Canadian Transport Sourcebook

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Canadian Transport Sourcebook > All works> 52 Questions on the Nationalization of Canadian Railways > Chapter 6

VI

Where Three Men lacked Morale.

The Despatcher at Jonesville was the first. He lost his nerve, as the railroaders say. The Superintendent was the second. He did not like to "fire" the despatcher. He was his brother-in-law.

The despatcher distrusted his own judgment. To protect himself and the road from the danger of ordering one train to pass another at some impossible point, he made the "up" trains wait for the "down" trains at points half-an-hour ahead of the point where they might properly have passed with perfect safety!

In a railway where every man is working for the promotion, and the best are aiming for "the top," the Superintendent would not have dared retain this despatcher. The low tonnage record over this division would have betrayed him, or the abnormally high coal consumption on his territory would have advertised to the head office that something was wrong. Explanations would have shown up the nerveless despatcher.

But on a system in which the desire for profits (after the requirements of the law have been met) was not constantly sharpening the eyes of the High Executives, the low tonnage and the high fuel cost were obscured by other considerations.

It is true that one man, an auditor, noted the fuel charges against that division, but decided silence would pay him better than enquiry. The matter was not strictly in his department, and he had found there was nothing to be gained on that road by being "a disturber." His position was secure at least until there was a change in Government. "Why trouble Trouble?" He was the third!

Five years earlier—before the auditor, like the despatcher and the superintendent, had lost his pep, he would have sat up nights trying to find the reason for the high fuel consumption. Then he would have acted, promptly, curtly. But he had learned the Philosophy of the Civil Servant everywhere:

"Of what use is striving? Or of asserting one's opinions? It is a vulgar thing which upsets other people who desire to be comfortable! It draws attention to oneself which, in a servant of the public, is highly undignified and perchance dangerous. The public is a jealous and an uncertain tempered employer, whose ears are numberless, whose interests are legion, who has no expert experience enabling him to judge your work, but is infinitely sensitive, imaginative and susceptible to the dangerous power of smooth words. It is better then, O Civil Servant, in the interests of one's place and one's family to be a master of tact and words than a master of one's work."

Rewards?
Or Responsibilities?

The newly-appointed Section Foreman at B had been a farmer and had rendered excellent political service to the local member of Parliament in the 1917 election, leaving the farm for his boys to look after. He had helped his M.P. to swing into line a number of malcontents whose rebellion against the party machine threatened to defeat the member and weaken the Government at a time when the very highest interests of the country demanded nation-wide support.

He had done good and necessary work; nothing dishonorable about it. Returning to his farm, however, he found that two fine calves from the prize stock had died owing to lack of attention. They had been born just about the time he was busy helping the M.P. Here, then, was an honest man injured in public service! He was losing interest in the farm, too. By giving up his cattle-breeding hobby he could leave the farm to the boys alone. What he ought to have, he felt, was "a job." He was made section foreman, instructed in the work, and put on the pay roll of this railway.

One year later, looking over the records of the road, the General Manager observed an unusually high number of derailments charged against the Patriot's section.

"There's Gilhooly's curve right there," he remembered; "a nasty curve—but this looks like bad track work. Alignment on that curve should have kept things right."

He called a clerk, and dictated a wire to the Superintendent. The Superintendent, passing down the line, called on the Patriot and gave him, in railroad parlance, Hell!

But the Patriot remembered the cattle he had sacrificed. Righteous indignation flushed his cheek—why not? He went to his M.P. The M.P. addressed the General Manager. The General Manager, nominally controlled by a non-political Board, but knowing well that the M.P. could put in a good or a bad word for him with the Public if his work were ever discussed in Parliament, gave the Patriot another post.

While the Patriot could not now wreck trains, he still remained inefficient. He was a simple, honest man. He was as indifferent to the new as to the old work. What the Patriot thought he had earned was reward, not responsibility.

There will be thousands upon thousands of such men in Canada in the next few years; and of real patriots who will deserve much better of their country than mere berths on Government railways.

Where Initiative Died.

In a certain engine repair shop was a machine for planing the driving boxes of engines. It consisted of a gigantic steel table or carrier made to hold ten boxes at a time and to roll them slowly up toward the second part of the machine consisting of two cutting tools which cut into the brass and trimmed the boxes. The machine was operated by an electric motor. The motor consumed the same amount of power whether ten boxes lay on the steel table or only one.

Under an indifferent shop superintendent the machine was more often worked with one box on it than with ten. A man wanted a box planed? He carried it up on the electric travelling crane, lowered it on the table, turned on the power—and used on one box the power that would have planed ten.

A new official, keen, filled with ideals and the belief that his highest ambition was to serve the Public—observed this wasteful practice, rated the superintendent for his slackness, and ordered a change made.

Months passed. The official returned and made the same fuss—and nothing came of it. The superintendent had an uncle who was chairman of an organization which controlled the vote in a certain very ticklish constituency—and until human nature is greatly improved NO Government, however pure, can afford to overlook the very practical and sometimes sordid things which win elections.

The loss on the operation of the machine was perhaps small. But the effect on the officer who tried to save that small loss was great. It was his first lesson in the Philosophy of the Government employee.

Ideas, I observe, have a harder birth in Government offices than anywhere else in the world. Initiative must indeed have great pertinacity and courage to survive service in a Government department.

[Public Domain] Copyright/Licence: This work was first published in 1964 or earlier, and the author of the work was anonymous. To the best of my knowledge, the author of the work was unknown at the end of the year 50 years after the work was published, meaning that this work would be in the public domain in Canada, per section 6.2 of the Copyright Act. Note also this link. See disclaimers.