Ruminations from the Ramp
Shift Work and Odd Professions
By Tony Vasko
Before I start all that, there has been some interest in old and aged ground equipment. I started it off with some ruminations about CT-120 tractors (the ultimate sports car) a while back. I mentioned an even older small tractor that the bandits (sorry, I mean Maintenance Engineers) in Bermuda were keeping out of sight of the auditors. They had been ordered to scrap it, but being intelligent people had overlooked the command as they were not going to drag out equipment by hand. It had been purchased from Pan American and allegedly had been used in the days of the flying boats. I wonder if anyone knows if it still exists.
Bermuda was also the home of some peculiar (to my eyes) British equipment. They had a species of baggage tractor that had a Diesel engine. The engine was in a vertical tower arrangement and drove wheels at the bottom. You swiveled the entire engine to steer the unit. They were noisy and smoked and were ancient in the 1970s, but they worked. The import duties mandated keeping things going.
It would be interesting to hear from readers about old and ancient GSE. Mobile stuff but not necessarily self-propelled, please, and still in some kind of regular use as well. I have heard of one CT-120 still equipped with its Chrysler flat head vintage 1951. No prizes, just pride in working an oldie.
Call it what you will, Midnight Shift, Night Shift, and in some companies the eerie sounding handle of Graveyard Shift, its still a fact of life in our business. It is the home shift of those who have low seniority in the main, but not surprising there is a core of devotees who love it. Some of these folks hang by their toes from the ceiling in daylight hours as the coming of the sun seems to wither them. Just joking people, I did my time there too, and it took me five years to get off the Graveyard Shift. I made it all the way to Swing Shift with Tuesday and Wednesday off. The real reason I took a Manager's job was to get on day shift. That turned out to be a joke too, of course. You now were expected to work "flexible" hours and to be there if needed. Which was every time something went wrong. No complaints though, it’s part of our business.
The proportion of personnel assigned to Graveyard Shift is dependent on the type of operation. In a pure overhaul shop environment, midnights are usually lightly manned. Studies show that those who work on graveyard are often not at their most productive. The medical types and psychologists talk about circadian rhythms and all the like with a great deal of truth, but the bottom line is you just feel plain tired a lot of the time. There is a certain amount of unnaturalness in going to bed when the rest of the world is up and about. And no less so in you being up and about when the rest are sleeping.
I finally realized I had been on midnights too long when I worked overtime one bright and sunny morning. I was doing a walkaround check of the exterior of an Avianca L-1049E. A day shifter pointed out that I was pointing a flashlight at everything I wanted to see.
"You don't have to do that on Day Shift," he sniffed with the superior air of a senior person. "The sun is up!"
It was all lit up and there were lots of bosses around. It had to be day shift. I pocketed my flashlight and consoled myself with the thoughts of my time-and-a-half overtime rate.
Rotating shifts I found to be the worst of all. Your body no sooner got used to the idea of going to bed at night when you didn't do that any more. You were now at work. Tell that to your body. I know how it affected me once. I did a 180-degree spin-out in my 1970 Olds on Route 43 in New Jersey as a result of having to put in some midnight shift time. I was on my way home and suddenly I found myself facing the wrong way in traffic and going backwards to boot. I stopped and looked out at all the cars facing me who had stopped (fortunately). I did a U-turn in that eight-lane highway and proceeded to the next exit where I found a diner. I still shake over that one.
Having gotten a bit of depression off my mind in my last article on present conditions in our industry I can go back to other ruminations.
The Other Cost of Deicing Cost
Necessity has called for high altitudes while servicing aircraft.
Tony Vasko recalls some of the memorable characters on the ramp.