16 July, 2008
I'm guilty of neglecting this blog. Not that anyone actually reads this thing, but if there is, I apologize for not posting frequently. But that's just me. I'm not going to write for the sake of filling space at a regular interval, that's not a good way to do things. Anyway, on to what I wanted to write about today.
I get PMs and emails from younger people who start their messages out the same way. "I'm planning on going to school to be a diesel/heavy equipment technician..." The first thought that goes through my head is something like "Oh boy, here's another one who's been suckered into believing the tech school recruiting bullshit." It's true, I'm sorry to say. The big tech schools have all these flashy videos and shiny brochures, all shown by slick recruiters who troll the high schools for new students. Maybe these poor kids have watched "The fast and the furious" one too many times and have a glamorous view of what it's like being a mechanic. By the way, I always refer to myself as a "mechanic" and not a "technician" for a reason. When was the last time you asked someone if they knew of a good diesel technician? The public refers to me as mechanic, so that's what I am. It's no different than having the title of "custodian." To the world, they're janitors. I've had both jobs, so I speak with authority on the subject. Back to the young wanna-be mechanics. Every time I get an email from one of these kids, I'm tempted to block them so I don't have to read the same thing over and over again. But I don't. I was just like them in my younger days, so I take a deep breath and answer whatever questions they ask me and give them the truth. The recruiters make this job out to be a lot better than it actually is. They'll have the kids thinking that dealerships and top notch shops will be beating down their door, begging them to work at their shop. They'll think they're hot shit and will be making $80, 000/year right out of tech school. The brochures show the school's spotless shop, filled to the rafters with the latest equipment... and everyone has a clean shirt. The kids turn into adults, graduate and head off to their first job with small, albeit brand new, tool kit. Then, with very few exceptions, the real world reaches out and bitch-slaps them in the face. The freshly minted mechanics find themselves doing jobs that any idiot off the streets could be trained to do. Changing tires, oil changes, trailer services and the like. What the new guys don't realize at the time is that no shop in their right mind, would turn a new, still wet behind the ears, mechanic loose in a working shop without finding out for sure what they can do. Truck shops don't exist to showcase a mechanic's technical prowess. They exist to make money. It's a business just like any other business and the owners can't afford to take chances with mechanics who haven't proved themselves. There's an unfortunate "Catch 22" with this process. Usually, by the time the new guys have been found worthy of moving on, they've forgotten a large chunk of what they were taught in tech school because they haven't been able to use those skills. So you can probably understand why getting these emails are slightly depressing. I know what's in store for these kids if they choose to be a mechanic as their profession. I also know that if they enjoy working on cars and trucks in their spare time, working professionally as a mechanic will probably kill their enthusiasm. One of the things I learned at a young age was that turning a hobby into a profession is a bad idea. The last thing I want to do on my own time is work on cars, trucks or even my own lawn mowers. Still, the emails come.
"I have some questions for you regarding the Detroit 60 series, Cat C15 and the Cummins N14" began one email. I wouldn't even have to read the rest of the email because I know what's coming. They will want to know which engine I think is best. Who the hell cares? All engines have their own peculiarities and there's no one engine that's better than the others. These kids think the trucking world is full of Peterbilts, Kenworths and Western Stars, all of them chromed out so much that they look stupid. They think they'll spend their days in the shop working on engines all the time, but that ain't the case. Brakes, grease jobs, air hoses, tires etc. are the day to day tasks. The kids spend too much time watching "Trick My Truck." To be fair, there are a lot of nice looking Petes and KWs out there, but what the kids will run into if they get into this field is Freightliners, Sterlings and Volvos. Freightshakers, Shortlings and Swedes are the trucks of choice for large fleets. "Why?" you might be asking yourself. Because they're cheap. Plain and simple. Lots of plastic, poor access and what I refer to ask fake luxury. I can't leave out the other trucks a neophyte wrench holder will likely work on. Heavily abused (and old) Mack dump trucks/heavy equipment haulers, lots of diesel pickups whose cocky owners think a pickup with a diesel qualifies as "heavy duty", and garbage trucks. Oh how working on a garbage truck can be a wake up call. It should be mandatory for anyone wishing to be a diesel mechanic to spend a week servicing nothing but garbage trucks. Believe me, if I had known how much it sucks to work on garbage trucks, I never would've moved from being a car mechanic to being a truck mechanic. I'd rather bag groceries. But you can't expect an eighteen year old to accept reality. No matter what profession a person chooses or how exciting it is when they start out, it eventually becomes nothing more than a job. The kids just will just have to find that out on their own.
If, by chance, you're still wondering which engine I prefer, I'll tell you... some other time ;)