Back in June 1980, I was conducting one of my last tests in El Golea, in the Algerian Sahara. One of our major clients, who I was working for, and their Bavarian subsidiary, who had brought their own test engineers with them, were there too. I had been very careful in choosing and booking my hotel room in Algeria – for one key reason: not all rooms had running water in the evening. Mine had this luxury, and it was in this particular week that I really appreciated it.
It was, after all, unusually hot, even for this area – peaking at around 50 degrees Celsius on the thermometer on more than one occasion. Staying healthy was therefore a major concern, and the very reason my customer had brought their own doctor with them. The latter had his eye on me from the very start, it’s fair to say. For instance, I was wearing sandals and not the recommended boots. The doctor deemed my sandals far too dangerous on account of the many scorpions and snakes around. I tried to explain to him that I had been coming to the country for many years, knew it well and was perfectly aware of the dangers. The scorpions and snakes he mentioned, for example, would not come out during the daytime and would hide under stones. Nothing would happen as long as I didn’t turn over any stones, in other words. I simply proposed that I catch a live scorpion for him. He took me up on this offer and I duly delivered. From then on, the issue of the boots was forgotten.
Our customers were generally very well prepared: As the local food wasn’t necessarily the tastiest, some of them had brought army food supplies with them, which tasted much better. There was the odd envious glance in their direction, it has to be said! One highlight was the visit by the customer’s Board of Directors on the company jet, which resulted not only in a sudden frenzy of activity, with the pool even being cleaned from top to bottom and filled with fresh water, but also in the feeling that our own work was being recognised. Each member of the testing team was greeted individually with a handshake and wished goodbye at the end of the three-day visit. Apart from that, we were able to get on with our work as normal and we only really saw the Board members during breakfast at the hotel. This early morning contact was quite the treat as these senior managers had brought jam with them to Algeria and they were willing to share it with us. It really improved the meagre breakfast we would have otherwise been eating!
As for the tests themselves, they always ran to the same timetable: We got the vehicles in the evening and fitted them with the relevant measuring equipment the next morning. As it transpired, this meant that I got to sit in the shade in the early hours of the morning while I was putting the results from the previous day into diagrams. We didn’t have computers or automation to do this back then, so there was a lot of manual work involved. After I had transferred some of the measurement data into diagrams, the test manager from the large company approached me one evening to ask whether he could take the diagrams in question to a meeting with the Board members. “Certainly,” I said, but on the condition that he put them in a MANN+HUMMEL envelope. Which he did. From the next morning onwards, the employees of the Bavarian subsidiary could be found sitting in the shade with me and drawing the temperature curves for their vehicles.
These morning activities were also the most pleasant to carry out, as the high temperatures during the rest of the day really pushed our bodies to their limits. On top of that, 35 or so years ago the vehicles did not have any air conditioning and, of course, got extremely warm. One thing that sticks in my memory from my time in Algeria was ‘doing a bit of overtime’ on one occasion when, after finishing slightly early one afternoon, the two pilots of the company jet came to us asking for help. They needed to move the jet by around 60 metres where it was parked up, but starting the engines again was not an option because of dust protection measures and would simply take too long. There were five of us at it, and none of us is likely to ever forget how difficult it was. We put every inch of effort in!
We were also rewarded for our hard work though, and had a little celebration on the evening prior to the jet departing. We even got a folk dance group involved in addition to all the good food on offer – plus a little bit of wine. We were shattered by the time we got to bed, although that was no different to any other evening!