The Man in Blue Overalls

Once upon a time, during that part of the late 19th century when Mill towns were booming, there was one particular mill that lay silent… Apart that is, from the exasperated moans of the Mill owner who could be heard muttering “time is money, time is money”.

For he had employed the best people and organisations of the day to come in and fix the steam engine that powered his factory, but alas nothing had worked, and he sat, frustrated and be-moaning the fact that his mill lay silent and this was costing him dearly!

As he sat, with his head in his hands, a man in blue overalls came into his office carrying a small tool bag. “Let me fix your steam engine” he said. The Mill owner looked at him in a somewhat dismissive fashion and said “I’ve had the best of the best to try and fix it, big teams of people, with fancy equipment – but you stand there with that tiny tool bag, with, if I am not mistaken, not much in it – why do you think that you can fix it?” The man in blue overalls replied “I have only the tools I need to fix your problem”. Having realised that he had nothing to loose, the mill owner led the man in blue overalls around to the building that housed the silent steam engine.

The man in blue overalls opened his tool bag and took out a small hammer which he used to methodically tap around all of the pipes, collars, joints and valves. It took him 10 minutes. Once he had done this he returned to his tool bag and replaced the small hammer with a larger, heavier version. He steadied himself over one particular part and issued one heavy, sharp blow onto the joint in question. BANG! As the man in blue overalls stepped back, the steam engine burst into life.

As you can imagine the mill owner was ecstatic and exclaimed “That’s amazing – thank you, thank you  – send me your bill and double it!”.  The man in blue overalls packed up his tools in his small tool bag and said  “That won’t be necessary”.

His bill arrived a week later and when the mill owner opened it, he couldn’t believe it – the charge for fixing his steam engine was £100 – which in those days was quite a hefty sum. The mill owner exclaimed to his secretary that “I’ve employed other people, even teams of people, with heavy and complicated tools and machinery, and they’ve been here for days – and yes I paid them well – but £100 – for a man who was only here for 10 minutes – surely this was a mistake”. His secretary duly sent a request to the man in blue overalls for a detailed breakdown of his bill.

A week later the breakdown arrived:

For 10 minutes of tapping – £1

For knowing where to tap – £99

I thank Nick Owen for introducing me to this story.