Flags Across the Harvest #8February 12, 2019
To those of us that truly love machinery and especially engines, the equation for horsepower is branded into our mind with more authority than our own date of birth.
Work over time is horsepower… the more work that can be accomplished over a shorter time period is what it is all about.
An engine requires rpm to produce horsepower while torque is a function of cylinder fill and pressure. A high horsepower engine is a high rpm engine.
With this established, many that work on engines (or any other machinery) seem to act as if they themselves are connected to a dyno and want to spin the tachometer in the upper range of the needle’s sweep. They falsely believe that the faster they can perform a mechanical task the better a mechanic they are. In some instances, this may be true, but it took me a long time to realize that is not the case.
When talking about a mechanical task most are quick to brag about how fast the job was accomplished. This is not to say that some are faster workers than others, have better skills and dexterity, or simply have the proper tools and know how to use them. What I am talking about is not time for a specific task but instead the steps taken in the entire job. Let me explain.
When I worked in the field as a mechanic my peers would always make fun of me and call me a “slow poke”. At the Buick agency I was employed at as a young man this was the source of many jokes.
Coworkers would say they could do five tune-ups to my one or a similar amount of brake jobs to my singular service.
They could not say that about my diagnostic skills though, especially when it came to driveability, ignition or carburetor problems. There I had them beat by a mile because I took the time early on to understand these systems and had a natural curiosity of how things work. They did not.
To my way of thinking that is the difference between a technician and a person that is simply mechanically inclined.
I would be lying if I said this constant barrage of ridicule did not have any impact on me. I thought of myself as a lesser mechanic because the throughput of my work was at a much slower pace.
This haunted me for many years until I became determined to either debunk what was being said about me (even though my career took a different path and those individuals were no longer in my life) or I can identify the reason for my slow pace and hopefully learn to work more efficiently.
Wanting to know the truth about my work ability I formulated a protocol to analyze my efficiency in some core areas such as a tune-up, brake job and a repair such as a water pump replacement.
Through experience I knew traditionally how long these tasks took me while I knew the approximate time it took others.
This was quite revealing. They were correct. I was taking about four to five times longer for a task than they would, but I figured out why. I was performing ten times more steps.
Thinking back to my days at the Buick dealership when I was assigned a tune-up, I would do the following once I had obtained all the parts.
My tune-up consisted of: clean and tighten the carburetor, snug the intake manifold bolts, check all vacuum hoses and thermostatic air cleaner function, check and lubricate the heat riser valve, remove clean and lubricate the distributor weights, check HEI dwell function, check and if need be straighten the electrodes on the new spark plugs, gap the spark plugs precisely, place anti-seize compound on the spark plug threads and dielectric grease in wire boots, install new fuel filter, breather, PCV and air filter, check and set ignition timing and advance curve, adjust carburetor mixture, secondary air valve, idle speed, fast idle and choke, check choke pull-off and adjust if necessary, five mile road test with stops for idle quality and tip-in driveability.
To the others a tune-up was sloppily gapped spark plugs that they could easily access (many left the hard ones in the engine), a new air and fuel filter along with a slam of the hood. Nothing was checked or adjusted. The only road test was from their assigned service bay to the parking lot and this was usually in reverse.
The same facts applied to other tasks such as a water pump where I would clean all the bolts and dress with anti-seize compound, meticulously prepare the gasket surfaces, re-install the belts in the same direction of rotation, thoroughly bleed the cooling system and check heater performance and road test the car.
I was happy to determine that I was not a slow poke but instead performing a better job and that was the reason for my reduced output.
I did the job the proper and old-fashioned American way. Pride was my reward for a task well done not a huge pay check.
What I would like to establish is when you work on any machinery think about the task at hand and do the job right. A good mechanic does not install a bolt with dirty threads or not clean and lubricate any mechanism that he is working with. Gasket surfaces should be surgically prepared.
Good enough should not be in your vocabulary with anything that you do. If you cannot be proud of the job, then it was not done properly.
In this day of instant gratification, I beseech you to slow down. The results will speak for itself.
The best running machinery are worked on by a slow poke like me. I invite you to join the club and slow it down!