Ask Kevin: Where's My Stick?

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I'm BORED, Kevin...

Dear Cycle World,

I read a column by Kevin Cameron years ago.  In it, he told the story of the BSA (I think) factory moving. Once relocated, they tried to bore BSA cylinders, but could not get them parallel. Finally they brought in the old technician that used to bore the cylinders. They hoped he could show them how to do it.

The first thing he asked was, “Where’s my stick?”  He had been using a piece of wood to align the boring apparatus.

I used to have a copy of this. I would bring it out to illustrate the importance of operator knowledge when operating equipment. Now, we call it the 80/20 rule; 80% of the knowledge is 20% at the machine.

If this is in on one of Mr. Cameron’s compilations, I’d like to know which one.

Thank you,


Kevin says:

The story concerned the machining of Norton twin crankcases after the move away from Bracebridge Street took place. On all the flow charts of the young b-school grads this should have taken place smoothly, but there was a rash of engines rejected for loose crank main bearings. By the usual detective work someone located the man who had performed this task (who had elected not to relocate) and he was conducted to the boring machine from which the defects were flowing. Efforts to bore bearing receivers produced chatter and out-of-dimension work. He looked around a bit, then said, "Where's me stick?"

Motoring back to Bracebridge Street and more looking soon produced "the stick" - a length of 2 X 4 with a shiny, arc-shaped depression near one end. Back in the new premises, the former employee latched a new but un-bored crankcase into the fixture, braced the stick in such a way that it pressed the rotating spindle firmly to one side, and bored a nicely finished hole. Upon inspection, the hole was found satisfactory. The spindle bearings of the boring machine were so worn that they could not control tool position unless pressed hard to one side. Reinvestment? What's that?

My other fave was told to me by some Harley-Davidson engineers during the mea culpa days just after 1980. Every winter, a great many cylinders were rejected. This was offensive to management as the cylinder-finishing machine was at the time a pride and joy. No one ever understood the problem, or why it occurred only in winter.

Years later, during the "management-meets-worker" meetings this question came up. The roomful of men and women from the production floor was silent - until one man spoke up, saying, "Well I'm gonna tell 'em".

The cylinder-finishing machine was right next to the gear line, and bar stock was brought onto the gear line through a large overhead door to the outside. In winter, heavy cold air rolled in when the door was opened, traveled across the gear line, and enveloped the cylinder-finishing machine. It promptly went off-tolerance and began to produce scrap. An hour or so after the door was closed, the machine would settle down and again produce satisfactory parts.

The engineers stayed upstairs and the production workers stayed downstairs - there was no interaction because they belonged to different "classes". No one upstairs had any idea about the problem. Everyone downstairs had always understood it. But people without degrees know better than to advise those who have them.

Thanks for taking the time to be in touch!