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Part 2: “Sometimes It Pays to Be Generous,” by Erwin A. Thompson

Read Part 1 of "Sometimes It Pays to Be Generous," by my father Erwin A. Thompson.

Another prime example of generosity paying off is my relationship with the men from the water company. Our work often overlapped. Sometimes when we dug a hole for a gas leak we found a water leak, also. And vice verse. We often traded favors, not even trying to keep track of the things we did or received.

One time they had a really unusual job. They seemed to be perplexed, so I went over to see what their trouble might be. I looked at the victim, and suggested that we try to thread the pipe. It was not a simple case. The thread needed to be cut on the end of the pipe with no room for the conventional die which had a sleeve to ensure that the die would "take" properly. I heard one of the crew say: "That old man is crazy!"

But I wasn't. There is a way of taking the cutting part of the dies out and reversing them so that the thread was cut from the open side of the dies. I showed them, and it worked.

Sometime later we were working high pressure on Broadway. The background for this was that I had tried to get our company to stock clamps for three quarter pipe with no positive results. The answer I got was that if a pipe that size leaked, it needed to be renewed. This was undisputed fact, but sometimes....

So.This was the day.

Chub was digging out the tap hole, and a big chunk of hard dirt came loose along with a big chunk of three-quarter inch pipe.The hard dirt was caused be leaking gas. The obvious thing to do was to tell the customer that we would have to shut off their gas and repair the pipe temporarily until we could renew it.

It turned out that the customer was a potato chip factory. They said if we shut off their gas, it would spoil the whole batch of material they were cooking. They estimated the cost at seven hundred dollars. I was between a rock and a hard place!

As I was trying to figure out an answer to this seemingly impossible problem I caught sight of a water company truck a block down the street. I told the men to just keep everybody away from the hole and I took out on a run for the water company truck, I knew they used three quarter-inch clamps. I just hoped that this truck would have one.

It turned out to be Curt Bridgman, an old timer that I had worked with many times. I used what breath I had to say: "Give me a three quarter inch clamp!"

Curt reached in his bin and came out with a three-quarter inch clamp. I took it back and installed it.

My case was made.The management ordered three-quarter inch clamps, and we used several bushels of them in the following years.

*** *** ***

Another interesting experience was my negotiating for the purchase of a hay wagon from Harold Schulte. He had been putting up the hay from our field for several years. So he decided to retire from that chore. Since he no longer needed the wagon and I did, I undertook to buy it from him.

I offered him fifty dollars for it. He said he had planned to ask me twenty-five. So we settled for thirty seven fifty. [Janet: An example of "reverse bargaining!]

I still have the vehicle. We have re-enforced it several places, but it has stood the test of time and use. Solid as the man I bought it from.

*** *** ***

I had a good relationship with my foreman at the gas company. Dewey Payne trusted me to do what needed doing. Sometimes it did not fall completely within the scope of our specifications, but getting the customer back working was really the basic aim. Sometimes there was a conflict with strict regulations.

One day Dewey said to me: "Erwin, there is a big mess with the pipes, down at Mama Mia's Pizza Place. Go down there and fix it!"

So I did. It was not in accordance with a new rule that had just come out, but it followed the practice that we had been following for the last thirty years. When we got done the proprietress made us the best pizza that I have ever had--on the house!

One day my helper, Cal Lebegue, needed to go downtown during business hours and sign some papers. I happened to be in the foreman's office when he asked Dewey for the time off.

If I hadn't known the man, I would have thought that he was mad, but he wasn't. He looked at Cal.

"You're on a truck, aren't you?" Cal, thoroughly confused, agreed that he was. "I don't even want to know about it!" Dewey told him.

*** *** ***

I never heard Dewey laugh in the years that I knew him, but I clearly remember seeing him smile, twice.

He was the foreman, "the boss." I was the union steward. Traditionally, this was a contentious relationship. Or, the other way it worked sometimes, the steward was wanting to be agreeable so that he might get some personal advantage. But if he had a problem with a man he would talk to me about it, and we would find a workable solution.

One evening, he said he had a problem, so I waited until the other fitters had their business of the day completed and prepared to listen. He said he had this man that none of the features wanted to have on their crew. I'd had the man on my crew before, and never had any trouble. The solution seemed simple to me. So I said: "Give him to me. I never had any trouble with him."

I thought for a moment that Dewey might laugh, but he smiled--one of the two smiles that I remember.

"What do you think you've got now, but two men that nobody else wants to work?"

Well, it had been awhile since either of my two men had worked for another fitter. We picked the one that we thought would be the most likely to succeed and made the trade. It worked.

The other time I saw Dewey smile was the case of a service man who did not want to work the after hour call-outs. Usually this was work that the men fought over, because it paid good money. But for some reason Clarence did not want to work them. This was his right, but the contract stated that he had to be asked, and turn the assignment down before the foreman could go on and ask the next man in line. Well, getting called up at midnight simply to fulfill the contract requirements was almost as bad as working the call-out. But Dewey was caught with the requirements of the contract, which he faithfully tried to follow. What to do? Clarence was quite outspoken about not wanting to be disturbed.

I told Dewey the story of the Christmas Eve Mouse. The household consisted of three people: the father, mother, and grown daughter. Following the custom of many people, they celebrated Christmas Eve with a bit of alcoholic cheer. The three glasses were left on the table.

Enter the Christmas Eve Mouse.

He sampled the leavings on the first glass. He smiled, smacked his lips and tried the second one. He frowned, looked around, and then tried the third one.From this one he straightened up, looked around angrily, and demanded: "Where is that cat!"

Dewey got the point. This was the one place where Clarence could make himself heard, and he was doing it.

The solution that we arrived at was that he signed a letter stating his position of not wanting to work overtime and relieved the management of the obligation of notifying him when the opportunity presented itself. This worked to the satisfaction of all concerned.

*** *** ***

I'm ninety-five years old. I've had a lot of fun, met some really great people, done some good turns, and have been the receiver of many helpful hands. Of course there are those who simply take. But really, they are in the minority. Not just for the practical results, but for the satisfaction I get out of it personally, I have found that "It pays to be generous."

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3 Responses »

  1. Hi, Janet. I had missed this. Really a nice piece. (It has also helped me understand the work he was doing...). Pass my appreciation on to Pop for his "fifty cents worth" of advice (to which I expect a reply, 'I was only going to charge 25...).

  2. Alan,

    Thanks for your appreciative and witty comment. Pop is filled with wisdom as well as "Piss and Vinegar." Having met him, you know what I mean.


  3. Yes! Enjoyed it immensely. I know my Dad would have admired your Dad.

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