February 16, 2024
An inspection of a gearbox as old as me required a trip to Boston and a drive north into New Hampshire this week. I had been to Boston several times before, including one accidental trip to New Hampshire. This time I took my personal global positioning system (GPS) along and had no trouble with the local traffic. In pre-GPS days travel was highly dependent on the quality of local directions. In crazy places like Boston or New York City it was best to have a knowledgeable driver standing by at the airport. You kept a book of maps in your briefcase, as the rental car maps might not cover your destination in sufficient detail. Frequently, my customer’s plant was just off the edge of the map book; wandering around rural America in the dark was a real job hazard. Things got slightly better with the Internet; Mapquest and other programs allowed you to put in the end-points of your trip and print out detailed turn-by-turn directions, along with estimated travel times. It was great, in concept, but the execution sometimes left a bit to be desired. A service call in Central Ohio was delayed because Mapquest put me in the middle of a cornfield. The error was so frequent that the nearby convenience store clerk had directions handy once she finished laughing. My GPS is a few years old so I still have to worry about outdated maps. Re-calculation is maddening, especially in busy metro areas where you cannot always get to the lane needed in the time available. For all its faults though, GPS facilitates face-to-face visits that are critical to getting orders. I enjoy meeting new people and looking at manufacturing plants. The real heroes of American manufacturing are the salesmen and saleswomen who devote their days to building personal relationships on the plant floor. My host on this visit felt right at home on that shop floor, and was very invested in helping them succeed. That is what carries a company through the crazy business cycles that no GPS can predict.