A believable story about the beginning of Rocky Mountain Computer Troubleshooting…
Not TOO long ago, this building was towering over Denver Colorado. Today, it is only visible on the Denver skyline at certain angles from Front Range peaks. Over 20 high rise buildings presently block this original “Western Federal” view.
When my son was only 18 months old, I had decided to dedicate a great majority of my own time, time that I spent mastering the chase of elusive electrons from schematic drawings on E and D size formats, to tiny bits of plastic and silicon mounted on a two sided ‘printed circuit board (PCB) in the performance of a thing called, “Duty!”. Duty became an active verb of my style of Troubleshooting and provides a ‘segway’ to this story…
A partner and I were branching out from a ‘third party maintenance’ company named “Sirvess”. Ernie (The ‘faithful’ side-kick) and I had learned couple of mottos during our indentured service at Datum, Inc., as Field Service Engineer’s, to the creation of a set of business and troubleshooting goals. Sayings like;
“Failure is the path of least persistence”
and from that grey monster, the USS Independence CVA-62,
“We Can Do!”
Using ‘mottos’, like those above, Ernie and I were skilled in Electronics by the United States Navy and ‘readied for Carter era small mini-computer companies (DEC and Data General) using DTL and TTL technology, businesses that purchased and resold objects called ‘mini-computers’ with peripheral devices like disks and mag-tape drives. Companies like, Western Federal, who had a ‘raised floor’ computer room on the 20th floor and a Loan Signing Palace, close to a very busy lobby, located on the 3rd floor.
Ken Flint, the President of Sirvess, had given Ernie and I the ‘go ahead’ to solve the Western Federal problem of having their computer located 17 floors away from their money making printer. The Data General built in interface expected a distance of 10 feet or less.
Ernie and I designed and built a ‘long lines’, 15 inch by 15 inch Data General printer interface using a 30 gauge wire-wrapped PCB, found spare connectivity in the elevator shaft, built two cables for the 3rd and 20th floor distribution panels and quoted a reasonable date for delivery, installation and acceptance.
Several well meaning friends of ours had already created a name for this company, “Mini Mag” – “Products and Services for Mini Computers”.
Ernie and I had ‘promised’ Ken that we would only do these ‘engineering level’ fixes to the ‘Sirvess of the Rockies’ customer base. If this ‘engineering solution’ required a service contract, Ernie and I promised to step up and fix it on our OWN time. Ernie and I agreed that who ever got the check would talk the Vice President into a week end response or after hours solution and a 25.00 – 40.00 dollars per hour would be the amount we would perform this service would be billed by Mini Mag as a remedial hourly fee.
After the customer accepted the installation of the ‘Long Lines’, I was very interested in the investment of my share of the project proceeds. The Vice President that sponsored our design and installation agreed to a check signing ceremony at a future date and I immediately visited the Jensen Tool facility in western Denver where I purchased this hum-dinger of a field serviceman’s tool kit (see photo above). It had every tool I could imagine, PLUS soft leather pockets for more junk, yet to be accumulated.
My NEW Jensen Tool Kit cost the same amount as that of our house payment. I took it to my ‘shop’ area in the basement and re – inventoried each item it contained, as often as I could justify.
The day finally came when I would be the one pick up Western Federal check, (the ‘deliverable’ portion of the contract). I raced through the basement grabbed my tool case and drove downtown to my appointment on the 20th floor of the Western Federal building.
The Vice President asked if he could get a time and material quote from Mini Mag for any maintenance challenge that may surface after his company had paid Mini Mag for the ‘Long Lines’ interface. Having rehearsed our 25-40 dollar position, I calmly asked for permission to ‘open may case’ on his conference table, just to show off my new case acquisition. I spun the case to catch his expression seeing the grandeur of my tool box.
Instead, I saw a grown man frown, then start to laugh hilariously. I stepped forward to see what was in my tool kit and was shocked to see an over sized ‘RED’ plastic screw driver, a YELLOW plastic hammer of equal ‘non computer tool’ proportions and a BLUE playskool saw jammed in one of my soft leather pockets.
My 18 month old son, Kris, must have placed all of his TOY tools into my Jensen Tool kit!
“How much would you charge per hour?” the Vice President asked with a smiling face.
Red faced I replied, “Oh, there is NO charge for any trip(s) on the ‘Long Line’ interface during the first year. Our special factory warranty!”
Gone were all of the challenges of working for two masters, Sirvess or Mini Mag. I totally forgot about the $25.00 per hour, or $40.00 per hour, amounts that Ernie and I had rehearsed for just such a moment. That seemed so unreachable after I opened that Field service case. In fact, any monetary amount seemed so inappropriate at that time.
I grabbed the check from the Vice President and adjourned our meeting.