Monday, 30 April 2012 22:14

GI - Think Like a Mechanic

Written by Gonzo Weaver

After high school I made the choice to join the Marine Corps.  It was a big step for a young guy who really didn’t have a direction, nor thought about the future.  So, off I went to boot camp.  I’ll admit it was tough, it was physically demanding and very mentally challenging.  But, I did very well, got a lot of good marks and even a couple of special awards.

One of the biggest surprises was when my platoon  was on the “mess and maintenance” week.  I was  assigned to the commandant’s headquarters building.  I was to shine all the brass, wax the floors, and  general building maintenance.  One day the Sargent  in charge said it was time to mow the grass.  He sent  me and two other recruits out with scissors to clip  the lawn in front of the headquarters building. Really, I’m not kidding…scissors, and I’m not talking  about a large pair of scissors, no… more like the kind you'd find in any home office or school desk.

 

Well, being the bright, eager young lad, I had to ask.

“Sargent, ever hear of a lawnmower before?”

Not that I was being smart and all… it just struck me as dumb they wouldn’t have a lawnmower to do this job.  But, then again, why not get a couple of young recruits to clip the lawn with scissors… we’ll work cheap.
“Come here soldier, see what ya think of this,” he said.

In a hall closet just inside the building there were four mowers stacked up on top of each other.  They all seemed to be the same brand of mower, but all of them had been taken apart and there were lots of parts missing.
“Well, can we use them Sarge?” I asked.

“Those things haven’t ran since I’ve been here, but if you think you can get one of them going, it would make us all look good,” the Sargent answered.

Luckily, the Sargent had a small box of tools stashed away, which just so happened to have all the missing parts stored in it from the various mowers.  After some careful maneuvering I managed to get the mowers separated, and within an hour I had three of them running.  Talk about a proud bunch of Marines mowing the commandant’s lawn.  OohRah!  The Sargent got a promotion out of it, and I got a special award for my efforts. Not a bad day in boot camp after all.

I really didn’t touch a car for a long time after that.  I spent a long time overseas and cars weren’t on the top of the list of things to be concerned about. It wasn’t until I was stationed stateside, and I was leaving my barracks one day when I noticed these two guys sitting on the sidewalk with an entire four barrel carburetor laid out in pieces in front of them.  These two jarheads had no clue what they were doing. They were taking apart anything that had a screw on it. Clearly, these guys needed some help.     Now, I spent enough time back home working on my grandparent’s farms keeping the machinery running and reading a lot of old service manuals my dad had collected that I had a pretty good idea what I was doing.

“Need some help?” I asked.

“Sure could use a hand,” one of them said to me.

The big challenge was to put all the parts back together on the carburetor without a new gasket kit, and make it work again.  I’m telling you, this was one big mess for sure… these guys went as far as taking the small screws out of the butterfly flaps. (Never had much luck getting those things out when they are peened into place myself.)

After I had the carburetor back together and installed on the car the last thing was to put the plugs back in and sort out the firing order. Only one problem, they broke one of the spark plugs off while taking them out.  “Looks like we’ll have to run it on 7 cylinders for now,” I told them.

It took a minute or so for the fuel to get up into the carburetor, but it did run.  The exhaust was falling off, it was running pretty rich, but it was running.  The guys were ecstatic!  They bought the car for 50 bucks from another Marine who was getting shipped out, and the car had been sitting for about a year right there in the parking lot. Just hearing it run was an improvement.  We all hopped into the car and drove around the barracks a few times belching smoke, backfiring, and making enough noise to bring the MP’s to the scene.  (They thought it was pretty funny too… let us go with a warning.)

After this little escapade I ended up being the barracks’ mechanic for everyone’s car problems.  Most everything was “parking lot” type repairs, no engine rebuilds or tranny exchanges, just basic problems that could be handled with basic tools that a couple of young Marines could afford.

It wasn’t til after I was out of the service that I realized repairing cars seemed to always fall into my lap.  So I guess it’s safe to say I was destined to be a mechanic no matter what.  A few tech classes, a little tutelage under an old watchful senior mechanic, and I was in business for myself.

Well, here it is a few decades later and I’m still turning wrenches, I’m still scrapping a knuckle, and still making a living at it. I guess you could say it’s my career.

Looking back on it now I guess I could have done something else with my working years, but like a lot of us in this automotive repair business, this was my calling.  I am one of many mechanics and technicians of any small town or big city who might have done something else with their life, but cars and tool boxes became our vocation.  I may have chosen to be in this business but quite honestly, it might have actually chosen me. Can’t say it’s been that bad of a deal.

I’m sure everyone in the business has a story to tell of how they got started, and when I get the chance to hear someone else’s story I’ll take the time to listen.  It’s really fascinating to me how we all ended up here… bending over the hood of a car or truck.

I’m very proud of the auto industry, and I’m proud to be a part of it.  Whatever some people may think about the job of a “mechanic” or how they might try to degrade it, there’s one thing to keep in mind…. it’s a necessary part of the world we live in.  This country is built on moving goods, products, and people from one place to another, and without mechanics everything would come to a complete stop.

As a tribute to all of the mechanics, technicians out there… a tip of the hat to one and all… your dedication and hard work should be commended.  If no one else will say it… I will… Thank you for your continued efforts.  You keep fixing them and I’ll keep telling your stories.

Here’s a hand salute from an old Marine to everyone in the automotive trenches.  I appreciate every one of you… 100 percent. OohRah!

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