Making Steam

Member Group : Lefty's Logic

It was 1983 and I found myself in the most unusual of places: squatting in the bowels of a large deactivated institutional boiler. Beside me was a gifted mechanic named Tom Gross who had probably forgotten more about large boilers through the College of Hard Knocks, than I had learned while obtaining academic degrees and teaching at several universities.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had retained my services to complete an
engineering study of the central power plant on the campus of the Selinsgrove Pa Health Center. The study would set the scope of work for future renovations and repairs to the plant. In turn, I had retained Tom’s services to assist with the study. Our team represented academic theory buttressed with street smart practicality.

As Tom and I took a five minute break to rest our knees during our inspection in the belly of the beast, I shared with him my latest lament. Another client, The Washington Iron Works, had just built a paper making plant in Fujian China but despite the best efforts of the client and the " power plant experts" of The Peoples Republic of China, they couldn’t make rated steam output for the on-site coal fired power plant. My client
had sent me design drawings for the plant and coal analyses from the local Chinese mines. Identifying the problem was easy. The boiler system had been designed for typical bituminous coal but the lab analyses indicated coal mined near Fujian was more like the semi-anthracite of our Tioga County fields here in Pennsylvania. My report to the client included new power plant operating procedures to be used until recommenced modifications were made to the system.

Yesterday the client had called my office with a request that I fly to China and supervise the new operating procedures. A blank check would be issued to cover my fees and direct expenses to travel first class for the one month assignment. One unsolvable problem stopped me from instantly accepting what should have been a dream assignment. Being a one man consulting practice placed me on call for other established clients. This ruled out foreign assignments of more than two weeks duration. Tomorrow I planned to telephone the client and reluctantly turn down the assignment. Suddenly Tom pleaded, " Send Me!"

Tom had a life long desire to visit China but in the twilight of his long career he had given up all hopes of making the trip. His sudden enthusiastic outburst generated an
answer to my dilemma. Sending Tom as my representative would be the perfect solution for all concerned. The next day I called my client and described our game plan. There was silence on the other end of the phone.

It seems Chinese government bureaucrats are even worse than our government
bureaucrats in worshiping framed degrees hung on the wall. Tom’s resume, although rich in experience and accomplishments, lacked pedigrees in academia. His resume would not meet the snob test of the Chinese "experts".

My wise old Grand Dad used to say, " If you can’t lick em, join em." The next day I called Tom and asked him to send me a list of all workshops he ever attended or taught, where the conference was sponsored by or
held at a university. When I rewrote Tom’s resume listing his academic "affiliations" even a habitual "ring knocking" academic would have been impressed.

Sure enough, the Chinese government accepted my representative. Tom flew to Fujian, solved the operating problem and trained the boiler plant crew in two weeks. He then stayed the next two weeks as the distinguished guest of the Peoples Republic of China.

The government even gave him a framed award to show their gratification . The client was happy, Tom was delighted, and my reputation as a problem solver was intact.

Tom took several hundred photo-slides of the factory and his guided tour of the country. The slides included The Great Wall and the capital of Beijing. Shortly after Tom returned home to Pennsylvania we had a luncheon at my office where Tom shared his slides. At the end of his presentation I asked Tom what impressed him most and least about the trip. He felt the hospitality and appreciation by his government hosts was genuine and first rate. On the negative side, he felt the government didn’t give a Tinker’s
Damn about air pollution or it’s global impact on the environment and people.

Thirty years have passed since completion of the Fujian assignment. Empirical evidence indicates the Peoples Republic of China has not changed their attitude on air pollution yet President Obama has just returned from a Fool’s Errand in Beijing. He has given away the health of the American economy by proposing Draconian air quality regulations for our nation. These regulations are impossible to meet with proven technology. In return, the Chinese need do nothing for years. A nebulous promise, to retard not reverse their rate of pollution down the road, is all The Peoples Republic had
to make.

The entire world is laughing at the tragic comedy of this administration. Our international trade competitors, especially the Chinese, are laughing all the way to the bank.