Decapitated little fasteners are never a pleasant recollection, so to my publisher, may you be buried under an avalanche of ISIS propaganda for persuading me to recall this traumatic event —— moving on—- so did you know publisher, that just like books, anecdotes should have titles. However, unlike books, it is possible for a reluctant author like myself, to craft a title with such literary skill, that after writing said title, no more words would be needed for the rest of the anecdote. With this stationery saving plan in mind, I have struggled to title the event I am about to describe, in the hopes that a single line would be large enough to satisfy your picky professional standards—– but alas, literary success eludes me once more. So to my multitude of readers —- I tried —– what’s that I hear —– long winded—– It’s the publisher’s fault.
Guess this title!
I’m not going to reveal them yet, but even though I failed to use them I did come up with a couple of titles of my own. The one is from a poem by Kipling, and though the line is taken out of context and certainly not applicable in this century, it could well have qualified for the event in the year it happened. Of course the other title had to be words in a song. Both poem and song were well known in an age that may unfortunately disqualify many readers in our jointing world, but alas, with historical precedent on my side, I am left with the sad decision to not glue, but screw, equal opportunity.
The place was Jamshedpur, India in the early sixties, where, even though living in Calcutta, I spent months of my life installing and servicing American, German and Swiss machinery at TATA’s Daimler Benz auto forge facility. Welcome a participant into the story, a maintenance mechanic at the plant, a character named Charan Singh, whose “man bites dog” attitude was known and generally tolerated by fellow workers and supervisors alike, and of course known to me, an outside contractor who had achieved the impossible by successfully working with him over the years. Other than a passing hand wave, I had not been officially introduced to Gruber the unwitting ‘other’ participant of this narrative, whose first name was Peter. Gruber had recently arrived from Germany to work on a very large, ailing, double acting hammer. Peter had no English so could only communicate with hand signals and guttural utterings which no one understood.
It was thought that the cause of their mutual dislike probably started early on when Peter in a combined flash of inspiration—desperation, had attempted to communicate with Charan Singh by drawing pictures on a pad, but the point of his lead pencil broke while negotiating the left arm of the swastika, bringing a rude snigger from Charan— sending said Peter into an awful Teutonic tizzy—worsened, when no one could find him a pencil sharpener. Perhaps this portended—is this a word Publisher?—events to come, and not long after, it was Peter who decided to stop me with a Tarzan like introduction wearing a huge cheeseburger smile, by sticking his ham of a hand on his considerable chest and saying ‘Me Peter’.
Seems like Peter had a suspicion that since I worked on German machines I was a kindred spirit and the answer to his communication problem, with his upcoming hammer rebuild. Had I known what lay ahead I may have caught the first plane back to Calcutta, but looking back, I now realize I was witness to the birth of the expression “Getting Torqued”.
The Players Bio
Peter Gruber was a large, genial, beer drinking man with a red face and hams for hands. Peter was not just a mechanic—he was a “German mechanic” and despite communication difficulties, managed to constantly convey his undeniably superior qualification to Charan Singh and crew with unmistakable intent.
Charan Singh was tall, wiry, middle aged and turbaned, a very proud Sikh—- who was a self-taught mechanic, as many were in India in those days. Fully self-reliant and ready to take on any challenges, he had worked very well with me on large press installations over the years. Acknowledging what one
doesn’t know can make average people successful. A little knowledge is sometimes dangerous and Charan would never admit to a mistake because his pride would not let him. As a result he was often involved in sometimes near violent altercations with colleagues and higher muckimucs.
And then there was I, the innocent peacemaker in this impending incident. I got on with most everybody because early in my life I realized that no matter how smart you think you are there is always someone around the corner who is smarter, and who you could learn from. But even I, with my self-admitted diplomatic skills, failed to heed the warning signs.
The Incident or “Death of a Diaphragm”
It was Charan Singh who drug me away from my afternoon tea at the maintenance manager’s office, to be present while he and Peter assembled the critical hammer diaphragm. The circular diaphragm was about five feet in diameter and was bolted down with a series of what looked like 5/16” hex head screws. The assembly sat on a workhorse and had been prepped by Gruber with German precision, with all screws snugged down, sequence marked and ready for the final tightening.
The plan was for Peter and Charan Singh, both experienced wrench turners, to sit on opposite sides while torquing the screws simultaneously in a sequence recommended by the manufacturer. Things went sour from the start when Charan Singh accused Peter of sitting on the wrong side of this symmetrical assembly. When the smoke cleared and order restored, it turned out that the side had nothing to do with it but that Peter was sitting on Charan Singh’s favorite stool. I was beginning to think that there must be some truth in the rumor that Charan Singh went nuts after twelve o’clock. So sides were switched and order restored by my diplomatic self, or so thought I.
I would inform some of you— dare I breach PC again— younger readers, that in the days before “click” torque wrenches, accurate preload on small screws was totally dependent on the mechanics skill. So the job ahead for the two proud mechanics, one from the east and the other from the west, demanded considerable skills. So there they sat on their stools like two pugilists waiting for the bell. Would have been a great iPhone moment.
Peter made the first turn on position marked # 1 with Charan simultaneously covering and torqueing his #1 on cue… The sequencer, seated on his own stool, lifted placard #2, so both mechanics covered #2 and torqued on cue. #3 was completed smoothly and I thought maybe this is working. #4 went fine and I called a pause after #6 to reorganize the placards. We restarted at #7 and after cue was called at #8 Charan Singh’s ring spanner came away with a head still in it and all hell broke loose. The German mechanic uttered a shrill scream of anguish and anger, the sequencer fell off his stool and I could have sworn that the wounded diaphragm resonated in tune with Peter Gruber’s vocal misery.
What happens next would have caused an international incident if anybody could have found us on the map. Gruber, yes the same Peter Gruber, covers #9 and with a casual snap of his wrist and to the surprise of all, willfully torques the head off. Rightly sensing a slight and not to be outdone, Charan Singh quickly responds by torquing off the heads of both his #9 and #10 in quick succession. All this happens at warp speed so that when the dazed sequencer props himself up with the help of placard #10, Gruber obliges by decapitating said screw with a flourish. After all befell ist befell, ya!
Like watching a tennis match all eyes turn to Charan Singh in anticipation who promptly removes the heads of his #11, #12 and #13 and stares at Gruber with a challenging glare that almost says I can do anything better than you… It is at that precise moment and in pin drop silence, when Gruber’s wrench is poised and ready to retaliate, that the calm, cautioning, changing voice of the maintenance manager is heard saying, “Be careful you buggers, don’t shear off any heads, we don’t have any more special screws —— daaaamn.” And sanity returns as all faces turn to my good friend Eric whose last name I shall withhold because he has either passed on or is still in hiding.
Had there been an international incident resulting from Gruber’s behavior it may have brought forth press like this:
India government lodges complaint with FRG embassy in New Delhi over events involving destruction of property by FRG passport holder and fugitive Peter Gruber last seen fleeing the scene with bearded Sikh in hot pursuit.
India PM in heated talks with German chancellor who finds Gruber’s behavior unacceptable—- now I know where Obama found that word. Chancellor makes light and challenges PM to a beer drinking contest.
PM declines indignantly—- he only drinks Mango juice but since he is the offended party he has choice of weapons and chooses instead a hot chili eating duel. The chancellor accepts, while citing precedent, volunteers his vice, who is Mexican, to be his champion. PM is snared in his own trap when his own vice unexpectedly pleads a sudden case of hemorrhoids.
Indo-German relations restored.
Not so well known diplomat also known as Mr. Bolt restores Indo-German relations by eating the Indian chilies and drinking all the German beer.
Mercifully— The End.