27 July, 2017


Those that know me probably think I'm happy in my mediocre, beige, ho-hum life.  I am.  A random thing at work last night got my dream of my ideal life going again.  I don't know how it ended up at our shop but I saw a flyer for a diesel shop in my Dad's home town.  On closer inspection I saw that this shop is on the same street as my Dad's boyhood home.  These places are in a little village somewhere in northern Wisconsin.  The kind of place where, if you blinked at the wrong time while driving through, you would miss it.  Among my siblings, some cousins, a couple of aunts, a couple of uncles and myself, this little village holds a special place in our hearts.  The reasons are many, but we all love the place.  It's the place where my Mom and Dad met and their respective families became connected.  I missed out on a lot of the "good times" that my siblings and cousins (all older than I) frequently talk about due to the age gap, but I did get to experience a little bit of it.  They'll talk about the overnight stays for Christmas, Grandma working at the Post Office, Grandpa working for the highway department etc.  Most of what I remember is Grandpa being bedridden and day trips.  I used to feel a little sad that I had missed out on things but I eventually came to love my own version of that place.  I learned to love that my experience is from that little village is unique.  Ironically, my last "normal" experience at Grandma and Grandpa's was to help get things set up for the auction.

Anyway, years ago I mentioned in jest that if I ever won a lottery I would move to that little place and buy Grandpa and Grandma's house.  I would then buy other family (extended) homes and keep them set up as places for my cousins and siblings.  I also mentioned buying the gas station/garage where my Dad had once worked, changing it back to its original name and then live my life out in pure happiness.  It won't happen, but it's something that makes me smile when I think of it.  The flyer I found at work last night put some weight behind that pipe dream.

I thought "I could get a job at that diesel shop.  I could buy Grandma and Grandpa's house back.  I could walk to work.  I could have my family up there for holidays just like the old days."  My brain started to wander and think about the things I would have to do to get the house looking like it used to.  Where the fishing poles used to be stored, where to put the fridge, hoping recent owners hadn't remodeled the thing too far from original...  Oh, the possibilities.  If I had the guts to do it, I could make part of that original dream happen.  

So, yes, I do have a dream.  Though I am quite happy in my current life.  We all have that "ideal" life which we think of.  Sometimes we can make it happen.

17 May, 2017

I'm Happy

Whenever I start thinking life is going well something bad happens.  Nothing bad has happened but from past experiences I'm very leery of letting myself think that everything is coming up roses.  But I will do just that for a little bit.

I've recently reconnected with some of my old flying buddies (virtual flying) and we are searching for the lost member of the 35thCAG.  The guy I've know longest, Dadman (I call him Daddy-O) have never really lost touch completely and I'm grateful for that.  I met him on the virtual flight deck of the USS Essex back in 2000 and we quickly became friends.  He's my eternal wingman and a better one will not be found. 

I've also reconnected with my friend and mentor, Rob, from my days in the courier company's repair shop.  I was very happy to find him still kickin'. 

For the moment, I'm a happy camper :)

18 February, 2017

I Know A Lot. Here's Why.

During discussions I often hear someone ask a question.  For example, I was discussing how my friends and I would classify the women at the bar by what type of ship they would be.  Yes, I know, I was rather mean in my youth.  Anyway, the young guy in the shop said something along the lines of "What about the Titanic?  How could they not see that iceberg?"  I know the answer to that question.  The third guy involved in the conversation looked at the young guy and said "Dude, don't open that can of worms."  The third guy had suffered through a thirty minute lecture on the Olympic class ships.  He knew how I was capable rambling on for almost any subject.

These conversations, after I'm done spewing things that the other people don't care to hear, I'm asked "How the hell do you know so much?"  Simple.  I read.  A lot.  Props to my kindergarten teacher and my family for teaching me to read.  I acquired my basic literacy skills in the '70s.  There was no internet, no Google, no cell phones.  I had newspapers, National Geographic magazine and libraries.  Whenever I wanted to learn something I would ask a teacher.  If the teacher didn't have an answer I went to the library and searched the card catalog for a relevant book.  I would then borrow a book, or two, and read it.  Whatever sparked my curiosity.  With the advent of the internet, and its seemingly endless resources (I love Google Books), I devoured everything I found.  A large proportion of the information I take in will, most likely, never be used.  It was simply answering a question that popped into my head.  I once read a book that contained "crafting" types of things and one of the projects was about how to turn an old pair of jeans into a skirt.  I'm never going to do that, but I'll be damned if I don't know how to do it.  Mom taught me how to sew when I was a kid.  On to a more relevant, and current, example.

I read an old, circa 1902, machine shop practices book a couple of years ago. In it was a section about making a tool to resurface valve seats (water valves) and I thought "Ha, ha. Who would need to do that these days?" Well, when I took the stems out of the faucet for my basement laundry sink, I found a slightly chowdered seat for the rubber seal. I have an old house and my first thought was that I was going to have to replace the damned thing. Then that book I had read popped into my head. "I'll be goddamed..." Whipped up a tool on the lathe, resurfaced the seats, reassembled with new seals and new gland packing. Good as new.

This past Christmas, at my Sister's, some music was playing over the TV and, while my Brother was skipping through channels, I heard one little snippet of the soundtrack from James Cameron's "Titanic."  I asked the people in the living room if they were familiar with RMS Olympic.  I received blank stares.  That was enough to lead me into what became an hour and a half lecture on Titanic, Olympic, Britannic, Lusitania etc.

So there you have it.  I read a lot of books.  I also watch a lot of documentaries.  There's no reason you can't do the same.  I'm not particularly smart, I just retain a lot of information.  Any time you wonder how something works I urge you to research that subject.  Answer that question.

12 November, 2016

Real Technician versus Shade Tree

Written while drunk and without the aid of proofreading.  For your pleasure...

Do you know how to spot a real technician from a "shade tree" mechanic?  Are you sure about that?  Allow me to explain the differences to you.  So, hold onto my hand, let's jump down the rabbit hole together.  If you're a regular follower here, you know what's coming.  LOL.

To start off, do you know what a shade tree mechanic is?  The term (for me) originates with the TNN series "Shadetree Mechanic" which aired in the 1990s.  It was a show geared towards the "DIY" mechanic who was working on their own stuff.  At first I found it interesting.  Then, I saw an episode where the "technicians" were going to change a turbocharger on a Dodge truck.  One of the hosts said something like "this turbo has been on for awhile so I'm going to spray some penetrating oil on the mounting nuts."  *spritz, spritz* then he puts a wrench on the nuts and *creak* they come loose.  The dude didn't even tug on the wrench.  I instantly hollered "Bullshit!".  It was a scene that left a whole lot of stuff out.  They didn't show that they sprayed the nuts with panther piss over three days or they cut out the dude using a torch to put some heat on those turbo nuts.  The show was intending to show the average person, who had no idea how their truck's engine worked, that they could repair things themselves.  Sure.  Great.  Sells advertising.  You think they gave one damn about the DIY person when they pulled on that wrench and the stud broke?  Fuck no!  Any professional tech can tell you about the jobs that come in where, obviously, some person had tried to do something themselves (like changing a turbo) and found one or two broken parts.  In the turbo situation the truck would come to us with a complaint of "exhaust leak" or "engine makes a whistling noise".  If you're one of those people, just admit that you broke the shit. We can tell.  We'll have more respect for you if you own the fuck up.  If you're not sure that you can do the job yourself or, at least, can take care of your own fuck ups, take the vehicle to a shop.  If you broke a bolt off because you actually thought WD-40 worked, be prepared to spend a lot of money.  If you would have just brought the thing to a professional you could have save a lot of money in labor by not making things worse.  You have to decide what's more important to you.  Pride or money.

Now, if you "know a guy" and mention that fact, us professionals are automatically going to give you shit or turn down the job.  You see, if I hear the words "My mechanic friend of mine told me..." I'm going to instantly stop listening to the words coming out of you pie hole.  If your mechanic friend was any good you wouldn't be talking to me.  You're just a cheapskate trying to cut corners and are now paying the price.  Neglect your vehicle and it will tell you to "Fuck off!"

Back in the day, before I became a truck tech, a typical problem was the "no start".   Invariably, the cars owned by someone who was either a do-it-yourselfer or "knew a guy"  came into the shop with one, or all, of the following.  New starter, new battery or new alternator.  Shall we break that down?  Averaging the prices of those three components (lots of guesstimation here) from, say, Autozone (the DIY-shade tree store of choice) you, probably, would have spent $300 and a 12pk. of beer and still had a car that wouldn't start.  Why would that happen?  Well, it's because the "guy you know" doesn't quite grasp how to diagnose a no-start problem.  They don't know how to quickly break the problem down into smaller categories from which to continue their diagnosis.  Oh, "it's probably fouled spark plugs."  More money down the drain.  It's not the 1960s.  There's a whole lot more that can cause a no-start than just "tune-up" shit.  Did "your guy" even bother to differentiate between no-crank-no-start and crank-no-start?  That's the first hurdle.  Or, did your "guy who knows cars" just start throwing parts at it hoping something would happen?

What about the "brake job" your "guy" did?  Chances are the shade-tree just threw new pads on and called it a "brake job".  Did he (not being sexist, it's statistics) measure the brake rotor thickness?  Did he bother to check if the rotors are warped (pulsation problem)?  Probably not.  Did you, perhaps, ignore that grinding noise for so long that the brake rotor actually broke and took out the caliper along with it?  When your pal "fixes" the brakes, and you notice the problem is still there, give you a warranty repair?  You probably got the nice, excuse driven, version of a middle finger.  "You'll have to take it to a shop because I don't have the tool for..." as he walks off with your cash.  And it's always cash.

So, despite whatever your "mechanic friend" did, or did not do, you wind up with me.  And you bitch, moan, call me a crook, tell me I'm just trying to sell you parts you don't need because "my mechanic told me..."  Here's what I have to say to you.  "Go fuck yourself."  Yes, there are crooked professionals out there.  There's crooked fuckers in every field.  Who do you trust?  Do you trust your "mechanic friend" because he somehow managed to get your car fixed with his 110 piece Craftsman "mechanic's" tool kit?  Do you believe what you read on "Just Answers" websites?  Here is what you do.

When your car does something it's not supposed to do, you'll think about the people you know and, supposedly, trust.  "Jerry is a mechanic.  He restored that '69 Chevelle..."  It's a '69 Chevelle which, most likely, doesn't run all that well.  A '69 Chevelle is nowhere near as complex as a 2011 Impala.  Ask him if he can tell you how a crank sensor works.  Did you get "Uhhh, well it... the crank..." answer?  Tell that guy that the engine missing on cylinder 4 (assuming you know that's the problem) and see what they do.  You'll probably get a new set of spark plugs and coil packs (expensive).  That "mechanic" friend probably won't even think to ask you some important questions.  When was the last time you checked the oil level?  Does the engine misfire all the time or only at certain road speeds?  Your "mechanic" probably can't even imagine that you have ignored the engine's oil level to the point it got so low you wiped out a lobe on the camshaft.  Or, perhaps, a valve spring is broken.  But, you know, when you end up at a shop full of crooks they'll say your car needs a valve job because, of course, all shops are trying to fuck you.

I see you have some new tires.  Oh, and those nice aluminum wheels are all scratched to fuck.  What's that?  The left front and right rear tires keep going flat?  Your "mechanic" just changed the tires... You think there's a nail in the two tires that are going flat...  Well, before I start work let's make a note of the wheel gouges and, if you would please, initial my comments regarding the gouges.  Why?  Because if I don't, you'll try to blame me for what your "hammer and chisel mechanic" fucked up.  When "I have a 150 piece mechanic's tool kit from Harbor Freight" mechanic changed your tires, did he even consider the corrosion on the wheel to be a problem?  Did he take the wire brush that came with his tool kit... Oh, they don't come with wire brushes... and clean off the corrosion?  Did "Shade tree" bother to spray down the beads and valve stems after the fact to verify there wasn't a leak?  No, of course he didn't.  Because that's the kind of "service" you get for parts+$50 and beer.  But it's my fault.  I'm just a thief running a "racket" to steal your money.  So, just take those leaking tires back to your "mechanic" and demand a warranty repair and/or your money (and beer) back.  See what happens.  You'll end up paying me to fix his fuck-ups.  But you saved a lot of money, right?  NOT!

Disclaimer:  If your "mechanic friend" is actually a professional, we wouldn't be having this conversation.  Professionals do side work.  Not all of us, but some do.  I have no interest in doing my day job on my own time.  When asked I quote the shop rate of my day job.  Conversation usually stops right there.  I went to tech school, I read books and trade magazines non-stop, I've worked my ass off.  Don't insult me by thinking I'll waste my precious little spare time for $20 and beer.  Fuck off.  Also, don't expect your accountant to fix your car.  There's a huge difference between a "shade tree" and a professional.  Any shade tree fucker can throw parts at a problem (and even get lucky sometimes) but it takes a professional to diagnose the problem with minimal damage.  Would you trust a doctor who says  "Well, the people on Yahoo Answers said..."?

09 October, 2016

When Mechanics Have A Bad Day

I just watched a couple of videos on YouTube where a motor mechanic/machinist/welder/foundryman reconditioned a drill press spindle for a friend.  The spindle had a Jacobs taper for mounting a chuck and just above the taper were some threads for a nut which would be used to force the chuck off.  The threads were chowdered and the taper showed signs of a slipping chuck.  The whole end of the spindle was machined down and welded up.  A fresh taper was machined and new threads cut.  This gentleman did a fine job.  When the video got to making a new nut (for forcing off the chuck) I was left scratching my head.  Though we did not see it, the original nut was surely a hex nut.  The new nut was knurled with only four puny 6mm holes for a tommy bar.  It was mentioned that when the gentleman's friend obtained a new chuck, it would be fit to perfection with some lapping compound.  Sounds like solid workmanship.  But what about the next guy?

How often have you removed a chuck from your drill press?  That's what I thought.  Unless it gets damaged, the chuck is never going to come off.  Now imagine a new chuck lapped to a perfect fit.  Think of the use a drill press receives.  Imagine decades of that chuck being force ever tighter onto that spindle by the downward pressure of drilling.  Throw in some condensation from being in an unheated garage or shed.  The next person to remove that chuck is going to be really, really pissed there's only puny 6mm holes in that nut.  There will be an attempt at using a tommy bar, there will be cursing, there will be the desperation of having to get that chuck off...  I see a pipe wrench and hammer in the chuck and spindle's future.  The current nut was ( in order) faced, turned, knurled, parted off, drilled, bored and threaded.  After that, the nut was screwed onto the spindle, mounted in a square collet block, mounted in a milling vise, center of the part found, four 6mm holes drilled.  The knurling and 6mm holes could have been skipped.  The set up could have otherwise remained the same and at least two flats machined onto the nut.  Give the next guy the ability to put an adjustable wrench on that nut and have a fighting chance.

No, I can't see the future.  I've been the poor bastard trying to disassemble things like I've described.  When something like an air dryer gets mounted in a wheel well and is hanging out in the elements and requires three M8x160mm bolts for mounting... A torx headed bolt is not the best choice.  A steel bolt passing through an aluminum air dryer into an air tank made out of shitty steel leads to a LOT of corrosion.  And you know damned well the factory isn't going to waste the time or money to put a little smear of anti-seize on those bolts.

A year or so after the truck's warranty period has ended the dryer will fail.  You know, because nobody reads the fucking owner's manual.  Especially the part about air dryer maintenance (change the cartridge every fall people).  The dryer will inevitably fail somewhere on the road and it will fail so bad that the whole rig can't be limped into a shop.  Some sorry-ass mechanic will end up out there to replace the air dryer.  He will sized up the situation and see what tools he needs to... "Fucking torx heads?  WTF!  What fucking soft-handed desk jockey is responsible for this fuck up!!  Yeah, sure, use torx heads because metal never fucking corrodes!!!"  The mechanic will spray some panther piss on the thing knowing that it isn't going to help.  He'll then put a torx bit onto a ratchet and gently try to loosen those bolts.  The torx bit will break.  The bit breaks because of many things.  Mostly because the never work in high torque situations but other factors are involved.  The recess in the bolt is too shallow because some bean counter didn't think an extra 5/10 of a cent was worth using a quality fastener, with a deep enough recess to allow good purchase of the bit in the fastener.  A plain 'ol hex head bolt would, at least, allow the mechanic to gingerly work the fastener back and forth, giving him a small chance of success.  But they didn't.  The mechanic is now so pissed off the driver has become concerned about their safety.  The mechanic grinds the bit down and tries again after putting a little heat into the parts.  *SNAP*  "FUCK!!!!!"  The mechanic is now going to drill the heads off, remove the air dryer and use vise grips to get the bolts out.  Oh, but wait.  Where in the hell is he going to get M8x160mm bolts at 02:00 on a  Sunday morning?  The longest bolts at the shop are 60mm.  "FUCK!!!"  The mechanic then discovers that there's so much other crap in the way he'll never be able to get a drill in there.  The situation just snowballs.  But, for this case, let's say the mechanic called in some favors and managed to wake up a friend who had some M8 threaded rod.  He has to go and get it, return to the broken vehicle, cut the rod, fit it, install the new air dryer and make sure it works.  Great.  It's all done and working.  Looks like a redneck did the work but at least the truck can roll. 

The bill is handed to the driver and he freaks the fuck out.  The mechanic (already tired, very pissed off and very cold because it's January in Wisconsin) has to explain all of the labor time.  Removal of shitty fasteners, the fastener supply situation, the retrieval of fasteners from far off corners of the county, billing by the hour (explained right at the first phone call but forgotten by the driver), the custom fitting...  The driver ignores the fact they ignored dryer maintenance for years so the whole thing is their fault.  The driver ignores the fact that the mechanic had to get out of bed in the wee hours on a cold January night and has been working in frigid temperatures for hours while he sits in a warm truck.  Yeah, it's all the mechanic's fault.  All mechanics are crooks (said with sarcasm). 

It all comes down to shit design and cost cutting.  I'm quite sure the person responsible for the air dryer design and mounting, while sitting in a clean, comfortable, climate controlled office, never once thought of what their choices would be like five years down the road.  No, that fucker was never going to be dodging cars on the side of an icy interstate highway so why should he care?  The bean counter doesn't care, he's only concerned with keeping costs down so the company profits remain high and many trucks will be sold.  "Fuck service!  Fuck mechanics!  Make it good enough to get through the warranty period.  Who cares after that?"  It ends at the truck's sticker price.  Trucks that are easily serviced and will last for millions of miles can be built.  You wouldn't pay for it.  The price for good design and workmanship would be so high that nobody would buy the trucks.  Think of it in tool terms.  You need a set of wrenches.  The dollar store has a set of wrenches from 1/4" to 1" for $15.  Snap-On sells a 1/4" to 1" set of wrenches for $600.  Which set do you choose?  If you chose the $15 set of wrenches, you're part of the problem.  Sure, they'll work right now and may actually fit fasteners.  They won't last long and you'll soon see why the wrench set was only $15.  The Snap-On wrenches, though initially expensive, will fit properly, will feel good in the hand and will be built so good they'll outlast you, your children and your grandchildren.  And they have a lifetime warranty. 

You need to look to the future.  As you install that exhaust manifold, put some anti-seize on the bolts.  Think of the next guy who will have to take it apart.  Those bolts will break loose, he'll see the silvery remains of anti-seize and he'll thank the mechanic who put those bolts in.  That mechanic will do the same.  It can go the other way of course.  I once was involved in a starter replacement for a dump truck that was in the middle of a muddy field.  The first guy spent two hours trying to get three starter bolts out and was only successful with one.  I came in for the day and was sent out to finish the job.  I had five hours into it and only got one more bolt out.  I had to have the shop bring me bigger tools, I had to heat the shit out of the parts...  The first guy went back the next day and finally got the last bolt out.  You know what he found?  Having been there while the sun was still providing good light, the first mechanic saw that some asshole had put green loctite (bearing retainer) on the bolt threads.  Green!!  What a dick!  It's karma.  Do something to be a little shit and it will come back to you.  If you think taking the extra time will make things easier for the next guy, do it.