So, Mr Fry is on his journey across Central America, a nice piece of travel documentary on ITV HD, all very safe and tongue in cheek i must add.Well, here is the start to my Tale in a City. Later, I will change it to a Tale of Sex in a City.
In 1997, i was contracting, as an electrical engineer to a large American Corporation, based here in Devon, and had been doing so for some many years, this company were major players and leading manufacturers across the globe in electrical components, after all, the 80’s & 90’s were now to be the revolutionary age for electronics and communication.
This company base had started its journey in the mid 1950’s, a state of the art purpose built factory was constructed, at its height of production it was employing over 5000 personnel. I was born in 1956, my Father had left the Post Office to become a factory cleaner, working for a “one man, van and many others” business, considering he travelled 4 miles each way to work, either on bicycle or foot, in all weathers, he was always on time, he was always polite and he worked like the proverbial trojan.
One evening, the factory manager approached him, he was offering him a position within the company, my Dad rather concerned enquired why he was doing this? Mr Powley, later, to be a life long friend, had heard him talking to another employee, and how he now had fears as to wether he could keep his family above the bread line, Bert, himself had been in a similar position many many years ago, and he too had also been offered a break, i guess, he was handing his chance to someone else, I too have been fortunate to have travelled along that same welcoming break scenario, all within this same factory environment. Roy worked his way, with guidance, during a period of forty years, thirteen of them on and off twelve hour night shifts, he acquired daytime online production, up to shift manager, on floor, then eventually slipping into the driving seat of Mr Powley when he retired, during this time he trained a young lad called Collis, who, showed the same determination to succeed, when i was travelling abroad on several of these projects he was in fact next inline to become CEO of this particular factory.
Often heard, and in many ways, its not what you know, but, who you know.
I however, wasn’t directly involved making these minuscule components, my responsibility was to help maintain the infrastructure of this expanding business ensuring 8 Billion plus individuals came off the production line each year. The process of manufacturing these tiny *black spiders with three legs* was a filthy one, infact, totally gross, not disimilar to refining oil, or EVEN cocaine.
A complex system was structured comprising of planned preventative maintenance systems, power supply controls, line equipment, waste neutralisation systems, air conditioning, and least of all not forgetting the canteen facilities, amongst other things, any, and everything else that had a wire or pipe connected to it, be it, water, air or oil. This task was immense, i was part of a 365/24/7 maintenance team, a total of 16 guys, each working two in a 12 hour shift rotating every four days.
Always being one to volunteer overtime and jump in on holiday fillings etc, my boss, asked if i wanted to be involved help design some new equipment, of course my answer was to be yes, as probably mentioned before, i learn quickly, especially when hands on. Looking at what we already knew with previous equipment, we, a small team of just six would stretch certain criteria, try to cut corners to advantages and ensure limits were pushed, before we knew it we had a fully functioning waste system design, albeit in theory and on paper, ready for assembly. Now armed with floor plans, a virtual reality assembly area and material maximum dimensions, we now wondered how the hell were we going to do this and where on earth was this “stuff” going to be placed? we had to find a “work playground” big enough to construct this thing in real time.
Leasing a building 60 miles away, proved to be a logistical nightmare, for every day over the summer months we travelled, back and forth to Bridgewater, no time off, each of us putting in over 14 hrs every day, pushed our physical and mental abilities, we designed this wonderful leviathan, a complex machine, a device that could change an environment, utilising water, electricity and mechanical propulsion. This was assembled and we were determined that this would work to perfection, there was no room for error here, we had hundreds of thousands of litres of water pumping around whole circuits of pipes, through production cleansing baths, tanks for storage, tanks for this, tanks for that, tanks for chemicals that could cause mass destruction with one drip of its contents. Putting this hazard into context, if you ever saw the film Erin Brocovitch, you would understand just how important it was that we got this right, there was no room for error.
A series of storage tanks in parallel would hold this hazardous waste created in a production process ready for disposal, we were now simulating the finest way to revolutionise cleansing and neutralising contaminated fluids before actual release into the environment. To the untrained eye, it was a monstrosity, to us it was a creature of beauty, it was in fact, a big toy made of spaghetti cable and pipework, neatly fixed to brackets and imaginary walls.
Suddenly this was now something totally crazy, and it worked, it was massive, almost monumental, four of us had broken our souls and churned our guts out, for that privelidge, we got paid handsomely, all different kinds of monetary rates, standard day rates, after 8 rates, after 12 rates, double bubble rates and on Saturday afternoons and all day Sundays it gave us triple time, that also included travelling, sometimes we slept in our cars and claimed hotel expenses, we were cheeky, we applied for it, and we got it.
During the following week, we were pulled to one side by our two managers, asking if we had holidays planned or any other committments placed in the forseable future, Colin and Bob said they couldnt do this, they couldnt do that, their wives werent happy, and made up every conceivable possible excuse not to go further with it. I could now see where this was going, i spoke to mad Pete and gave him my views on it, we were both single, no responsibilities, except for this one of course, and our many heavy debts we each owed, which included ex partners, children and properties to maintain, we bounced our ideas off each other, we worked well together, we were a team, he listened, we both agreed. No one else knew the insides of the beast like we did, this was to be our levering point, our secret weapon. We were to negotiate hard for our financial worth.
The following day the two other team members were told that the company had appreciated all their efforts placed into this project but, they would now have to return to their shifts. Within one sentence they were out, it was to be possibly one of their biggest mistakes refusing this opportunity. They were not told the final destination where this plant would be going and we were informed not to mention it either.
Meanwhile, my new partner Pete and i, now had the opportunity to turn this into something amazing, here we were, grafters, spanner boys, blue overall lads, now given the chance to become upper management, on the proviso, that we were prepared to get our hands dirty and just keep our noses clean. Our faces must have been a picture, we had NO idea, that this was going to be an overseas project, infact, if this actual project did come off, it was to be the start of our big time, there were now two other projects after this one in El Salvador, that being the Czech Republic and eventually in China.
All the time we had been doing the manual work, the Salvadorian Government had been making all kinds of background checks on Pete and myself, this was way before allowing us entry into the country, Visas were not necessary for tourists, but employees needed special dispensation, not simply because we were British citizens working for a Company whos head office was based in South Carolina, USA, fact was this had a “Top Secret” project label attached to it, perhaps that had somewhat to do with it, especially, as there was so much competition going on between rival companies.
We could have been anyone really, but, we were chosen, it appeared of what we knew and had learned, someone or something else wanted to know it too, we kept the knowledge to ourselves in our heads, on paper, and on a couple of floppy disc sets, one in Pete’s briefcase, one in mine.
Here in San Salvador City they had an already well established manufacturing plant, within a military unit, security apparantly was high, armoured guards swarmed the area, perhaps my previous background check working within the British Establishments enhanced the curry to favour my new position well.
It took twelve weeks to design and build this amazing piece of machinery, and now we had been given just six weeks to dismantle it, to pack and secure for transit into two forty foot shipping containers, we had to label every single item, bolts, nuts, washers, including our own personal bags of commitment and boxes of enthusiasm, having to obtain duplicate parts slowed progress, again, ensuring our paperwork and all items were eventually in order, rechecked, and double checked again, customs gave us the certificate, the container doors were locked, and custom sealed, now registered and ready for transportation and the Atlantic crossing. In eight weeks we ourselves and our two managers were destined for El Salvador, Central America via Honduras.
We had been given just under a fortnight, with pay, to get some rest, during this period, we suffered some nasty side effects from the Typhoid and Rabies Inoculations and from complete utter exhaustion, our Spanish was limited to ¡hola! gracias and adios, during construction we spoke this fluently, this was going to be fun. After all, everyone would speak English, wouldn’t they? or so we thought.