Friday, April 21, 2006

Whole lotta shakin' going on

My mom mentioned a story at Easter that I don’t think I’d ever heard before, because I can’t imagine forgetting it.

Before he retired, my dad was a landlubber employee of the Canadian Coast Guard, a technician who tested navigational aid equipment—lights, solar panels, and other things like that. He worked at CCG Base Prescott, which was a century-old building on the town’s main street that used to be an ammunition factory. I remember it had one of those vacuum tube message systems, a manually operated freight elevator instead of a normal passenger elevator, black rotary telephones, and ashtrays everywhere.

One day my dad had to test this new wind-powered generator, so he installed this big turbine up on the roof, where the wind was. As soon as it went online, though, it started violently vibrating the entire building, which turned out not to be structurally sound enough to avoid being literally shaken to pieces. Worse, the design incorporated no means of turning the generator off. (“Your father was always very brilliant in some ways,” my mom says. “But he didn't always think about consequences.”) The building had to be evacuated, and the police had to cordon off the streets around the base as the turbine’s blades of doom whirled the juddering building closer and closer to complete collapse.

My dad telephoned my mom in a panic. “What am I going to do?”

“Why don’t you just throw something big into it and destroy it?” my mom suggested.

My dad was aghast. “But it’s a hundred-thousand-dollar generator!”

“What’s more expensive?” my mom asked. “The generator or the building?”

So in the end, my dad did throw something huge into the generator and destroyed it before it could destroy the building. A couple of years later, though, the building was demolished anyway, and a modern new headquarters was constructed in its place, a decision surely strongly influenced by this incident. Before that, however, my dad ended up getting moved offsite to a new facility on a few empty acres of fieldland way down a dirt road by the garbage dump two towns over, where he could conduct his experiments without endangering anyone.

There are some lessons in there about planning, problem solving, and sacrifice. But at the very least, there's also always this: No matter how badly you mess up at work, you can at least take consolation in the thought that at least you didn’t cause the destruction of the entire building. Unless you did, in which case, at least you’re not alone.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is brilliant. Well done Pet's dad.
- Kitty

4/24/2006 10:25:00 AM  

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