Thanks for venturing into my Living Room!
Make yourself at home and have a seat close to the fire.
My years as a Draftsman are probably going to be the most boring reading of any of my Occupations, even though I did work on some amazing things during that time. We did use some very interesting equipment before the days of electronics and computers. But I guess it all depends upon how one looks at it though. I had many other sources of income, irons in the fire if you please, all throughout my lifetime, never placing all of my eggs into one basket so to speak.
It would be virtually impossible to place my many endeavors into any type of chronological order, as so many jobs and projects overlapped. It was not uncommon for me to have up to five independent business operations going at the same time I was employed by others and even then, sometimes I was employed by more than one company at a time. Yet I still afforded plenty of time to spend with my family and attend family functions and other activities around town.
A simple example of this is while I was working at the Family Florist full-time, I would typeset from California Cold Cases on my lunch hour for a Hot Foil Stamping job, if I still had time after returning from the local Hardware Store where I picked up several saws and knives to sharpen that evening. I was working for a Plumbing Company on weekends and all the while managing a Laundromat next door, plus playing music at a night club as a fill-in when the need arose. During a different period of time, I was doing graphics work during the day, running a wood shop in the evenings, working at a newspaper one weeknight running galley strips and working as an Electrician in the evening and on weekends.
My first job after I graduated from Kirkwood High School and while attending Meramec Community College in the evening was McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft. Although it was a real job, I would classify it more as an exercise in frustration. Although I was a greenhorn fresh out of high school, they recognized my talents were beyond those departments they shuffled me through the first week I was employed there. I guess it could be considered some form of orientation or training, but it really bugged me to no end. I thought I was moved into a more permanent position starting my second week, as they had me doing scribe work, which is way outside the field of drafting actually. Then they gave me several duties to handle, that in retrospect I could say were merely tests of my overall abilities.
They were obviously pleased with everything I had done my first two weeks there, because at the beginning of my third week they moved me all the way up to the senior engineers drafting division, where I was placed with other draftsman who had been there for 5 years are longer, so it looked like things were beginning pan out as I had hoped. The work was much harder than I expected it would be, and of course I quickly learned just how green I really was, even so, I was able to keep up without making any mistakes and my superiors felt my work was equivalent to well seasoned draftsmen.
About the middle of only my fourth week there, my boss said I will need special security clearances in order to do the next job they had me scheduled for, so I spent the next few days filling out forms, answering questions in interviews, and getting all the clearances I needed. With those in place they gave my first real assignment, I was finally getting into something I could sink my teeth into, real meat so to speak, and much more important than I realized at the time.
I was moved into the space program and had to pass through some fairly high security areas to get to the room I would be working in, but that was no problem as I had a black dot badge. This was questioned and checked when I arrived at my destination, where three older men were busy working away and one fellow, actually younger behind the desk, that obviously would be yet another new boss. He took my badge number and called security, I could hear his side of the conversation of course, he said I have a very young fellow up here with a black dot, said he's only been here a few weeks and was assigned to this department, you know anything about it, and check his clearance, it's way out of the ordinary. Man was I nervous!
As he hung up the phone, he said, looks like you check out and shoved a stack of papers in front of me, take a look at these and tell me if you understand them. I only had to glance at them to know they were plot tables, albeit more complicated and to greater detail than I had seen thus for at this place. So I said to him that it looks like a piece of cake to me, would you like me to ink it onto some Mylar for you. He just raised his eyebrows and said, how about if you run them out on some linen first so I can see what you are made of. I asked what is it by the way? He said, it's on a need to know basis right now. Take that desk over there and call supply to bring you a C-6 set-up.
I had just got started on my drawing when the boss came over to see how I was doing. I didn't know if I was already in trouble, did something wrong or what. After looking at my work, he jerked my linen off the table and said to the other 3 men in the room, take a look at this will ya. I just knew my next instruction would take me out the door for sure. One of the men took my linen and laid it over the one on his desk, then another did the same thing saying I gotta see this. By now even the palms of my hands are dripping in sweat, and in my mind I'm thinking, I hope they don't have a firing squad.
The first of the three men turned around and looked at me and gave me a wink, which sorta eased my tension a little bit. The boss then dropped my linen into a tank of water and hit a button. He came back to my desk with a smile on his face and said, call supply and tell them to send you an E-8 setup right away. Inside I jumped for joy, but couldn't show it, so I just smiled back at the boss and said thanks. Although it meant I had to start over, at least now I would be working on and with materials I was more comfortable with, plastic lead on film, still archaic in a way, and I knew it would be shredded also as all final work is usually done in ink on Mylar. However, two of the other three men were working with plastic lead on film, and now I knew they were also doing the same thing I was. Seems like a waste of time to me.
As soon as my equipment was there, the boss came over and said, the most I can tell you at this point in time is you are working on a part for a space capsule that may or may not be included, may be changed many times, who knows, we are just peons down here. Heck, it didn't matter to me what it was, it was something for a space capsule, now how cool is that! Then just before quitting time, the boss reminded all of us, remember now you can't even tell your wive's you are working on anything associated with the space program. No problem, I'm not even married! Then he told me directly, no mention to anyone about what you do here. Gotcha boss, I understand.
After the fact, I was already on a totally different job, we were told what the part was, where it was used and which of our drawings was the one selected. I felt quite proud to learn that they had selected my drawing, but I still couldn't tell anyone. I was dating and told my girlfriend that one of my drawings was selected as the one they would be using to make a part for something a little more interesting than a simple airliner. I figured that would be safe since her dad worked on the Military Jets. It was over a year before I would be able to disclose what I worked on, and I'm quite proud of it, even if was just one simple part. It was the Drop Chute Door for the Gemini XII Space Capsule!
About midway through another project, through something completely out of my control and that I had no knowledge of, my security clearance required to work in that department was pulled further investigation. I was only demoted by one or two levels, so I was still in the same building, just a few doors down, outside the high security entrance. I still had a very interesting project to work on, just nothing to do with anything in the space program. I'll omit the personal details of a few other issues regarding my possibility of marriage to the daughter of someone who works at the same company. They simply moved me to a different department, same security level, but I had a new boss that was as impersonal as a brick wall. I already did not like this big of a company and when he refused to call me by name and used our serial number instead, I got up and walked out the door and never looked back. I don't think I was there a full two months yet either.
My second job as a draftsman was actually already in place while I was still in high school from a job seminar that was held for the graduating class. I had signed up, filled out an employment application, passed all of their required tests and was interviewed and already accepted if I chose to go to work for them, we merely had to show up at the employment office prior to October is all. Apparently they hire several grads right out of school and place them in a training program, which is really nothing more than redraws which requires virtually no thinking of any kind. They weeded out a few of us each day, but then told me that they would try me out in Systems Engineering starting on Monday.
My boss, although considerably older than most of the people there, was actually a really cool guy, so I felt comfortable enough to let him know that I was quite efficient at working from plot tables and engineering notes. He obliged by handing me something he considered way over my head, but compared to what I had already been working on these past few months, I could run these simple notes in my sleep. He told me right up front what they were for figuring I wouldn't have the foggiest idea of what he even said, an Eddy Current Brake for the gates on the new Alton Lock & Dam Project. However, as a Ham Radio Operator for many years already, I knew exactly what each of the terms he used meant and how they applied to fluid dynamics and hydraulics from my years of experience with hydroponics.
It turned out that this was not going to be the piece of cake that I figured it would be. Although the engineers had carefully taken care of the implementation and design so all I had to do was draw it for them, their notes were inundated with errors, miscalculations and blatant mistakes in the hydraulic properties of water. I didn't want to get anyone into trouble, but I had to talk to the boss about the impossibility of some of the things they have notated here. He simply said, found a bunch of mistakes there have we, I expected you would, go down the hall and thrash it out with the engineers, but let me know where the mistakes are so at least I know what the Sam H is going on around here for once.
I think one of the things that irks me the most about big companies is someone else always gets the credit for what you yourself do. I was nothing but a lowly draftsman, so even though I was the one who figured out how to correct some of their engineering mistakes, they of course get all the brownie points for figuring out a sticky situation they had been working on for months. However, this time I was slightly more fortunate, the big bosses wanted to know who finally solved the problem with the design. One of the engineers told them that we have a rather unique new draftsman down the hall, he's well versed in the nomenclature as well as fluid dynamics and hydraulics and a few other aspects of this project. I was informed later that day that I had been promoted to and made a member of the Systems Engineering Department.
As soon as I finished that project, I was advanced again to Highways and Planning where the new St. Louis Floodwall Project was already well underway and they were having problems with the closure gates at the major arteries. They felt that this challenge might be just up my alley after doing the gates on the Alton Dam Project, even though they are nothing at all similar from an engineering standpoint. I felt like they were playing games with me at first, since I was so young for one, but to try to trip me up is more like it, by only giving me bits and pieces of the information I required. Under normal circumstances, the engineers would design and would merely draw it on paper. I soon found out that the other draftsman there, if they encountered a mistake, would simply draw the mistake, sometimes even emphasize the mistakes on the drawings to make them even more pronounced, but very few ever offered a solution or worked with the engineers.
Because when I found a mistake, not being allowed to correct it myself, I would just run to the engineer and let them know and they would fix it and nothing more was said. This got all the engineers on my side and we worked together, so my talents actually grew at a fairly fast pace. Not bragging but I had an area that used to give me trouble down pat now, alignment was becoming second nature to me to the point I could see it before it was plotted on paper. One of the head engineers gave me a few really hard and unique problems concerning the Poplar Street Bridge Project that should have been solely for the engineers to handle. Heavy stuff too that with all these major arteries converging over a single bridge, if not caught would be compounded exponentially if not discovered within the time frame I was catching them in. This was earning me brownie points right and left with the higher up bosses and owners.
I really thought I would be going places with this company. I was there a little over 2 years now with no problems of any kind, getting to work directly with the engineers and was well liked. I was summoned to the office of the head engineer of the company in the main offices where all the big bosses were. Every single engineer that was working on a particular project was in the room as well, I knew some of them, some I didn't. A stack of blueprints was shoved at me by the chief engineer and he asked me to look at them and tell me what was wrong with them. I looked over each page very carefully and could not find one thing wrong with them, I also noticed that I had nothing at all to do with any of them either. I noticed a page missing, so I asked the chief engineer where a particular drawing was that was missing from the stack. He bellowed in a very loud voice "PRECISELY", I thought I was dead meat, even though I didn't do it. He stood up and fired every single engineer that was in the office, more than 1/4th of the engineers that worked for the company.
As I turned to leave the office, he stopped me and asked how, never having taken architecture in school or ever worked in commercial building design, that I knew there was no sheet for the sprinkling system. I just said, well, I am fairly well versed in building codes sir and before plans can be presented for review they must be complete. I was instantly promoted to an engineering position by him and with the salary that goes with it. But all good things must come to an end, my glory was very short lived and only lasted three days until they discovered I did not have a degree in anything at all. The big wigs could not have an engineer that did not have a degree in something. They knew I was fresh out of high school and going to college in the evening and was working toward a degree some day. They liked my work well enough to give me the promotion and the salary, then turned around and took it away all over a silly piece of paper. This really pissed me off big time, that a company goes by a piece of paper over proven intelligence they have already lauded over. I quit rather than be demoted. Besides, that long walk down the 9th street wind tunnel in the winter was horrendous. They did not even provide employee parking, which is a major problem with business located downtown in the city. I was already considering trying to find a job in the county, but when they gave me the promotion, I had made up my mind that I would stay there for many more years. My former boss in Systems Engineering did give me a call and made an offer of a couple of bucks more per hour if I would come back to his department. I just told him, sorry, they don't want brains they want a piece of paper in lieu of intelligence, which is why your boxed to order engineers make so many mistakes.
One of the engineers that was canned from S&P went to work for MRTC and told me it was the best place in the world, so I went there and applied for a job. I wasn't turned down, just told that they don't hire walk in's off the street. My fellow employee from S&P found out what employment agency they used and filled me in. So I went to that employment agency and told them flat out, I want a job at MRTC. After they told me how employment agencies worked, I decided to play their silly little game and went on interviews at several other companies, each wanted to hire me and I turned each down flat, telling them I'm sorry to waste their time, the employment agency insisted I do so, I even told them I wanted to work at MRTC, well they puffed up and said, we don't want anybody second fiddle.
As luck have it, one of these companies, I never found out which one, the owner played golf with one of the big shots from MRTC, thus by the time the employment agency sent me to MRTC for an interview, I already had the job and didn't know it. I was immediately hired and was turned over to what I would have to say is the greatest boss anyone in the whole world could hope for. As the new kid in town, I naturally got all the menial tasks until another draftsman was hired, then he got them. Almost as soon as the other draftsman was hired, I was getting meatier and meatier problems to work on, they soon skipped right over the engineers and gave me the problems directly and moved my desk right next to the materials man so he could get the materials on order as I was yet drawing the repairs.
MRTC pipes natural gas from Louisiana and Texas and sells it to Laclede Gas in St. Louis, plus a few points in between. I was only with the company a short time before their load became quite intense and they were hiring freelancers to help get the work done. Due to my experience at S&P, I was quickly promoted to Chief Alignment Draftsman. The salary level at MRTC was considerably less than I was making at S&P, but I loved this company and they provided many benefits that made up for the salary shortfall. I did do a little moonlighting on the side with an MLM which was a company no no, but I had married and had several new expenses to take care of and my little small personal business I had let slide a tad bit to far to keep pace with all the new bills that came along with a new wife.
After a few years, my boss became very ill and was going to be leaving the company. There were only two people qualified for his job, Leonard W. and myself, Leonard did not want the job, he wanted to remain the materials man and didn't want the headaches of dealing with the draftsman and the freelancers. The company normally hired from within, even if it took extra training and my boss was working very closely with me so that I could take over his position. However, without anyone on our end of the sticks knowledge, not even my boss, one of the freelancers Larry A. had changed from freelance status to employee, this was kept quiet for some reason and was against company policy as well.
As much as I loved this company, things were beginning to change and change rapidly. We were hearing of major company policy changes virtually every other day, and some that were changed were in affect for more than 20 decades, etched in stone so to speak, so everyone was shocked with some of the changes that came down the horn. In any case, two things occurred almost back to back that caused me to choose to leave the employ of MRTC.
The first was that I found out that upper management was not even considering me to take my bosses place at all. They were considering one of the older engineers that was not even from our department and the freelancer Larry A. who turned employee against a long standing company policy before the policy changes started happening. The second was that the little MLM company was growing in leaps and bounds and I had just crossed one of their upper major levels and would now be making a considerable amount of money. Plus I had developed a few more small home businesses that were doing well too.
MRTC technically made the decision to leave for me by not following decades old company policy. Breaking policy to hire freelancers and then turning around and offering in-house positions to outsiders. Although the high paying MLM went bankrupt shortly after I left MRTC my other businesses were doing exceptionally well by then. I also swore off ever working for a large company ever again, unless I was working there under my terms and for my own person gain.
Sadly, over the years I saw the dream company of MRTC go steadily downhill after all those changes. Many of their top employee's had left, and those that did stick it out were placed in run down old buildings miles away from the fabulous complex they once enjoyed. They eventually moved most of their operations to low budget cities with a cheaper labor force. The company owners were all doing great I'm sure, but below that level, they went from the best company in the world to work for, to what I heard from others, had became one of the worst to have to tolerate.
I still used my drafting skills in many other business I owned, and occasionally in the employ of others, more as clients or partners in a joint business venture. Computers were on the horizon as well, so as technology advanced, I kept up with the advancements of CAD, which made me valuable in other areas of endeavor as well. But as far as an occupation of draftsman, leaving MRTC was the close of that as a career option.