Thursday, October 3, 2013



THE Eskimo counts days by sleeps, counts
months by moons, and counts years by
long snows. He despatches himself by
the seasons. The Egyptians knew that days
varied in length, that the moon was no de-
spatcher of seasons, and that the sun was no
despatcher of the year, so they fell back on
Sothis, the dog-star, and based their chronology
on the great Sothis period of 1,461 years. Our
watches and chronometers are run on sidereal

With our photography, with our spectro-
scopes, we find that in one direction the stars
are widening out, that in the opposite direction
they are drawing together, as our solar system
swings through space; and ultimately we
shall fall back on the whole universe as chief

If we could photograph the stars at intervals
of a hundred years until we had five-thousand
pictures, and then run the views on a moving-
picture machine, all would be rapid interlacing
motion where now there seems to be immutable

So much for the infinitely large; but de-
spatching is just as much in evidence in thfe
infinitely little.

In three weeks' time, a hen's egg, if kept
warm, will change from an albuminous and
fatty mass into the living chick. As boys in an
English school we secured cards of silkworm
eggs, hatched them by the heat of our own
bodies, carefully reared the worms, watching
the alternate periods of voracious activity and
sloughing numbness. We watched them spin
their cocoons, within which they changed to
chrysalids, to emerge later as delicately beauti-
ful moths — unless we cut short their despatch-
ing and despatched them our way with boiling
water. All growth and decay are manifesta-
tions of the principle of despatching. The
emanations of radium, that marvelous element,
have almost revealed to us the ultimate consti-
tution of matter, and we now know that every
atom is in a ferment of activity, as orderly as
and perhaps far more complicated than a solar

The Egyptians had wrested from the stars
their time secrets and arranged accordingly
their dynasties, also their great Sothis month
once in 120 years, a leap-year month ; but they
did not know that ophthalmia is carried by
filthy flies and that it grows in each case as
regularly as solar cycles. So from the prehis-
toric paleolithic age to the last decade, Egyptian
babies have gone blind with preventable blind-

It is apparently easier to grasp and acquiesce
in the large than in the small, easier to rush to
certain death in a battle than to endure a cinder
in the eye, but he that ruleth his spirit is better
than he that taketh a city.

At every hotel there are racks filled with
railroad time-tables. These are issued by the
ton every month and show to the minute the
exact time during the future weeks every pas-
senger train in the United States is scheduled
to reach every station. These are the popular,
abridged time-tables. For the employees there
are time-tables much more carefully compiled,
covering also the freight trains and giving all
the rules of operation.

In railroad operation marvelous despatching
has been attained, more accurate than the sea-
sons, more reliable than the tides, almost equal
to the star time on which it is based. Lines of
track nearly a thousand miles long stretch be-
tween New York and Chicago. Every switch,
every grade, every curve, is known ; the line is
studded with signal towers and punctuated with
stations. In the round house is a locomotive
with boiler capable of carrying 225-pounds
steam pressure, which through the cylinders
and pistons pushes on the wheels with rims
polished like glass. The rims transmit 400
horse power through a quarter-inch square of
contact with a glass-smooth rail. With one load
of coal, drinking from tanks as it runs, the
locomotive is able to speed 140 miles at the rate
of 60 miles an hour. The seventy-two to
eighty-four wheel axles under the train must
each run true in its box, everything in track
and equipment, in men, and above all in spirit,
must be in perfect order all the time. On the
basis of these conditions a schedule is made
out, a schedule of running time, with due al-
lowance for grades and curves and stations, an
18-hour schedule from New York to Chicago.
The train is then despatched.

The despatchers issue orders to the conductor
and to the block-signal men, thus controlling
the train from both ends. While under the
orders of the conductor, while physically under
the control of the engineer, it is the despatcher
who from start to finish holds it in the hollow
of his hand. This is the highest degree of
despatching that has been reached in America.
It is perfect in its way, and all Americans are
justly proud of it, although as a marvel of
human skill and despatching excellence it is not
to be compared with the despatching of the
Franco-German war by von Moltke, when over
a million men were despatched, and empire-
making and destroying battles were fought at
a predetermined time and place, with prede-
termined victory for the great despatcher, pre-
determined defeat for his less skilled opponent.
The big task was carried through because of
perfect preparation. The German army had
no track, no perfect locomotives, no built and
tested signal towers, but it had a perfectly
working organization that had not omitted to
give attention to every little detail.

In America we fail in details. We step from
the 18-hour train and we enter a railroad shop.
We ask, "Do you despatch your work here?" —

"No, this is a repair shop. We rarely do the
same thing twice. Despatching is all very well
for a daily train running every day in the year,
but it would never apply in a repair shop/' The
official in charge with ill-disguised skepticism
enquires whether the questioner is a railroad
man, whether he understands the peculiarities
of railroad operation. We say nothing, but we
wonder whether a surgeon without railroad
experience could take out a railroad man's
appendix. Has the official fully grasped the
fact that as to most of life facts, as to the
fundamentals of conception, gestation, birth,
nutrition, growth, development, he is one with
his cousins, the other mammals ; that as to most
of the balance he is one with his human broth-
ers, and that even if he had the special talent
of a Paderewski, he could not play without
hands, nor compose if he had the toothache, nor
appear in public barefoot? We wonder that the
official does not see that the laws of order, of
sequence, of rhythm, of balance, and several
others are superior to all minor peculiarities.
Once when I was suddenly stricken in a rail-
road shop and was taken, distorted with pain,
in an ambulance in my grimy, disheveled
clothes to a railroad hospital, they thought I
was a tramp who had fallen off a brake beam,
but neither I nor they were worried about my
official standing as they tried to mitigate the
sufferings of a sick man.

To return, not to this railroad shop, but to
the other where the doubting official is stand-
ing, I suddenly see a man shaping a small piece
of steel about the size of a visiting card. I do
not know what it is for, but in thirty seconds
I notice that the moving tool is cutting air
three inches and cutting metal one inch; effi-
ciency of stroke is therefore about 30 per cent,
with due allowance for clearance at each end.
I ask the man what kind of tool steel he is
using, and he answers "blue chip," but this
means nothing to him, as instead of making
blue chips his metal chips are dull gray. His
cutting speed is about one-third of what it
ought to be, therefore efficiency of speed is 33
per cent. His tool is diamond-pointed and his
feed is 1/64 inch. He should have used a
round-nosed tool and the feed should have been
1/16 inch, so that the efficiency of feed is 2?
per cent. His,depth of cut is as thin as he can
make it, so he takes* three so-called roughing
cuts and then a finishing cut when one deep
roughing dut and a broad, scraping, finishing
cut would have answered. His efficiency on
depth of cut is not over 50 per cent. The
time efficiency of the whole job is therefore
30 X 33 X 25 X 50 = 1.25 per cent— but a
little over one per cent. These are the visible
inefficiencies. I surmise a number of others
that I do not see. I suspect that perhaps the
piece was not needed at all, that some worker
or foreman is doing some unauthorized experi-
mental work ; I suspect that the piece needs no
such finish. I have too often seen infinitesimal
cuts, followed by file and emery cloth, put on
a piece that is then flung down on the rough
floor and badly dented with no apparent inter-
ference with its usefulness. I have seen a
scraping tool put on locomotive tires, taking
off tissue-paper-thin scrapings, when every-
body who thinks a minute knows that car axles
(a much more important surface) are often
given a rolling finish, and that locomotive tires,
however rough, would roll smooth before the
engine had rolled out of the shop. I have seen
a railroad shop man put hours of work and use
$600 of material on a replacement when a $27
repair would have abundantly answered the
purpose, a man not heeding the Scripture in-
junction not to put a patch of new cloth on an
old garment lest the garment be weaker than
before. Why continue these painful examples ?

The railroad that despatches its crack trains
with 99 per cent of time accuracy has either
no despatch system or a very crude one for
work, either big or small, through its shops;
therefore in some cases it fails to realize an
efficiency of even 1 per cent, and on the big
average of all shop work fails to realize either
a time or cost efficiency of more than 40 per
cent. Our universe would not last very long
if only the stars were despatched. It is the
despatching of our daily meals, the despatching
work of ferments, of bacteria, of protozoa, of
molecules and of atoms, that counts.

A firm in Chicago has taken a million-dollar
contract to bring out a new edition of a great
encyclopedia. All the work is despatched.
Conditions were standardized, operations were
standardized, each volume, each page, each
column, each line, each letter is despatched,
even as the proper lubrication of each car axle
is part of the proper despatching of the 18-hour

Many years ago on the Yukon I said to a
river-steamer owner: "I suppose you much
prefer passengers to freight. If you run on a
sand bar, the passengers can get off and help
you to put the steamer afloat." He told me
plainly, forcibly and picturesquely that I did
not know what I was talking about. If a pas-
senger boat stuck on a bar, the passengers did
nothing but grumble and cause trouble, and the
only way they lightened the load was by eating
more of the food, but a load of freight would
not complain if it not only ran on a sand bar
but in addition was caught in the ice and re-
mained all winter.

Railroad despatching as to passenger trains
is of a very high order of excellence; as to
freight forwarding it is gradually emerging
from the dark ages, perishable freight going
forwards almost with passenger regularity;
wrecks, slides, snow are taken care of with a
despatch of the highest order of excellence;
railroads are even built on schedule time; but
considering the expenditures that are not
despatched and those that are inefficiently
despatched, the general despatching efficiency,
even of railroads, is not over 40 per cent, yet
there are few activities that do as well as rail-
roads. The reasons the despatching efficiency
is so low are many, but chief among them are
lack of proper type of organization, and failure
to apply principles as distinguished from
empirical makeshifts*

Nevertheless, there are very few other activi-
ties scheduled as far in advance and as accu-
rately as train despatching. Newspaper offices
furnish wonderful examples of scheduled work,
so also do theatres, and perhaps the most won-
derful of all are the weather reports, gathered
over an area of four million square miles, com-
piled, digested and distributed within a few
hours of receipt. But most of the industrial
plants of the world are still in the stage of
civilization of which as to transportation the
old freight wagons and prairie schooners
across the plains were types. They started
when they got ready, they arrived some time,
and nobody knew where they were nor what
route they were taking in between.

There is one collection of industrial shops in
the United States in which schedules and de-
spatching have been so perfected that the work
is planned ahead three months and the particu-
lar job that each man is to do at 4 o'clock or
any other hour for any day is known. Plan-
ning long in advance is convenient, but is not
an essential part of scientific despatching. A
barber shop is scientifically despatched from
minute to minute, and a customer entering can
figure very closely on the time that he will be
able to leave.

Railroad despatching remains, however, the
most extended and striking example of ad-
vance planning and daily realization. It seemed,
quite obvious, therefore, to extend these rail-
road principles of despatching to the operations
in a railroad shop. Railroad officials fully un-
derstood what despatching meant, were accus-
tomed to work under its rules. It proved,
nevertheless, a very difficult task. In the run-
ning of trains a very great deal precedes de-
spatching. There is a carefully worked out
schedule which has been more or less tried out
for months. How many of these conditions are
present in the industrial shop? Where are the
standardized conditions, where are the stand-
ardized operations? Where the discipline, the
maintenance, the schedules?

Railroad shops as to despatching are in the
same backward condition as most industrial
shops. Therefore it was found that despatch-
ing by itself could not be immediately applied,
that many other preparations were necessary,
that if the application of other principles was
worked out, despatching would become easy.

THe application of principles will change a
mob into an army, whether in field or shop.
The frenzy of a mob shows itself in a lynching,
but the courage of an army ought to be highest
in defeat. When men, foremen, officials, equip-
ment, supplies, had been subjected for a year
to the operation of principles, a beginning was
made of despatching locomotive repairs. The
subject was attacked from both ends at once.
Locomotives were worth a great deal to the
road, a day's service being estimated at $35;
therefore the first plan was to despatch the
repairs as a whole, locomotives to be returned
to service in 12 days, 18 days, 24 days, accord-
ing to the class of repair. The second plan,
worked in with this, was to despatch each sep-
arate item of work and to pick out those items
which, taken at the proper time, in the proper
order, and in the proper sequence, would result
in completing a locomotive in the shortest time.

It is interesting to note in the matter of re-
pairs the great superiority of marine-repair
despatching over locomotive-repair despatch-
ing. A big vessel will be put in a dry dock, at
$5,000 a day charge perhaps, and be completely
scraped, repainted, new propeller and rudder
fitted, new plates inserted, in perhaps three
days. Complete circulating pumps, from draw-
ing to installation, will be completed in three
days. Where individual operations are summed
up, many of which can go on concurrently, it
is hard to defend a longer time than 72 hours
for most locomotive repairs.

It is also interesting to note that in the sister
branch of railroad maintenance, namely, track
repairs, stupendous tasks of snow and landslide
removals, bridge rebuilding, etc., are commonly
accomplished in hours rather than in days or

It is evident that brain must count for more
than muscle in attempting to apply despatching
to locomotive repairs. We had to know that
men would be available, therefore discipline
and the fair deal both had to be strengthened ;
ideals of order, of promptness, of economy had
to be instilled ; common sense had to be applied ;
records had to be started, but other principles
also had to be applied. Conditions of all kinds
had to be standardized, operations had to be
standardized, schedules had to be made out,
and definite instructions had to be issued. It

ite instructions had to be issued. It
is really very much easier to apply a few prin-
ciples than to remedy several million defects.
The easiest way is to forget these defects in
the past, ignore them for the present, but con-
stantly obviate them for the future.

A new plan was gradually substituted for the
old plan. In the railroad shop major schedules
were worked out and put into effect by de-
spatching; minor and subsidiary schedules
were made out for each job, each man, and
each machine, the lesser jobs fitting like parts
of a puzzle into the larger schedules, and on
the basis of schedules, however often they were
changed, men, machines and jobs were de-
spatched. All work, instead of passing directly
from foreman to worker or to gang, passed
through our despatch board. Practice was per-
fectly elastic, but procedure was not. Schedules
could be changed on a moment's notice and
also the sequence of despatching, but not the
fact of despatching. The particular shape and
size and location of despatch board is unim-
portant, the essential being that it is suited to
the work. Whether the despatch board is cov-
ered with parti-colored strings, or made up of
hooks, clips, or pockets to receive cards, is also
unimportant in principle, but not in practice,
since a method under which many of your de-
spatching cards blow out of the window soon
becomes inoperative.

The name despatching was adopted from
train despatching, and train operation organ-
ization was adapted. The foreman correspond-
ed to the engineer, a new official was created
corresponding to the despatcher, a messenger
and telephone service kept the despatcher's
office in touch with the work. Despatching
records, however, were adapted from bank
practice. The receiving teller takes in money,
he enters the amount in the depositor's time
book, he credits the bank's cash book with the
amount received, but he also credits the ledger
account of the depositor. When the depositor
draws a check it is presented to the paying
teller who hands out the cash, charges the cash
account, charges the depositor's account. At
the end of any day the total cash in hand must
correspond with the sum of the balances in all
the accounts. Similarly the despatching board,
like the cash book, is filled with prospective
work. As fast as any item is performed it is
charged to the order. The operator is charged
with the pay he draws and credited with the
work he performs.

There must be at the day's or week's or
month's end a perfect balance between all work
credited to operators and charged to orders,
also a perfect balance between wages and other
accounts charged and totals credited to work in
progress and delivered since last balance. The
records are immediate, absolutely accurate,
and wholly adequate.

In practice it has proved more important to
despatch unstandardized work than to stand-
ardize undespatched work, even as on railroads
it is more important to despatch trains even if
there is no adherence to schedule than it is to
run trains on time without despatching.

Despatching, like other principles, is a sub-
division of the science of management, a part
of planning; but while visible to the eye as a
distinct pattern, it ought, like inlaid work, to
be intactile. If we are well nothing is more
beautifully despatched than the food we eat,
from plate to building up of depleted hidden
tissue. We are conscious only of the pleasure
of the first taste, not conscious of the admirably
regular way by which each molecule is ulti-
mately despatched to its destination.

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