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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Railwaymen Unsung Hero's

I have just posted this on the sar-l yahoo forum but felt I should share it in my blog as well.

Unsung Railwaymen

As we go along in life we met people who have a profound effect on us, the way we do or look at things, the attitude we develop and the values we adopt. Quite often these people never know what effect they have had.

One such person in my life and I’m sure many young apprentice fitters on the South African Railways ,was a gentleman we called ’Uncle Eddie’- Eddie Klein. When I started as an apprentice fitter in 1980 and was placed out of the apprentice school for the first time to work along side an artisan I was place in the hands of ’Uncle Eddie’ in the ’test room’ at ERS Salt River . He was coming to the end of his time with the railways having started himself as an apprentice in 1933. In those days the trade was call a greater mechanic, basically 5 trades in one - fitter, machinist (turner),boilermaker, welder and blacksmith. Buy the time I worked under him he was working as a fitter having been on steam and coming across to electrical traction in the late 1960’s

This man was different to all others I meet and worked under/along side on the railway or anywhere else I have work. He was from the 'old school', although we never called him ‘Sir or Mr Klein’ we never just used his first name it was always ‘Uncle Eddie’ ( and not Oom as the Afrikaaner used to show respect)
He drove in everyday, never late in his Ford Cortina , immaculate, you know the one with the peace sign tail lights. He always wore grey flannel trousers with a white shirt, jacket and tie. Once changed he wore a clean pair of overalls every day, the dungarees type, with a shirt and tie and a khaki dust coat. His safety boats where always clean ( had seen him in the locker room at the end of the day giving them a clean)

He hated ‘piece work’ as he felt it encouraged shoddy work as was a false economy , he would say do the job properly ,once, and the job/work will last. He scorned the term ’preventive maintenance’ and said only an accountant could come up with such a concept. The idea of replacing something before it had broke because it had ‘done it time’ would getting him going.

He had great patience with us young apprentices, showing us how do each thing properly but also not allowing us to get off lightly, it had to be right or start again for exsample when lapping in two brass surfaces to get a dry seal in a Westinghouse brake valve, namely the QSA Valve ( Quick Service Application Valve- provided simultaneous brake application though the train using vacuum brakes) He used to say there are not two options only one ‘right’.

His tools where always kept in their right place in his tool cupboard and spotless. The tools in his tool box where kept in leather tool rolls and again always where they should be. His view was if you spent the time correctly placing and replacing things it would save time in the long run. The test room where he work was always neat and clean. Everything had its place, he had shelves with all the brake valve spares in neatly marked boxes, he had spares that even the store did not have. He had a little book which listed where everything was or where you could get it.

In side his tool cupboard door he had a picture of the Queen Mum , I think it had something to do with the Royal Train and visit in 1947 but I never asked and why would an 18 year old. I must say I now wish I had as it would I’m sure made another story to fill these pages.

One of the ’Uncle Eddies’ statements that has always stayed with me was, ’if a boss comes along and asks whose work is this never hesitate to stepped forward and claim responsibility as it should be at a quality or level for the boss to be paying a compliment’ quite something in our now disposable world.

He retired in the early 1980’s , I have no idea what happened to him but what a man. ‘To the talent of Uncle Eddie‘.

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