Think Outside the Breadbox

manki-kim-378397-unsplashHow much longer could he stand it?

Charles P. Strite worked at a factory in Minneapolis, Minnesota and often visited the cafeteria for breaks and meals. Yet every time he ordered a simple piece of toast, it came to him burnt. There is no record as to whether he desired it dry, with butter, smeared with jelly or slathered in honey, but apparently no oleo or margarine could soften the scorched bread and no jam could sweeten its taste. Enough was enough; he had all he could stand. And who among us could blame him?  After all, man had already conquered air with motorized flight thanks to the Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk; why, oh why, could man not produce evenly toasted bread?

This question soon became his obsession that ultimately put Strite on a collision course with history as his quest for aemulantur tosti perfectus (the perfect slice of toast) would shape the remainder of his life and the lives of all mankind for years to come. Strite may not have know he was a man of destiny, but he was, and despite crumbs of failure along the way, the golden-brown goodness of success would soon follow.

But destiny, fame and fortune through the cooking of sliced bread would not come easy, as few things do. There would be scoffers. The traditional way of toasting bread since time and memoriam was a simple heat source and then constantly flipping the bread by hand until done. That was the way grandpa did it and I am sure few saw the need for improvement, but Strite did.

He had the vision to see that the tools to accomplish his goals were well within his grasp.  Albert Marsh had already discovered the Nichrome filament needed as the heat source, electricity had been around since before the turn of the century, and timing devises were accessible. Also, electricity was not just available, but it was being placed in more and more homes and restaurants across the US. All Strite had to do was to bring the components together to simultaneously cook both sides of bread and then, almost like magic, be ejected or popped up from the heating device once done.

After years of experimentation, eureka! Strite finally realized success in 1919. He applied for a patent and the modern toaster was born. In 1921, he received U.S. patent No. 1,394,450 for his device, which became known as the “Toastmaster” and he was in business. His first patent was for a restaurant model that would ensure he would never face a burnt piece of toast looking up at him on a plate in the cafeteria again. But he wasn’t done. He created his own manufacturing company and followed with another patent, this time for a home version. His simple device would free people from the shackles of the labor intensive constant flipping of bread, the nemesis of chefs around the globe. Now cooks and novices alike at home, in greasy spoons to five star establishments, could free up time to be more efficient in the kitchen. The world was changed forever.

Was there success? Are you kidding? Coupled with an equally astounding invention of Otto Frederick Rohwedder – sliced bread in 1928 – and you have over a million toasters sold every year. A man who saw the flaws in something as simple as toasting bread revolutionized cooking forever.

The modern elevator has a similar story. All the components were there and well within grasp. But the grandpas in the old-fashioned elevator business pooh-poohed any new advancement and stymied real change in the market. Instead, they opted to stay in the box and ignore the possibilities of ground-breaking enhancements. Yet we at Phoenix Modular Elevator thought outside of the box to produce an elevator from a newer and better perspective. We have created a perfect replacement for the old-fashioned way of building an elevator, hoistway to car.

Making modular elevators is revolutionary because our elevators are safer to put in place and get running, more cost effective and faster to build and install. We are not selling a million a year…yet, but thinking big and in a different way to tackle a problem will always result in success. And success is coming. The world’s largest modular elevator factory is about to double in size to keep up with the increasing demand.

Somewhere I think, in my heart of hearts, that Charles Strite is looking down from his lofty position of world-class inventor with a tear in his eye and perfectly toasted bread on his lips, nodding his head in approval that his legacy of invention has not died. Despite those who don’t share our vision and would rather us continue with old ways,  we, like Strite, are leaning forward into the future one modular elevator at a time.


Its A Chairlift Not A Freight Elevator

ChairliftFantastic news for the elevator industry! Another chairlift has broken down and the building owner is shopping for an elevator as a replacement. That is the last sentence a building owner wants to read, however it is an all too familiar occurrence. The most common reason for failure is that the wheelchair lift is being used for everything other than wheelchairs and being used way too often under stress. Recently one building manager told me that he has heard that employees call wheelchair lifts “the freight elevator”.

That pretty much sums up the issue.

See, most wheelchair lifts and LULA (limited use, limited application) elevators use a cantilever system where the support for the load juts out from just one-side of the hoistway under the platform or car. Ultimately, the further out the load is shifted from that side, the more likely damage can be done, especially if repeated often.

Due to this design and other factors, the lifting capacity for most wheelchair lifts is around 500 lb to 750 lb and often they are restricted by law or specs to a wheelchair, the occupant and one attendant only. Also, if you are moving one item in a LULA or other elevator, code restricts use to 25% of the total weight capacity.  So, a baby grand piano (or any piano) is too heavy, a fridge – too much, a cast iron bath tub – a bit of a strain.  Just because you can fit something in it or on it, doesn’t mean that you should try to move it. Keep this in mind too; just because the lift moves up and down, doesn’t mean that’s OK. It may well be harming your lift and the further away the load is from the side with the support, the more harm you could do.

One particular case that illustrates this was a lift installed for an old building being used for events in a small town. To better accommodate guests with disabilities, they wanted a lift for vertical transportation. To save money, they went with a LULA (Limited Use Limited Application) lift. They thought that people with disabilities would use it occasionally. Limited use, right? But, after multiple return trips for repairs and frequent breakdowns, a video camera was placed inside the car to figure out the problem. Low and behold, the cause was discovered.

The video revealed the actual use was not limited in the least and was more appropriate for a freight elevator. We watched the video of a typical Saturday night as heavy sound and lighting equipment, chairs, food carts and caterers avoided the steps and used the little LULA that could. So much for limited use and application. This was no minimally used elevator for people in wheelchairs, but a lift used by many for convenience, to avoid trudging up a flight of steps and carrying lots of heavy things that no one wanted to lug. In one day, there were over 100 trips logged, many with too much weight.

Ultimately, the owner had only 2 options: limit the use to disabled people only, or to have purchased a beefier, commercial elevator. The first is difficult to implement and police, and can lead to user dissatisfaction. So the better option would have been to install a commercial elevator in the first place.

To avoid a similar fate, here are steps to take when choosing the right mode of vertical transport:

  • Be realistic about the use. Know that unless the elevator is supervised, people will use it for nearly anything.
  • Pick an elevator that meets the needs of the use. This may mean a simple chairlift, LULA, commercial passenger or freight elevator. Keep in mind that there are several capacities for LULAs and all elevators or lifts. Pick an elevator that fits your needs, and if you aren’t sure, ask a professional.
  • Listen to experts. Don’t be afraid to ask questions regarding use and suitability of the particular model you are looking at. Call several companies that install elevators, not just sales representatives for LULA companies.
  • Get to know your code or ask. Depending on the building, location, and other factors you may be required to have something more than a wheelchair lift or LULA.
  • Shop carefully. There is more than one elevator company in the world and several lift companies. Look before you buy.
  • Find the right one for you with a certified installer you can trust. This is the team that will be installing and maintaining; make sure they are qualified.

If you have a lift or LULA and the problems are starting to pile up, think about your use. Consider that use may be outside of the abilities of the lift and limitations. Consider an upgrade if one is needed or track usage more closely. The bottom line is that LULA and chairlifts means limits and you need to be clear-minded about your needs, so you can get the right vertical transportation to start with. That way, you can avoid a replacement that drives up costs, needs a multitude of repairs, and the inconvenience of unnecessary shut downs along the way.

It is All About the Tools

HammerAsk any handyman, shade tree mechanic, do-it-yourself-er, or even professional and they will say that using the right power tool or hand tool for the right job makes all the difference. If you have ever tried to take lug nuts off with a pipe wrench you know what I mean and the wrong type of screw driver can give you bloody knuckles, a massive headache, or worse.

But, finding the right tool isn’t as easy as it sounds. After all there are over 30 different types of drivers used to turn screws from the simple Frearson to the familiar Phillips, the Dzus to the 12-spline flange.  Fortunately, there are also over 20 different kinds of hammers for beating a screw in if you have misplaced your favorite Pozidriv driver or stripped out the head.

UPDATE the author from the “hammers” link above updated his info! There are now over 40 hammers listed. Click here for the whole list! Thanks Chris from

Finding the right tool is hard enough.

But, what is even more maddening is when someone intentionally hides the tools you need, making your job even harder, if not impossible. In many respects that is the tactic of big elevator companies. They have often been hiding tools from you and playing keep away with them, making working on your elevator very difficult or impossible. This is done by creating tools crucial to elevator operation, diagnosis and testing, proprietary. In other words if you want to have work done on your elevator you often have to use a specific tool that only they have and they will not let you borrow it or buy it.

If more people knew that was part of the deal, they would very likely have never agreed to install an elevator requiring proprietary tools in the first place. But, big elevator companies know that keeping the initial cost of the elevator low is how they get jobs and the buyer is usually looking at the cost of the unit sold, not the cost of ongoing maintenance.

Would you buy anything else knowing this?

Imagine if that took place with a car purchase. The price is right and even lower than comparable vehicles and it looks great in the brochure, but in the fine print a lopsided maintenance agreement is included, saddling you with a monthly charge whether you need the maintenance or not. Then without prior notice the cost of the agreement goes up and then up again.  When you are finally able to extricate yourself from the deal, the car company holds on to the tools like the firm grip of death so no one else can work on your car. The result is that over time, your car is vanquished to the confines of the garage as tires go flat or brakes start to squeal unless you reinstate the atrocious agreement that you just got out of. Wisely, you would never stand for that. But that is very often what happens with elevators.

What consumers usually don’t know is often the elevator maintenance agreements are far more lucrative than the elevator sale itself. Big elevator companies understand that coming in lowest on the bid or cost estimate not only nets them a tidy profit from the elevator sale, but usually 25 years of income on maintenance. So to keep winning bids and wooing prospects, they generally keep the unit sales price down, maintenance costs up, and the proprietary tools often lock you in “or else”.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Some will say that I am exaggerating or just plain, old “making stuff up”. They insist that there is no way a company would prefer non-functional elevators to possibly losing a dime and that they would not intentionally harm the buyer of the elevator by keeping needed tools from them.

Well, guess again, because when I say intentional, I am not exaggerating! In Berks County Pennsylvania they had to learn the hard way when Otis Elevator was so determined to keep the tools out of the hands of a customer, that it took a court order from a federal judge to get the necessary tools. Finally, after legal wrangling and the judges involvement, Otis Elevator Company handed the tools over. As usual, Otis fought tooth and nail. Their intention, made clear in court documents strongly appeared to allow elevators to sit inoperable because they wanted to deliberately prevent the county from getting their hands on the tool for the elevator the county owned. Yes the county should have read the fine print, but this practice needs to be more widely known.

Ya know, my father-in-law is one of the greatest guys in the world. He is a true handyman and a tremendous help with chores around the farm, but he tends to use tools and then forgets where he puts them. He has planted more sockets and wrenches than most farmers plant corn. Its just a shame they don’t grow like corn, because we would have had a bumper crop of hand tools every year. He and I have gone round and round about his habit of leaving tools out and it has caused me heart-burn more than once.

See, I am “A job isn’t done until the tools are put away” kind of guy, and he is not. But, after all is said and done, there is forgiveness and reconciliation because although forgetful, he is not intentionally trying to harm anyone or hold anything over someone’s head. The same can’t be said for some big elevator companies and that is a big difference.

Rainbows and Unicorns

Usually these blogs end in a ray of sunshine with a list of to-do’s to help prevent costs or to assist in keeping your elevator running smooth as silk. But this time the list is very short.

My advice — never, under any circumstances, buy an elevator with proprietary parts and tools. If you are part of the bidding process, realize that the low bid is not always the best choice and maybe just the “come on” to trap you in a contractual hell. To combat this always figure the bid to include 25 years (life of the elevator) maintenance cost estimate into the final projection. Make sure to read the fine print and include the automatic increases. Also, if you are looking at buying a building with an elevator; my advice — never buy one with an elevator that contains proprietary parts and tools. Because if you do, you could have big elevator holding all the cards in the form of proprietary tools.

One World Trade Elevator

Elevator Bucket List Interrupted

russ-ward-737238-unsplashMost elevator folks have a bucket list of elevators they wish to ride sometime before they meet their demise. These lists are usually comprised of unique elevators known for either the ride, the building they are in, the experience of the ride or the view.

My personal top five includes the following amazing elevators. Feel free to comment and leave your top five as well. I am sure I missed some outstanding elevators that should be on this list:

  1. The Legoland Hotel’s Disco Elevator in Carlsbad CA. Only three stops but, come on it has a disco ball!
  2. Atlanta, GA – Marriott Marquis – Looking into a futuristic atrium as you travel around 50 floors.
  3. The Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. A glass elevator through the middle of the Pyramid and Bass Pro Shop to an observation area of Memphis.
  4. Hitching a ride up a leg of the St. Louis Arch. The herky-jerky elevator travels the 600ish feet to some minuscule windows at the very top in a cab that is more like a space capsule.
  5. The elevator to the top of the One World Trade Center. Video walls make the ride to the top as interesting as the view when you get to the top.

In my many years of travel I have knocked out two of that top five including the Marriott in Atlanta, and clunking up to the top of the Arch in St. Louis. So when the family was going on an east coast swing through New York City for vacation I really wanted to go to One World Trade for a ride. In our pre-trip meeting when we discussed the must-do’s of our trek, much to the chagrin of everyone else, I insisted on a stop at one of the coolest elevators ever created.

Everyone was OK (but not overjoyed) with the stop. And they agreed if, and only if, we lumped the elevator ride in with a visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Although secondary to my main purpose for the trip to Manhattan, the terms seemed acceptable. The first stop would be the museum on the grounds of what once where the twin towers of the World Trade Center and then the elevator.

russ-ward-737219-unsplashFor younger people that are now used to the skyline of New York with the single impressive tower, it is hard to express what the absence of the two, 110-story towers means. I still, as do my generational peers, get a lump in my throat when I see an old picture or movie that has the gleaming behemoths as the center piece of the Big Apple skyline.

I clearly remember being completely agog and aghast as I witnessed on TV, the second airliner flying into the towers and when they ultimately collapsed. The loss of life was staggering at the World Trade Center (over 2,700) and many have ties to the victims who innocently lost their lives that fateful day and still more to this day suffer the physical effects of the poisonous air created. So I wasn’t totally sure how I would react but, after much deliberation, I thought a visit to the museum would help assuage my angst the 9/11 tragedy had brought on and somehow that uncomfortable lump in my throat could be quelled or mollified if I saw with my own eyes the exhibits.

Much to my disappointment, nothing could be further from the truth.

I entered the main exhibit area and took a single, quick, quiet photograph from a high vantage point. That was the last photo I would take for the day as immediately after taking that lone photo, I went down an escalator immediately to an exhibit of an actual fire truck from Ground Zero. “Ladder 3” is emblazoned in gold and white on the back half of the truck, the front half is completely gone and replaced by twisted metal. Plaques then tell the story of the brave men that forged forward toward the fiery danger. Captain Patrick “Paddy” Brown and his men were last known to be on the 40th floor and climbing the tower. Now gone forever.

From there I stumbled numb from room to room, seeing the devastation that occurred and hearing the many stories of lives lost, parents that wouldn’t make it home to children, and friends separated forever by the gulf between life and death. Eyes were misty and more than one prayer crossed these cynical lips.

After hours at the museum, our group gathered together again largely in silence. Each were impacted in their own way, and just standing in contemplation near the reflecting pools.

We lingered there, but then slowly walked, almost in complete silence, back towards the subway. No one even mention the elevator ride I had been anticipating for so long. Suddenly it was not so important anymore. So another day will come when I can mark that elevator off my list. Until then, the memories of the World Trade Center will haunt me and always remind me of 9/11.

New Sympathy When the Elevator Breaks

Bunker HillI was recently on vacation with the family. We did the Griswold family version of an eastern United States holiday tour. We hit all of the sites from Washington D.C. to Maine and, for a short time, I was able to put the elevator industry in the rear-view mirror and think about whale-watching and cannoli’s. But then came Boston.

The family and I loaded up on bottled water and all eight of us hit the Boston Freedom Trail. We started out at Boston Common, breezed past the Robert Gould Shaw monument and looked around the Park Street Church.  The cemeteries were interesting as was the King’s Chapel and the site of the Boston Massacre. Few dropped out of the tour and trudged back to the Commons.

But then came the USS Constitution, a few more turned around and the final blow to all but three of us loomed tall on the horizon. Bunker Hill. Myself, my son and his wife continued up through the winding streets until we were greeted by Colonel William Prescott, wielding a sword and a grimace in front of a towering obelisk.

I am not complaining. The tour was fantastic. We saw all the sites you could ever want to, but they neglect to tell you at the very end of all that walking is a monument at the crest of Bunker Hill. The impressive tower overlooks the city, the harbor and the surrounding area and sits there as a reminder of the Revolutionary War. But to me it was also a personal challenge to climb to the top. It was like Everest to Hillary and Norgay. I had to give it a go.

I started off strong, literally jogging up the first 75 steps (I know this because they are numbered), making way for others coming down the narrow spiral staircase and left my son and daughter-in-law in the dust. But, by step 150, they caught up and passed me as I slowed to a snail’s pace. But I persevered and dragged my weary rear-end the remainder of the 294 steps to the very apex of the monument. If I only had a flag to plant!

View from the TopIn my mind, when I finally reached the zenith, with my oxygen- depleted brain dizzied by the experience, my only thought was, “Where is the elevator?” After all the Washington Monument in DC has one; why not Bunker Hill?

When one was not available, I took it a step further and began thinking, “This is what it must feel like if your elevator is broken in your apartment building. Trudging up step-after-step, exhausted especially after a full day of work. And heaven forbid you have to carry groceries or deliveries. Or even worse, what if you have a disability of some sort?” For this reason the elevator repair business and elevator technicians are crucial; they need to be timely and ready to fix any problem. Thank goodness most are.

However, if your business or apartment complex is not having good luck with elevator repairs, remember my story about Bunker Hill and the people that need to take your elevators up and down. They are relying on you! To give good service, it is perfectly fine to complain to the repair company, call supervisors and shop for another service. If you are like most businesses, your elevator is in good repair and when it does fail, it is fixed right away, thanks to the guys that are keeping you moving up and down. They deserve a handshake and a thank you.

I had a choice as to whether I climbed 294 steps for a spectacular view of Boston. A person that lives in the fifth floor of an apartment complex doesn’t and they are counting on you.