The World of Grandpa Don

Kelso-Burnett Computer History

1965 - 1996

I wrote this history over a period of time while working at KB. People who had been involved in the beginning were retiring and I felt that there should be a record of the evolution of computer use within the company. KB was not only a leader in the field of electrical contracting but it was an innovator in the use of computers in the industry.

The history is also a part of my history at KB and as such fits into this web site.

In 1965 Kelso Burnett purchased a used RPC-4000 computer. An outside programmer was employed to program the mathematical operations for a "Critical Path" program under John  McLaughlin's direction. John did the programming for the data input and output as well as resource leveling portions of the program. Joe Madden programmed latter revisions to the program. 

Joe then designed an "Estimating Machine" so that estimators could use standard estimating terms in English to enter their estimate data. The console cabinet was built by Berthold Electric. Joe and a KB electrician, Ed Dewbrey, assembled and wired the unit. The machine produced a paper tape which was fed into the RPC-4000. Joe Madden wrote the program which priced the material and applied labor units, then did the extensions and printed the estimate. The programs were all written in "assembly language". Because of the small memory capacity of the machine the data tapes had to be passed through the machine several times to produce the estimate. The estimate "assemblies" were written by Craig Dunlop and based on Sig Holinger's estimating "book" and Sig"s methods. 

In 1968 KB started using a time share terminal on a Control Data Co. computer to do job scheduling for power plant projects. Joe Madden rewrote the program in Fortran to run on this system. 

In 1970 an IBM System 3 Model 10 was purchased. Joe rewrote the estimating program in RPG II and added enhancements. The estimators still used the "Estimating Machine" to "punch in" the data. Other data input was accomplished by using IBM punched cards. 

Kelso employed an outside programmer to write accounting programs in the RPG II language for the sys/3 machine. At this time Effie Marros was introduced to computer technology and learned to do program maintenance and revisions in RPGII. 

Kelso continued to use the to use time sharing for job scheduling for several years. Joe then rewrote the Critical Path scheduling program for the SYS/3 computer, using Fortran and RPG II. 

In 1982 Kelso Burnett replaced the SYS/3 with an IBM System 38 Model 5 computer. All the programs had to be rewritten in RPG III to run on the new equipment. Effie spent many hours and many weeks accomplishing the conversion due to the large number of programs to be converted and problems within the new IBM system. An outside programmer, Nancy Knaus, rewrote the accounting programs. Joe and an outside programmer, Al Unger, rewrote the estimating  programs. At this time we were introduced to the CRT Terminal for data input. The company purchased a Commodore "PET" computer and Don Plefka learned "BASIC" programming to get familiar with screen displays for estimating data input. His suggestions were refined and put into practical form by Joe Madden. The "Estimating Machine" and it's paper tape were retired. 

By this time Effie Marros had acquired the title of "Data Processing Manager" and was totally responsible for keeping us up to date with programming changes to our accounting system. Joe Madden continued to keep the estimating program current.   

After the installation of the SYS38 computer, management come to the conclusion that the Critical Path method was too LONG and complicated to be used on most of our jobs.  A method of tracking and reporting labor progress was still required however, so an new program was written for the SYS38 and integrated with the payroll system.  This program produced a “SHORT” Labor Report.  (The name “Short Labor Report” stuck and continued to be used long after the reason for the name was forgotten.) 

In 1985 KB purchased an Apple IIc so that Pres. John McLaughlin could do financial spread sheets and graphs. The SYS/38 was not equipped for these functions. 

In 1987 Tom Hegel invested in an IBM PS/2 Model 50 for the Lake County office. They needed a PC to get a quick Time & Material billing program for their use. The PC was also a very useful tool for word processing and spread sheets. This computer also had the capability of connection to the SYS/38 in the future (with added circuit board and software). 

In January 1988 KB installed a Computervision CAD drafting computer. With a small amount of training Kevin Rife and George Rizza started providing computer generated drawings for various projects. The system was compatible with the system used by a major customer, Jacob Suchard / Brach's Inc. Brach's engineering dept. furnished KB with floor plans and equipment layouts on computer disks and we added the electrical work to the drawings. We were thus provided with working drawings and the updated disks were returned to Brach as a permanent record.  The loss of Brach as a customer and the need to be compatible with other customers dictated the conversion to AutoCadd for drafting by 1990. 

Early in 1988 other managers were so impressed with the capabilities of the PS/2 computers that units were purchased in all offices. The use of PC's for various applications has been growing since then. 

Estimators had been requesting revisions and additions to the estimating program for some time. Joe Madden outlined changes and programming was started in early 1987 but there was no time for Joe Madden to manage the Rolling Meadows Branch office, handle his Utility Division job management and estimating chores and review and implement changes to the estimating program. It was decided to establish a new corporate department to assume these and other staff duties. Don Plefka was put in charge with John McLaughlin III as his staff assistant. 

In June of 1988 IBM announced the availability of their new AS/400 computer. Based on the fact that an AS/400 model 30 would cost less to own and operate than our current system and it offered newer and more flexible technology, this new machine was ordered and delivered in October. 

One of the advantages of this equipment was that it was advertised to require a minimal amount of program rewriting or conversion. However, It took over three weeks for all existing programs to be "migrated" to the new system . This was due to some hardware "bugs" in the new equipment and our use of some programming methods which the AS/400 did not accept. In February 1989 new communication modems which transmit data four times as fast as the previous units, were installed to link to the terminals in the branch offices. 

Also in 1988 the new Engineering Services Dept. has started improvements and additions to the estimating program.  Emulation boards were added to some of the PS/2 personal computers so they can serve as AS/400 terminals and allow the transfer of data between the "Host" system and the PS/2. 

Late in 1989 we started to investigate the possibility of replacing our "home grown" accounting software. There were many features that we needed which would be expensive to program. It was decided that if we purchased a commercially available program we would not need to have a programmer in house. Our only person with programming knowledge, Effie Marrows, was scheduled to retire in 1991. With the assistance of consultant Pete Postlewait and research by treasurer Jim Kostek, an accounting program was selected. 

At the same time, it became apparent that the cost of programming for our estimating system was going to be excessive. We started to investigate the many PC based estimating programs then available. 

In spring of 1990 the J.D.Edwards accounting package was purchased with Job Cost, Purchasing, and Inventory modules in addition to all the standard accounting features. We began to implement the system and expected to replace our old software by October. 

At the same time the AS/400 was upgraded to a model B35. Two additional disk drives were added. The memory was also expanded. 

Also purchased at that time were three copies of TRF Estimating. The Engineering Services Dept. started to become familiar with the program with the intent to tailor it to our needs.

In the summer of 1990 it became apparent that help would be needed to implement the JDE accounting system. A task force was formed with the following assignments: 

  • Jim Kostek, Jeff Garnet and Sherry Dixon were assigned to implement General Ledger.

  • Effie Marros was responsible for the wrap up of the old KB system and training Sherry as her replacement as System Operator.

  • Cathy Kay took the responsibility for the implementation of the payroll module.

  • Chris Nelson worked on the implementation of purchase order entry.

  • Don Plefka was diverted from the TRF Estimating assignment to work on the implementation of the Job Cost and Work Order parts of JDE.

  • Pete Postlewait was retained to assist in all phases of JDE implementation.

Full implementation of the Purchasing and Inventory sections of JDE was put on hold until the basics' were functional. The October, 1990 date for implementation was missed, but by fiscal year end of 3/31/91 the critical parts of JDE had been run parallel with the old KB system. On April 1. 1991 JDE went `on line'. Procedures continued to be refined during the year.  It was decided that full implementation of Purchasing and Inventory would not be `cost effective' and these modules were put on indefinite hold. The JDE Work Order Billing was found to be unusable for us and also was put on hold pending future JDE program revisions. 

By February of 1992 the bulk of the work on the JDE Job Cost and Work Order systems was finished and Don Plefka was able to resume work on the TRF Estimating System. 

The TRF Estimating program's advantage over the KB program is it's flexibility. The estimator is able to include every item in his computerized estimate, not just assemblies that have been preprogrammed. Parts, assemblies and menus can be added and revised without the need to employ a programmer. Along with flexibility comes complexity.  The task that Don took on was that of incorporating parts that KB uses, combining them into assemblies and menu selections that KB estimators would find familiar and easy to use. The goal is to have 90% of the assemblies and parts that a KB estimator needs, available through menus and to have these menus arranged in a manner that is consistent with the old KB system if possible. The target date for a `workable' system was set for the Fall of 1992. 

By early 1993 the TRF system included enough "KB" assemblies so that estimators began to use the system, but because of the familiarity with the old KB (AS/400) based system, conversion was slow. During 1993, additional licenses were purchased to bring the total to ten copies of the program available for use.  By the end of 1994, we had a total of fourteen copies of the program with "hardware locks".  At that time an "Unlimited Usage license was purchased which was "software protected", requiring that a code be entered on each computer using TRF every ninety days. This enables users to use the estimating system on any PC at the office, on jobs and at home.  At the same time the old KB estimating system was to be deleted from the AS/400 computer. 

In late 1994, TEGG Services was added to Kelso-Burnett Co.  Tegg, a franchised service and testing company, functions as a separate company.  The TEGG Job Management and accounting Software was installed on the AS/400 computer as well as the IBM SYS/36 System software necessary to run it.  The AS/400 continued to be upgraded in software and memory storage capacity. 

Early in 1995 KB purchased Contech, Inc. which operates as a subsidiary company providing Fire Alarm equipment and installations, as well as, design and maintenance of systems.  They brought with them more powerful CAD computers and a plotter and the people who use operate them.  This addition restored our CAD drafting recourses and added the MicroStation CAD system to supplement the AutoCad software.  In addition, their office and CAD computers were networked, which gave us the basis for adding some of our existing PC’s to their network in the future. 

At this time our old CAD PC was dedicated to be used for the Tool Tracking program that had been in development for about a year. In February, 1995 the management came to the conclusion that the J. D. Edwards Job Cost system is not providing the tools needed to easily track project progress and project the final profit.  It does not provide a method of incorporating “pending" contract revisions.  In addition, entry of percent complete for detailed activities is difficult and does not produce reports in a form desired by our contract managers. (i.e. The “SHORT” Labor Report.)  As a result, a task force was set up to develop a PC based management system which is easy to use, produce the desired result and is easily integrated with the JDE system.  The members of the task force were Don Plefka, Allen Bondi, Angelo Claustro, Mark Karasek, Arnie Lempke, and Pete Postlewait. It was decided to use the Microsoft Access database for this application.  A series of meetings were held to define the requirements and form of the application.  Don Plefka programmed the allocation which was named “Project Financial Management System (PFMS).  By early 1996 a “beta” version was  being tested and in April of that year version 1.0 was put to use.

 Corporate Services Dept.

Donald J Plefka,
Vice President

Footnote July, 2001:
After my retirement in 1996 I was called in on a consulting basis a few times to work on the PFMS program. After a year, I retired from that also. Computers, software and methods continued to evolve. I know that the estimating program has been replaced and I am sure that there are many other changes. My current home computer is faster and has more memory and speed than the big IBM AS/400 had when I left. Time moves along! Maybe someone at KB will continue recording the history.

After all, some of the electricians that I worked with when I was in my early years, traveled from job to job in their early years in a horse drawn wagon. The stable had been in the basement of the Brooks Building at 223 W Jackson. Times change! 

Grandpa Don  


To learn more about Kelso-Burnett Co, I invite you to visit their web site. 
Go to the links page.

To read more of my career at KB go the the On the Job page.


Communication & Navigation Center

Grandpa Don


Guide Post to All Pages
Search The World of Grandpa Don
© copyright 2004-06- The World of Grandpa Don