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If you only saw my saw

Labor is far more unregulated, un-unionized, unprotected and underpaid everywhere else in the world, hence we have lost most of our ability to produce goods. We are turning into an economy that sells the goods that other nations manufacture.

There's good money in selling stuff, as long as one disregards the possibility that we'll upset these other nations enough that, when they see we no longer know how to make stuff, they'll quit doing it for us.

But in the meantime, lots of competition out there in our marketplace means that each retailer needs to do their very best at keeping their customers happy.

The HVAC program at Wadena takes students out into the area to give them first-hand experience at installing stuff, stuff like gas piping, air conditioning, air-source heat pumps, furnaces, ventilation units. We often do it for Habitat for Humanity, churches, local municipal projects, affordable housing programs, etc.

So it was for that reason I purchased several Sawzall-type reciprocating saws, the popular brand of which I won't mention because another of the service industries we do so well in this country has to do with lawyers.

Some of these saws, because they were at the bottom of the tool locker, or just by circumstance, didn't get used much. After two years, a saw that had been used so little that it looked brand new coughed its guts out and quit. I disassembled it enough to see that the gears in it seemed to be made of nylon and pewter, a questionably durable combination for something that goes around and around and back and forth hundreds of times a minute.

I called the repair agency down in the Twin Cities:

Hello, I said, are you folks the certified repair outlet for _______ saws?

"Yes we are," replied the male voice. "What's up?"

I told him who I was, and that the saw in question had been likely used less than two or three times in the last two years, and described the condition of the gears.

"That warranty has expired," he told me, with no small amount of satisfaction in his voice, reflecting no doubt his confidence in his knowledge.

Yes, I know, I replied, but this thing has barely been used.

"That doesn't matter," he said. He went on to say that for $110, plus shipping, I could send him the saw and they would repair it.

That doesn't make any sense, I told him. I only paid $105 for the saw.

"Up to you," he replied. Now his voice had a tinge of concern about whether this was going to infringe upon his midmorning coffee break.

Listen, I said, how about you just send me the gears, call it a donation to a program that uses your equipment, and could use the help?

"Uh, uh. We don't do that."

Even if, I replied, dozens and dozens of students will use your saws -- do in fact use your saws -- every year for the first time?

"Nope." A pause. "Anything else?" Well, maybe.

You know what I'm going to do, I said to him? I'm going to hang your broken saw on the classroom wall, and 20 students each year are going to see that, and I'll explain why good tools don't have nylon and pot metal gears in them.

"I don't care," he said, and he hung up.

So I hung that saw on the wall, with its broken entrails hanging out of it, and hung a copy of the above conversation below it. A lot of people saw it in the next couple of years.

There was a tool show in Fargo at an HVAC wholesalers about then, and I and some students attended it. At these shows are lots of different vendors of tools, each set up in a booth around a large room.

I was moving along, stopping to check out the wares, and I came to the booth of the vendor whose saw was hanging on my classroom wall.

"Say," a man with that manufacturer's tool logo on his shirt said to me as I was walking by, "aren't you the instructor of the HVAC program in Wadena?"

Yes I am, I told him. He seemed serious.

"Some of your students have been through already," he told me. "Are you the guy with one of our saws hanging on your classroom wall?" Ah, sweet serious justice.

Yes, I am, I told him. I admit that I was grinning at him by now. Sometimes it takes a while, but lots of things work out in the end, given that one can wait long enough.

"Well," he said, "what would it take to get that saw off that wall, do you think?" He wasn't grinning. Turned out, he was the new area rep for that brand, and it would be in his best interests to not have that kind of advertising. He added: "Does the note below it say what your students told me it said?"

Yes, it does, I replied.

"How about I send you a new saw, you send me your broken one, and the name of the person to whom you spoke about it?"

I told him, after I launched into further detail about that guy's overall character deficits, that that sounded fair.

He agreed.

Maybe we'll get this service stuff figured out.

Maybe some folks never will.