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This is where, as the old expression goes, we got down to brass tacks. The Chinese are very keen on detail, so it was necessary to have every item, every quantity, every price and every addition to be absolutely correct. At that time, it was necessary to use of of those new portable paper tape spitting Canon calculators from Japan to do the math, then type the quotation up on paper. What we would have given for spreadsheet and word processing!
One of the first things that the Chinese informed us of was the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in Washington. They informed us that their leadership had sent messages of sympathy to our government, wishing President Reagan a complete recovery. We were taken by surprise. The only television we had available to watch was CCTV, which didnt have an English channel at the time, so we didnt find television very entertaining or informative. CNN was in its infancy in the U.S., and wasnt in China. We thanked the Chinese for their sentiments.
It is ironic that, six years later, we began our commercial relationships with the Russians at the Soviet trade mission, just around the corner from the Hilton where the assassination attempt took place.
Keep in mind that the Japanese price included freight, which wasnt much from Japan to China. Evidently the Japanese were trying to make up for whatever they gave away to get the barge contract in the hammer and boiler, but things now werent going according to plan.
The practice of bid swapping, whereby you were informed (or thought you were informed) where your competitions price was, was unappealing to Americans but is common practice in other parts of the world. Vulcan had experienced it before, more overtly in some cases. Machimpex used this kind of tactic in the normal course of business and evidently the rest of the bureaucracy followed suit.
The bus ride to Tanggu was a long affair on the two-lane concrete road from Beijing through Tianjin. Most of our weather in Beijing was cold but dry; when we got to the coast, we experienced some raw, misty weather as we stood on the barge deck.
Once this trip was done the three men who came back with us became the Chinese we were negotiating with. The train ride was an improvement. But when we returned to Beijing, Jesse remarked, That barge is pitiful.
Why? I asked.
Theres only eight feet of freeboard, he replied. This meant that there was only eight feet between the deck and the waterline (and the barge wasnt loaded with equipment or material, either.) Inadequate freeboard allows high seas to wash over the deck more easily. Sure enough, the barge eventually sank in one of the hard storms that the land-surrounded and shallow Bo Hai is famous for.
Right: the main reason adequate freeboard is needed.
The differential was due to the fact that we were resellers of the Johnston boiler and other items, not the manufacturer. I did not ask Johnston to take additional discount, figuring that, by the time I got an answer, a) they would say no and b) the deal would be lost due to delay.
Once the Chinese had departed, the jubilation began. It was not only our first contract in the Peoples Republic of China, but it was also Angelicas first contract with Amtech.
The actual signing, Mr. He on the left and I on the right.
Other members of the Chinese team at the signing. In the centre, the skeptical Zhu Li Cai.
Its time to go: Berwald and Perry outside of the Beijing Hotel, waiting for Mr. Chen to arrive.
After the Sale
Vulcan produced a good number of offshore pile hammers this size and larger, but this contract had some special challenges.
The first was of our own making: our bank, American National Bank (now SunTrust,) did not have a corresponding relationship with the People’s Bank. So it was necessary to turn to First City National Bank in Houston (one of many which perished in the oil crash a few years later) to facilitate the letter of credit.
The production of hammer and boiler received an unusual level of oversight from Vulcan management. In June my brother and I visited Johnston Boiler in Ferrysburg, MI, to take a look at the boiler production and to impress upon them the importance of being on time in the delivery of the boiler. This is the first and only time that either one of us visited this facility.
The Johnston boiler in production, taken during the inspection visit.
The ram of the 560 being machined. Compare this to the lathe work depicted on the 2 Yuan note used for this series' logo. Vulcan routinely machined large pieces, so large that it was possible in some cases for the machinist to sit on top of the piece being machined.
The contract called for delivery on or before 15 September 1981. Both Vulcan and Johnston experienced some production delays; Vulcan, however, completed the hammer on 24 August 1981. The most significant delays occurred with the procurement of the ship. The contract specifically called that the ocean freight be handled by the China Ocean Shipping Agency in Tianjin. Unfortunately PENAVICO (the Chinese acronym for the organisation) had difficulties in booking the ship. It wasnt until 11 December 1981 that the entire package left Chattanooga. It was shortly placed aboard the ship in New Orleans and the product of nearly a year of hard work was on its way to the Peoples Republic.
Everything shipped had to be marked in accordance with the contract, not only to expedite the letter of credit, but to get where it was supposed to go.
The boiler on a truck, in its large crate.
With the hammer gone and the L/C fulfilled, Vulcan awaited the next step, which was start-up of the hammer. But in the midst of that another event in Beijing took centre stage, and that was the Society of Petroleum Engineers first oilfield show in China.