and they moved a few more times as they grew in size. They remained close to that flight path though. And then there was a scandal of some kind that removed the branch manager. I was getting close to retirement at the time and never found out if they kept the branch open. I hope they did.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
I started reviewing the drawings while making plans to move an office trailer on-site. I also connected with my ex-partner and asked him if he would be interested in being the jobsite superintendent. He accepted the offer and that was a big hurdle out of the way. I flew down to Los Angeles then to meet with him and to talk to an old friend and see if she was interested in being our on-site secretary. She agreed and it looked like things were going well. I had met with the union and everything was agreeable with them. They were pleased to see me and that was half the battle. I met with the general contractor and watched as the new office trailer was put into place and the phone lines connected.
I was quite pleased with our progress and that was when my boss dropped the bombshell on me. Stop everything. Fire the help I had just hired and come back to Roseville. He had found a couple of Los Angeles locals that had convinced him that they could handle the job better since 'they knew everyone' in the area. Of course I was disgusted by this move on his part and now I knew better than to ever believe anything he said. I gave the new guys the keys and the plans and got on an airplane going north.
Some years pass and the los Angeles branch office outgrows its construction trailer and they have a real building and are becoming very successful. The only reason I'm happy with that outcome is the fact our stock grows more valuable when we have profitable branches. Of course I feel that I could have done as well but I never had the chance.
Once I became an instructor I tried to put all of that in the past and now I would fly to Los Angeles, actually Ontario, to train the estimators to use our software. We had nice office in Anaheim Hills and most of the estimators there were eager to learn. I tried to avoid meeting with the two men that had taken over the hospital job. They were now the Branch manager and the chief estimator and were not interested in learning about the software. Better for me.
This branch became larger and larger and very successful. This meant that I was flying to Ontario every few weeks. My old friend, the CFO that had steered me into the world of computers and spreadsheets, had his office in the same building and seeing him made the trips more enjoyable.
He wasn't going to be able to stay in Anaheim much longer as the pressure was on him to relocate to Lenexa, Kansas, the new site of our corporate offices. They had been in Charlotte. NC. but it made more business sense to locate in the center of the country. At that time I didn't realize that I was going to be spending a lot of time in Lenexa as well. You have read about that in previous posts.
Las Vegas is the next story....
But, if you wish to start at the beginning of this whole saga, follow this link Now scroll down to the bottom of this page and you will find the very first post...11 years ago
I don't believe I mentioned anything about the Spokane office. A friend of mine, Terry, was the branch manager; having been an estimator at our Roseville office as well as being one of the wranglers on the annual De Anza trail ride. He had also been working for me back when I was working for Solari in Reno. We had a good history. His brother, Bill, was the same man that had invited me to join the wranglers and we had met while working together at Saint Mary's in Reno. Bill was now the warehouse manager of the Spokane office.
I landed at the Spokane airport after taking a flight to Portland and then taking a connecting flight. That's not my favorite way to fly as it's a good way to lose luggage but there were no direct flights. I secured a rental car and made the long trip into town. The office was in an industrial area east of downtown Spokane and hard to find. But I did and we had a small reunion before settling down to the task of showing some stubborn people how to use a computer and our estimating system. I was there for a week and after the first day I told Terry that it would require that week to train just one person. I would have to schedule another trip for the the other training required.
And so it went; I would fly to Spokane at least 4 times each year which gave me a chance to experience a lot of the scenery and a lot of the weather. Spokane is very close to Coeur d'Alene Idaho and a trip to the lake there, if you had free time, was great. In fact, all the scenery in the valley was great. And then there was winter. The airport sits on land quite a bit higher than Spokane and there is a long, curved and steep drive to negotiate. Easy driving during the summer but very nerve wracking during a winter storm.
During one winter trip, Terry invited me to watch a hockey game. It was a semi pro team and a nice arena. It was very cold when we drove into the parking lot, probably close to 0 degrees. It was very exciting game, especially so when a flying puck made it over the glass and hit a concrete beam above me, ricocheting down onto my thigh. Ouch! That left a bruise. When the game was over, Terry took us down a stairway shortcut and we opened the door and suddenly it was like getting hit in the chest with a sledge hammer...-28 degrees. I've never experienced cold like that. -10 was as cold as I had ever been. I was glad to see the heater on in my hotel room...
Another Spokane memory. I had worked on IT projects off and on during this time in my career and Mike called me and said as long as I was in Spokane, would I mind working the weekend to install a new network system in the offices? I certainly would enjoy that; it was something different for a change. On Friday, instead of getting on a plane, I went to work moving computers and helping the IT crew with whatever was needed. We worked long hours on Friday and Saturday and by early Sunday morning we were through. Ron, the 'boss' said we ought to go over to Coeur d'Alene and look around. The 3 other members of the crew had never seen this part of the country and they were quite happy to be making a road trip.
When we got to the lake, Ron noticed that there was a float plane that offered flights over the lake and the surrounding mountains. Ron decided he was going to call Mike and 'tell' him that as a bonus for getting the job done over the weekend, Mike should pay for a floatplane tour for us. Mike agreed and then we found that just 4 out of our party of 6 was brave enough for the trip. It was an older plane with a big rotary engine and I was going! I had never been in a floatplane before and I had a front seat as we took off. It was so smooth! Then the pilot got us to altitude and circled the lake as he described in detail what we were seeing. The first thing we noticed were the large number of logs floating on the surface. He said they still logged where they just had to toss the logs into a river and the logs floated down to the lake. They were then gathered up and made into rafts and floated to to the mill. The flying was fun and then there was the suspense of the landing on water. It was smoother than the takeoff.
After that we decided to drive into Montana, a short trip, just to say we had been there. All in all, it made for a great weekend.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Slightly off the subject; I flew to this first meeting using Delta Airlines. I had never been to Atlanta Hartsfield airport before and when I got off of the plane I headed downstairs with all of the rest of the passengers. Once there, I saw that that there was a crowd getting on to an electric 'train' and they appeared to be going to Baggage Claim. I don't like crowds so I elected to walk. Bad decision. I had no idea as to the size of this airport and after walking for 15 minutes and seemingly getting nowhere, I decided to get on the next 'train'. It was a 5 minute train ride on a fast train so I knew I could have spent another 30 minutes getting there by foot.
On all of my subsequent trips to this airport (and there were far too many of them) I used United Airlines. It so happened that United had only two gates at this airport. After all, this was Delta Airlines headquarters and biggest hub and so they commanded all of the gate space. But... United's gate was just a few hundred feet away from the check-in counter; almost hidden No train and very little walking. Plus, it was very quiet back in the United Airlines corner.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Thursday, February 12, 2015
I didn't spend a lot of time at this branch office. It was located in an industrial park in South San Francisco and 90% of their business was in Acoustical Ceiling systems. This was also a very profitable office and they weren't interested in learning anything new unless the time they spent on learning would translate to $$$$. Since I couldn't guarantee that, I had few takers when it came to signing them up for a class on a new estimating system.
This branch did have two satellite offices; one in The City itself and one in San Jose at the new Intel fab. I enjoyed visiting the two estimators at the City office as it was located in the Market District. That's always a great place to visit and to eat...but the parking is ridiculous! There isn't any. So I would have to rent a room at a close by hotel that would park my car and then spend the afternoon with the two estimators. Then a fine meal and a nice night in the hotel. I would spend a few more hours with them the next day and then back to the hotel to checkout and leave the City before the traffic became horrendous. (no later than 1 PM!)
The office in San Jose was located on the job site at the new Intel plant. It was a trailer. Okay, it was nice trailer and was located amongst a dozen other trailers that were linked by raised wooden walkways. All the contractors involved in the building of this mid sized 'Fab' or cleanroom were based in the trailers. This was another busy office that rarely had time for me and so I didn't spend much time there.
Then things changed...someone forgot to renew the lease on the S. San Francisco office and they were told to leave...and do it in 30 days. The race began to find a place and to build it out with walls for offices and all the other things you need; such as telephones and comm lines and move the computers and paint the wall and lay the carpet, etc, etc. They found a place but it was no longer in San Francisco. It was very close to San Jose. I did spend some time here as the branch manager was receptive to training for all.
Note; whenever I was visiting a branch office I would try and find an empty or unused office space to call my own while I was there. Hopefully, it would have a a telephone and a 'net' connection. At this new office I had half a dozen to choose from as they had built it out for any future expansion.
Then the Intel plant was almost complete and it was decided amongst the higher ups to create a new branch office for the area and an office was secured and built out, about a mile away from the Intel plant. I spent some time here; more than I wanted to. But, it was my job. The hotels overcharged and so did the restaurants. Hotel 6 charged $135 a night and I wouldn't stay in a Hotel 6.
Friday, September 05, 2014
That short conversation brought up some memories of days past. I think I have told most of my important? tales right here in this blog...but maybe not. I certainly hope I'm not repeating myself. If I am, so what? Get over it.
When we were building the Circus Circus, every floor of the hotel was the same until we got near the top. The last two floors were destined to be suites; extremely nice rooms for big gamblers. They are called 'Whales'. Not physically big gamblers but gamblers with big wallets and a desire to empty those wallets in the hopes that they will win a lot of money. They never do. All casinos do their best to attract 'Whales' and the Circus Circus was going to do it as well. By the way, the rooms are always free.
Along with those grand suites, we were going to build an owners suite. This suite was unusual because it was a two story suite with it's own grand staircase and an Italian marble tub. With gold plated fixtures. Everything in the suite was fantastic and we did a better than usual job on it's construction. A note; the marble tub had been sitting on the floor for over a month as they had craned it up and dropped it in before the roof steel was put in place. It was thickly wrapped and covered in plywood to protect it until it was time to install it.
I sometimes wonder if the suite is still there or did they put a floor over the giant living room and put in more rooms. I wouldn't be surprised if they did.
(The suite was for the use of the owners, William Bennett and Bill Pennington.)
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Finally, I saw that I could not continue doing this if I wanted to keep my sanity. I declared that I wanted to retire. Laurae and I talked about it first and looked at our resources. Then I went to my boss and told him of my plans. I would retire at the end of the year, 2004. He said he was sorry to see me go but that he understood.
Before that date arrived, we had a group meeting held in Las Vegas with our wives included. That time turned into a retirement party for me and was much appreciated. Then there was one more trip to Kansas City for the annual Christmas party, where I spent some time saying goodbye to my fellow workers. A flight home and I was retired.
It was a pretty good run for a guy who started washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant. I followed that with liquor delivery boy and gas station attendant. Then it was the Navy followed by a job driving a forklift in a warehouse. Lucky me; a neighbor asked me to become a carpenter apprentice in the newly created drywall trade. He also wanted to teach me to be an estimator. I accepted. What a break! I was soon a foreman; even while still an apprentice. I worked piecework jobs where I learned to be fast and commercial construction where I learned to be clever. Commercial drywall and steel framing was just beginning and I was on the ground floor of a great opportunity. Through the years I became a foreman, superintendent, project manager, estimator and even a contractor. After leaving Nevada and beginning a new career with PCI, I was 'lucky' enough to be there for the introduction of technology into construction. I became the local 'go to guy' if you had computer problems. I was noticed and soon I was instructing others on how to use their computers. I got to work on software development and programming. I was moved to the Strategic Development department where creative thinking was encouraged. And then came the grind of flying, hotel rooms and recalcitrant students. It was over.
After all of that, I can say that my happiest days were the ones where I was working with my tools. Where every day I created something. I left a little part of myself in every building I worked on. Those were wonderful days!
this link will take you to the beginning of this chronicle.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
They had not been exposed to the level of technology that PCI offered and not all were comfortable with having a PC on their desk. I was sent to show their estimators how to use our software. Lo and behold; they had a woman as an estimator! And what a gem she was. Smarter than most estimators I knew and eager to learn something new.
Their estimating style was different from almost anything I had seen before and I had to convince Jean that she could translate that style into our program. We couldn't change the program for just one branch office but I could show them how to input data in such a way that it would make them comfortable with the program.
I probably made a dozen trips to this office as I had to train just about everyone in the office. And it was here, one morning in September of 2001 that we heard the news of airplanes striking the twin towers. We didn't believe it at first. It couldn't happen! A few minutes later, after hearing of the attack on the Pentagon we did believe and lessons were over. I took my laptop out to my rental car and drove back to the hotel. I spent the rest of the day watching television. Then I heard that all air traffic had been halted indefinitely. I had a ticket to return to Sacramento on Friday and it was now useless. But I had a rental car. I had talked to some other PCI employees and they told me stories of how PCI employees that had been caught, as I was, away from home, had rented cars and were driving. I started thinking about it...I called our travel office at corporate headquarters and they told me that they had already negotiated with Avis and I was to keep my car and use it to drive home. Halfway across the country.
I think it was Friday morning when I set off, pulling onto I-70 and heading west. First stop was Lawrence Kansas where I had breakfast. On the road again. I wanted to make Denver by nightfall. After seeing a whole lot of prairie I approached the turnoff to the Denver Airport. I looked up in the sky and there wasn't a plane in sight. And this airport is normally one of the busiest in the country. I also noted that while I was driving, the traffic was very light and the cars that I did see were rentals like mine. When you rent cars often, as I did, you learn that they have a certain look, plus a small decal on the rear window. As it turned out I was able to drive right through Denver while it was still light and cross the Rockies through the Eisenhower tunnel. I stopped at Eagle Colorado and parked at a motel that was filled with travelers like myself. The parking lot was filled with rental cars. I got one of the last rooms. After 13 hours of driving I was exhausted.
I was up early the next day and continued west, down the canyon on I-70. In the early morning light I could see what a magnificent highway this was. The scenery was out of this world! And then I was in Utah...
There's little to see in Utah. Yes, the Great Salt Lake was interesting but after that it was all desert, all the way to Winnemucca. I had originally planned on staying in Winnemucca for the night but there was still plenty of daylight and so I continued on , planning to stop in Reno for the night. Well, I got to Reno in the dark but I knew that home was only another 90 minutes or so across Donner Pass. I pressed on. And after 18 hours of driving, I pulled into our driveway. After 9/11, this was where I wanted to be.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
I was going to write something about some of the branch offices that I visited and I might as well start with one in New Mexico. Intel (and PCI) had built a Super Fab, or 'chip foundry' in Rio Rancho, just 20 minutes north of Albuquerque; right in the shadow the towering Sandia Crest.
After the 'fab' was complete and in full production it was decided that we might as well leave the people who were in charge of the construction, right there, in the desert. They found an office complex nearby and began to build a business. Their main customer was Intel, of course. Intel was constantly swapping out machinery within the fab and we were the people to do that work. And since technology attracts technology, other electronic companies were buying and building.
They hadn't been in their new office more than a month when I was called to visit them and help setup their labor control and estimating. I made my plans...
I was somewhat familiar with New Mexico, having been to Albuquerque and Santa Fe in the past. Rio Rancho, however, was very different. Before Intel moved in, Rio Rancho was a sleepy little town far off the main highway. But now, there was building going on everywhere. In the desert of course. You cannot escape the fact that you are in the high (5;282') desert. Step outside the city limits and you are in the territory of the early pioneers that moved through this valley.
I wish I could report that my training was a success, but it wasn't. I would start a training session and half way through, the estimator would get a phone call and he would have to go out to Intel and handle some problem. We would try again the next day and usually with the same results. At the end of the week I would have to make an appointment to return and do the same thing all over again. I think I went there five times and each trip resulted in the same scenario...but, on the plus side, I got to eat at some great restaurants!
Next time, I will write about a classy branch office.
Monday, September 16, 2013
As noted, I now worked for Strategic Development and I was a "Senior" Instructor. Well, I was definitely a senior. I was looking at 60 and wondering what retirement might look like. Attractive, I believed. But in the meantime I had to take my instructor role on the road and so I was off to tour the country.
First I moved my office to home. I had permission from Gordon but it really irritated my former boss and he lobbied hard to get me back into the same building that he was in. There was some high level push and pull all because the ex boss would get a small allotment of budget money from Strategic Development if I was sitting in his building. Eventually I was given a desk in the Cold Storage offices and then allowed to work from home. Problem solved.
Not that I needed a real office. I was usually in the air, flying to Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, New Mexico, Kansas, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Orlando, Austin, Dallas and other odd places, just to teach estimators the in's and out's of our estimating system. And when I wasn't teaching, I was supposed to be looking for new developments in the world of computers that might be of some benefit to PCG.
One of those developments was a search engine that I had found a few years back; back when I was still an estimator and that was Google. I had been hooked by it's clean look and simple but efficient operation. I showed it to the team and they weren't interested. They preferred Yahoo. Then I found Skype and demoed it for them. No sale.
I was beginning to wonder about Strategic Development. But as a group, they were still great. Every quarter we would meet in Shawnee Mission KS, our home office, and we would spend 3 or more days getting re-acquainted and developing plans for the next quarter. Part of our plans would always include a "Proformers University". We would rent most of the space and rooms in a large hotel in Lenexa. One of the rooms looked just like a theater with with seating and desk space at each row. Here we would go through a full training in the PCG way of doing things. It was all very exciting during the first few times. But it become a real bore after the 10th time. I could guarantee that I knew what each speaker was going to say long before he said it.
These events occurred 2 or 3 times a year and I would have to spend the week in Kansas, listening to the lectures and then taking the estimators out to dinner on the final evening; graduation. For an introvert with Asperger's, this part was hell!
Most estimators, project managers and branch managers are full blown extroverts and they always wanted to party on that last night in town. And as our department was in charge, we had to provide the party.
Now I do have to say that I got to eat in some fantastic restaurants during my time in this department and the Kansas City area is filled with some of the best restaurants. And I do have wonderful memories of the meals. But I would have preferred to have dined with a much smaller group; say one or two. I remember that we always ate at Plaza lll Steak House for the graduation ceremony. We always had a private room and we filled it. With loud, boisterous men all talking at once. More hell for me.
Is this supposed to be about eating or working? Now that I think about it, my job was to travel and eat. I was supposed to take the branch managers and staff out to dinners and lunches. And I did. In between the eating I was supposed to spend time training or working on the development of new software. I also taught the secretaries whenever I could as most had never been given any instructions on how to use Outlook.
Of course I have wonderful memories of most of the branch offices that I visited...some not so much. Perhaps I should start writing about each of the branches that I visited. Good idea. I'll start tomorrow. Or soon.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
I met my 'Boss', Gordon, and was delighted to learn that he was brilliant! He really was. He was a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon and was a Nuclear Physicist. Why Nuclear? Because one of our branches within PCG was involved in making product for the nuclear energy industry. Right away I began to enjoy myself. He was such an interesting guy to talk to and he loved to talk...absolutely loved talking.
Now that I was part of PCG, the parent company of PCI, I had a new headquarters to report to and it was in Lenexa, Kansas while Strategic Development worked out of a small corner of a PCG insulation plant in Bonner Springs.
Now I became a frequent flyer as I had to go to meetings in Lenexa, Bonner Springs and to a dozen or more branch offices. Plus the usual meetings at some resort or another. I wasn't a golfer but I still had to go to these functions and be seen.
I joined all the 'Frequent Flyer' clubs and began to rack up miles on Alaska, Southwest, United and Air West. Airports became far too familiar to me while I learned to finagle upgrades on flights and car rentals. It was actually fun at first. The fun ended after 9/11...
Friday, October 28, 2011
I was in the cleanroom estimating business now and after NEC we had many opportunities to bid cleanroom development projects for other chip manufacturers. Intel was the prime mover in this business and pretty soon other PCI branches were in the hunt for this work as well. Once that happened, my involvement slowed to a trickle and I would only help out on a few bidding projects each year. Even so, I tried to stay connected to the business as much as possible as I knew that this was the future for the company...the immediate future. As in all things, change happens and the Sacramento branch office wasn't looking at any new cleanroom work after the NEC project. Most of the work had moved to places like Arizona (Motorola and Intel) and New Mexico. (Intel) Massachusetts. (Intel) I even helped to put together an estimate for a Super Fab in Taiwan. We didn't get the job.
As I said earlier, things change and I was offered a position of Senior Instructor with the newly created Strategic Development Department within the company.
Now things got interesting...
Monday, March 30, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
Estimating, (or Quantity Surveying if you were in Great Britain) was soon my life and I loved it. I had an office and a computer and I could take a set of drawings in to my office and close the door. Then I could take the plans apart, not physically, but within my head. Like most estimators, I was able to visualize the completed project and just about everything in labor and material it would take to get to that finished state. I was in my own little world and until I was finished, the door would remain closed.
But, back to the computer…sure I was given one, an IBM clone. But I wasn't given any instructions. I was going to have to figure it out by myself. And after a few frustrating weeks, I decided that there was no way that I could learn at work; too many interruptions. I was going to have to learn at home, so we decided to buy a computer. We convinced ourselves that we could learn to use it together for personal purposes as well as for business.
I went shopping and ended up buying an Epson Equity II with a 40 MB hard drive and 12 MB of RAM. With Turbo! It was top of the line and it cost us $2,500 (20 years ago). Long story short; it did help us, though it was painful at times.
And back at work, I could now begin to navigate through the programs that had been installed on my pc. Programs like Symphony, which contained a program called Lotus 1-2-3. And Pro-Write, a simple word processor. I didn't care for the Symphony word processor. At home I would read about spreadsheets and then practice. Later, at work, I would try out my new knowledge.
As luck would have it, I was the only one of the four estimators that wanted to use a computer. In their offices, the computers were silent and the screens were dark. I would get no help from those Neanderthals. I would go to our secretarial staff and ask them the tough questions. And I learned a lot. Probably too much as I was soon the resident 'geek' and if anything went wrong with a computer, I was the first one called to solve the problem. I quickly learned that 'reboot' solved 75% of those problems while checking the power supply would solve another 20%. For the remaining problems, we would call our West Coast Comptroller in Anaheim, a corporate 'geek' and the one that was pushing the use of computers everywhere. Pretty soon he noticed that he was getting very few calls from the Sacramento office and he figured out that I was the reason for that. We became friends. I think he enjoyed talking about computers to someone who knew what he was talking about.
That friendship became a lasting one, and it changed my career in ways I couldn't even imagine at that time..
Monday, February 23, 2009
Life at PCI was good and a couple of years went by uneventfully. We had lots of work and most of the projects were profitable and bonuses were distributed. Other branch offices in the PCI empire were noticing our success and thinking about starting their own drywall business.
In our third year, I was given the opportunity to become an estimator and let someone else take over the role of superintendent. I would be in the office almost all of the time and I wasn't sure if that was going to be much fun. I had always enjoyed the field work and the freedom that went with it, but to get ahead in the corporation, the estimators position had to be taken and so I agreed; putting my boots in the closet and buying some slacks.
Now, I had been an estimator many years ago, and then off and on during my career I had been asked to estimate small jobs. So I knew what I had to do and even looked forward to it. Because…it's an incredibly exciting thing to do on the day that a job is actually bid. You may have immersed yourself quietly within the plans and specifications for weeks and weeks, the door to your office was closed and locked, but on bid day, it's show time!
The day starts with an early meeting; the branch manager, the head estimator and yourself. You have to come up with 'the number', that's the starting bid price and then you have to decide how low you can go from that number. And still be able to justify it to the bookkeepers if you should succeed and actually secure a job. That's called your 'walk away number' and it's subject to change as the day progresses and your greed increases.
Now you may think that construction bidding is simple; estimate the amount of material and hours needed and price it. Add up the overhead costs and include that number. Now throw in the number of dollars you want make as profit. Take the grand total and tell the customers what your bid is. Go back to your office and open a new set of plans. Wait for someone to call and tell you the results. Wrong.
To begin with, as a subcontractor, we had to bid to a number of general contractors; sometimes as many as a dozen or more. And strangely enough, our bid price would vary, depending upon our business relationship with each of the contractors. Our 'friends' would get a better number than our 'enemies'. And determining who was our friend, or not…took a lot of phone calls as we tried to see who would work with us and keep us informed as to the current bid prices. Most bids were due at 2 PM and so we would wait until 1:50 or later before we gave anyone our price. Others were playing the same game and you had to keep your price protected from prying eyes and ears for as long as possible. Although, we and others, would sometimes put out an early and false number, just to see if we could identify which contractors were going to be our enemies that day. Devious!
During those last ten minutes, the tension was incredible! We would be revising numbers every minute as we heard little scraps of information on prices. Then, with a minute or less to go, everyone was assigned a few numbers to call – even the secretaries and the warehouse guy – and get our final, final number in to all of the contractors before 2 PM.
Was it over? No. Now we had to meet once again and, somehow, justify that amazingly low number we came up with at the last minute. All the while, hoping that someone, other than yourself (please!) made a mistake and you were a close but honorable second place. The results might not be known for an hour or so, even days, so the tension wasn't over. And when it was…you never wanted to be in first place by double digit percentage points. Might as well go shoot yourself!
Friday, February 13, 2009
The first year at my new job, I was as busy as I had ever been. We were securing work all over town and I was busy hiring and buying supplies for all of the new employees, plus the work of making sure that the projects were being run efficiently and at a profit. Once a week we had a mandatory meeting in the office with all of the estimators and superintendents to go over a document known as the 'CIP', Contracts in Progress. This document tracked every job for hours worked and material purchased against the amount we had billed the customer and how close we were to completion. In detail. The CIP also projected the amount of money we would make or lose on a project, based on the current numbers. Ouch! You couldn't say, 'it looks like it's going to be a good job', even when you knew it would be. The bookkeepers treated the CIP as Holy Writ and didn't accept guesses, even educated ones.
As branch office, we had to contribute to the corporate coffers in Kansas on a weekly basis and so it was critical to know where each job stood. It took me awhile, but I eventually learned that the bean counters were not interested so much in whether or not a job was profitable; they just wanted the right number to put in the books.
And it was during this first that I became aware of just how large a company PCI was. We were all union and 100% employee owned. We were the largest single contractor to be signatory to the Carpenters Union. And we were the 6th most profitable specialty contractor in the U.S. at that time. We had a dozen or more branch offices and plans for more. It was kind of exciting!
But…back to work. At the end of the year I think we had close to 60 employees after starting with 5. And we were planning our first ever employee picnic. After all of my years in construction, this was the first time I had ever seen a company rewarding all of its employees.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
When I reflected on my transition from one failing company to a new and promising company, I was awed by how easy it was. I lost one day of work that year. And I was going to be very busy for the foreseeable future!
When I started with PCI in Sacramento, we had half a dozen projects on the books but none were ready to start; a good thing, as I had to find a crew and buy all of the equipment we would need as a new division within this branch office. So I went shopping.
To be more accurate, the shopping came to me. The word around town was that a new drywall company was starting up and pretty soon, every supplier in the region was calling to take me to lunch, breakfast, coffee. Business cards were piling up on my desk and each salesman was determined to be my new best friend.
And with the help of these new 'friends', the new equipment and material was soon flooding our warehouse, much to the dismay of my fellow superintendents.
This branch office of PCI had been a small but very successful acoustical ceiling and flooring contractor in the region and now I was the newcomer and threatening the order of things. I needed warehouse space and lots of it. I needed more carpenters, lathers, laborers, hod carriers and plasterers. All of this didn't make for good feelings among the current employees and the resentment was soon evident.
It took awhile, but after some 'feel good' speeches by visiting VP's, the mood changed as it was evident that this new department in their midst was going to stay. That and the fact that everyone's bonus depended on our mutual success.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
On the appointed day, I showed up early and the new boss was just driving up. OK, I made some points right away. Then he walked me around the office and out into the warehouse, introducing me to everyone as the new Drywall Superintendent. After that he showed me to my newly built office and gave me the keys to a truck. Then we went into his office and he gave me the rundown on the corporation I had just joined…or would join just as soon as I filled out the many lengthy forms he handed me. Performance Contracting, Inc. was a nationwide contracting company; all union employees and employee owned. It was also nation's largest specialty subcontractor, with offices in almost all major cities… except in the southeast. (This would change later when PCI bought a large southern contracting firm) Historically, PCI had been the contracting division of Owens-Corning Fiberglas and had been divested by that corporation because of federal trade regulations. A group of employees had raised the money to buy the small division and the rest was history.
Although the branch where I had been hired was part of large corporation, we were always a profit center on our own. We had to justify our existence with every job. And as I soon found out, corporate bean counters were quite efficient at putting a project under the microscope to see where the money was going.
After the tour and the talk, I went to a couple of existing projects where we were doing acoustical ceiling work and learned a little about how PCI ran their jobs. OK, I was ready.
That night I called home and described my day to Laurae and tried to convey the excitement I felt. These people were professionals and they had great benefits to offer. I explained that there was a pension as well as a 401(k). Profit sharing and medical/dental insurance. A vehicle to drive with all expenses paid. Plus something called Max Stretch bonuses!
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
With Las Vegas and McCarran Airport behind me, it was time for a new project; something with a challenge. And sure enough, I found it; the Washoe County Jail.
The company I worked for, C. Solari and Sons, had secured the contract on the new jail facility just up the hill and north of downtown Reno. The project consisted of the administration building and the jail itself, with 8 'pods' or housing units. The majority of the work was synthetic plaster over concrete blocks and there were acres of walls to finish!
My trade background was that of a drywall carpenter and framer, but I knew quite a bit about synthetic plaster and I was going to be the project manager, so I didn't really have to know a lot about the application; I was going to be busy enough with scheduling and progress meetings. This was a government project, so it was going to have inadequate plans, obsolete specifications and the schedule would be faulty. My job? Protect us from the owner!
And what fun that was… every day was spent generating dozens of RFI's (Request for information) for the architect/owner and then responding to the inadequate answers from the day before. That summed up my workday.
But, during this time, I was hearing rumors that the company I worked for was in financial trouble; big trouble. So I started asking some of the executives about it and learned that, yes, bankruptcy was coming…but I shouldn't worry! The plan was to allow the general contractor to take over the payroll and pay all of us through the completion of the project. But, since bankruptcy was still a little ways off, I was to continue my adversarial role as project manager. That was weird! I would gather my paycheck from the contractor's office and then hand him my latest request for change orders. With a smile!
As expected, the project dragged on and on, fall became winter and then it was spring before we started on the administration building. And it was here that I got lucky. I was walking through the work site when I heard my name called. Looking up, I saw a carpenter that I had once hired while I was doing a project in Sacramento. We talked for awhile and then he told me that the company he was working for, Performance Contracting, was starting up a new drywall/plaster and fireproofing branch office in Sacramento and would I be interested in applying for the job of superintendent? Apparently they already had some work signed up and were ready to start, but had no superintendent. OK! I got the phone number and names and came home with some good news for a change.
I did call and I went down to Sacramento for an interview. It went well, or so I thought, but they told me that they would call me with a decision within a few weeks. I was depressed.
But, as we were sitting down to dinner that same night, the phone rang and I heard the good news. I had been hired and would start within a week!
It was time to say goodbye. I had spent 11 years working in the Truckee Meadows and I had enjoyed some great times… but it was time for a change.
Here's a Google Earth view of the jail...the admin building is the triangular section at the lower center. In between the pods you can see the steel framework that holds up a security mesh over the exercise yards.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Back to the stories from the McCarran Airport project…
The two or three week job I had come to Las Vegas for was turning out to be a much bigger project than anticipated and my boss and I decided that it made sense for me to stay for as long as it took to get the project back on schedule.
And every day was a challenge as we had to fight the bureaucracy from Bechtel in everything we did. Plus, we had the additional challenge of working a major remodel project in a 'live' airport. Nothing could be done that might slow down the operation of the airport. We had to work around and over the passengers that filled the terminals.
The portion of the terminal that I remember best was called the South Terminal. If you have ever been to this airport, it's the terminal that holds Southwest Airlines. We had to construct a new ceiling and soffit system at a height of about 24 feet and from the south windows all of the way to the middle of the terminal. All of this would be done while never inconveniencing a passenger in any way.
We had half a dozen rolling scaffolds built so that the bracing was at a height that would allow for people to walk under them if needed. And we moved them very slowly and carefully; not wanting to drop anything of course.
The days went by and the work progressed as planned. First; the framers would use the scaffolds and build the metal framework for the lath that would be attached. After the lath was on, the plasterers took over the scaffold to apply a 1-coat 'veneer' plaster. This plaster was used because it saved so much time over the normal 3-coat system. With the plasterers out of the way, the painters took to the scaffolds and finished up.
All was going well until we got to the center of the terminal. It's at this point that the ceiling changes and ascends to an existing structure far above. To make this transition, the architect had designed ¼ radius barrel shapes to gain the height needed. These were simply called 'clouds'. An apt name as the support for them was somewhere far above us. Support wires from a previous ceiling still hung from a height of about 70 feet. It was impossible to verify their exact anchorage so we submitted a question to Bechtel; could we use those existing wires? After a few weeks, the answer came back that, yes, we should use them. And we did.
All went well and the framing and lath were soon in place. Then it was time for the plasterers to do their job. I was standing on the pedestrian bridge that takes passengers from ticketing to the East Terminal and separates the North and South terminals. From here, I could watch the plasterers just below me.
Suddenly the plasterers began to yell and scramble towards the end of the scaffold. I heard some very loud 'popping' noises and I watched as the 'cloud' crashed down onto the scaffold. Passengers, who had been under the scaffold were running for cover.
The wires we had depended on had failed. Luckily, the scaffolding held the enormous load of metal, lath and plaster that had descended on it. Even so, we quickly barricaded the terminal, shutting off all access to ticketing. Yikes! That got everyone's attention, if the crash hadn't already done so.
I was still standing on the bridge as I could see everything and I was talking to our Reno office, describing the situation (Our 2-way radios could transmit to Reno via relay stations) and asking for assistance. Probably legal assistance!
Just as I finished my conversation, I looked up to see that a TV camera crew was standing next to me, filming the action. And firemen. Everywhere! What was going on? It had only been a few minutes since the collapse of the clouds; how did the word get out? Well, it seemed that the firemen and the TV news people were already at the airport because of a reported gas leak; a false alarm.
I declined to be interviewed and got the crew together to try and stabilize the tangled mess. We soon had a local engineer (hired by us) directing our efforts and a couple of brave volunteers climbed up into the wreckage and then even higher as they looked for something solid to attach chain hoists from. Within a few hours we had the weight off of the scaffold and felt it was secure enough to allow ticketing to resume. How many people missed their flights? I didn't want to know! Each one was a potential lawsuit.
With our engineers help and a lot of work, the clouds were rebuilt and in place within a week; painted. Now the real fun began as Bechtel tried to pin the whole debacle on us. But our piece of paper with their opinion stating that it was OK to use those existing supports saved the day for us. It was quietly agreed to let the matter drop and charges from both sides soon faded away.
And that was the last bit of drama from that project. I do know that we amassed something like 80+ lineal feet of 3-ring binders filled with Bechtel generated paperwork and close to a ton of revised and revised again blue prints. But once the clouds were in place, I was through and could return to Reno and a more normal existence.
ps…one last memory; whenever we flew to Las Vegas in the winter we experienced some very rough take-offs. The Monday morning plane had sat overnight and since the temperatures were in the zero range, the tires developed a flat spot from being parked so long. And one morning as we rumbled along the runway, just about ready to take off, the vibrations grew to a point where the overhead oxygen masks popped out. Now that will wake you up!
Monday, January 12, 2009
One more 'working for dad' story before I return to the 1980's and saga of the Las Vegas Airport construction.
I had returned from the Navy and so It must have been 1961 or 1962 and I was looking for work. A friend of my dad, Hank Kramer, had come up with a brilliant idea and had just begun production on it. 'It' was a 3-gallon plastic container that held pressurized syrup. If you have ever hung around bars, you may have noticed that the bartender gives you a soda or a mixer via a device that looks like a portable showerhead. That's connected to the various syrup and mixer containers located under the bar. Well, before Hank came up with his idea, these containers were all stainless steel for cleanliness. The problem with steel was the fact that you couldn't see how much fluid was left in the tank by simply looking at it. Hank's tanks, being plastic, let you glance at them to see how much was left and so there were fewer downtimes while tanks were being refilled and customers wondering what happened to the Rum & Coke they had ordered.
Hank had a big order for tanks and had just bought a brand new German injection molder. The instructions for the machine were written in German so Hank was quite busy looking a German speaking operator. Which he found.
The injection molder is really simple; hot plastic is forced into a precision mold, rapidly cooled and then ejected from the machine into the hands of the inspector; me. I had to use some very expensive dial calipers to check the tanks for proper wall thickness. The tanks were pressurized and a defective tank could blow up behind the bar and make a very sticky mess.
So I would inspect and then throw the rejects into a large bin. It was later that I found out that part of my responsibilities was to recycle the rejects. That had to be one of the worst jobs I ever had!
The tanks were dropped into a chopper and the machine turned on. You cannot believe the noise that was made! We were working in a large but almost completely empty warehouse and that noise filled the entire space. I would hit the switch and run for the door!
Luckily, I found a job within a week and was able to retire from this one.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
I think I'll take a break from the Las Vegas stories and go back to some memories that came to me the other day.
Working for your father is a tough job in itself, never mind the actual work. Psychologically, it's high drama. And I did that a few times; very few.
One; my dad was a mechanical contractor at the time and he had a small project going that included some concrete pads and trenches around some future acid holding tanks. The concrete needed to be coated with an epoxy to keep any spillage from deteriorating the concrete. My job was to help out on a crew that was doing that work. I was the 'go'fer'. Of course everyone on the crew knew I was the boss's son and they treated me accordingly. With deference. I hated it! So I worked harder.
And if you have ever been around industrial strength epoxy, you know how unpleasant the stuff is. I had to mix it in small batches and then add color to it, stirring it thoroughly while standing directly over the bucket. The fumes were overpowering to say the least. And once mixed, I would take it to the trench and hand it down to the men working there. Then I would join them, trowel in hand.
The trench was about 5 feet deep and 2 feet wide, just deep enough so that any breeze that might come along was never felt. And epoxy becomes quite warm as it starts to set up. The sweat just poured off of us as we were surrounded on all side by the hot material. And after awhile I began to enjoy the occasional trips out of the trench to mix more epoxy. At least I could feel a breeze now and then.
Finally, at lunch time, my hard work paid off. The crew started talking about the 'boss' and ignoring the fact that I was his son. They may have forgotten!
Note: this was probably around 1955 and there were no safety standards for working with epoxy. We wore rubber gloves but no respirators. And the rubber gloves wore out within an hour or so. Today, California and many other states don't even allow this kind of epoxy to be sold.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Back to the beginning. When I first arrived at the McCarran jobsite, I was told that I must go immediately to the FAA offices and obtain my security clearance and badge. There was no access to much of the work without that all important badge.
I found the FAA offices and completed the paperwork and a photo was taken, but it was going to be a few days before I was given the badge; security checks had to be made first.
That first day I wandered through the various concourses and reviewed the work we were doing in those public areas. All was going well.
The next day I was summoned by radio to look at a problem that the fireproofing crew had in the baggage area. Oops! I radioed back and said I wouldn't be able to go there as I didn't have my badge yet. "You got your hard hat on?" was the next question. Sure. "OK, meet me at the Southwest counter in a few minutes."
I met the fireproofing foreman out in the public area where he told me that a hard hat would be sufficient for entry. And he was right. I spent the rest of the day working in all of those secure areas; my hard hat and a 2-way radio was enough authority for most everyone I encountered.
A note about those baggage areas…
Almost everyone has seen the slow and stately progress of their checked luggage as it travels within the ticketing area and then through the small opening that hides it from further view. That's a good thing. You don't want to see what happens to your luggage after it exits the ticketing area.
Chaos! The line accelerates and the bags go flying. Not necessarily with you. As I walked over and around the conveyor machinery, I would spot bags that had fallen off and were now hidden under the machinery. How long had they been there? Baggage in huge piles that didn't seem to have function or identity.
Now you know…
Sunday, December 14, 2008
After the Sierra Pacific Power Company building, there weren't a lot of big projects in town; Reno had run into a building slump, and so when I was asked if I wanted to go to Las Vegas for a couple of weeks to help out on a project down there, I was happy to go. The project was called McCarran 2000 and it was a remodel and expansion of the McCarran International Airport.
This was going to be a new experience for me as I had never worked on an airport before. I learned quickly.
Shortly after arriving in Las Vegas I rented a car until I could find a spare company truck to use. I heard that we had a few 'beaters' on the site and one of those would be sufficient for my daily transportation. Following directions, I found the motel where the Reno crew would stay while in Las Vegas. The company had rented some rooms near the airport and that was convenient. In fact, everything about the job was convenient! I would get on a plane (Sunworld Airlines) early on a Monday morning in Reno. Fly quickly to Las Vegas and get off the plane right there at the jobsite; the airport. Our superintendent was always waiting for us at the gate with a long list of problems! Then, on Friday, we would reverse that procedure and head north to Reno, leaving the problems behind us till the following Monday.
I had been told that the job would require my help for just a few weeks. And within the first week it was obvious that wasn't going to happen. I would need to be there much longer.
First, a description of the work. That included the all new terminal 'C'. New ticketing facilities throughout the old terminals and new ceilings throughout the concourses. Plus a dozen smaller projects scattered throughout the airport property. As a major subcontractor, we worked under contract with a general contractor (Stolte Inc.) that had a contract with the Construction Manager; Bechtel, Inc. All of this contract language had us tied up in a dozen different directions. We had always worked in northern Nevada before this and most work had been agreed to by a handshake and an eventual contract. That was not going to be the case here. These people played 'hardball'.
Our project manager was particularly bothered by the amount of paperwork that Bechtel generated and so it was decided that I would help him with that by simply being his presence in the field while he battled the bureaucrats.
I had a superintendent and 3 or 4 foreman to take care of the actual work direction and it was going well, considering the fact that we had crews scattered throughout the entire airport and I spent most of my time walking from one problem to another. And talking on a 2-way radio. If you have ever been to the Las Vegas airport, you know how large it is. I got a good workout every day. Twice a day I would get back to our jobsite trailer and then go to the Stolte trailer to pick up the flood of paper that was being generated.
It didn't look too bad at first, but each piece of paper required a response. Which generated another piece of paper. We would receive about 2" of paper every day, plus innumerable sets of drawings. Revisions upon revisions and they all had to be checked to see if they contained any contract changes. So you had to compare each drawing with the originals plus the revisions that you had already priced. And take care of business. Overwhelming!
We soon decided that 'overwhelmed' was exactly what Bechtel and Stolte wanted us to be. True or not, it certainly felt that way. I remember that once or twice a week, I would take some of my papers that needed work and get on the automated tram that took passengers out to the 'C' concourse. Then I would walk all of the way out to the end and find a chair. At that remote distance, I was just out of radio range and could spend 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, doing the paperwork that couldn't be put off; like figuring out the payroll for the week.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Once the Boardroom and the executive offices were complete, there wasn't much more for me to do…except for the 'punch list'.
If you don't know, the punch list refers to the beginning stage for the final approval and acceptance of the building and all of its systems. The architect or his representative will examine the building, room by room and note any discrepancies. That list of discrepancies, the punch list, is then given to the various sub-contractors to use as they remedy…or challenge the items.
True, sometimes we didn't agree with the architect and negotiations would follow. We couldn't refuse to do the work, even if we thought there was an error because they held the final payment. The power of the purse.
In this case, the architect handed over the punch list duties to the owner. Violent disagreement erupted from all of our offices! The architect has a role to play and he is supposed to represent the owner. The architect has the duty to perform the punch list. Giving that duty to the owner wrong; legally and ethically. As subcontractors we were pretty low in the food chain and the architect had a duty to protect us from unscrupulous or ignorant owners.
After much discussion, it was resolved; the owner would perform the punch list under direct guidance of the architect. We weren't happy, but we did want our money and soon. So at least this part of the job would move forward.
We all (the subcontractors) knew when and where the owners inspection was going to begin and we waited eagerly to see how it was going work. The inspectors had been issued yellow Post-It notepads to identify the items that needed correction and we thought that made sense; after all, who wants to read items that might say, "Touch up paint NW corner of room 1123, 6" from corner and 47" from the floor". A Post-It note right on the offending spot would make it easy to send painters back to do the work.
The inspectors left the first room and we walked in to see… almost every visible portion of the walls and ceilings covered with yellow notes! Hundreds of them! Literally!
Another violent disagreement took place almost immediately as we stormed architect's trailer. We insisted that he come out to the room in question and see for himself. I can report that he was stunned and silent. And he quickly agreed with us. More training was given to the inspectors and after a few months of plucking yellow notes off of the walls, we were through!
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The Sierra Pacific Power office building project was almost done. And what a project it had become. Close to two years for completion. From the time I arrived when there were just a few pieces of steel coming out of the ground till the end, when the completed building sat in a huge park, complete with streams and a lake. (they had to do something expensive with that underground river!)
And then there was the Board Room. It could be thought of as a major project all of its own. It was located on the 4th floor, the Executive floor, where every Vice-President had an office with a view. And each office was exactly the same size. Exactly. When we began to layout the walls, we were told that these executives would probably measure their office and that of their rivals. And they did. Once we started the work, those VP's would show up every day to see if their office was being slighted in any way. And they all carried tape measures.
The wall coverings alone were worth over $250,000. Material only. Wool broadcloth at $110 a yard and used as wallpaper. I kept the wall coverings in the safe, also located on that floor. And the plans changed almost daily as the executives were inspired by seeing what another VP was doing to his office.
Back to the Board Room. It was the last thing that was designed by the architect. Until we actually began the work, that floor was simply a blank on the drawings. And since the floor was not on the bid drawings, we were able to do the work for a guaranteed fee over and above the cost of the materials. And what a fee it was!
We spent months on the boardroom alone. A room that wasn't much bigger than 40' x 40'. And at one time we had a dozen people; painters, working on the ceiling of that room.
I only wish that I had a few photos of the room. Polaroid was the technology of the day and I might have taken a few with the jobsite camera, but I have no idea if the prints remain.
Odds and Ends. All of the glass at the Command level (3rd Floor) and the ground floor (Accounting) was bullet proof.
The original site was planted in grass with wandering paths alongside the artificial streams. These paths were also made into a PAR course for the employees. The streams were actually re-circulated water from the stream beneath the basement. Pumped up at the west end of the property and wandering through the streambeds and then back down again at the west end.
The migratory Canadian Geese loved the grass! Sierra Pacific hired a hunter to keep them away, but Fish and Game put a stop to that and they had to resort to using Carbide cannons to scare them. This worked for about a day. After that, the geese owned the property!
Today, I used Google Earth to see what the site looks like now and I see that the people who loved asphalt have won. The park is gone.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The Sierra Pacific Power project continued on and once the prefabricated brick wall panels were in place and the inside temperature was stabilized, we began the finish work; paint and wall coverings.
Ordinarily I was the Project Manager for the framing and drywall/lath and plaster portions of a project. Most times I was pulled off the job early and moved to another project that was just breaking ground. But not this time. There weren't many projects in the schedule and so the decision was made for me to remain and direct the work with the painters.
Solari and Sons, my employer, had always been a painting and decorating contractor and the kind of work that I did was somewhat new to the company. And the painters treated us as if we were step-children. OK, I could live with that. I just wanted to learn.
I knew the painting foreman by reputation; tough! So I introduced myself and told him that I would need all of the help I could get; that I would depend on him to educate me. It took awhile but we became friends. I would seek him out and ask his advice for every major decision and that helped.
And one major decision was soon to be made; the specifications called for a urethane finish on all of the exposed wood. That was every door and all of the trim. One of the painters, another foreman, told me that if we could change the spec's and finish the wood in lacquer, we could have a better looking job and at half the price. So we finished some samples and submitted the request along with a very modest decrease in the contract value. The customer bought it! And we were looking at a great profit if we could pull it off. For the problem with lacquer is the extreme flammability of the product when you are applying it. Plus the temperature had to be just right. Where were we going to find a place to spray it?
We were almost ready to rent a warehouse for the spraying when someone mentioned the basement. Half of the basement consisted of parking for the executives. And there were lots of them! So we were looking at almost 40,000 square feet of bare floor space. Plus, the basement had 2 very large exhaust fans to clear vehicle exhaust. A plan was made.
We turned the parking area into a huge spray booth; closing off all entrances with poly sheeting. Large propane heaters were brought down and turned on to warm the basement and the wood.
Once everything was ready to be sprayed, we barricaded the entrances, turned off the heaters and turned on the fans to vent the fumes. We couldn't risk an open flame or spark of any kind.
Well, it worked and beautifully. Although every time we had a 'spray day' I was tense and nervous until they came and told me that they had finished. You see, we hadn't told the customer about some of the dangers inherent in the use of lacquer. And I certainly didn't want to be the one to explain why the basement just blew up!
Yes, the painters had reassured me many times that nothing was going to happen; that they had it covered… but!
Friday, November 07, 2008
Spring soon became summer and despite the well meaning efforts of the QC team, we were making progress. The basement walls were framed and drywall was applied. Taping and painting followed and since the basement was always at a uniform temperature, we decided to keep our tools down there. We would all meet there early in the morning and enjoy a cup of coffee before opening the 'gang' boxes and beginning work at 7.
One morning, as I was about to go down the stairs, I noticed that the lights were out and it was pitch black in the basement. I hunted around on the first floor for the temporary power box that fed the basement and found it connected and it appeared to be on. I assumed that a circuit breaker must have failed so I grabbed a flashlight and went down the stairs. Oops! My flashlight revealed that the basement was filling with water! The water was easily 5 foot deep and climbing.
The construction management team found the problem at about the same time and quickly disconnected all the power to the basement. Pretty soon there were half a dozen pumps in action as they tried to drain the basement. This took most of the day and that night and it wasn't until the next day that we could go back down and see what damage had been done.
As I had written earlier, this building sat directly in the path of a underground river and a very large and powerful sump pump had been installed to keep the basement dry. This pump had been placed on a 'dedicated' circuit so that it would never be without power. 'Never' is a funny word. Not to be trusted!
With the pump in operation again and an army of laborers mopping and vacuuming, it was time to assess the damage. And there was plenty. The walls had been painted and since they had also been insulated, the insulation had become wet and soggy. We had to open up all the walls and remove tons of wet fiberglass. Along with tons of soggy drywall.
Of course we were paid for the damage, as were all of the other trades that had been affected by the power outage. And it was quite a bill!
Something to remember; the power company paid us. After all, it was their building and it was their circuit that had failed. But they simply passed these costs on to the rate payers. Their customers. So this decision to build in the middle of an underground river was already costing the customers of Sierra Pacific and would continue to do so as the building continued.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
As winter faded away, we began to improve our production and I added more people to the crew. And so did the customer; Sierra Pacific Power Company. The general contractor, or 'Construction Management' firm had built a small complex of trailers to house themselves, the architect (Black and Veatch) and the customer representatives. These representatives were going to be the Quality Control team to ensure that their building was all that it could be!
At first, there were only 3 rep's on the QC team but it grew. Of course it did. Sierra Pacific was a public utility and they don't know of any other way of doing business, except add more manpower to any project. Which meant another trailer to be added to the 4 that were already there.
And they were a curious bunch, these QC guys. You couldn't do any work at all without finding one of them peering over your shoulder and then quickly consulting their well worn copy of the project specifications.
It was soon obvious that no one on the project was trusted by the QC Team. Bad feelings! As typical construction workers, we banded together with all of the other trades and presented a united front to them. We could wage a specification 'war' as well as they could! And we did.
It took a long session with the architect to resolve our difficulties, but the architect sided with us and spent some time with his customers, explaining how buildings were actually built. Public utilities may know power… but they don't know construction.
The QC Team retreated, war was over and we continued on and back on schedule… for awhile.