Martin's Ring-binder Notebook


Shortly after I graduated from Notre Dame, I started with my family company, Dearborn Crane. During high school and college summers, I had worked in the shop building cranes and then progressed to the field crew, installing cranes. During school holidays like Christmas and Spring Break I’d do odd jobs and do “gofer” stuff, picking up and dropping off pieces and parts to earn some pocket money. 

After graduation, I had no projects, because I was the new guy and could feel the gravitational pull of the “gofer” work to fill my days. I approached my Dad and he promised to take me on the next big project to work with him. Shortly, we were on our way to AM General (the manufacturer’s of the Hum-Vee). 


We attended a bidders meeting where the buyer’s Project Engineer and Purchasing Agent issue a spec book and walk a group of vendors through the up-coming project. At the end, we were told we had two weeks to estimate the project and submit a “sealed bid.”

Back at our office, my Dad told me to work on the project my own and two days before the bid due date, we would compare numbers and I could write up the proposal.


For the next two weeks, I worked 10 hours a day, including Saturday and used three legal pads (this was before desk top computers and spread sheets). I sat down with other engineers and called a list of vendors. 

After two weeks of effort and a whole roll of adding machine tape, I finally settled on a price. For some reason, I can remember that price like it was yesterday, $89,271.32 (probably about $890K in 2016 dollars).

On the Wednesday before the Friday bid due date, my Dad and I sat down to review our numbers. I brought an arm full of catalogs and my three legal pads into his conference room. He brought nothing. I asked him where  his estimate was? He took out a matchbook and wrote a number on the back of it and put it in his shirt pocket. He then said, now let’s look at your numbers.


We spent over an hour and I showed him all my worksheets. Vendor prices, additional discounts that the other engineers told me to get from the vendors. I even included the “cost of money” in an attempt to prove his four years of Notre Dame education was money well spent.

At the end of the review, I showed him my $89,271.32 and asked him what number he had come up with. He took the matchbook out of his shirt pocket and flipped it over. His number was $90,000.00!


I was happy my number was close, proud of the results but frustrated. I said “Dad, why did I just spend 100 hours doing this? How did you come up with that number in ten minutes???” He said he’d been doing this for over 40 years and if he didn’t know this by now, he might as well hang up his cleats.

After mulling over his answer, I said, “ Dad, we have to come up with a better system. We can’t have a 40 year training program to train me and future estimators.”


After hearing this story, my Uncle Martin Dunville (who started the company with my father) started putting together a ring binder with all the disparate cheat sheets he had accumulated over the years. Within a month, Martin gave me a 4 inch ring binder so stuffed with information that I could barely close it.


Last week I sat down to make a “mind-map” of “Tips, Tricks and Traps” of 35+ years of overhead crane knowledge. Half way through, it dawned on me that I was composing a new version of Martin’s Ring-binder. 

What started out as a simple map exploded in size and complexity, and this is only Version 1. I’ve decided that the document in it’s current iteration is too big to explain. In future posts, I will break it down, and explain one branch at a time.