All you need is a hat

The Electrical Code Simplified series of wiring guides have sold nearly a million copies over fifty years.  They’re clearly written, famously detailed, and organized for ease of use.  In every province and territory in Canada, Electrical Code Simplified, or “ECS”, is the authoritative resource for wiring instruction.  But it all started quite humbly.


Peter Martens (with banjo) and his brother Abe. This is the earliest known picture of Peter. Sometime in the 1940’s, there was a fire in the Martens family home that destroyed most of the photographic record of the family. Consequently, we do not have any other pictures of Peter in his youth.

Peter Martens made sewer pipes at the Clayburn Brick Plant in Abbotsford, BC.  His job was pretty lowly, real grunt work.  He and another fellow would offload new pipe segments from a machine and stack them.  While he was pleased to get that job he never applied for it, he wasn’t trying to get a job at Clayburn.  A few days before his hire, Peter had been walking in Abbotsford while wearing a hat with a badge on it.  He’d found the hat on the side of the road and, being about 20 at the time and less concerned with fashion, thought nothing of picking it up, washing it and wearing it.  Every now and then people would look at his hat peculiarly.  One of these people stopped him on the sidewalk and, with no intro, offered him a job.  Just like that. Peter Martens knew that the badge on his new hat was a military unit badge and, as the Second World War had just ended twelve months ago, clearly some people were recognizing the emblem.  And the man who hired him was a veteran, liked other veterans, assumed Peter was one too, and on that basis offered him the job.  It was a few years before Peter learned the significance of this badge in his hire, and a few more before he appreciated how inappropriate it was for him to have worn it in the first place.  Still, it got him a job, albeit a lowly one.

At the sewer pipe machine, Peter Martens was having trouble with his offloading partner.  Earlier, an equipment accident at the plant had already cost him the ends of the fingers on his left hand (his fingers on this hand are all the same length now) and, in this context, his offloading partners’ dangerously flippant attitude to equipment safety was becoming problematic.  In modern HR parlance, they were experiencing “relational turbulence” in their differing “stylistic approaches” to productivity.  These difficulties frequently resulted in a “full and frank exchange of views.”  Eventually, their “thoughtful exchanges” culminated in a particularly “animated discourse” requiring significant “relational debrief, peer to peer counseling,” and “self-worth amelioration.”  Peter had had his co-worker by the collar, down and on his back, and was winding up to give him some dental work.  Their supervisor thought it best that Peter Martens be “reallocated” at Clayburn.

“Have you thought about electrical?”  No, actually, Martens hadn’t given it much thought.  He was young, drifting really, taking whatever came his way.  He’d been interested in electricity for years though, even primitively making his own 150A arc welder on the farm in his teens, but that was all though, no vocational thoughts.  But now, looking for a place to land at the factory and with his boss hovering over him, he said he’d sure like to try.  One should note that in the late 1940’s, being a qualified electrician was akin to being vaguely interested in it.  No training, no certifications, just mentorship and a chance to learn.  We’re not advocating this, by the way, just noting the history. 

It turned out that Peter Martens was rather good at this new assignment.  And unlike his troubled start, he was building positive relationships on the floor.  In this job, he kept the machines running, the buildings powered and, in a pinch, made stop-gap emergency repairs to crumbling equipment to keep the production going until the end of the shift.  In all this however, he was building his knowledge on the fly, there weren’t any guides to the electrical Code back then.