Appreciate the memories

Let’s all cherish and preserve them before it is too late.

By Joel Leonard

My grandfather, Henry Baker, a WWII veteran, disabled coal miner and rugged self-reliant outdoorsman, succumbed to black lung and leukemia almost 16 years ago. While growing up, I used to hate to hear him tell, retell and tell again of his fishing and hunting exploits.

On his last hunting trip, he went over a mountain to find his prey, leaving his hunting party behind. At a fraction of his former strong and vigorous self,  Paw, as I affectionately called him, not only found a deer, but discovered a buck so large that it still ranks very high in the Kentucky Boone & Crocket registry.

When he landed this more than 270-pound behemoth on the other side of the mountain, he had to get it back to camp. With the help of his buddies, that wouldn’t have been a formidable task. But Paw wanted to prove to those “kids” in his hunting party he could do it by himself. He pushed and lumbered that oversized, burly beast uphill a few feet at a time, caught his breath with his coal encrusted lungs and then went at it again and again.

Reaching the point of exhaustion but not one to ever give up, he got an idea. He took the laces out of his boots tied them together. Then he tied one end to the antlers, grabbed the other end, walked up the slope, and around a tree, then hurled his 140 pound body downward mightily, propelling the heavy buck up the mountain in six-foot increments. Repeating this routine for more than three hours, got him and the buck to the top of the mountain. He then sat on the carcass, grabbed the antlers and rode it like a sled down the incline to the camp.

I and many relatives believe that experience gave him the strength to go on for four more years. Towards the end of his life, I would beg him to tell me the story so he would relive his glorious day. It was one of the few things that could make his disease-ridden chest swell with pride. I wanted to tape him, but never found the time. 

Some details of this nearly 20-year-old adventure may be wrong. Sadly, his other stories have faded and some are lost forever. What I would give to have recordings and videos of him telling those stories.

How many great adventures are we not capturing in our plant? How many of our future workers could hunt down and fell large business challenges by learning from today’s professionals? How much of our undocumented knowledge will be lost forever as baby boomers retire?

Don’t repeat my mistake. Start capturing your company’s valuable tactics and techniques to preserve and elevate your business performance.

Start with a criticality ranking from the most important to the least equipment and process. Perhaps you may want to read the late reliability guru John Moubray’s RCM books as a guide. We are fortunate to have his writings available for future reliability hunters.

Take an informational inventory of your most critical items. Do you have digital pictures of the equipment?  Pictures of the components? Flow charts of the processes? Are they easy to understand? Are they posted in a prominent location? Do you have this information embedded in your maintenance management software? Do you have them linked to be printed with your CMMS work orders?

Interview your technicians and begin documenting the oral history of their detailed knowledge of your most critical assets. Make sure you have your procedures updated with the best practices. 

How about audio recordings of your machines? An audio database can be a great tool to help develop an ear that can identify when future equipment failures are about to occur. Do you have accurate blueprints of your building infrastructure? Updated maps detailing where pipes really are buried?

Want some help? Reach out to local college students to provide this service as a class project. Many classes will do this for free, just for the experience.

As my grandfather demonstrated, a little bit of progress at a time with persistent drive upward will yield the desired outcome that will sustain your business for years to come, especially if you share your experience with others so those important lessons will be preserved.

Contact Joel Leonard at

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