Working with the Tools

Collection Four in Elevator World’s Hall of Humor

by William C. Sturgeon

ch4-16aDuring my first visit to Vienna, a reference to Syd Chivers’ pair of field men convinced me that graphic humor, like music, mathematics or fine art, represents a global language, often penetrating the barriers erected by linguistic misunderstandings. Host Count von Weidstruck, the owner of Sowitch, a regional elevator manufacturer, invited interpreter Franz Lichtenegger and myself to dinner in the village of Grinsing. Franz, busy trying to bridge the chasm between a non-German-speaking editor and a non-English-speaking host, stopped at one point, shook his head and said, “I don’t understand. He says something about ‘Where is Little Joe.”‘ The Count was frustrated with our continued lack of comprehension and finally dug into his briefcase, pulled out a copy of ELEVATOR WORLD and flipped to a cartoon depicting Syd Chivers’ veteran elevator constructor and his bumbling pint-sized helper, Little Joe. He said, through Franz, “Every elevator company has a Little Joe and understands in a flash the situation depicted.” Although reading very little English, the Sowitch managing director was an avid follower of Syd Chivers’ mechanic and the awkward, mistake-prone helper, Little Joe. No doubt, when Syd Chivers moved into the fine art field many others, worldwide, missed his characters.

ch4-2aJoe Matuscak, John McNally, Syd Chivers and other multi-talented men who had “worked with the tools” and on the drawing board, knew the essence of graphic humor and could take fellow industry members “in a flash to a clash” between two or more planes of reference; the collision between the old familiar atmosphere/activity with the unimaginable. These fieldmen/cartoonists were able to create an authentic setting that made fellow industry members comfortable, then snatch them out of the pleasant environment as if with a sky hook or drop into a pit! Laughter, chuckle or a knowing smile was the result, a short step from the sublime to the ridiculous, affording temporary relief from the pressures and monotony of everyday life.

ch4-3aThis trio of cartoonists and a number of others, over a period of almost 45 years, took the writer and many others who had worked with the tools and managed contracting companies down a familiar path of memories, albeit one filled with exaggeration, irreverence and the improbable. About half of the cartoons published related to, and were best understood by, the “insiders” of the “elevator world” — the hands-on manipulators of worms, gears, hydraulic jacks, pumping units, controllers, guide rails, buffers, wire rope, signals, fixtures, cabs and doors. The industry had a unique “cradle to the grave” oversight of installations, and the cartoonist depicted every phase. As the elevator union specified a team of men on the job, many situations here relate to the mechanic and his helper. The industry-knowledgeable cartoonist skillfully scrambled the traditional picture of serious, well-trained, safety-conscious field men. They knew the maximum response is produced when graphic artists are disdainful of that traditionally respected, picturing not too bright bumblers who create their special kind of chaos and misadventures as they ineffectually inhabit a job site! The cartoonists knew the nature of the elevator union from long relationships and also fired a few shots in its direction!

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 For more cartoons, visit our Hall of Humor!

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