Leon Murphy goes back a few years at Howe Press-- to be exact.
He trained under David Abraham.
He's worked in every manufacturing job at the Press, so he could
make the parts and assemble a complete Perkins Brailler himself.
He has also trained 248 people worldwide in Brailler repair since
the late 1960s. Leon Murphy is the Supervisor of final assembly and
repair at Howe Press.
During this shop tour, he's quick to point out the punch presses,
millers and lathes that make Brailler parts. He discusses the cam rods,
the drive chain, and the ever-important carriage unit -
"the heart of the machine" - with a certain reverence and pride.
"There are 756 parts in the machine," he says without
hesitation, "354 different parts in all." These parts, he says,
are assembled with "finer precision than a watch."
It's no wonder that of the 7,000 to 8,000 machines sent out annually,
only 7 or 8 are returned for repair under the one-year warranty.
But when they do come back, they come to Murphy's department for repair. Each year,
hundreds are returned for routine maintenance or repair. "That may
seem like a lot," he says, "but you have to realize that,
there are almost a quarter of a million Perkins Braillers throughout
Consider, too, that many of the malfunctioning Braillers are in that
situation through no fault of their own.
Murphy points to a board mounted in his shop area displaying a variety
of items. "These are some of the things found in braille writers
sent in for repair," he says grinning. They range from the more common
pencils, pens and crayons to pocket mirrors, a sponge, a small plastic
squirrel, the corner of a dollar bill, a full pack of gum, lots of pennies,
a valentine, a clothes pin, an unopened deck of cards, double "A"
batteries, jewelry, toy soldiers, dominoes, a clip-on bow tie and combs.
Then there's the 12-foot rope that was inside another Brailler.
Moving toward the repair rack, Murphy points to a Brailler on which he
is awaiting a repair-OK from the owner. It has an entire T-shirt wound
around its mechanisms.
Why? How? - could anyone do such things to a brailler. "When kids
don't want to do homework, they put the darnedest things in the
Brailler," he says chuckling.
He tells the tale of a man who sent with his damaged Brailler a letter
that said, "At the bottom of my brailler you'll find some change
that my son put in. Please return the change." He simply shakes his
Just like the newly manufactured Braillers from Howe Press, machines
sent for repair go through a quadruple quality control check. If a
machine fails to pass a checkpoint, it's sent back to its repairer until
the machine passes all four checks.
"We have the same quality standards now as when Abraham was
here," Murphy says. "We're sticklers on that."
Murphy's trainees are aware of the need for being sticklers. Howe Press
instituted the Brailler repair program in the 1960s so machines could be
repaired closer to home, avoiding the extended wait that often accompanied
shipping, especially international shipping.
Those interested in taking the two-week course can come to the Howe
Press for Murphy's program, or if a sufficient number of people are
interested, he will go to them. The overseas host provides interpreters
for the class, when necessary. When students come to Howe Press, Perkins
provides the interpreter.
Murphy has taught repair courses in Malaysia, Kenya, France, England
and Egypt. Since 1965, Murphy has taken photographs of his students.
He started taking photos, he says, because "people wrote me letters
or called with questions and orders for spare parts. I couldn't put the
names with the faces, so I took their pictures to remember."
The walls of the final assembly room show students from every continent
in the world - including Australia. They've come from all over the United
States and from as far away as Sri Lanka, Barbados, Singapore, China,
Poland, Thailand, Argentina and Guatemala.
His students have been directors of schools for the blind, teachers,
teacher trainees and Telephone Pioneers, an organization of retired
telephone company employees who volunteer their services to people who are
blind and visually handicapped.
During the class, students receive a Brailler repair manual and become
familiar with the machine's assembly the hard way. "They take the
machine apart," Murphy says, "right down to the last part.
"Then, starting with the sub-assemblies, they rebuild and assemble
the whole machine - beginning to end," he says.
When he's not on the road or at Perkins teaching Brailler repair, Murphy
supervises the final assembly room at Howe Press. In this room, he and five
others assemble Perkins Braillers. Each machine receives a serial number
that is credited to its assembler.
Murphy is one of the few remaining employees who worked with Abraham
himself. What has kept him at Howe Press for so long?
"The satisfaction keeps me going," he says. "I feel good
about what I do."
Perkins School for the Blind, Annual Report, 1993.
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Used with kind permission.