I saw it on TV one Sunday night. There it was, bigger than life. Stripped of former splendor, it was ready for destruction. Then it happened. Blasts of explosive in selected spots and a few seconds later the Seattle Kingdome was a heap of rubble. It seems only a few years since the magnificent structure was heralded as the latest in modern sports facilities. Actually, that was 25 years ago. My how time flies.
The real shock, however, came a few seconds after the explosion. The announcer told us that the taxpayers of Seattle still owe $200,000,000 on the structure-or rather I should say the pile of rubble. Then the question crossed my mind. Who were the experts that promoted this innovation a quarter century ago? Who convinced the population of one of the most progressive cities in the United States that building the dome would be their salvation?
My thoughts roamed from that scene to other situations where citizens have trusted the experts and been left holding the bag. I could be referring to the anticipated convention center complex in Omaha. I am more interested in smaller events where things have not worked out the way so called experts anticipated.
A lot of my skepticism results from my experience with farm machinery. I have always felt that I was a good mechanic. I did not enjoy most of the things I was forced to do. Many times, I felt as if I was compensating for defects in design of equipment.
My first combine was a Gleaner "G" purchased new in 1973. It was a big machine with a V-8 engine, six row corn head and the first 15' soybean head with floating cutter bar in the community. At first, I was impressed with the power and capacity of this huge new machine. However, I had a hard time getting it set so that it would not throw grain out the back. No matter what I tried, there were always a few kernels of corn on the ground behind the combine. It dawned on me that the problem was sieves that were short and wide. Other brands of combines had sieves that were narrow and long. It took longer for the grain to pass, therefore allowing more to drop onto the pan and on into the bin.
The big problem, however, was in the bearings and shafts. Apparently, the company saved money by using bearings that were undersized. When a bearing went out, it usually meant that the shaft was also ruined. In the six years I owned it, I changed every shaft and every bearing. Bearings were too small, placed incorrectly, not lubricated properly and on and on.
In 1987, I was invited, with a group of farmer leaders, to tour a tractor and combine factory. They said that the purpose of the visit was to learn what farmers wanted in farm equipment in the future. Since I did not have any machinery of that color, I figured that I could give unbiased observations. I took along a list of design errors that needed to be corrected. I believed that that were really interested in improving the performance and reliability of their products. Silly me! Reaction to my enlightened observations was decidedly cool.
I could make a list of instances where farmers have been left high and dry by companies thinking that they have the innovations all figured out. Some things that qualify for my "Kingdome" award include chemicals that do not work as advertised, seed hybrids and varieties that bomb when the going gets rough, marketing companies who can not deliver what they promise, machines that are not reliable, software that requires frequent upgrades and building materials that do not last as long as promised. I will bet that if the hidden costs of all of these failures were added up, the cost to farmers would make the $200,000,000 price tag on the Seattle structure look like petty cash!
I wish I knew the answer to this dilemma. It would be nice to say that being wary of what you buy could help avoid the problems. However, with technology changing so fast, it is impossible to have the expertise to evaluate every product. Being skeptical is certainly a good trait to employ. Sharing insights on the Internet is one way that technology is helping with buying decisions. However, as the recent problem with sport utility vehicle tires illustrates, the old adage "buyer beware" still appears to be relevant!
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