Slings and Other Forgotten Things

Oct. 12, 2010
Strange items can find a home in dusty corners for many years.

It was always interesting to go into the tool crib and stores areas at any big maintenance facility. Particularly if that facility had been in business for many years. Inevitably, you could find strange things in the dark and remote corners where only stock clerks dared to tread. When I became manager for Boston maintenance back in 1981, I found a base with a long heritage. Some early parts of it still existed like a whole file cabinet drawer in my offices full of boiler test reports dating back to the 1940s. Since the “new” hangar I was in was constructed in the mid-50s and had no boiler (it was heated with hot water from a central Massport facility), I was intrigued why these and other yellowed papers were still kept on file with almost religious fervor.

The answer came quickly. Among my heritage were my administrative assistants, two proper Bostonian ladies who had seen generations of maintenance managers come and go and were prepared to train another one in the way business was conducted up there. Clara, the senior of the two, informed me that Mr. Hardy, a hallowed manager for many years and incidentally was now the vice president of maintenance, had said to keep these certificates of boiler safety. The mere fact that the boilers and the hangar they had served had been torn down 30 years before mattered not at all.

The bulging file room proved that she had honored this and other edicts on record keeping. I browsed through more files finding general orders from Captain Eddie Rickenbacker on the importance of not wasting anything. I can only say it took a great deal of persuasion and persistence to finally get them and the clerk to undertake a general purge of the records to remove clutter from the Korean War period. Clara finally entered into it only after Mr. Hardy himself came for an inspection tour and told her it was all right to clean the files.

Dusty Corners

The hangar was a cantilever design with three bays on each side of a central building that ran down the length of it and an office building appended on the end. The downstairs of the central building was storerooms, locker rooms and break rooms. There was a small, mid- level room used for storing aircraft rugs and finally upstairs a huge storehouse.

Aircraft rugs are a nightmare. They are cut in odd shapes to fit the aircraft interior configurations. There are small, bitty pieces to fit odd corners and long pieces to go down central aisles, and narrow ones to fit along edges. Worse yet, with each change of interior configuration, new ones are required, not to mention the times when they decide on a new look and change colors. Each piece has a part number and must be stocked so you can find it. All I can say is that there were pieces of carpet in there that went back to the days of the Great Silver Fleet of the 1940s. There were murmurs of discontent as I suggested that it was time for a purge in that area.

Upstairs in the great hall, overhead steel trusses gave a Gothic look to ordered rows of bins and shelving. At one end were structural parts, aluminum and titanium pieces and tubing, ducting and the like. Boston did heavy maintenance checks and was well supplied. I recognized some of the shapes I saw as being bits of Lockheed Electras, departed from our fleet 10 years before. I was therefore not astonished to find ring sections of Lockheed Constellation nacelles and the like. I soon found that the stock in this vast hall was stored under a “random access” method. Excepting small hardware items which were stored in alpha-numeric order, bigger bits when arriving were placed somewhere — anywhere there was room — and a file card opened with its part number and description and most vitally its position by row number and shelf and bin number entered. These file cards were then to be filed in the usual alpha-numeric order. Need a part, look it up, pull the card and go to the location and pull it. It should be noted that ground equipment and automotive stock were intermingled with aircraft stock.

Of course this system requires dedication and accuracy to work. It also benefits from a periodic audit of what’s there to keep the cards current. It had received neither. In the dim lighting we went down aisles of materials. Occasionally, when I noted a particularly dusty shape, we would pull it out. Ah yes, the head from a Martin 404 towbar. Hmmm, could that be the gasoline engine and transmission from a CT-120 tractor? Didn’t we convert them to diesel years ago? Rear axles from 28-volt power units from a bygone era and, yes, even the hubs from DC-3 tail wheels. There were a set of engine change slings for L1049 Connies.

Other masses of cable, spreader bars and chain could not be identified as to what they had been designed to hoist. Then too, OSHA was getting fussy about requiring proof tests of slings and jacks and things. Did we have certifications on any of these slings? Down here were massive hydraulic cylinders from aircraft jacks, some almost indistinguishable under mantles of dust. Did we even use this type any more? It would require research to find out.

The stores manager was getting a bit green around the gills. On checking the card file, we found either that no cards had ever been prepared on these items (and there were a lot more) or they had been mislaid, not filed or somehow closed out. It was obvious that a general inventory was needed. There were moans and howls from the stock clerks until it was found that overtime would be needed to accomplish the job. Overtime always sweetens the taste of work. Literally truckloads of surplus ground equipment stock were shipped out for surplus sales. I know I would have loved to have gotten one of the old Hercules engines for my boat. The industrial Hercules blocks were used by Chris Craft for their marine engines. Unfortunately, I had sold the boat a few years before.

Well, that old Eastern hangar in Boston is gone now; the tunnel emerges from where it stood. So, too, are some of the other facilities and terminals where I sometimes feel like a dinosaur when I go back to the airports where once I could find every employee’s cafeteria. One thing remains constant, however: If you are going to manage an operation, you have to walk around it once in a while, stick your nose into the old dusty corners and ask questions as to what that “thing” is used for.