Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"wheels" - Arthur Hailey

For all those who have enough patience to read thru 2280 words abt "wheels" and hows its related to HS406.. here it goes....

Arthur Hailey’s “Wheels”
– A ninth angle of the eight cylinders

“Wheels” is an interesting work of fiction by Arthur Hailey. Set in the 1960s or 1970s with the back drop of, Detroit, Michigan – “the Motor City, auto capital of the world”, it serves as a very informative read for an engineer. It revolves around the struggling personal and professional lives of individuals in various levels of hierarchy in the automobile industry, more specifically, one among the “Big Three”, Ford. It involves the entangled lives of almost everyone who can link their life to the word ‘car’, from the chairman of the company to the executives in the design and engineering, plant managers, assembly line workers, used cars salesmen, machine parts manufacturers, spare parts suppliers and even to car racers.
Though according to the Detroit Sunday Times, this book is filled with “action, suspense, excitement, glamour and drama…”, we shall be over-looking all that and concentrate on a very different perspective, the humanist aspect and how all those individuals involved in the different levels of the automobile industry have their lives churned within the eight cylinders.
In relevance to our course, Humanities in Technological Age, this book is an excellent example to illustrate the fact that for a person, whether intelligent or ignorant, a humanistic point of view is a very necessary component for mental peace and a happy life. The one who strikes the right balance between family and profession leads a happy life. But it’s tricky, like a juggler’s act. All of them fight; some lose; some change tracks; some quit; some win!

All Fought
Let us look at some of the important characters in the book to illustrate a few humanist points by browsing through their struggle and their final fate; those individuals being Adam Trenton, Rollie Knight, Brett DeLosanto and Matt Zaleski.

Some Won
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Adam Trenton, Advanced Vehicles Planning Manager, Product Development Unit of Ford, he was a very successful man in at his work. But as far as his personal life was concerned, he had a failing marriage to Erica, a woman young enough to be his daughter. His work was very demanding and just like any other top echelon in the automobile industry went on struggling for perfection. With every single day, his work load increased, his days and night were consumed by newer and newer projects like the Orion or the Farstar, and his concern for his family disappeared until Erica lost all hopes.
“Where have all the flowers gone? Where the love, the life, the vanished idyll of Adam and Erica Trenton, young lovers not so long ago? O where, O where!”
It pushed her into wild ideas like extra-marital affairs and shop lifting. Not until was she arrested that Adam opened his eyes to the damage to his personal life.
The automobile industry is so demanding with the markets so competitive and the technology ever-changing, that it makes men insensitive to anything except cars as Erica rightly pointed out. Like for instance when at a race, one of the company’s cars crashed killing its driver and the very next day another car of that same company won the race, the company executives celebrated the victory without the slightest remembrance of the deceased. At this point Erica pointed out to all those executives
“You don’t live – we don’t live – for anything but cars and sales and winning. And if not all the time, then most of it. You forget other things. Such as, yesterday a man died here. Someone we knew. You are so full of winning: ‘Win on Sunday!’… He was Saturday… You’ve forgotten him already…”
She had in fact, voiced out all the wives present there
But eventually, Adam Trenton realized the importance of love and care in one’s life and even considered leaving the automobile industry to save his marriage. In the end, he had both the loves of his life, Erica and cars, and all the happiness he could ask for. He won!

Some Quit
Most of the laborers in the assembly line were blacks, who were bossed around by foremen, often white. Racist hatred was deeply rooted. Not many blacks made it to the top. If they did, or even if they were friendly with the whites, they were marked as “white niggers” or other offensive names by other blacks.
In this book there are two blacks. One was Rollie Knight, who roamed the streets and got his bread by drug trafficking. He was hired in the “hard-core” hiring programme (a programme initialized my auto companies where in they attempt to employ those – mostly black - who have been “tragically and callously been unemployed for years”) into Ford’s assembly line. The other is Leonard Wingate, an executive in the Personnel Unit of Ford, who struggled to help others from his race, those who didn’t have the advantage of a good education like he had.
Wingate threw some new light on the difficulties that arise from trying to help the blacks to rise above their economic standards.
“A lot of people we’ve hired under the programme have never, in their lives before, kept regular hours. Mostly they had no reason to. Working regularly, the way most of us to, breeding habits: like getting up in the morning, being on time to catch a bus, becoming used to working five days of the week. But if you’ve never done any of that, if you don’t have habits, it’s like learning another language; what’s more, it takes time. You call it changing attitude, or changing gears.”
I had never thought of those and I was dumb struck by his theories. These words got me thinking, that what we normally consider as common sense is not so common for them. We didn’t get it from birth; rather we got it from our upbringing and our society. And to expect someone to act like one of us just because we have given a job and money is foolishness. There is a saying that God helps those who help themselves. It implies that even God cannot help those who don’t help themselves. But what about those who cannot? Who will help them? Also, there are many forces in their environment that pull them back to their misery or worse.
In the case of Rollie Knight, it turned out to be worse. He worked for money to begin with. Though he gave up once he soon returned to his work and along came sincerity. He stayed in a house, with a woman who kept house and weekly wages, with which she bought bread for them and furniture for the house. He began to live a life, only remotely close to what we refer to as normal. Still, it was a start.
But society was bitter. Just when he began having faith in the system, he lost it. Soon he went into betting which slowly dragged him into drug trafficking. Soon the system sucked him in, even though he struggled to stay out of it. He was threatened into taking part in robbery which unknown to Rollie was a reprisal by the Black Mafia against the Detroit Mafia, and unfortunately the robbery turned to murder. When he realized that, he gave up hopes on everything, the very survival. Soon enough, the consequence was his death in the hands of the Detroit Mafia. He quit.
Though Wingate struggled hard to give his less fortunate brothers a new lease of life; not just a second chance but how many ever it took, not many benefited. Not just because they did not struggle as much, but mostly because they had other constraints on life like the environment they lived in and the generations of suppression.

Some Changed Tracks
People often realize what they did for a living is not what they really want to do, even if they enjoy it. Whether they have a perfect balance between personal and professional life, it didn’t really matter. Brett DeLosanto, who worked as a designer in the Design-Style Centre of Ford was a flamboyant man who dressed bright and was full of innovative ideas. He was good at speech and could turn around anyone to his point of view. Also he was a man of in-built leadership. Though as a design student in LA Art Centre College of Design, he always thought cars were his life, as an employee in Ford, he had second thoughts.
He never showed signs of unhappiness but he never got time to spare on his paintings and very little for his girl friend, Barbara Zaleski. He felt he could be a happier man in the world outside the auto industry where his leadership would be better used; like may be in the politics.
“I don’t think car manufacturers, who do so much long range planning for themselves, have done more than a thimble of planning and service for the community they live in.”
He felt he wanted to do more to the society and his job in the auto industry isn’t helping him much in that. So he quit, not the fight but the industry. He changed tracks.

Some Lost
Some people’s life had little involved but the auto industry. They struggled through every single day, that it became their life, whether they were happy or not. Matt Zaleski, assistant plant manager in a Ford assembly plant, was veteran but his work was weary. He has a stressful work environment where he has to tackle directly with the laborers along the assembly line. His problems include technical failures, quality and most importantly racism. A simple word taken in the wrong sense could result in a walk out. Every night he feels he “spent another day of his life inside a pressure cooker”. Since his wife’s death he had little personal life. His daughter, Barbara, working in an advertisement company that demands a lot of her time, tried to spend much time with him but his continual conflicts with her boy friend, Brett, often ended up bitter. He had worked all his life in that very plant and his health slowly failed him. According to doctors, the auto industry sucked up too much of a person’s life.
“I get a good many patients from that source (the manufacturing plant of an auto industry). Too many. Its always seemed to me like a battle ground out there, with casualties.” (The doctor speaking to Barbara)
Matt had suffered strokes which caused damage in his right brain and caused paralysis in the left of his body, thus, rendered him immovable. He was a man who gave his all, his service and his family ties to the auto industry. In the end, he received nothing in return accept for an ill-fated, bed ridden life till he dies. He lost.

Some more remarks
There are some other aspects also that the author introduced through this book, that make one think twice; some revolutionary ideas and thoughts.

Threshing Machine
The author put forth some ideas that actually help economically backward people. Manufacturing cheap farm machinery and marketing it over seas to technologically backward counties not only gets a profit but also helps those people. Hank Kreisel, parts manufacturer of automobiles, devised a hand-operated threshing machine and hoped that Ford would help in mass production and export. But places like Detroit don’t see from others eyes.
“That’s half our trouble with this town: we forget those other places. Forget that people don’t think like we do. We figure, every else is like Detroit, or ought to be so whatever happens should d be our way: the way we see it. If others see different, they have to be wrong because we’re Detroit!”

While designing a car, many aspects are kept in mind. All of them are for the company’s profit, whether they agree to it or not. Even if they are designing a car that is environment friendly, it’s only to compete with the other companies. In this book the author brought out a rather different suggestion through a student of LA Arts Centre College of Design, the suggestion being numbers.
“It’s the numbers that eats us up. They undo every effort the car people make. Take safety. Safer cars are engineered and built, so what happens? More get on the road; accidents go up, not down. With air pollution, it’s the same.” “…so no matter how good anybody gets at emission control, the total pollution gets worse.”

I think this was a perfect book for all the ideals that our course is based on. The author conveyed a very strong message. The importance of humanities in this technological age is highly emphasized. The ideals of Wingate got my head reeling. So did the above point raised through the words of a young designer about the increasing numbers.
All in all, it was very informative, be it humanist or technical. Apart from all the ideas the book seeded into me, it also gave me a good knowledge of how a car is made, from the rough design drafts, to the production at manufacturing plants, to the repair and spare parts. Like every other aspiring mechanical engineer, I dreamed of the ultimate dream, to design an ‘awesome’ car (whatever that word awesome implied) and work in a big automobile industry (preferably Ford, somehow the brand name sounded appealing). This book was perfectly in tune with that dream and I could relate myself greatly to it. It turned out to be an enjoyable experience.



  1. Reading this post was an enjoyable experience too.

    And I don't see why you shouldn't be given PR! You write great!

  2. Anonymous10:14 am

    The company is not Ford but is Chrysler

  3. Anonymous8:36 pm

    I'm quite sure it was General Motors!!

  4. @anons
    err... ok... make up ur mind...

  5. Anonymous11:43 pm

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  6. Anonymous11:31 pm

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  7. Anonymous1:28 pm

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Anonymous4:20 am

    I must say that your essay is one of the best commentaries on a best-seller that I've read, you theorize and give a wide-ranging perspective on Hailey's 1971 novel. I've only read AIRPORT, but I'll be eager to now check out WHEELS.

  9. Anonymous9:52 pm

    Really Gr8 ! Thanks For sharing..
    I also strongly recommend to watch Arthur online, it's awesome movie, rating A+