At MDS, every tool’s now in its place

57 cabinets, 405 shelves, 753 trays and 384 boxes are all it took to get six trailers full of equipment in order

Dec 29, 2014 by and

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Just organizing your own tool bench can be a big project. Now imagine organizing tools for hundreds of volunteers to be used at multiple locations — and the tool bench must travel well.

At left, an old MDS tool trailer after a few miles on the road. The old system didn’t keep tools in place, and one tight corner sent things flying. At right, a trailer with the new organization system. — MDS

At left, an old MDS tool trailer after a few miles on the road. The old system didn’t keep tools in place, and one tight corner sent things flying. At right, a trailer with the new organization system. — MDS

This was the undertaking at Mennonite Disaster Service over the last two years. The bulk of the work took place at MDS’s warehouse locations in Columbus, Miss., and Lititz, Pa. Longtime MDS volunteers Lloyd and Irene Letkeman of Morden, Man., spent months supervising the project, initiated by MDS project logistics coordinator Brett Troyer.

The project started in the fall of 2012, although the idea had been brewing in Troyer’s mind for some time. In 2006 as a Hess­ton (Kan.) College Disaster Management Program intern, Troyer worked with MDS in Bayou La Batre, Ala., and Pass Christian, Miss., rebuilding homes after Hurricane Katrina.

Troyer remembers that one of his least favorite jobs was organizing the tool trailer. There was a general place for things, but it became disorganized quickly. The inventory included professional-quality tools, along with tools that were donated but not suited for heavy use.

Like other volunteers, Troyer was hesitant to throw away damaged or unsuitable tools, so the trailers became cluttered.

“I decided that if I could ever do something to improve our projects for volunteers, it was going to be standardizing our tool trailers,” he said.

Years later, in his job as the projects logistics coordinator, the need to reorganize the tool trailers was never forgotten.

Trial, error, fine-tuning

The project gained life after a meeting with the Letkemans, who have worked as crew leaders and project directors. Troyer presented the idea to them, and Lloyd, a cabinet maker during his professional years, took on the challenge.

The Letkemans dedicated about 15 weeks to the project. While based at the MDS warehouse facility in Columbus, they began developing a standard inventory for the trailers and an organization system of shelves and drawers. Lloyd Letkeman designed the storage system.

“I trusted Lloyd’s expertise with tools and cabinet making and followed his advice on boxes and trays for the design,” Troyer said.

After trial and error and fine-tuning, the inventory list for the first trailer organization system was set, and the cabinets were built in the winter of 2013. Lloyd Letkeman stood many hours at the saw, cutting the thousands of pieces for the boxes and trays.

With the help of three other volunteer couples — Bob and Jan Duncan of Albany, Ore., Len and Nettie Hiebert of Grunthal, Man., and Al and Sue Carrol of Milton, Pa. — many cabinets were built and dozens of boxes, trays and shelves were primed, painted and assembled. Over the course of two years, cabinet organization systems were built for six semi-trailers.

The work then moved to the Lititz warehouse, where the cargo trailer systems were built. Volunteers spent weeks sawing, nailing, sanding and varnishing.

Overwhelming numbers

The new plan for tool trailers includes two standard trailer sizes — a 28-foot semi tool trailer and a 7-foot by 16-foot cargo trailer. New shelving, cabinets, boxes and trays were custom made for each of the trailers.

Brett Troyer, who initiated the tool-organizing project, labels boxes in one of the trailers. — MDS

Brett Troyer, who initiated the tool-organizing project, labels boxes in one of the trailers. — MDS

The numbers can be overwhelming. In each semi-trailer there are seven cabinets containing 54 adjustable shelves with 96 trays and 47 boxes — all multiplied by six semi-trailers.

Most trays have handles and dividers. The boxes have a handle on top, and the side has two latches and a piano hinge on top. All were attached with pop rivets instead of screws. All the shelves, cabinets, trays and boxes in the semi-trailers were painted white, and the same in the cargo trailer were painted with a clear-coat lacquer.

In addition to this there are custom heavy hooks to hold larger items such as shovels, air hoses and electrical cords, and heavy, custom tarps that can be tied down to hold everything in place as the trailers are towed to MDS projects.

In all, the trailers have 57 cabinets, 405 shelves, 753 trays and 384 boxes. The Letkemans and their crew have everything organized and ready for the volunteers.

“It’s been a good challenge, although at times the task seemed overwhelming,” Lloyd Letkeman said. “Reliable tools and equipment are absolutely necessary for volunteers to accomplish their tasks at MDS work sites. It is our hope that this standardized design for safer transport, storage and organization will result in improved efficiency and consistency.”

But he was concerned with more than that.

“All the work done for and with MDS is ultimately done to serve God and fellow man,” he said.

The newly organized tool trailers are ready for the hundreds of volunteers who will head out to MDS projects in January.

MDS is responding in Alberta, Texas, Maryland, New York, Mississippi, Colorado and Florida.

Volunteers will repair and rebuild homes for families affected by disaster.

And they’ll have an easier time finding the right tools.

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