Pinky Pie

Herbie, Cheaper By the Dozen & Me

Posted on: January 10, 2011

Frank Gilbreth facing the camera. Photo from Wikimedia in the public domain.

Mailman: All those kids yours?

Frank Gilbreth: Oh, these aren’t so many. You ought to see the ones we left behind.

Mailman: How you ever feed ’em?

Frank Gilbreth: Oh, they come cheaper by the dozen.

From the original film, Cheaper by the Dozen

Efficiency has always been a topic of great interest to me, if not fully (or partially) incorporated into my life.

It all began when a teacher at Old Bonhomme Elementary School in suburban St. Louis read a chapter or so a day to our class of Cheaper By the Dozen . I was fascinated by the efficiency expert, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, a self-made man who started life as a brick layer interested in figuring out how to lay bricks faster.

He and his wife, Lillian, were so successful that they performed time management studies to improve output in a variety of industries. They created the idea of continuous quality improvement – not calling it than – and warned of repeated actions that would cause repetitive motion injuries.

But what they most were known for were those 12 children that he claimed were cheaper by the dozen. Their kids wrote a book about their family, which led to the movie, Cheaper by the Dozen, and a second book and movie about family life after his death in 1925. It was called  Belles on Their Toes. That does not include the Cheaper by the Dozen movie with Steve Martin in 2003 that had nothing to do with the Gilbreths other than the number of kids and its name.

The Gilbreth family

Back in those early years of my youth, during the time when the dinosaurs walked the Earth, we didn’t have On Demand movies, cable television, DVDs or even VCRs. (Gasp now.)  We had four television stations – NBC, CBS, ABC and what was called “educational television.” And this was in a big city.

Old movies sometimes were run at night at 10:30 p.m. but you took whatever the good television lords gave us. One night in elementary school Cheaper by the Dozen was on. I was so excited and begged my parents to let me watch it. They said it was too late and it would be on again soon.

I’m still holding a grudge. I was in high school or college before I had a chance to see it. But I’m not bitter, just terribly brave to get over my adversity with my dignity intact.

Up the street from us on Radford Drive was a family in which the father had studied or at least been inspired by Mrs. Gilbreth, an engineer herself. Before our neighbors moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where the father became an engineering professor, I won a Twist contest in their home dancing to Chubby Checker’s song. It was my only dancing award.

I met that professor again when I transferred to Madison and took a course called Physics for Poets in my last semester. I did a horrible job in that class, having already moved to La Crosse to be a reporter for the La Crosse Tribune. I came back on Tuesdays to pretend I was finishing my last classes.

I’m writing this blog post because  I finally found my own area of efficiency. Two bowls for our cat, Herbie, sit on the floor in the kitchen just outside the bathroom door, where we keep water (naturally) and a container of cat food.

I have long wondered how to fill these bowls with the least number of trips. WWGD? (What Would Gilbreth Do?)

I’m sure Gilbreth would do what I did – take both bowls to the bathroom at once. But I only came to this conclusion in the last week.

I know the day will come when we’ll invite another cat or two into our family. Then I’m sure I will have to bring out the efficiency experts and stopwatches to determine the best way to feed the kitties.

Until then, Herbie will rest on my modem with a full stomach and I’ll rest on my efficiency laurels, such as they are.

A photo from 2007 shows Herbie on my old modem. Modems send information and serve as pillows.


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