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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.)
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the same time the AS/400 was upgraded to a model B35. Two additional disk drives
were added. The memory was also expanded.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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
By the end of 1994, we had a total of fourteen copies of the program with
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
late 1994, TEGG Services was added to Kelso-Burnett Co.
Tegg, a franchised service and testing company, functions as a separate
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
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.
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
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
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.
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!
learn more about Kelso-Burnett Co, I invite you to visit their web site.
To read more of my career at KB go the the On the Job page.