Civil Service Webpage
When I took my discharge from the military service, I went straight to the 'Quad-City" area in eastern Iowa to settle in and find some kind of employment. I was going to try and get a job in the Rock Island Arsenal there.
I had tried before just after I got out of the army the first time. When I went in to see them then, they had a bulletin board up right there in Personnel and they had the Fire Control Instrument Repairman job posted on the board. When I applied for it they refused me on grounds I didn't have enough experience.
Well, NOW I had the experience. I could prove I had been school trained and had over five years of Army time in that MOS. So I went in to see them again and the job was still posted! I thought that was a little odd but applied for it anyway.
Sure enough, they said they'd call. Well, they didn't and I had already went to work for a John Deere plant there.
Now, I had heard it was a hard place to get a job but I was determined so after a month or so, I went back over there and they gave me some kind of story, can't remember, but I was still "being considered" so I kept working at John Deere and I go over to the Arsenal every month or two and after about a year it was obvious they were absolutely not going to hire me.
So, I finally went over there and started leaning on them a little bit. I was no stranger to the games played by some silly-assed bureaucrats and I started sparring with them. So the guy says, well, you didn't describe on your application just what it was that you did in the army. You have to describe exactly the procedures you used, etc, etc. There was no provision for such in the application and I never heard such a bunch of crap in my life as was put out to me.
Now, it was war, there was no way some dip-shit was going to shut me out of there. I did all the "describing", all the rest and told them I expected a call and left. When I left, they knew war had been declared.
Then I went home and started composing a letter to the President of the United States. I listed my credentials, experiences, schools, military assignments and so forth and explained the run-a-round I was getting and asked if veterans could get some kind of job or were they just for the local favorites or what. Would he tell me if I was supposed to pay for the job, or what? Wasn't a very flattering letter as regards the personnel section of the R.I. Arsenal.
Still didn't hear anything, but I was ready. After another month I went over there and would you believe that after about five years, they had taken the job down off the board! Hey, I was winning! They were getting antsy! So, I asked about the job and when he started the B.S. I said here, I have something maybe you might like to read.
He asked what and I told him and said you better read it, and he did, and I was working in the arsenal inside a month and never had to send the letter to the president.
We struck a compromise and they hired me in at the bottom of the ladder, W-3 Laborer, then sent me to the "small arms" repair shops on the second floor of one of the older buildings there in the east end of the arsenal.
I went right to work and the department was rebuilding a bunch of 60mm Mortars for Jordan, I think it was. Now who else hits the floor running and in a matter of days is practically running that section? Talk about a bunch of pure unadulterated B.S.!
Then I worked on BARs, the old Browning Automatic Rifles. We re-did some 3.5 Rocket Launchers for some country, never knew who.
Interesting thing about those mortars, for grease we had to use mutton tallow. It had some odor to it but sure was good on your hands. I'm sure it had something to do with the stories I'd heard of Moslems refusing to use anything but.
To give you an idea how rotten the civil service can be, there was a guy there (I'm not going to use his name) who had lost his leg in the Korean War. He had been drawing a full pension, I think and gov came around and told him if he went to the arsenal they'd give him a job so he did.
When they got him in there, they cut his pension way back. Now, he has an artificial limb and cannot stand on it for any length of time but he was doing it when I was there. If there was a sit-down job, we'd give it to him if we could. The Vietnam War was heating up and the arsenal was expanding, they had gone to over 6,000 employees. Anyway, they were going to hire 2 "machinists" and posted the jobs and he, a W-6 rating, put in for the job which was W-8 and a nice raise for him.
Would you believe they gave the 2 jobs to a couple of women in off the street with no machine experience at all? They sure did, and then they had the one-legged combat veteran go down where they were and teach them how to read a micrometer! We told him he was crazy as hell but he went ahead and did it.
Now, in this case, the government told him to go to the arsenal and when he did, they cut his pension back pretty good. Well, there is something to be said for that. But, you see, after they got him in the arsenal they denied him promotion because of HIS losing his leg in Korea!
After the way they did me and when I saw the really crude way they did him, I started rethinking my civil service career. Who wants to be part of a system so stupid and just plain cruel?
Apparently, German P.O.W.s were OK and could be promoted. When weapons came into small arms for re-conditioning, they were generally fully disassembled when they came in, the parts ran through a cleaning process, then checked and de-burred if necessary and then re-finished and then were assembled back into a "rebuilt" product.
The de-burring was all done by hand and since most of the parts were small, women generally did it. There was a little section set up for just that purpose and had a supervisor who had been in the German army in WWI. He had surrendered and was brought to the USA during the war and at war's end stayed in the United States. He eventually migrated to the Rock Island Arsenal and sure was running the De-Burring Dept while I was there.
He told me and my co-worker that he had been a machinist in the German Army. He said much of their work was done with a file and he knew quite a bit about files.
Makes one wonder why a German GI seemed to do well there but American GIs couldn't ........
I started watching the papers for a job of some kind and never said anything to anybody. They knew I was unhappy but in their sublime ignorance they thought they had me by the short hairs. I saw a job at Eagle Signal Company for a mere "brake press operator" which I could do so come Monday morn, I went over to talk to them.
They had several jobs but I made out my papers and asked for the press-operator and went over and set down in the waiting area figuring it might take awhile and waited, there were about 15 people there ahead of me.
I had not much more than sat down and they called my name and I figured I'd made a mistake or something on my application and went to the desk and the girl says, "Sir, the Personnel Manager would like to see you." Well, I didn't know what to think but went into his office.
He said "I've checked your application and you have had army training in such, such and are now employed at the Arsenal?" I said yes and he said, "Well, why didn't you ask about the 'Gage inspector' job opening we have?" And I told him I didn't think they would be interested in me. He said, "Why not, you have the background for this - do you know what an optical gage is?" I said yes, Bendix in Davenport had one and Rock Island Arsenal had one and they will measure to about 0.000005" - I didn't know that was the gage you had.
So he asked if I wanted the job as gage inspector, it would be on the 2nd shift and they needed someone that could work alone, etc. It was good pay, I even got a parking spot, had my own parking number, security card and everything. And he talked me into it. Then I spent about half of the next day, Tuesday doing checkup and so forth. Then they gave me a packet of all my papers and stuff and I was to start the next Monday.
See the difference between the arsenal and the civilian approach? The arsenal tries to keep me out so they can get their mistress or relative, etc in there, no matter the cost in monies to them - total bureaucratic unaccountability. They even do everything they can to discredit my army service, faithfully and proudly rendered. The civilian, who also needed the expertise, but had accountability and not having all the taxpayer money to play with, IMMEDIATELY seized the opportunity and hired me. If I were such a good deal for him, what was the arsenal's problem with it?
A little note here ...... the highest paying jobs at the arsenal were in the gage lab, I believe, and the man who ran that Department was, I think, a GS-14. So the gage work is at the top of the working man's professions.
Anyway, I went back to the R.I. Arsenal Wednesday morning after 2-day absence and still never said anything to anybody and I was working away and here came the foreman and said they wanted to see me down at personnel so I went down there, ready for bear.
To my astonishment, the guy asked me if I still wanted to go down to the "Sight Department" and work there. Well, I'd only been trying to get in there for 5-6 years so I asked what the details were and he said I'd go down there as a W-5 Helper, and not a fire control repairman!
Did Eagle Signal call the arsenal about my background and the arsenal then, only then, act to put me into the Fire Control Instrument Dept? Who knows .........
So, should I go with Eagle Signal or stay and duel it out with the goons at the arsenal where I could make my Army time count on retirement? Like an idiot, I chose the arsenal. I mailed all the stuff back to Eagle Signal, called them up and thanked them.
I reported to the "sight department" next AM and was immediately taken to a workbench and seated with this guy who was told to show me what to do. I started to work and we were working on a bunch of 6x30 Binoculars. No problem, I had repaired many of them in the army.
I start looking around and there are about 10-12 people there and I'm asking questions and it works out that there WERE new arrivals:
None had seen military service, to my knowledge. All had no qualifications for their jobs, except possibly, the guy from Galesburg who appeared to be pretty well up on watches.
I kept working and by PM, the foreman came around and asked my instructor how I was doing, and he said "Heck, this guy don't need any help!" So they moved me right over to my own table next day.
Now when I was talking to my "instructor", he told me that he was a Freemason. He had joined thinking it would help him with his arsenal career. Then he said, "But my kid wanted to go fishing and I don't fish and he kept pestering me until I took him down to the slough there by the arsenal and got him set up and then started visiting with the guys there. Pretty soon here comes this game warden and checked everybody's license and the kid didn't have one so he asked who he was with and he pointed me out and the game warden came to me and I didn't have a license so he arrested me and we went to court."
"The judge was getting ready to fine me so I put my hand up on the podium where he could see the mason's ring and he ignored it and I had to pay the fine! The free-mason thing didn't help me at all and hasn't in here, either." Good for the judge, I thought.
That's the mentality that appeared to be prevalent there.
I looked around and found a brazing rod and cut a 6-7 inch piece off and flattened the ends, one wide and other end narrow and polished them good and proceeded to use it for my "swab" (the swab was a piece of soft wood that you wrapped lens tissue around, dropped alcohol onto and used to clean optics). We had found in the army that the wood soaked up the alcohol too quickly and left the tissue "dry" and the wood, when saturated, had to be exchanged for another one.
So I had experimented with the brass swab in the army and it worked fine as long as you had real "lens tissue" and not some lesser type of paper which would readily disintegrate and allow the bared brass to make conact with the lens' coatings. So, the danger with the metal swab was that if you didn't know what you were doing, you could damage the optics, some of which were coated with substance to control the conduct of the light rays as they passed through the instrument.
Everybody had swabs all over their workplace and I had only one on my workbench and I could carry it in my shirt pocket for immediate use.
When we finished a pair of binoculars, they were given calibration and vibration test. Every now and then we'd get a rejection. But I got to noticing that the woman had hardly any rejections and I started watching her and she was putting oil around the insides of the telescope bodies that would snare and hold lint, dirt, etc for awhile, anyway. And I objected, of course.
The oil had been tried before and the procedure was dumped years before we were discussing it. The room we were in had a "controlled atmosphere" and it was about 70-73 degrees there. When the binoculars got into the desert and temperature reached 120deg, the oil would film over the optics rendering them useless. I knew all that whether they did or not. She quit using the oil. I suspected someone there had shown her what to do to cheat but who knows .........
I didn't really want to make a case of it. All I wanted to do was get them to quit using the oil.
And then the other guys started copying my brass swab. Made me feel great!
Heck, I even beat their watches. I had a normal 17-jeweled movement Longines wristwatch I bought in an army PX in Germany when I was there (price was $94.00) and it was one of the best mechanical watches I ever owned and one day the employees were in a bunch around this little machine and all trying their watches out and the guy from Galesburg, IL apparently had some watch expertise and he was running the machine and it would measure the accuracy of the beats the watch makes and record them on a paper graph.
It would start out at a base point and then go down the graph displaying the + or - drift from the "0" point (like this: / | \ ) and everybody got their watch checked and I got in there and guess what? Yep, mine had the least deviation from zero, an indication the watch would gain or lose at a lesser rate than the others (I forget which was the case for mine but you could adjust for fast or slow, anyway). The guy said, "Yes, Longines has used that one for a long time and gave model no. of the movement and said it was one of the best."
Another note here, even though the army had quit repairing watches, we got just an overview on them in our training at APG. One thing that has stuck in my mind was that the old "mechanical" watches had only 17 points in them where jewels could be used effectively. Now that is one which you had to wind. I think they stuck some additional jewels into the self-winding watches whether they really needed them or not as they would be an advertising aid, some of them being 21 jewels. Now, if someone tries to sell you a 19-jewel watch, well .......
So we worked our way through that batch of binoculars and work was slowing down . The arsenal had started overhauling a bunch of M48 tanks which I had cut my teeth on over in Germany. The foreman came around one day and got me and put me to work in "the computer room" - I figured he thought I wouldn't be able to do it and it would be easier for him to run me off. I had been hitting him up for a regular Fire Control Instrument Repairman rating of W-9.
Same thing as all the rest of my experiences there at the arsenal - I walked in there and started working that day. He came in to check the next day and asked my other "instructor" how I was making it and he said, "He's doing just fine!" kind of like, go on and get out of here and leave us alone. My co-worker was a pretty good guy called Zeke and we got along well.
I was still working on the ballistic computers when I left the arsenal, just writing it off as a lost cause. People had warned me of the civil service when I was trying to find employment there but I had to try it.
I was, and still am, very proud of my military service. There were occasions, generally when bad leadership was evident, when I had problem in the army but it certainly was not the norm. I grew in the military and expanded my potential in ways that were obviously absent from the civil service and I swore I'd never have anything to do with them again. When I left the arsenal, they knew exactly how I felt about them.
I have been able to look down my nose at them ever since ......... but would see them again.
The factories in the area all had unions and seniority systems where new employees were relegated to the 2nd and 3rd shifts and I didn't like that at all. I felt we should work during the day and rest at evening time with our families (I consider the elimination of this time with our families the primary cause of many of our society's ills). Anyway, I just did not care for those hours so drifted towards something more like regular standard hours.
Thankfully, most of the cities in the area had ordinances about construction work starting too early in the morning - noise so couldn't sleep and construction work on the streets during the hours when everyone else was on the roads going to work. So this caused us to start at 8:00AM which was fine with me. I was a standard time guy, anyway, and this helped transition me to Construction Work.
I have always loved construction work. It made me very proud to leave something behind when I left. Not destruction but construction.
I worked in construction for about 7 years, total between the fiasco at the arsenal and my last employer, the good Young Radiator Company.
I married in 1971 and moved back to my hometown, still working in construction and finally a manufacturing company built a plant here and I went to work with the contractors building it. After the project was done I applied for employment with the new company and they accepted my resume and I quit construction as the new company appeared to be just what I was looking for.
I was hired by Young Radiator Company in Centerville, IA , my hometown area, in June 1975 and worked for them for 25 years until the plant closed in year 2000 when I was 63 years old.. The company had 2 plants and had just outgrown them so they had started the third one and put it in Centerville making them a 3-facility company. They were based in Racine, WI.
I was hired into the company in the first group of Production Personnel and it wasn't long before they asked me if I would be interested in the job of Quality Control Manager and I took the job. The offer was made because I had worked in and understood inspection activities, etc.
Neither the company nor myself realized what a beneficial arrangement it was. I had pretty good experience in things Ordnance, had knowledge of The Army Tank Command based in Detroit, MI - the famous TACOM of the army and had worked at the R.I. Arsenal (though a negative experience was none-the-less, an experience).
Unknown to me then was the fact Young Radiator Co, was a supplier of radiators to the U.S. Army. So it was getting better and better all the time as far as I was concerned. Our plant was in start-up mode and had some people not well trained so there was some anxiety on my part as to the quality of our products but we worked our way through the growing up process with no Major disasters.
Our company always bid their contracts so the Government did the inspection/acceptance of the material on our dock based upon the product's specified requirements which are spelled out in the purchasing document, generally a contract of some kind. A copy of the contract had to be on site for use by interested parties. I was selected as the repository for the contract copies at our facility and would be making the contacts with the involved Government Agents who received the material.
There were a few bumps but we got through it.
Our very first job in our plant was for some army fork lifts, I think. We went on and the first big military job came in 1978 and was a radiator for the Army's M109 SP Gun ........ if it wasn't the M109 it was an earlier version of it and was made by BMY. There were 2-3 versions of the radiator specified on one drawing and one had a error in it's venting mechanism. I picked up on it and pointed it out to our people who then notified BMY who got it straightened out with gov. .........
Off to a good start then ........
The radiators were used in more than this application. Can't remember but there was 3-4 pieces of equipment that used the radiator. The original ones were used by Bowen McLaughlin in York, PA - the older company BMY. We made these radiators right up to the time of our plant's closing.
There was a short period in early 1980s when a competitor got contracts and made a bunch of these radiators but used 1/2 inch automotive tubes in the cores and I think the army had some problems with the radiators. Then I think TACOM worked their way through that inventory and started using our radiators again, which had 3/4 inch tubes and were better cores.
FMC (outside San Francisco) made the Famous M113 Personnel Carrier family of vehicles. We had a couple competitors for this radiator and in the early 1980s maybe, they built quite a few of these. One competitor quit and the other decided to move their plant to South Carolina in the mid-late 1980s and somehow built their mfg plant on some low ground there that was unstable and they were beginning to have some problems that way when they got that big hurricane there on the east coast on top of everything else and it tore their plant up pretty good closing their production down.
About that time demand for the radiators took off so we wound up the sole supplier to the government for these radiators. I'm not sure those poor guys ever did get their plant back into operation. The last I heard of it was that they were trying to move it to more stable ground.
I think about this time Iraq attacked Kuwait and soon the First Gulf war occurred and because of it the Army started increasing their orders for the radiators we were supplying. Basically, the M113 and BFV types. So we really had to ramp up pretty fast but we did it without too much trouble.
One thing I've always wondered about is the fact our government estimated Saddam's Army capability at about 450,000 men. Now, if we were to go up against that size army and we could figure attrition rate of men and vehicles at a certain rate so to be on the safe side, planners would then requisition material at a certain rate to ensure adequate supply. Planning has to make SOME assumptions and dare not cut them too thin.
It turned out that Iraq only had about half as many men as was thought and then was withdrawing when we attacked. Consequently, I doubt hardly any of the hardware was lost to the Iraqi army so the army wound up with some well stocked shelves. This was fine with me as we didn't wind up with a bunch of casualties.
I imagine they gave some out as Foreign aid but they would cut back on orders, I figured.
Our company was involved in Turkey's entry into the world's manufacturing arena as we supplied the major components of the M113 radiators to them and they then assembled them into radiators there in Turkey and then put them into the vehicles there, also.
Interesting, I had read where women is Islam were backward and kept separate from men things but when Turkey sent a team here and they came to our plant for discussion on the project, there were three people, 2 men and one woman and it appeared to me that the woman was the leader of the team. She seemed knowledgeable - even impressive, I thought.
As far as I know the project went fine.
And FMC also made the BFVs - The Bradley Fighting Vehicles. I'm not sure when the company started making these radiators, probably 1980 in Racine WI, but we started making them in 1982-3 at Centerville.
Boy they were a chunk of radiator. They had a lot of cooling packed into a small area. I had a nephew who was in the army in Germany and was a diesel mechanic in his unit's motor pool and I used to have him kind of take note of maintenance problems concerning radiators of the BFVs and as near as we could tell, they worked just fine. He was in/around the things for probably 7-8 years altogether.
We had an order for some radiator caps of some kind that we were asked to ship to Mainz ordnance base in Germany and of course I sent them under C.O.C (certificate of conformance).
It was kind of an eerie feeling when first corresponding with Mainz as I had been there when I was a kid in the army. I had also been to Grafenwohr/Vilseck tank training ranges and was involved with some correspondence there, too. And, of course, that is where my nephew took his training when he was in Germany.
So the boys at the R.I. Arsenal could eat their heart out. They made it into our plant a couple times on certain products and once they had a guy in the group that I recognized and he recognized me, too. We had actually worked together once and I was glad I got to meet, talk to him so he could then go back and say, "Hey, you remember that ..... we had here about 15 years ago? Guess what ....... the f'r is a Quality Control Manager now and is producing radiators for TACOM!"
After that particular meeting, our local Gov Agent who participated asked me, "Did you notice the way those guys put their hands on the edge of their tables?" and I HAD noticed it and he said, "That's what they call 'knockin rings' and they were all checking one another out to make sure they don't get hostile with one of their own!"
We made a lot of radiators for FMC, even some for their civilian markets. Also, when I first went in the army down at Ft Knox and I was pulling KP, I noticed the "potato peeler" and a couple other food processing machines in the kitchen of the messhall were made by FMC and it was then Food Machinery Corporation. The name has changed several times and was United Defense there at one time. Also, we manufactured a radiator for FMC street sweepers, a motorized sweeper.
Anyway, FMC was a frequent visitor to our plant and we found their staff to be friendly and competent and we generally had pretty good relationship with them.
They geared up their quality drive as did everyone in the 1980s and the 1990s which culminated in this Awards Presentation at our Centerville plant in the early-mid 1990s I believe. We had one for GM as well and were also in the Gov's Blue Ribbon program.
We also made radiators for the GM Canada product, the LAV - Light Armored Vehicle. This is a rubber-mounted vehicle that the Marines chose over the BFV, I don't know why.
When we first started making these radiators everyone was in a big hurry for them. Our first look at the product was on an Austrian blueprint so I'm not sure as to the initial mfg of this product but later on it seemed like everyone had a finger in the LAV project. That's entirely possible because GM was the primary mover of the product and they have facilities all over the globe.
I believe the Saudi Arabian Guard alone obtained about a thousand of the LAVs and the Canadian Gov got almost a thousand. London England seemed to be doing most of the selling of the completed vehicles.
We made the radiators and they were sent to a GM facility in London, Ontario, Canada where the radiators were made into a kit with the Detroit Diesel engines, etc and then sent to England, I think. Hard telling where all the kits went. I don't know for sure where the vehicles were actually made.
As far as I know the LAV was a good vehicle. It was my understanding that the only real difference between the LAV and the BFV was the rubber tire versus the track. Apparently the rubber tires are more maintenance free than the track but I'm not sure how they'd compare under fire. I assume they have tested that feature but I doubt the test information is available to the general public.
Another vehicle system we supplied the radiators for was the M88 Retriever, I believe (not sure here, though). BMY started the artillery thing and then HARSCO apparently bought them out and then they wound up merged with FMC somehow. I would imagine they were all one company and I think they produced all of the SP Artillery, the M88, BFVs and some other tracked vehicles that used basically the same engines, etc.
Anyway we supplied radiators to them - BMY, HARSCO, UNITED DEFENSE. I don't know if FMC's civilian products went with the HARSCO deal or just the military ones.
One thing I do know, that was one heck of a machine! It'd drop the spade into the ground and wench a tank up the side of a hill, dead weight! I guess they had trouble with the Abrams later but worked their way out of it.
I think the last major radiator product we took on was for the Stewart and Stevenson M1078 Cab-Over Truck. We started with S&S M1078 project and boy, they had some growing pains. I think it may have been S&S' first venture into that kind of manufacturing and they were sure to have a problem here and there.
They finally got it going and I eventually saw some of their trucks in Iraq when watching the TV news so they must have worked through their start up problems OK.
I don't know how their trucks match up against other trucks the army has but I don't see why they wouldn't work as well as the rest of them do.
I enjoyed working for the Young Radiator Company and appreciate their employment. They were privately owned and I knew the owners and management of the company and they probably knew as much about radiators as anyone in the country and they always tried to manufacture and sell a quality product. We made radiators for agriculture, mining, construction, transportation and the military.
We also made radiators for irrigation pumps, snow machines, fire trucks, street sweepers - and more.
The radiators that we made in the Centerville plant are those discussed above BUT they were not Young Radiator Company's best known products.
Those were the radiators made by the other plants for the Railroad, Marine and Mining Industries. For the huge diesel engines in Locomotives and the big strip-mining trucks and large boats and tugs, etc. Generator sets on drilling rigs, isolated communities and so forth.
And, by the way, our plant did manufacture radiators for ONE car in the early 1980s .....The Excalibur. It was a fine looking "classic car" put out by a company in Racine WI, I believe. It consisted of a Corvette engine and chassis covered with a Classic Car body. There was a TV program about that time, "Matt Houston" whose leading character Lee Horsely drove one of those cars in the program.
Young Radiator Co was sold and the Centerville plant was closed in year 2000 and I, being retirement age, retired at the closing.
I had spent 7 years working directly for Army Ordnance Corps, was even a civilian member of "The American Ordnance Association", and worked at Young Radiator Co for another 25 years building products that TACOM used, making a total of 32 years of service in that field of endeavor.
And I can say with truthfulness that I generally enjoyed the work even though there were short periods of anxiety in that period of time but probably no more than usually occurrs in a person's lifetime.
Thank the heavens for a peaceful military experience and for employment that helped supply my family with an income and for co-workers who were generally supportive of my aspirations and goals.
And I truly thank you all.
Ernie Conger 5/28/11
Ernest Conger 6/14/2013
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