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Ratchet With a Cause - My early years


Gonzo

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Ratchet With a Cause

 

At home I tinkered around with hand-me down lawnmower engines which my brother and I turned into go-carts and other two wheeled death machines. As we got older it was car engines and rickety old thrown away car frames that we hobbled together into some sort of demonic fire breathing exhaust snarling farm vehicle. I guess you could say we were a bit rebellious and often got in trouble taking our latest creation down some of the dirt roads in the area. Spewing dirt and gravel at the nearby houses as we swung the machine sideways around the curves.

 

The neighbors would hear us zoom by and usually would be standing by the side of the road waiting for us when we made our return trip. It inevitably meant a good old fashion verbal chew out from the concerned neighbor, and of course the eventual encounter with dad later that day. Ya had to stop for them, because everybody knew everybody and if you didnt stop and apologies youd have hell to pay later. We were just kids horsing around, and I know they were just looking out for us. And, Ive got to admit, looking back on it now, its a wonder some of our contraptions didnt kill us both back then.

 

When I was in my teens there werent any electronics or computers to speak of. The big college down town had one, and on certain occasions we would take a field trip from school to go see it. It was huge, it filled several rooms with these enormous electronic tape to tape machines. I wasnt at all interested in computers; I was much more interested in sports and cars. Besides, you didnt need a computer to work on cars; all ya needed was a manual and a couple of wrenches. Working with tools was a natural thing for me. Its no wonder Im a professional mechanic these days. However, the road from slapping a couple of rusty parts onto an old dilapidated engine and welding some old broken frame back together is a long way from calling yourself a mechanic. A real mechanic that is.

 

Starting out like I did was no picnic either. My first real exposure to mechanics was at our small towns garage. It still had a dirt floor and only one lift but it was a great little place to learn a few things. I was more or less the shops walking grease gun. Anything that involved cleaning gunked up parts, or an engine that needed degreased, or greasy junked parts that needed to be carried off, I was the go to grease monkey. My first actual mechanic job that I was given was hand packing wheel bearings. (More grease of course.)

 

This old timer that had been there probably since the days of the horse and buggies called me over to his work bay. The first thing he did was hand me the grease bucket, (which I was very familiar with) and then told me to take a big scoop of it in one hand. Then he reached out and plopped a new bearing into that glob of grease. He cursed out, Now, squeeze the f&%()7 life out of her! Squish went the grease. I squeezed so hard that it oozed out between my fingers and landed on the floor. (Ill get that later.)

 

He had me drop the bearing into the bearing race that was already in the drum and I ran off to find a rag to wipe off my hands. (Nobody used rubber gloves back then, and to make things worse the type of grease they used stunk to high heaven too.) I didnt get far before he hollered more profanities at me and told me to get back over there. I was still trying to wipe this goo off when he reached out with another bearing. Get some more of the blankity blank grease in your hand there sonny!

 

He was a very knowledge mechanic but he had some weird ways of telling you things that were important, such as, You use the right tools for the right job. You gotta use the tool the right way. Screw drivers aint pry bars. You use a ratchet with a cause. I think he meant to say was that when you used a tool it had a purpose and the purpose was to use the tool correctly. Never forgot that to this day. Every time I had a chance Id lean over the hood and watch what he was doing. He was eager to show me a thing or two, and I was eager to learn.

 

Generators were still very common on the road in those days, and he taught me how to use a growler and how to adjust the voltage regulators along with a whole lot of other useful tips. I learned a lot from him, and I still use a lot of his quirky sayings of wisdom in understanding things in todays cars too. The old guy took his job serious, and he definitely made me aware of what it took to become a good mechanic. He eventually retired after 40 + years as a mechanic. Great guy, great teacher.

 

Thats the thing about this field, my career that is. Theres more to it than the cars. Its something that gets in ya, its something that inspires you to deal with all the changes, the new procedures, and of course those computers that I didnt want anything to do with back then. Im not sure whether its the problem solving side of this job or the mechanical side of it that is more intriguing to me. Maybe its both. Maybe its the people you meet, the things you encounter, or a combination of all of it. Even after three decades of repairing cars and solving problems I still dont get tired of it.

 

One of these days Ill retire too, Ill program my last PCM and change my last water pump knowing its my time to put my ratchets away. Ya cant do it forever you know, and when I do Ill probably lock my tool box up and look back at it all with a smile.

But, Im sure even then somebody will come to the door wanting me to work on their car, maybe even to pack some wheel bearings for them. Ill probably get a bucket of grease and tell them to reach in and pull a big glob of that stuff out while I toss a fresh bearing in their hand, and Ill probably retell the story of how I learned to pack them. And, just for good measure I might as well tell them why theres such a thing as a ratchet with a cause.


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gonzo: that's pretty much how most of us got started in our field of work. Hobbies lead to interest and we decided maybe I could do this for a living and in my case I did. That was a time when electronics really came on strong in the industry. It was just before personal computers came on and just after the first micro chip the 8080 cpu was born!

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Great article Gonzo. I think this line really summed it up for me. " Theres more to it than the cars. Its something that gets in ya, its something that inspires you to deal with all the changes." Well done and as always an excellent read.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         5 comments
      I recently spoke with a friend of mine who owns a large general repair shop in the Midwest. His father founded the business in 1975. He was telling me that although he’s busy, he’s also very frustrated. When I probed him more about his frustrations, he said that it’s hard to find qualified technicians. My friend employs four technicians and is looking to hire two more. I then asked him, “How long does a technician last working for you.” He looked puzzled and replied, “I never really thought about that, but I can tell that except for one tech, most technicians don’t last working for me longer than a few years.”
      Judging from personal experience as a shop owner and from what I know about the auto repair industry, I can tell you that other than a few exceptions, the turnover rate for technicians in our industry is too high. This makes me think, do we have a technician shortage or a retention problem? Have we done the best we can over the decades to provide great pay plans, benefits packages, great work environments, and the right culture to ensure that the techs we have stay with us?
      Finding and hiring qualified automotive technicians is not a new phenomenon. This problem has been around for as long as I can remember. While we do need to attract people to our industry and provide the necessary training and mentorship, we also need to focus on retention. Having a revolving door and needing to hire techs every few years or so costs your company money. Big money! And that revolving door may be a sign of an even bigger issue: poor leadership, and poor employee management skills.
      Here’s one more thing to consider, for the most part, technicians don’t leave one job to start a new career, they leave one shop as a technician to become a technician at another shop. The reasons why they leave can be debated, but there is one fact that we cannot deny, people don’t quit the company they work for, they usually leave because of the boss or manager they work for.
      Put yourselves in the shoes of your employees. Do you have a workplace that communicates, “We appreciate you and want you to stay!”
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