I am in the process of cataloging the drawings that members of the Union Pacific Historical Society have scanned from the Society’s Union Pacific Railroad collection. This work requires each drawing’s scanned image be examined and the drawing’s data entered into the database. The examinations present an opportunity for me to learn much about the methods used by the U.P.R.R. to run the railroad’s shops and other related facilities The examination of the two presented drawings was the Genesis event of my thoughts about the need of the railroad shop managers and workmen to carry out shop work according to procedures that are standard in all shops.
Very, very few of the examined drawings have dimensions with tolerances or references to standard procedures. The need for standards surely existed then as much as today, so, how was this need met? I believe much of the information needed was in what I call the shop’s institutional memory, that is, the collective experience of the shop managers and workmen. This information over time was collected into standard practice manuals but I have yet to find reference to these on examined drawings. This lack seems a recipe for inconsistent, and sometimes bad, results of the work done by the U.P.R.R shops. I believe this situation increased the risk of equipment disasters and thus increased the the cost of railroad operations. Increased cost almost certainly motivated the people responsible for safe and profitable operation of the railroad to seek ways to better the situation. One of the ways to improve the situation in the shops would be to require training of the shop workmen in standardized shop procedures so all U.P.R.R. shops produce nearly identical results for similar work. It has been recognized for centuries that apprentice programs are a vital part of the education and training of new craftsmen. These is are the reasons the two presented drawings were within the U.P.R.R. drawing collection. These two drawings are evidence of efforts by the Railroad to train new workmen in shop procedures and identify those who complete the training. I believe these apprentice programs were a vital part of passing the best of the Railroad’s institutional memories of the many shops in a standardized way.
Members of the Union Pacific Historical Society have visited several Union Pacific Railroad employee training facilities and I am one such member. Based on what I learned during these visits, the Railroad still believes standardized training is vital to safe and profitable operations. The tradition lives on.