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168 Days: Learning The Ropes

By Ken Snyder

The time spent after that first day or so tends to blur in places. Not because it was mundane; on the contrary, each day had different tasks and new adventures. Some days were more, shall we say, exciting than others but there wasn't a day that went by that I regretted leaving AA for BPU. Some days it was simply replacing bulbs to get signal lights back in service, other days it was assisting one of the other Signal Technicians on more complex jobs, and there were even classes on new technology that was being implemented.

With a grand total of five of us in the shop (DeGraeve, Dunn, Sisson, Castle and myself) it made the appearance of a tight-knit family. Some times we'd go out together for lunch or go out and get lunch to bring back to the shop, something I never wanted to be a part of in the AA days at the Overhaul Base. When I found out that I would be eligible for a special separation package at AA I promised to buy lunch for the shop when the payment came in. I made good on that promise with pizza on 16 February, delivered by my wife to the Signal Shop.

On 27 April I was called in to DeGraeve's office. DeGraeve, Clark and myself sat down and went over an "Employee Evaluation" form. It turns out that, according to DeGraeve, we had held an "evaluation" in March -- he just didn't have the form filled out at the time. So that day I signed one evaluation dated 26 March, an evaluation that was not very favorable. However, we then went over the "current" evaluation, and this one was a bit more favorable. I reiterated that I was very happy to be here, and looked forward to learning more as time went on. I was given copies of the evaluations, as well as an additional comment sheet that was supposed to go along with the March evaluation. I tucked them away in my briefcase and thought nothing more of them, until after 8 July.

One time that I do feel bad about was a day that DeGraeve was having a hard time with a Unified Government Traffic Engineer. Talk was ongoing about how he was expecting more from DeGraeve than he had the time for. Sisson made a comment about this, and I chimed in a comment that was meant to be supportive of DeGraeve's ability to "grin" in the face of the adversity he encountered in his position from time to time. It didn't come across as planned, and DeGraeve was not too pleased with me. After that, I tried to keep a very low profile and keep busy with the tasks at hand. While time seemed to calm the situation I tried to focus on what I was doing and keep my opinions and observations to myself.

I remember one particular day after my failed supportive comment DeGraeve asked me to ride along with him on a trip around the city. Needless to say this made me a bit uncomfortable at first, but his demeanor and our shared interests had a way of making me feel at ease and I passed the prior incident off as a lesson learned.

And there were plenty of lessons to learn! I never imagined there was so much to traffic signal control, and I felt privileged to be a part of this group. Some days it was simply changing bad bulbs, other days we had issues with detection cameras, in-pavement detection loops, camera interface modules, signal controllers, wireless detection modules that are also installed in the pavement, blueprints for the control systems that show the location of all the equipment and wiring that makes up the signal installation, even fiber optic cables.

Many days were spent in the shop preparing new signal control cabinets for new or retrofitted installations. I was paired with Sisson on a project replacing signals along Washington Boulevard; I worked up a new cabinet for 10th & Washington Boulvard, doing all I could to apply the "attention to detail" that DeGraeve said he appreciated hearing me talk about in my interview. DeGraeve made it a point to show me a cabinet Sisson had been working on for 7th Street and Quindaro Boulevard as an example of not paying attention to detail -- it worked, but he (DeGraeve) was not happy with it. After the 10th & Washington Boulvard cabinet came cabinets for 9th, 8th and 7th & Washington Boulvard, each one assembled, programmed, tested, labeled and documented to the best of my ability. You couldn't say there were two days that were the exact same thing, and there was always plenty to do. Here's a copy of the printout for a test I performed on a piece of equipment for the 10th & Washington Boulevard cabinet -- my initials are entered as one of the responsible parties.

It was definitely a highlight of my time at BPU when we installed and powered up the new cabinet I put together for 10th & Washington Boulevard:

First Cabinet: 19th and Washington Boulevard

Some things were easier to do than others, however. Remember that van I was assigned to? It was last used by the Working Foreman before DeGraeve; there were issues with it having sat for too long and it wouldn't start the first time we tried it out, the shop had to jump-start it and let it run for quite some time before it would restart if it was turned off. I spent the better part of a day just cleaning it out and trying to sort out what was really worth keeping, repairing what tools I could use and restocking it with what I thought I would need out in the field. When they started issuing me tools and equipment, two important pieces of equipment were left off the list: a laptop computer and a volt/ohm/amp meter. Without the laptop I couldn't save the programming data entered into the controllers, and I was completing cabinets that would not have their data saved in case something would happen to them that required reprogramming. Without a meter, taking readings to see if a line was actually without power was impossible. DeGraeve made it a point to show me what a meter they were going to get me would cost, but I wound up bringing a cheap meter in from home so at least I would have something.

While working with Sisson on the Washington Boulevard project, I noticed that DeGraeve was not happy with the amount of time he was spending with the contracted crew doing the "underground" portion of the new signal installations. They were hired to install new bases for the signal poles, conduit for wiring, access holes for the conduit to junction at, and new bases for the control cabinets to rest upon. I decided that my time would be better spent either in the shop building more cabinets or out on the street looking for signals that were not operating properly, that had bulbs burned out or that had other maintenance issues. One day Sisson asked if I wanted to see the contractors pull an old pole base out of the ground; while it would have been interesting to see, I thought that DeGraeve would prefer that I didn't "babysit" the contractors.

Even with these little "bumps" in the road, I was still delighted to be a part of this team: for the first time in years I really enjoyed coming to work every day: good people, (reasonably) good equipment, and good work -- what else could you ask for?


Next: 28 May 2010
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