For the past two months I’ve been having trouble with my phone line. Nancy and I frequently get cut off while talking to someone on the voice portion of the service, and the high-speed U-Verse line for the three computers in the house quits working at the same time. Both of these services are provided by AT&T over the same pair of wires from the central switching office in town the approximately two miles to our house.
Since we first experienced trouble there have been four different repairmen here, some of them more than once, plus I don’t know how many times a so-called “test man,” usually with an accent and located who knows where, has “re-booted” my modem and assured me the trouble was fixed.
I hesitate to call these guys (at least most of them) incompetent – a couple of them have really tried – plus I spent 35 years as a repairman for one of AT&T’s old “Baby Bells,” the Ohio Bell Telephone Company, as well as its successor, Ameritech. During that time I had my share of tough cases of trouble, although it seems most were resolved in a little less than two months.
But enough about me – slipshod repairs are nothing new as attested to by the following story from the editorial page of the June 1915 issue of Motor Age magazine.
The Incompetent Repairman
Within the last few months an agent for a prominent make of car in a city of over 25,000 in the Middle West lost the agency because his repair department was quite inadequate, so much so that repair jobs rarely gave satisfaction and the factory was charged with incompetency through this particular dealer.
All dealers have not good repair shops, some have, but unfortunately many garagemen and dealers are somewhat below par when measured by the yard stick of repair efficiency. One car owner paid over $70 to have a new water pump installed on his car, not fewer than two pumps being broken before one was attached properly and yet the owner had to pay the bill for the pumps that were broken.
Recently an owner with a missing cylinder had his motor taken apart and put together only to find that the trouble remained. A bill of over $50 was paid and the trouble not corrected. A competent repairman was able to correct the trouble and the bill was less than $2.
We have with us poor doctors, poor lawyers, poor ministers, and poor actors, but fortunately they are not so well paid as the good ones. In the repair field we pay for labor at 90 cents an hour in some cities, 75 cents in others and, in a few as low as 40 cents per hour, and yet we do not get what we pay for. We pay the bills and fail to get the desired results. If we take our watch to the jeweler we look for a new part being put in or a repair made, but we go further and demand that the watch keep better time or at least accurate time when it comes out of the jeweler's. We have a right to expect the same thing from an automobile repairman. If he is to be paid his bill he should do the work and do it properly.
The public has been imposed upon to an amazing extent by hopelessly inadequate motor car repairmen, garages in many cases having for repairmen adults not even familiar with all of the constructions of motor cars. There must be a remedy or reduced sales will surely follow. Our country is not so large but that we could issue qualification certificates for competency in garages. Garages could be scaled according to their quota of efficiency in help and workmanship. This was done in several countries in Europe. Those garages that did poor work lost their official positions. The car owner will sooner or later demand such a condition in America.
The car owner does not object to paying his repair bill providing he gets good work done, but rightly objects when he finds his car running more poorly after the repair than before; or finds that some parts have not been put back into their proper place by the repairman.
Wow! 90 cents an hour for labor in a car repair shop? Talk about the good old days! – it’s more like 90 dollars today! However, one must keep in mind that only 18 months before this 1915 article appeared Henry Ford had doubled his worker’s wages to $5 per day, a move that other car manufacturers decried as socialism amid dire predictions that Ford would soon go bankrupt.
So, while shoddy repair work is aggravating, life goes on – and whether or not my phone or internet is working really means very little in the vast scheme of things – and I’m too old to get all het up about it.
– Sam Moore
The puzzled repairman. (From a Crescent Tools ad in the October 1927 issue of Motor Service magazine in the author’s collection.)