Bob Has the Last Word

May 1, 2002
Vertical reciprocating conveyors have become an industry, much due to the efforts of the late Bob Pfleger.

I’m sure you read Bob Pfleger’s obituary in the April issue (page 8). Bob was founder and president of Pflow Industries, a manufacturer of vertical reciprocating conveyors. (A vertical reciprocating conveyor [VRC] is a platform or cage that travels in guides between floors. A VRC moves loads only; passengers are prohibited.)

When Bob founded Pflow in 1977, elevator authorities in some states were trying mightily to legislate vertical reciprocating conveyors out of business. They claimed that a VRC was an elevator that didn’t meet the elevator code. Truth was, you could replace your conked-out freight elevator with a VRC for less than it would cost to repair the elevator. When you scraped away all the they’re-not-safe rationale offered by the elevator people, you found the real reason: competition for business.

Bob, and Pflow’s vice president, Herb Ruehl, fought the elevator authorities (later known as The Red Tag Gang) in legislatures and courts, in state after state, in order to get VRCs defined as conveyors rather than elevators. I found that there was enough VRC-centered action at that time to justify a column; as a result, Red Tag Report ran every month for more than a dozen years.

Today, vertical reciprocating conveying has become an industry and the manufacturers have organized as a subcommittee of MHIA’s Conveyor Committee. Now whatever disagreements they have with elevator authorities are more often settled in the manufacturer’s distributorship rather than in the courtroom. Also, the elevator inspectors who were the original Red Taggers have either retired or died, or both. A kind of industrial truce prevails.

In the past few years, Bob Pfleger took on a new challenge, one that appealed to his interest in seat-of-the-pants engineering. He started to seek out customized lifting applications that involved heavy and awkward-shaped loads. A letter or telephone call from somebody who had an unusual lifting problem would get him started. (Although Bob was primarily a marketing person, he held seven patents in material handling equipment design.)

I remember Bob for these things, and also something of equal importance — specifically, 10 years of writing and publishing a weekly newsletter. If you’ve ever tried it as a volunteer while holding down a full-time job, you know how tough it is. But Bob produced Pflow Pfacts as a single-sheet newsletter (always on different colored paper) every week. And not just about the vertical reciprocating conveyor business.

Although VRCs got their share of attention, especially when there was an opportunity to zing the competition, Bob wrote about business and life in a way he described as “a style somewhere between insouciant and irreverent.”

Every issue of Pflow Pfacts also contained some kind of joke. Loyal readers kept him supplied. Bob complained that political correctness was cutting into the supply. “Dumb blonde” jokes became a no-no, regretfully. Nevertheless, last October 11, Bob was able to boast that Pflow Pfacts would be celebrating 10 years of publication. I was impressed.

Ever since people in industry became less formal in what they wore to work, Bob and Pflow Pfacts crusaded in favor of proper “business costuming” — tie, jacket, etc. Some PP readers called him old-fashioned, obsolete, etc. He published their comments, but didn’t quit crusading. Not that Bob wore Armani suits or anything like that. A sport jacket and slacks was his usual “business costume.”

Bob has been vindicated, sort of, in the April 2 issue of The New York Times. The issue contained an article, “Return of the Suit, Tentatively,” which acknowledges that some companies “have renounced business casual attire.”

“People are moving back to more formal dress,” one source was quoted as saying. Although the NYT article said that this trend is not happening overnight, its very existence supports Bob’s crusade for “proper business costuming.”

It may take a while, but Bob Pfleger will get the last word.

Bernie Knill, contributing editor, [email protected]

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