Working with Professionals


The Failure

The glaze was a mixture of chemicals which when heated to a specific temperature for a specific time would vitrify. That is a fancy word for melting and forming glass. The mix needed modifiers in it so the glass would stick to the clay brick it was applied to and not run off. Since there was a high surface tension in the vitrified glaze, it tended to ball up on the surface of the brick if it was not applied thick enough.

The glaze was slurried with water and sprayed onto the brick. Herb started by hiring a professional spray painter to apply the glaze. The professional had years of training in applying a thin coat of paint, about 4 mils in thickness, which just covered the surface being painted. Herb needed a coat which was thirty times that thick. Herb was unable to train him to spray the glaze thick enough so when it started to vitrify, it did not ball up and leave portions of the brick exposed. Another failure. He ended up hiring people off the street who did not know how to use a spray gun and teaching them to apply an even 120-mil-thick coating of the glaze.

The Lesson

Herb learned that a person can be so highly trained that he cannot learn a new skill which is contradictory to what he had been taught.

The Success

When needing cement chemists to work in his laboratory, Herb interviewed a number of people with doctorate degrees. One of his requirements was that they apprentice to a plastering contractor or a masonry contractor for 6 weeks to learn the “feel” of the product they would be working with. They would be on full salary during the apprentice program. All those with PhDs refused to apprentice because they “knew” what was needed and felt that Herb with his Junior High diploma was trying to humiliate them.

It never occurred to Herb to mention to them that he had some education beyond the Junior High School diploma displayed on the wall of his office, and that he had to learn to plaster and lay brick before he became assistant to the head of research &development at Pozzolana, Inc., and Rio Clay Products.

Despicable Me

I have had an exciting time. I’ve been in Southern California to testify as an expert witness at a trial. The opposition did not want me to testify so they took several stories I published and wrote pleadings to the court that I should be disqualified. Those quoted included the Madam of Camargo and Scaring the Cement Industry. In the pleadings, I was described as two-faced, underhanded, despicable. Those were the complementary terms used.

After reading the pleadings the judge said, “I want to hear this man.”

Now, I can use the pleadings for promoting my book if and when I publish the series, Failing my way to Success.

Creating Junk


The Failure

In 1962 Rio Clay Products built a glazing plant, to glaze brick. The kiln had two cars, one on each end. Each kiln car was about twelve feet long and about four feet wide and held about 2,500 eight-inch brick. A pair of tracks ran through the kiln and extended out about twenty feet. The tracks consisted of heavy gauge 4-inch angle iron.

After a kiln car was loaded, it was pushed into the kiln, doors were lowered and sealed and the kiln was fired. After the kiln had cooled for about 24 hours, the doors were opened; the kiln car was removed and unloaded.

While the kiln was being fired, the other kiln car was loaded with green ware.

Stacking the kiln car was an interesting process, since there were sight holes in the kiln so the operator could look through the stack of brick to ensure that all of them were coming up to temperature at the same time. Two different glaze bases were used; and by the time pigment was added, it modified the firing temperature of the base glaze. As a result, each color had a specific firing temperature.

When we started using the kiln, black spots showed up on the glazed brick, especially when a red glaze was used. In the process, about 10,000 glazed brick had to be discarded because they were not saleable. The price for glazed brick at that time was about $1.00 each. Based on the rate of inflation, that was a loss of nearly $80,000. That was not acceptable.

Herb studied the problem and determined that the cause was related to a mortar which was used when the kiln was lined with insulating brick. Knowing the cause, it was easy to devise a solution, and he implemented it. For a few weeks, he was ecstatic that he had finally had a success.

An architect saw some of the discarded red-glazed brick with black spots, and decided that he needed them on a large project he was designing. Recreating the effect was much harder than eliminating the original problem. While he produced acceptable brick for the job, they were never as good as the original junk he had produced.

The Lesson

Herb learned that what he thought was junk was valuable and could have been sold at the brother-in-law price (50% above retail).

The Success

With future problems, Herb learned to pay attention and fully identify the causes of the problem in the event someone wanted him to recreate the failure. Over the years he had this request numerous times.

Speaking Spanish – never let laughter slow you down


The Failure

Growing up in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Herb spoke Spanish. At least that is what he assumed it was. It consisted of Mexican Spanish from a number of different parts of Mexico, since he associated with workers who came from different parts of Mexico. It consisted of some English words which were mixed in. The grammar was not particularly good, but Herb could communicate.

Herb then went to a school where the instructor spoke good Spanish. She spoke Castilian Spanish. Since Herb had not learned to spell with the Spanish he learned as a child, he had no idea whether or not the Castilian Spanish was spelled the same way. He did know that the pronunciation was different. Additionally, she was a stickler for using correct grammar. When Herb opened his mouth in class, she laughed. When Herb opened his mouth among his friends (he tried to speak Spanish correctly), they laughed, so after all of 6 weeks in the class, Herb quit trying to speak Spanish. This was a mistake, but this is what he did. Herb finished the class, and she passed him because he showed up for every class, but he left without the ability or the desire to speak Spanish.

Years passed and when in Mexico, he spoke English. Then his boss needed to speak to a gentleman in Jalisco. Herb placed the call, and in the best Spanish he could remember he identified himself and stated that his boss needed to speak with Señor Matacia. There was silence on the phone for a little while, and then the lady said, “Is it possible that you speak some English?” Later Herb learned that Señor Matacia had grown up in Virginia, and his mother, who did not speak any Spanish, was visiting. Since the phone was ringing, she had picked it up.

The Lesson

Herb learned that when he let people’s laughter control his actions, he was losing out on many benefits which life could furnish him.

The Success

Herb decided to ignore the predictions from his teachers who claimed that Herb could never learn to write a sentence, let alone a paragraph, and proceeded to write a book. The first one was a manuscript titled, Animals I Have Hated, which he used as a Christmas present many years ago. Then there was Stucco Handbook for Builders. He lost the copyright to that because he accepted a verbal contract rather than a written contract.

Living with Cancer - Cover-RS

Then there was We Heard the Wings of Angels and Cancer, An Intense House Guest. These were combined into an E book, Living with Cancer – That Intense Houseguest.






978-0-9847936-1-7-cov-rs for ebook

Then there was The Stucco Book – The Basics which became a classic in the industry. That was followed by an expanded version of Animals I Have Hated and then Grandpa, Help! Answers to Questions a Young Lady Would Never Ask Her Parents and Grandpa Helps Grandparents.





2016-05-16-Homes for Jubilee Front cover - draftThe latest is Homes for Jubilee which was published in June, 2016. Kay pou Jubilee, the Haitian Creole edition, will be published in August, 2016.






Several more books are in the process. Each day when Judy reviews the previous day’s writing, she laughs at the errors which Herb has included in his writing. The laughter tells him that she is reading it and correcting it.

When Herb is in a foreign country and meeting someone new, he occasionally tries to start the conversation using the language of that country. Usually the people laugh and suggest that they converse in English. More often, to keep from hurting Herb’s feelings, they say that they need to practice their English.

Pigeon Livers


The Failure

There were reports in the trade journals that fine dust caused or at least increased the chances of people having lung cancer or emphysema. This was back when doctors regularly recommended smoking as a way to relax, avoid stress, and live longer.

Over coffee one day the major stockholder, the plant manager, and the head of research & development for Pozzolana, Inc. and Rio Clay Products were discussing this issue, and they decided that Herb, who was assistant to research and development, should determine whether there was a problem. They asked him to join them. After much discussion over several days, it was decided that Herb would harvest the pigeons which roosted in the brick manufacturing building. They were exposed to as much fine dust as any bird or animal in the area. Additionally, the fine dust rose during the day and collected in the upper reaches of the building. This is where the pigeons roosted, about forty feet above the plant floor.

Herb drew up a test protocol which included catching the pigeons, weighing them, killing them, removing the lungs, and preserving the lungs in alcohol. Herb would then section the lungs and mount the sections on microscope slides. By using polarized light, he could determine if there were any mineral particles in the lungs. If there were, he would look for abnormalities in the lungs.

As a dry run, he collected a dove in a maize field and went through the protocol.

He arranged with Carl to help him with the collection. Since the pigeons were up in the rafters, someone needed to crawl up there and catch the pigeons. Herb decided to do that. Carl assured him he knew how to weigh the pigeons, collect the lungs, and place the lungs in alcohol.

With 40 glass jars containing alcohol, several pens (in case one or more were lost), a scale, and a notebook for recording the results, Herb started climbing up into the rafters.

He would work his way along a rafter, and Carl would periodically shine a flashlight up so Herb could spot the pigeons. Herb would grab a pigeon, lock the wings, and drop it to Carl, and then he would start stalking the next pigeon. After about 2 hours, Herb had caught most of the pigeons. There were a few which flew off when Herb came close to them.

Herb carefully crawled down. By the time he got down, Carl had everything packed and loaded in the car.

Three days later in the lab, he opened the box and found that the first bottle contained a pigeon gizzard and not the lungs of a pigeon. The second bottle was like the first. Apparently Carl did not know the difference between a pigeon gizzard and a pigeon lung. An examination of all of the samples collected revealed that there were no lungs.

Herb had failed. He had not checked to ensure that Carl knew the difference between a lung and a gizzard. He went back to the plant and discovered that the pigeons which escaped had moved somewhere else. There was no way to determine whether the pigeons were being damaged by the fine clay in their environment.

The Lesson

Herb learned that no matter how much a person stated that he knew what to do, on all research projects Herb insisted that they demonstrate the procedure.

The Success

For several years there were no pigeons roosting in the brick manufacturing building, so the crew did not have to clean off pigeon droppings before going to work.

Looking at a photograph of the plant a number of years later, Herb determined that the pigeons roosted only thirty feet above the plant floor, not forty feet.

Helping the New Yorkers


The Failure    

Another project Herb worked on in 1958 was a request from the New York Department of Transportation. Whether it was the city of New York or New York State he does not remember. They needed a concrete for use in bridge tunnels which had a 28-day strength of 25,000 pounds per square inch (psi). That is ten times stronger than the concrete that is used in sidewalks. In retrospect they needed a high-early-strength concrete. The term “high-early-strength” had not been coined at that time. By working on the gradation of the gravel, he found a way to make the gravel mix denser than most gravel mixes. To develop his model, he pictured a container filled with 4-inch diameter balls. It was easy to calculate the amount of solid material in the balls and the amount of pore space between the balls. He then pictured containers with different sizes of balls and determined that no matter what the diameter of the ball was, the relationship between the solid material and the pore space remained the same.

It is a little more difficult to calculate the distance between the surfaces of those balls, but it was a necessary calculation. He then took that pore space between the 4-inch balls and filled it with 1-inch balls (based on calculations, that diameter worked better than 1.25-inch balls or ¾-inch balls), and calculated the pore space between the 1-inch balls, and filled that with quarter-inch balls. He now knew the ratios he needed to develop the extremely dense gravel mix he believed was needed for a high-strength concrete.

To produce the concrete he could not use balls, he needed to use gravel. For the lab testing, he started with 2-inch gravel and filled the pores with 0.5 inch gravel, and filled the pore spaces with 0.125-inch sand. He kept the process up and finally using finely ground volcanic ash, he filled the space left between particles of Portland cement. The volcanic ash was included to react with the calcium ions which were given off when Portland cement hydrates. All of these calculations were done with a slide rule since inexpensive calculators had not been invented. He had concrete breaking at 18,000 psi, and it had about as much Portland cement as concrete that would break at 2,500 psi (sidewalk-grade concrete). The fractures were occurring in the aggregate. He never got to the 25,000 psi strength because he did not have a good enough aggregate. Obviously, this was another failure.

The Lesson         

Herb learned that it is better to define what is needed, rather than to accept what brilliant engineers and scientists say that they need.

The Success         

Fifty-seven years later he was sitting in the dirt on a construction site in one of the worst slums in Haiti teaching people how to use their existing non-standard sand and gravel to produce quality concrete. When he was finished with his “class,” they helped him to his feet because they did not think he was able to get up by himself. Then the children brushed the dirt off of his clothes. That was only one instance of using what he learned trying to help those New Yorkers who did not know what they needed.

Scaring the Cement Industry


The Failure    

Traditionally, mortar for laying brick and stone was made using hydrated lime, sand, and water. Since it was slow to cure, after Portland cement was invented it was added to the mortar.

To simplify the making of mortar, in the 1920s masonry cement was invented. It had the advantage of being cheaper than the traditional mortars.

Masonry cement, like its predecessors, when mixed with sand and water produces mortar. From the time it was invented in the 1920s until near the end of the 20th century, most masonry cement was produced by milling about 50% Portland cement clinker, about 50% limestone, and less than 1% vinsol resin. Vinsol resin was used as a grinding aid and to entrain air into the masonry cement. Often up to 20% air was entrained. This produced 20% more mortar than a mix that did not entrain air. But the air and the limestone did not lead to bonding, so the bond strength was much less than the traditional mortars. This led to hairline cracks at the interface between the mortar and the brick. This led to water penetration through the masonry wall. But it saved the builder money, so it was used, and leaky walls became the norm.

In 1958 Herb was instrumental in the development of a masonry cement which did not contain any Portland cement, was low-cost, and produced an excellent bond with brick, block, and stone.

The technology he used was very similar to the technology used by the Romans before Portland cement was invented. Further, the Roman cement was much more durable than Portland cement or masonry cement. The development of this new kind of masonry cement scared the Portland cement industry. What scared them even worse was that the masons who used it usually described it with words like, “I love it!” Cement producers initiated changes in ASTM C91 (Standard Specification for Masonry Cement) which would prevent Herb’s cement from meeting the standard. Those changes were adopted in 1959. Usually it takes several years to change an ASTM standard, but the industry was united against this threat. This wrote Herb’s invention out of the standard. Even though the term “Green” had not been coined for environmentally sustainable products, Herb’s invention was a very green cement.

The Lesson

Herb learned that it does not take much to scare an industry when the industry knows they are making and promoting an inferior product.

The Success    

Herb was irritated that others had written him out of the marketplace, so he plotted revenge. The first step was to join ASTM. He then started learning how the ASTM process worked. To get better acquainted with members, he voted negative on several popular ballots. Members then lobbied him to withdraw his negative. After understanding the system, he drew up a plan to change ASTM C91 so his cement would be classified as a masonry cement. He kept his plan secret because he did not want to scare the industry again. If they did not realize what his plan was, he could slip modifications into the standard without anyone realizing what he was doing. He accomplished his goal in 1999, 40 years after ASTM had written his cement out of the market. By that time he had developed formulae which made the original work obsolete. He spent 40 years of his life accomplishing something that did not matter. Obviously, even though he achieved his goal, he had failed yet again.

He now regularly reminds himself that if you have a worthless goal and you keep after it, you can achieve that goal.

The Madam of Camargo


The Failure         

Johnny (name changed to protect the guilty) was the foreman at Rio Clay Products. During WW II, he was shot with a 50 caliber machine gun during a beach landing. It was friendly fire, but it caused him to lose an arm and have pockmarks across his back. All of this was accompanied by pain.

A curandera (medicine woman) told him that eating Roadrunner Soup would ease the pain. On a regular basis, employees would show up with roadrunners, and his wife would make soup. Johnny also tended to head to Camargo, across the river from Rio Grande City in Mexico, on payday nights to have a drink, or two, or three. Occasionally he would not to show up for work on Monday morning, and someone would be sent over to bail him out.

On one Monday morning, when Herb was a grown-up seventeen-year-old and assistant to the Head of Research and Development, for Rio Clay Products and Pozzolana, Inc., he was sent to Camargo to bail Johnny out. Maybe we should change that. He had a grown-up job, but as far as understanding how much of the world functioned, he was clueless. His instructions were to be back at work by 1:00 pm. He failed. It was Friday evening before he was back and ready to go to work. During that time he missed several critical and time-sensitive compression tests in the lab and had not made arrangements for anyone else to perform the tests. This required the tests to be redone. No, he did not spend all of his time in Mexico; he was back and forth a number of times, but all of his focus was on the problem in Mexico.

After finding Johnny and getting his story, it became clear that this was not a simple drunk-and-disorderly charge which a police officer was using to extract a little money to feed his family. Johnny had parked in front of what we referred to as a house of ill repute and crossed the street to drink. When he was ready to go home after four beers, he inadvertently put the car in a forward gear. When it did not move, he stepped on the accelerator. The car jumped the curb and knocked a hole in the front bedroom of the house. The front bedroom was in use.

Standard protocol in the border cities was that if something went wrong, abandon the vehicle and run for the bridge to get back to the United States. Apparently Johnny had had one too many beers to remember that protocol, or he had had one too many beers to be able to follow that protocol. He was sitting in the car when the Madam came out of the house. He was still sitting there when the police arrived.

Neither the patron using the room, nor the young woman assigned to the room, nor the Madam was very happy. The police, after investigating, took Johnny off to jail.

The police could not release Johnny until the Madam signed a release. She demanded that repairs for the front bedroom be paid for. This was not a problem, and by Tuesday morning, Johnny’s insurance company said they would cover it. She demanded wages for the lost time of the young woman who used the front bedroom. The insurance company would not even consider making this payment. The Madam would not budge.

No progress was made on Wednesday.

Finally, a deal was worked out late on Thursday afternoon. Johnny’s car was about a year old and financed. He had collision coverage. The Madam “agreed” to fix his car if she could receive that money. The insurance company agreed to the deal and made out a check.

On Friday morning, Herb drove to McAllen to pick up the check and was back in Camargo by 2:00 pm, when he turned the check over to the Madam. She acknowledged to Herb and to the police that the money was compensation for the lost wages of the young woman who worked for her. Appropriate papers were signed; Herb spent most of the money he had with him buying future meals for families of the policemen whom he had worked with that week.

The man who was sharing the room with the young woman never was mentioned after that first night and never made a claim for any compensation.

To celebrate getting out of jail, Johnny suggested that they stop for a beer. Herb did not think that was funny.

Johnny drove around for two years in a car with a banged-up front end. The car dealer that provided the financing was livid.

Johnny lived another ten years or so. Diabetes, drinking, and maybe even Roadrunner Soup finally got the best of him.

And that is why Herb failed to report to work at 1:00 pm on that Monday.

The Lesson     

Herb learned more about prostitution and the seamier side of life than he ever wanted to learn.

The Success               

Herb used the negotiation skill he had learned dealing with the Madam, to work out future deals where there appeared to be no solution. When working for the Texas Water Quality Board, he became known for his ability to negotiate solutions to pollution problems that seemed to have no solution. His favorite tactic was to meet in a very small room with no ashtrays at one pm. For some reason, he always ate garlic before such meetings and failed to use a mouthwash or brush his teeth. As you read about more of Herb’s failures, you will run into a number of occasions where Herb used the thinking-outside-the-box skills he learned in Camargo to solve unsolvable problems.

Run Tin Can

The Failure 

The neighbors had a German shepherd named Rin Tin Tin. Herb’s sisters called the dog, Run Tin Can. It was one of the most cowardly dogs Herb had ever met.

One morning Herb butchered a cabrito (young goat), and his mother fixed it for supper. During the meal Nancy asked if anyone had seen Run Tin Can, since she had not seen him all day. Herb looked down at the cabrito in preparation for adding another piece to his plate. Nancy misinterpreted the meaning of his looking at the cabrito and ran outside hunting for Run Tin Can. She did not find him. Nancy was not happy and did not eat any more of the cabrito.

That was the last time Herb’s mother cooked cabrito, which was one of Herb’s favorite meats.

Later Run Tin Can returned.

The Lesson      

Herb learned that if he was going to lock a dog up to keep it from stealing the cabrito, he should release the dog before his sister missed the dog.

The Success    

Still looking for it.

Christmas Eve Program in Edinburg


The Failure  

Christmas Eve Programs were a nightmare. The children could not remember the parts they had memorized, and they forgot where they were supposed to go during the program. Herb watched these nightmares; and after one particularly bad program, he made a few comments. He was appointed the director of the next year’s program.

Herb decided that the program should be a slide show and that the spoken parts should be tape recorded. He started immediately.

The manger scene would be in the cotton seed room of the Norquest’s barn. The trip to Bethlehem would be on the Gutenfelder’s farm in the sand hills north of Edinburg. When recording the spoken parts, if the child did not get it right, it was recorded until he did get it right. Herb noted that the girls got their parts right the first time, but the boys usually had to try several times.

Christmas Eve arrived, and Herb was proud of his program. The children sat with their parents, and it went off without a hitch. Most people did not like it. Herb was not asked to help with the next year’s program.

The Lesson         

Parents like to see their children up in front of a group, even if they struggle to get their lines right.

The Success               

Twenty years later the church got the old program out and used it. It was a big success, and everyone was laughing. The difference – the children could see their parents in a Christmas Eve program, and the parents could see how they looked in those costumes. Herb concluded that he was 20 years ahead of his time, even though a test taken when he was in the 4th grade proved that he had an IQ of 60.