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Work Life

Even though I've worked for the same company for almost 30 years, I've been fortunate to have had a varied career and interesting experiences.   Not sure why these need to be here on a website, but I thought I'd better write this down somewhere before the Old-Timers sets in....

My grandfather started working at Caterpillar in 1931 shortly after they opened their plant in East Peoria.  He retired from the East Peoria plant 45 years later, having risen to the highly skilled trade of "Machine Tool Builder" in the Tool Room.  Not bad for a guy with an 8th grade education. My father started at Cat right out of high school, and worked 42 years, retiring as a Senior Design Engineer in East Peoria's Transmission Business Unit.  Not bad for a guy with a high school education.   I started at Cat after a short stint selling shoes & moving pianos, also in the East Peoria plant.  In June 2011 my son Lee started at Cat, in East Peoria Building SS, as a Manufacturing Engineer.  All four generations started at the East Peoria plant, and probably all worked our first official "day" within 500 feet of the same spot.

Like most kids in Peoria, I tried to get on at Cat right out of high school.  I took the apprentice math test to be a millwright and scored a perfect 100% but when I took the company physical, I failed due to a "bad back."  I didn't actually have a bad back, just the potential for one, and since I was moving pianos for a living, I don't think it mattered anyway.  But my dad spoke to the company doctor who said if I were to be a machinist instead of a millwright, they could hire me. So, I hired in on October 16th, 1978 as a Class 2 weekly mail clerk while waiting for the machinist apprenticeship to start.   My mom also hired on at Cat on October 16th, but she started on 3rd shift, so she had 8 hours more seniority than me.  Class 2 weekly was the lowest paid, full time position at Cat.  Class 1 was part time.  I stocked parts manuals on shelves so that a blind woman could come through and put them in large binders.  I learned to write Braille (backwards, with a punch) so that I could leave her notes, etc.

I joined the machinist apprentice class in April of 1979, and immediately was grateful that I wasn't a millwright, since millwrights spend their entire careers in the shop.  The shop was awful:  hot, dirty, smelly, no fun.  At least as a machinist I had a chance at a foreman's job or office work later.  In 1980 Caterpillar started a program called the Degree Option Program (DOP) to send machinists to Bradley University to become manufacturing engineers.  I didn't qualify for the DOP at first, and probably wouldn't have done very well anyway, since I was pretty young and immature and partying alot with the rugby team.

Around 1981-82 the Recession started, and I was bumped back to the weekly ranks, working in Data Processing, filing Purchase Order's on second shift.  I went from a Class 2 to a Class 4 (woot!).  I also met Brenda at this time, who was in college.  She started me thinking about the DOP again, if the economy would ever turn around.  We were married in July of 1982 and I received my pink slip from Cat in September.  "Honey I'm home.... for a long, long time!"

After spending 14 months unemployed (really, who wants to hire a Cat guy who'll jump back to Cat the minute things turn around?) I took a job as a salesman for DuBois Chemical Co.  It was low pay ($12k), you used your own car & gas, and I sucked at it.   But after 14 months I had some "experience" and moved on to Winzer, Inc selling OEM car parts and tools.  I still sucked at it, but at least I had a company car this time and was paid a higher base ($14k).  Then I went with Barrett Industrial Supply where I made $16k, had a nice company car & bennies, and still basically sucked as a salesman.  Finally I followed my boss to Star Supply for $18k.  But all this time I was still calling Cat, still checking on the DOP program, still trying to get back.

In 1988, after already buying our farm and starting our house in Metamora, I was re-hired by Cat.  Not recalled. Those rights had expired after four years.  I came back in '88 as  a new hire, Class 14, DOP trainee.   Cat was paying me $27,700 a year to attend college.  Sweet!  The deal was simple:  I took three classes per semester, worked whatever schedule I could fit around school to make up a complete 40 hours, I had to get good grades and go to school year round.  Pretty good way to get a free education.  (P.S.  Cat bought my books and paid my mileage to drive to Bradley University in Peoria).  My dad's brother Mark was also a DOP, getting ready to graduate about the time I started.  I remember he finished with a Bradley GPA of 3.84.  So naturally, I set my sights on a GPA of 3.85 in order to get family GPA bragging rights.   I ended up with a 4.0 and graduated Summa Cum Laude in December of 1991.

As a DOP we worked six month stations in various parts of the plant including stints in Process Planning, Purchasing, Heat Treat, Tool Design, Engineering, Systems and as a Line Foreman.   When I worked in Engineering in EP Building TT, I sat about 100 feet away from my dad, and we caused alot of mail room confusion with our same name.   Later in 2008 when Lee first started at Cat as a contract engineer, we sat about 200 feet apart in Tech Center Building E....he upstairs, me down.

My first job at Cat after graduating from the DOP was as an Applications Analyst in East Peoria's Systems Group.  I was a huge promotion to a Class 21, and I was hired to be a 'C' programmer.  Problem was, I had never really programmed in C, only FORTRAN.  But I gave a good interview and talked a good game and won the job.  I spent two years learning C, supporting the Transmission Assembly System (TAS) and Final Drive Assembly Systems, became a VAX System Manager and had a good time.    But, as a 33-year Class 21, I felt I was behind the curve and needed to move on.

In 1993 I received a promotion to a Class 22 Senior Development Engineer in the Parts & Service Support (P&SS)group.  I really didn't know much about Parts or Service, but I was handy with a computer, and helped to automate alot of the P&SS functions.  I learned alot about the parts business and working with our dealers, and this job was really the foundation to much of what I did later in my career at Cat.   I also started taking MBA classes at University of Phoenix about his time.

In 1995 I received a promotion to a Class 23 Project Engineer, still in P&SS, but working with the electronics group. We wrote computer programs to "talk" to Cat engines and machines, and also wrote electronic troubleshooting software.  I finished my MBA in 22 months, even while working in the factory during the UAW strike of '94-95.

In 1997 I felt that, given my systems background, plus my parts and service background, that I should move into a different area of the company.    I received a promotion to Class 24 as a Senior Product Support Consultant in the Cat Americas Mining Division.  I really didn't know anything about mining (had never even been in a mine), but I spoke Spanish, and the job entailed frequent travel to South America, so it worked out.   So for the next 3 years I flew to Chile and Argentina once a month.  Sometimes we'd go to Peru or Colombia.  I even had a trip to Australia during this job.  It was alot of travel and I missed out on coaching my boys in JFL, but overall it was a good experience and alot of fun.

In 1999 it was time to stop traveling.  I also felt I needed to get supervisory experience in order to move up the ladder.  I received a promotion for Class 25 Senior IT Supervisor in Cat Logistics Services (CLS).  I really didn't know much about logistics, but as you've read, that's never really stopped me from taking a job.    At CLS we installed SAP warehouse software at our clients.  CLS managed the inventories for US Cellular, Nike, Range Rover and a bunch of other outside companies who wanted to take advantage of Cat's huge logistics experience.  This job basically sucked.  I don't want to write about it anymore.  It makes my blood pressure go up.

In 2002 I took a voluntary demotion to Class 24 to get out of Logistics.  I went to Cat Power Generation Systems (CPGS) in Mossville.   CPGS takes the huge (boxcar-sized huge) engines made in our Kiel, Germany plant and builds power plants around them.  I was a Product Support guy again, and even though I didn't know anything about engines, I was able to use some of my software skills to make the jobs in CPGS more efficient.  It was in CPGS that I did my stint as a Six Sigma Black Belt, and I traveled to Germany quite a bit.  The six  years I spent in CPGS were the longest I ever stayed in one job at Caterpillar.  Most jobs at Cat -- for me -- lasted 24 months, max.

After finishing my Black Belt tour, I thought it was time to explore another part of Cat.  I took a promotion to a Class 25 Senior Engineering Project Team Leader in the Product Development & Global Technology (PD&GT) department.
PD&GT is basically Cat's research & development group in Mossville, IL.   It's a huge and very important part of Cat, and my job there was in the "Growth Beyond Core" group, to evaluate outside companies and technologies that Cat could purchase or license for our products.  For instance, we looked at whether Cat should buy a Fuel Cell manufacturer (we didn't) to use as an alternative energy source for tractors.

Unfortunately, 2009 began the recession, and Cat was not looking to "grow beyond core" but rather, just maintain. So our group was disbanded and we all hung on as best we could through the layoffs.   I spent 2009 "on loan" back to CPGS, doing projects work and watching my 401k sink.  Things picked up in 2010 and I did a project with US Steel Corp, trying to help them reduce their carbon footprint at the Minnesota iron ore mines and Gary Steelworks.  Towards the end of 2010 I was sent to a class at M.I.T. in Boston for "ideation", or "Facilitating Group Creativity."  It was an interesting class and process that turned into a job.  I came back from Boston and was transfered to the "Ideation Section" of the Value Engineering team.
In ideation, we help Cat engineers (or others) to think outside the box in approaching business problems.  It's a fun process that really works, and it's got to be the most unique job at Caterpillar. I was transfered back to East Peoria where I started, and printed new business cards with "Idea Man" as my title.  I'm working in the same building that I was in when I was laid off in 1982, and I will probably retire from this building.  It's about 300 yards away from where Lee works in Building SS.

That's it.  30 years in a nutshell.  Went kinda fast....