I was freshly back from my National Service, most of which was spend in Malaya. It was the law that employers must re-employ any employee when their call-up had come to an end. So back I went to Stafford Road Loco Repair Works in Wolverhampton.
I had been bored out of my tree working there before I left to serve Queen and Country. For me, it was a dismal and dirty place. Even the offices seemed to be a mixture of grey and dark brown.
They put me in the main-office rather than in one of the workshop-offices in which I’d formerly been working. And the dullness came back to my mind immediately I sat at my desk.
Arthur Griffiths, the Chief Clerk, noticed my boredom and, when the factory suddenly had a new department, I was assigned to be its clerk.
It was called “The Work-Study Section” and there were blokes called “Time and Motion Engineers” who came from all over British Railways Western Region (the old GWR territory). Their job was to watch workmen do their jobs, time the tasks – and then come up with the “Standard Minutes” which each task should take. Doing the job within the required time earned the workman a bonus.
One of the things to which a Time and Motion Engineer was assigned was to record the work of one workman who was paid overtime to turn the car-steering-wheel sized control-wheel of a certain valve. He would turn it on half-an-hour before the day-shift started work, and turn it off half-an-hour after that shift ended: a whole hour a day’s overtime.
The Time and Motion man turned up early to see exactly what the valve opener and shutter did, and stayed late to see the opposite performance. The valve was more or less hidden away in an old, disused workshop, and was set in the middle of a 10” pipe which came out of one wall and disappeared through another.
Time and Motion Man worked with the valve-turner from Monday to Friday, recoding every move. Then, curious, on the Friday morning he asked the workman why he had to do that task.
The man did not know. He had done the job for years, and there’d been another man doing it before him: “It’s always been done” was the reason given. So the T & M Engineer took the trouble to inspect where the pipe came from and went to.
Going outside the old workshop, he looked at the place where the pipe would have entered through the wall. He got a surprise.
So he went to the wall through which the pipe seemed to leave the building. A similar surprise.
It seemed that the workman had been earning his overtime by turning on and off a valve in the middle of a pipe which had been disconnected many years before. It had been sawn right off – and the ends, now rusty with age, projected forlornly outside the building, noticed by no-one until that moment!