Friday, February 10, 2012

Visions of Reality

First let me apologize for writing this while I am sick and loaded up on cold and flu medicine as I watch the pink elephants slowly dance to Berlioz’s Symphony Phantastique across the living room floor and into the dining room. I hope the alligators that are practicing their trapeze act on the chandelier in there don’t try to turn them into appetizers tonight. Of course, if the elephants make it through the dining room they will have to fend off the sharks who are playing poker in the kitchen, they asked me to join in but I don’t have the three live chickens buy in right now. I told them they will have to wait until I get paid in order for me to sit in on a hand.

But, I suppose I have just gotten sidetracked once again.

Now, for my dear readers who have kept up with my blog and the comings and goings of my life you will know that one of my first blogs two years ago was about the closing of the museum I work for and how we were going to not just renovate the building but completely transform everything under the roof and add over an additional twelve thousand square feet of space. So it was pretty much an expansion, renovation and rehabilitation of the existing structure. The rebuild took eighteen months and a lot happened in that time, not just in my life but the lives of my fellow co-workers and the multitude of contractors who worked incessantly day and night in order for us to open the new museum on time.

When we did open, everything in the building was shiny, new and unmolested by the hands of thousands of visitors. Including my area, the trains, and that is what I am going to write a bit about today.

When I first was hired as Train Technician for the museum I knew there was a plan in place for an expansion and rehabilitation. So I started to keep a folder of ideas, needs and wants for the new layout. I did not know how much space I was going to be given but I knew certain key elements that I wanted for the new train layout and my office. This foresight helped me out more than I ever expected.

You see, one day, about two years before we shut the old museum down, I received orders from the Director of all the Museums in my fair adopted city, to come up with a layout design and track plan for the new train room. My first response to her was “How much room do I have?” He answer was to show me the rough renderings of where the new train room was to be and where my office would be located. She then informed me I had a week to finish my task.

My brain went into overdrive, I did a quick calculation of how much square footage I would have for my office, the layout footprint and sketched it all out onto a piece of graph paper. I then placed two phone calls to some buddies I knew had layout design experience and asked them for some advice and suggestions on track design. They agreed to help. I also loaded up a C.A.D. software program for layout design and input all the dimensions of the layout and went to work on the design phase. I fueled my creativity with sugar, caffeine, deadlines and the smell of plastic injection molding used to make most of the rolling stock in this day and age.

By the end of the week I had finished my design for a 710 square foot train layout with eight working mainlines and four interactive push buttons for the visitors to use. It took another week for the powers above me to approve the design and then my creative offspring was put on a shelf for almost two years. It became a pipe dream. The plans sat on a shelf collecting dust with my binder full of ideas. Until one day I received an email to send them out to bid by contractors across the nation. The joy of that day was immeasurable. The wait for answers from the contractors was an eternity of nervousness and paranoia.

Only two contractors agreed to build the layout with our terms. One fabricator I did not know, the other, his company is one of the best in the business. I got to choose which of the two to go with. I chose the one whose work I know.

After several thousand phone conversations, emails, texts and FedEx packages of information was exchanged and some track changes the initial substructure was fabricated and the layout underway. All my major ideas and goals were kept in the layout; a few minor ones had to be set to the side for special and operational reasons.

I made one visit to the contractors’ warehouse to see the progress of the layout while it was being fabricated. I was so filled with pride at what my mind was trying to understand that I almost exploded.

A few months after my visit the layout was delivered to the museum in approximately twenty-four sections, and after three weeks of hard work by no less then sixteen men it was installed and operating.

Operating… funny thing about that term. You see, and I guess this is where this whole story has lead me to… you see, while the museum was shut down, the primary supplier for locomotives for the museum made some changes to their operation system. They have upgraded to a better electronic system. What does this mean? Simple, while I do the primary maintenance of the “motive power” for the trains… (Motive Power means engines) I am no longer able to order the computer boards for the engines. They have been outdated. So I need to upgrade.

Upgrading is an expensive prospect. I have a large fleet of motive power that is now pretty much useless. If a board goes bad, I can’t replace it. So I have to order new engines. Engines aren’t cheap. So I sat down, wrote up a plan that will take several years to implement by slowly replacing a small number of engines and or sets each year. I submitted my plan and it was approved. I was stunned. But I quickly called my supplier and placed my order.

Twenty-four hours later I was signing a FedEx computer pad saying I was the recipient of my order. I now have brand new trains to use on our new layout. I wish I could say that all the time I spent writing the proposals, brainstorming over the details of the layout and trying to figure out what I want the visitors to experience when they walk into the train room has been easy. But I can’t, I’ve fought, worried, lost my temper and struggled to hold onto the ideas I first put down in that binder over seven years ago.

I look back now, with a 20-20 hindsight, and see where I could have done things differently, or been more calm in frustrating situations. But when look back now at how much energy I put into seeing this vision become a reality I don’t think there is much that I would change. My overall concept, design and message have been made a reality. Sure, I had a lot of help from a lot of people and we all worked very hard to complete our tasks and we did it to the best of our abilities.

Now when visitors come see the trains and the train layout and ask me questions about the collections or the exhibit, I smile and start to explain what it is they are looking at and how it actually influences their daily lives. They walk away a richer person in knowledge from what I tell them and that is worth all the craziness of years that have passed.

Ok, I am going to wrap this up, the card sharks are teasing the acrobatic alligators with the chickens and I sense a fight is about to break out somewhere between the kitchen and the dining room

Have a good week.

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