Isn’t Bureaucracy Beautiful: Z-Blob 5

All large organization ions are bureaucratic, not just government. I have worked for a mining company, a school board, a university as well as the government. They all have rules and hierarchy that sometimes get in the way of goal achievement. They sometimes have goals that should be abandoned or altered but momentum or inertia prevents it.

I also had stints, during the summer, replacing track on the CNR (Canadian National Railroad). Here I experienced a questionable supply decision of this large bureaucracy. My job on the track gang was to feed one of the two hoppers, “saddle bags” attached to the sides of the pneumatic hammers. Spikes were driven into each side of the track through tie plates. The spike holder grabbed a spike from the hopper, placed the head in a two pronged fork and held it for the machine operator to drive in the spike with the hammer. (see photo above.) In their infinite wisdom, the CNR only provided half enough spikes thinking that we could salvage half the old spikes from the tracks we were removing. Most of the spikes were bent or broken in the removal of the old tracks but we were blamed (me mostly) for not keeping the hoppers full. Kegs of spikes were left along the track for us to open. Half had to be used for one rail and the other half for the second rail. I noticed we were often short when we returned to spike the second rail. I reasoned that we should count the spikes and use only half on the first rail. There were 240 spikes in each keg, 120 for each side of the track, 60 for each hopper. I was naive. I soon discovered my partner’s hopper was always fuller than mine and I was physically threatened by one of the spike holders for not keeping his hopper adequately supplied. I could only assume my partner was “cheating”.

I worked for the Hudson B ay Mining & Smelting coo. for a full year before going to unit ersatz and during the summers to earn enough to return to school. As summer students, we were not above pulling a few pranks. Ron Monson (a pre-med student) and I were asked to unload and pile the bags of insulation for later use on the large building that was being constructed. We decided to see how high we could pile the bags before the boss told us to stop. There was no real danger as the bags were light and the insulation soft. After a time we had managed to stack the bags about 12 feet high by tossing them higher and higher as the pile grew. The president came along to inspect the overall construction along with the superintendent and foreman. The president, to his credit, noticed the ridiculously high pile. In easy earshot of us he turned to the superintendent and told him the pile was too high. The superintendent turned to the foreman and told him the pile was too high. The Forman told the gang boss and the gang boss told us to make the pile smaller, actually he said, “make the #$&* pile smaller”; we did. No violation of the strict hierarchy within the management structure.

No bureaucracy is immune to making questionable decisions. On one project we were asked to install a gate to the company air base, never mind that the base was easily accessible from the water, largely a floatplane base. We installed a gate that could open to permit vehicle access and be lowered to the road to permit a low-winged aircraft to be taxied or towed on to the base. We had several visits from management to ensure it was installed correctly. It was a marvel to behold, swinging horizontally, folding vertically. The next summer we were asked to remove this annoying obstruction.

I spent one year as a high school teacher in a small town in southern Manitoba, St. Claude. There was a a desperate shortage of teachers and I was appointed despite no teacher training, just a soon to be completed B.A. The year, as you might expect, had more challenges than a squirrel trying to get food from a bird feeder. The number of lesson preps were compounded by my lack of teaching experience. When the school superintendent heard there was an untrained teacher working in the school he charged over as fast as his four wheels could take him. After all, one of the most important tasks of a member of the school system’s bureaucracy is to inspect teachers. Did he really need to check me out in the first week? I was nervous and scared; I basically tried to hide behind my desk and teach the lesson. The superintendent said it was the worst teaching he had ever seen but had no time for tips, probably imagining he would need the rest of his career.

Ten months later, the year was coming to a close. The superintendent returned for a final inspection and declared he had seen in me the biggest improvement of any teacher in his career. He did not say that was from bad to good or very bad to just bad; I did not ask.

When working for the government I learned you had to occasionally circumvent the rules to achieve an objective. I was asked to undertake a study on short notice which would cost about $9,000. There was insufficient time to get the formal approvals. I asked the administrator if there was any limit on the price I could pay for a book. She said no so I ordered ‘a book’ through the library (the report from the surveyP for $9,000 and the study was completed on time and on budget.



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