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Leon Murphy

Leon Murphy goes back a few years at Howe Press--[1960] to be exact. Click for Larger Photo 
of Leon Murphy He trained under David Abraham. He's worked in every manufacturing job at the Press, so he could make the parts and assemble a complete Perkins Brailler himself. He has also trained 248 people worldwide in Brailler repair since the late 1960s. Leon Murphy is the Supervisor of final assembly and repair at Howe Press.

During this shop tour, he's quick to point out the punch presses, millers and lathes that make Brailler parts. He discusses the cam rods, the drive chain, and the ever-important carriage unit - "the heart of the machine" - with a certain reverence and pride.

"There are 756 parts in the machine," he says without hesitation, "354 different parts in all." These parts, he says, are assembled with "finer precision than a watch."

It's no wonder that of the 7,000 to 8,000 machines sent out annually, only 7 or 8 are returned for repair under the one-year warranty.

But when they do come back, they come to Murphy's department for repair. Each year, hundreds are returned for routine maintenance or repair. "That may seem like a lot," he says, "but you have to realize that, there are almost a quarter of a million Perkins Braillers throughout the world."

Consider, too, that many of the malfunctioning Braillers are in that situation through no fault of their own.

Murphy points to a board mounted in his shop area displaying a variety of items. "These are some of the things found in braille writers sent in for repair," he says grinning. They range from the more common pencils, pens and crayons to pocket mirrors, a sponge, a small plastic squirrel, the corner of a dollar bill, a full pack of gum, lots of pennies, a valentine, a clothes pin, an unopened deck of cards, double "A" batteries, jewelry, toy soldiers, dominoes, a clip-on bow tie and combs. Then there's the 12-foot rope that was inside another Brailler.

Moving toward the repair rack, Murphy points to a Brailler on which he is awaiting a repair-OK from the owner. It has an entire T-shirt wound around its mechanisms.

Why? How? - could anyone do such things to a brailler. "When kids don't want to do homework, they put the darnedest things in the Brailler," he says chuckling.

He tells the tale of a man who sent with his damaged Brailler a letter that said, "At the bottom of my brailler you'll find some change that my son put in. Please return the change." He simply shakes his head, smiling.

Just like the newly manufactured Braillers from Howe Press, machines sent for repair go through a quadruple quality control check. If a machine fails to pass a checkpoint, it's sent back to its repairer until the machine passes all four checks.

"We have the same quality standards now as when Abraham was here," Murphy says. "We're sticklers on that."

Murphy's trainees are aware of the need for being sticklers. Howe Press instituted the Brailler repair program in the 1960s so machines could be repaired closer to home, avoiding the extended wait that often accompanied shipping, especially international shipping.

Those interested in taking the two-week course can come to the Howe Press for Murphy's program, or if a sufficient number of people are interested, he will go to them. The overseas host provides interpreters for the class, when necessary. When students come to Howe Press, Perkins provides the interpreter.

Murphy has taught repair courses in Malaysia, Kenya, France, England and Egypt. Since 1965, Murphy has taken photographs of his students. He started taking photos, he says, because "people wrote me letters or called with questions and orders for spare parts. I couldn't put the names with the faces, so I took their pictures to remember."

The walls of the final assembly room show students from every continent in the world - including Australia. They've come from all over the United States and from as far away as Sri Lanka, Barbados, Singapore, China, Poland, Thailand, Argentina and Guatemala.

His students have been directors of schools for the blind, teachers, teacher trainees and Telephone Pioneers, an organization of retired telephone company employees who volunteer their services to people who are blind and visually handicapped.

During the class, students receive a Brailler repair manual and become familiar with the machine's assembly the hard way. "They take the machine apart," Murphy says, "right down to the last part.

"Then, starting with the sub-assemblies, they rebuild and assemble the whole machine - beginning to end," he says.

When he's not on the road or at Perkins teaching Brailler repair, Murphy supervises the final assembly room at Howe Press. In this room, he and five others assemble Perkins Braillers. Each machine receives a serial number that is credited to its assembler.

Murphy is one of the few remaining employees who worked with Abraham himself. What has kept him at Howe Press for so long?

"The satisfaction keeps me going," he says. "I feel good about what I do."

Reprinted from: Perkins School for the Blind, Annual Report, 1993.
Used with kind permission.
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