• Take Me Back, Way Back

  • As I creep closer to 40 years in the consulting business, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the way we do things in this industry. Recent conversations and articles I have read, along with a purge of a couple of decades of accumulated office detritus, got me thinking of some of the tasks and activities that were once common place. Some of my younger colleagues may shake their heads and think I am a dinosaur, while some of my grey-beard/grey-hair contemporaries will remember exactly what I am talking about. You know you’ve been in consulting for a long, long time when…

    • You worked on Environmental Reports that predate ASTM, CHMC or CCME Standards.
    • You remember ‘new’ ASTM-1527 Standards and ‘draft’ CSA-Z768 Guidelines coming out around the same time as a Canadian hockey team last won the Stanley Cup.
    • “Cut and Paste” reports literally meant cutting out sections of a typed report and pasting them onto sheets of paper between paragraphs of hand written text; then handing it to a secretary to be typed up for a final report.
    • Every document or report required competent secretaries who could decipher engineer’s scrawls, correct terrible grammar and punctuation, type a million words a minute with zero errors, keep all the office supplies stocked and answer a constant stream of phone calls.
    • The only health and safety protocols were common sense. There was no such thing as WHIMS, MSDS, or Health and Safety Committees.
    • You remember hand delivering twenty hard copies of a report or proposal to meet a deadline. There was no such thing as an electronic or PDF document, just an original or a photocopy.
    • There was no e-mail. Inter-office mail actually came in a big envelope, sealed with a string.
    • People smoked in the office; overflowing ashtrays were everywhere from the lunchroom to the washroom.
    • Your drafting department didn’t have computers or CAD; just steady hands, pens, ink, scaled rulers, set squares, a Leroy lettering set, French curves, compass, protractor, circle templates and a mechanical eraser.
    • You hand-drafted Borehole Logs and Site Plans in pen and ink on sheets of vellum, to be photo-copied for final reports. Small mistakes were fixed with a razor blade or mechanical eraser; big mistakes or a spilled coffee meant starting over.
    • You were excited to get your first work pager, and thought it was a status symbol, until you had to drive off site in search of a pay phone and enough change to make a long distance call to the office.
    • Long before smart phones; only the boss had a mobile phone, and it was hard-wired to their car with an antenna. Later on, if you were lucky, you might have gotten a bulky suitcase phone, then graduated to a brick phone before eventually getting something that was considered portable.
    • Pay day meant hand-writing timesheets with expenses, in triplicate, and submitting the week before; then waiting around on Friday for the boss to sign and give out cheques and pay stubs, then trying to make it to a bank in time for the teller to deposit your pay. If you were late with timesheets or missed the bank before it closed, no money for you for that weekend.

    Young or old, I hope you got a chuckle out of this trip down memory lane. But, if you’re one of the younger generations who occasionally refer to us old hands as ‘dinosaurs’, I think I prefer the term ‘crocodile’. We may be ancient, time tested and battle-scarred, but we’re still around; while the dinosaurs are long extinct. Now go up to the bar and pay for the next round, and I’ll tell you another story about the good old days, cheers!

    Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA
    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (
    www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. You can contact Bill at info@down2earthenvironmental.ca