Lessons Learned

Falk Corporation, 1979. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

No one succeeds in any field without help. Fifty years ago, I filled out a job application, took a physical, and counted the hours until I could start my drafting apprenticeship at The Falk Corporation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had just finished my first year of college with excellent grades but no money to continue. A wonderful teacher from high school suggested getting an apprenticeship so I started pestering the Human Resource Departments at Falk, Harnischfeger, and Harley-Davidson. I needed a job with a future and did not know a thing about gears, cranes, mining shovels, or motorcycles. They were solid local firms and Mr. Strube thought they were hiring.

I guess I wore down the Falk people first. At the time, the company had over 130 apprentices in more than thirty trades. Bernie Grosso, the apprentice supervisor, had to be a drill sergeant to keep so many young people pointed in the right direction. There were only a few women in the program and most of the journeymen were veterans so the “culture” could be a bit coarse. Bernie could not order you to get a buzz cut but in other respects it was a boot camp-like experience in the beginning.

At least my first assignment was in the office; two-thirds of my “time” was out in the shop where draftsmen were the butt of many jokes and recipient of stern lessons in how drawings should look. Besides the machine shop, we got assigned to the weld shop, the pattern shop, the foundry, and the assembly department. I am forever grateful to the men who taught me so much about work and life.

As low man on the totem pole, I got many strange duties that certainly stretched the definition of apprenticeship. Running errands, auditing purchase orders, bartending, handing out frozen holiday hams and turkeys, and conducting shop tours prepared me well for the crazy life of an engineer in a small shop.

There was mandatory class work at the local technical college twice a week for two years. Mr. Grosso was under pressure to improve the cadre’s grade point average and tutoring was added to my chores. You never really understand something until you pass it on to others. Tutoring was a fair trade for the company’s generous support of my classes at Marquette University.

One of my few regrets is not completing that degree. Personal circumstances led me to accept an opportunity at Cone Drive/D.O. James in Traverse City, Michigan where I met Don Goodland, a fabulous designer and role model, who helped me break out of the “that is the way we always did it at Falk” mindset.

If you always do what you have always done, you do not grow. A questioning attitude that tests every assumption and requires an understanding of basic principles has carried me through probably 700 design projects and numerous other engineering adventures. But the time has come to box up my reference books and leave the field to people who can carry the work forward.

There are people just entering this field who need your help to become solid contributors. Someone helped you, now it is your turn to encourage and train others. All the knowledge in Gear Technologys online archives won’t help them without proper guidance. Who knows, someday one of those kids may drop your name in a blog posting in 2071!     

About Charles D. Schultz 678 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.