The Tale of Two Machines

By Hugh Abner
[44 Years and Counting Manufacturing Batteries and Battery Machinery]

Machines have many tales but I am prompted to write here from something I overheard years ago from a man that was at the time a leader in our Industry. Mr. Charles Graves.

I do not know the entire story about Mr. Graves and how he climbed to the top position that he had when I came along. All I know is that he owned the corporation that had hired me. The organization was C. Graves Inc. It was composed of a company that sold batteries and a company that manufactured batteries. This, however, was not any where near the total composition of his small empire for it was very closely related to companies that he did not even own. It was during a time when most major American cities had a local battery company. At least this was true in the South In the sixties some of the majors were there but having to compete with all these locals.

Anyway Mr. Graves had a clear understanding of our industry as it was at his particular time. These numerous local manufacturers were entering the time when loose and in many ways real environmental and personal safety hazards were beginning to be scrutinized. Mr. Graves knew of the unrest because he was active, if not the founder, of the I.B.M.A. The Independent Battery Manufacturers Association enabled practical things like Battery Warranties to exist across the nation so that a battery made in Tampa would be under warranty if it failed way out in California. The California Association member could be located and the battery owner would get fair and helpful reconciliation of the failed Tampa battery. It also provided the members with the opportunity to gather each year in Chicago, listen to technical papers on battery improvements, learn about projected government intrusion into the concerns of each and then to get together at night to bitch and complain. Of course it was a golden opportunity for battery machinery manufacturers to associate with most of their potential customers when these customers were away from their day-to-day responsibilities.

So Mr. Graves knew personally all the local battery manufacturers from across the nation and he developed a specific understanding. Many of these companies wanted to keep selling batteries but they did not necessarily want to deal with the upcoming problems of manufacturing them Mr. Graves for some reason did not have a problem with continuing to manufacture and he was more than willing to do their manufacturing. He would put their name onto them in any manner they desired. No! This was not satisfactory. It was not the outside of the battery that made it special, it was the inside and each local company only believed that their specification was the proper one.

Somehow Mr. Graves did not let that be a problem. He made two promises to those that would turn manufacturing of their products over to him. Their battery would be made with the exact components each of them used. Sometimes when I became involved with scheduling the production of these many, many different battery types I wondered if he knew how many different arrangements there was going to be. For example it was common to have 20 or more different group 24 batteries The differences ranged from a large variance in the number plates per cell as well as different plate sizes. There were many different separator materials: rubber, plastic and various forms of wood fibers. The second promise was a sharing of manufacturing profits The agreement was that any profits above 5% from the manufacturing division, Contract Battery, would be returned to the customer. This made for a huge amount of attention having to be given to accounting concerns. For me many doors were opened to cost accounting projects. You can imagine the top Pb differences when just the group 24 has 20 different designs

Now Mr. Graves’ plan did appeal to many and it became successful.

By knowing of his successful statue it now should be understandable how amazed I was when sometimes he would walk down to our local barbecue shack and sit outside with us to eat lunch.

It was during one of these times that he stated what I call – The Tale of Two Machines. You see our factories had machines that were made by: Winkel, Wirtz, Tiegel and others. At that time we did not have machines from Farmer or Mac. That was to all come later. The point is that Mr. Graves owned many machines and had a very large right to have a personal opinion about them so when someone in the group made a statement describing the failure of some machine manufacturer to come through with a solution to a particular machines problem —- Mr. Graves pointed out the following point of wisdom. He said, “A machine manufacturer knows how to make them but they do not know how to operate them. That is what we do.”

Of course everyone does not have this understanding or attitude but for us in the situation of those times his statement gave us an understanding of his expectation and appreciation of us. To grubby little factory workers sitting outside eating barbecue with a man dressed in a suit and tie that we all worked for it was a momentous moment, because it revealed that somewhere he must have had grubby times of his own.

1 Comments to “The Tale of Two Machines”

  1. Jason Saxon says:

    I am excited to see that good people other than my family were impacted in a positive way by Mr. Charles Graves (My Great Grandfather)! Sadly, he passed away the year I was born and I only knew the person he was from family stories and newspaper clippings along with pictures.

    I have searched since a I was a child through history of what all of the newspaper clippings and pictures in our family albums meant, and on many occasions I have sat for hours to hear about the battery business and the IBMA. Last night I talked with my Grandfather John (Ronnie) Saxon about some of the history.

    Come to find out it seems that we live in a small world and you Mr. Hugh Abner have just made my day! I would like to take you to lunch sometime and visit the Farmer facility.

    Interestingly enough I have spent most of my career in manufacturing (from the ground floor to the top in a local multi-billion dollar company) and now deeply embedded in the Commercial and Industrial and Multifamily LED Manufacturing and design right here in St Pete, FL.

    Hoping that I will learn a bit more about the advancements of the battery manufacturing equipment and how it can benefit a grass roots solar energy effort that compliments my current business and has potential to blend in some history.

    Jason Saxon

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