“When we make one mistake we end up making two!”
My high school basketball coach used to scream this as we ran “gassers” to the point of exhaustion during marathon practice sessions. Like much of his pithy wisdom, this took me a while to translate. What he was saying in “basketball speak” was that when we make a mistake on defense and let our man get around us, we tend to commit a foul in order to keep him from scoring. When we make one mistake we end up making two. One error leads to a second, more serious error.
As is often the case with sports clichés, it also applies to real life. Since high school, I’ve heard similar expressions, including:
- Haste makes waste
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
- If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
While these proverbs relate to many different aspects of work and personal life, all of them tie into a key focus for anyone who works with tools: Preventative maintenance.
I think that maintenance is an important area of opportunity for our industry. Bluntly put; most of us in the plumbing and drain cleaning industry don’t take good enough care of our tools. From first-hand observation, I would say that this is doubly true of our drain cleaning units. Contractors tend to pull a snake machine from its hiding place in the back of their truck, ride it hard and put it away wet. There it sits, forgotten, forlorn, foul-smelling and corroding until the next time it is needed. At that point the contractor is shocked…shocked to find that the snake is now rusted, acid damaged and stiff, and the unit seems somehow…older than the last time that he saw it.
Compare that with what happens in the tool rental industry. As soon as the unit comes home to the rental store, the cable is inspected for kinks and breaks, pressure washed and finally sprayed with Snake Oil. Only then is the machine returned to the rental floor.
Occasionally, we speak to stores that have rented snakes to untrained, nonprofessional users for 10 years before wearing out a cable. The tool rental industry is keenly aware of a concept called return on investment (ROI). It’s the way that they keep track of efficiency and profitability, and it is the driving force behind their relentless effort to maintain equipment. The bottom line: Routine maintenance pays for itself many times over. I suggest that what is true in the rental industry is also true in the plumbing and drain cleaning industry.
Have you ever sat down and calculated how much money you can make per hour with a fully functioning Speedrooter? How much is your time worth? Are you paid the same for opening a drain as you are for doing an emergency cable replacement? Which is more effective utilization of your time?
From time to time I will speak with a plumbing company that has a companywide routine maintenance program. These are usually larger firms who can afford the luxury of devoting a full time person to tool maintenance. However, most of us bear sole responsibility for our tools. That being the case, doesn’t it make sense to spend a few extra minutes at the end of a job cleaning your machine and oiling your cable?
If you are pressed for time, simply squirt a cup or so of Snake Oil into your drum at the end of the job. Then, step on the foot pedal and let the drum rotate for a minute or two. This will distribute the oil all throughout the cable and drum, mitigating the effects of corrosive drain cleaning chemicals that the customer may have used before your arrival, as well as preventing rust. It will keep your drum from corroding, and indirectly lubricate your power feed. Not bad for a couple of minutes work.
Is there more you could do? Absolutely.
It’s a great idea to expose/clean/lubricate all the moving parts on your units at least twice a year. Check and grease the bushings and bearings. Take apart the power feed more often than that, depending on how hard you use it. From our own experience here at General, repairing and maintaining this equipment for more than 80 years, we’ve found that marine grease is the best lubricant. Try it and see.
At the very least, use the trick of squirting a cup of Snake Oil into the drum and letting it run. To skip this crucial step in order to save two minutes would be mistake; and you know what my old basketball coach would say about that!