Once again, Dad was right.
Our article this issue, 'Weak rivets sank the Titanic, authors contend' (Page 2), reminded me of an encounter many years ago when my father sat at our dinner table, railing against the cheap bolts and fasteners his company recently had purchased from China. They were made of something he called 'pot metal,' which I have come to discover is a cheap alloy with a low melting point, generally considered to be suitable for toys and other nonessential uses.
Even though this conversation with my dad happened when I was in my late teens, I have never forgotten it because it revealed so much about my father - and so much about the way the world works.
His frustration was not simply with the two or three bolts he had discovered on his oil-rig work site, but with the very idea of a company scrimping on something that could have dangerous and potentially fatal consequences for the men working on the rigs.
'Just to save a few pennies,' he said, shaking his head in disbelief and turning the offending bolt over and over in his hand. 'This piece could shear off like that, and someone could lose a hand - or worse. I just can't believe the company could let that happen.'
He took his role as safety officer very seriously, so he assumed that, when he discovered these inferior parts being used, a simple letter or phone call would correct the problem. He imagined that the 'Powers That Be,' as he called those further up the employment ladder, just didn't know that they'd been sent bolts made of mushy metal. Now, after several months of trying to get the appropriate parties to take action, the conclusion was inescapable: They just didn't care. Spending less money on inferior parts helped the bottom line, and that was the primary value for the big oil company.
His shock and disbelief were heartbreaking to me. He had cared so much for his job, had cared so much always to do his best for the company, to do his best for 'his' men. And here he was, morally spread-eagled between dueling values, with potentially serious harm at stake.
It was the beginning of the end for him at that company. Soon after, he decided to take early retirement and eventually started his own company. We never heard of an injury due to the cheap metal, but Dad couldn't stand to continue being part of a company that could run that risk. The word for that is integrity, and it was one of the moral ingredients that set him apart from other men.
Editor in Chief