Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Chris’ account of putting aside his original goals to continue his father’s firm reminded me of an interesting story about an early co-worker in development engineering. Tommy K. was not the eventual holder of the company’s male absenteeism record; Tommy sat on the other side of me. We had some real “characters” on that team and I could write dozens of posts on their antics.

Tommy K. was the son of a very successful businessman/engineer/inventor; father wanted his son to get some experience with other organizations before considering him as a potential successor at the electro-mechanical shop he had built into a multi-million dollar operation.

As a boy, Tommy had to spend Saturday mornings in the shop, cleaning and doing odd jobs, before the old man would take him out fishing at the family’s cottage. Apparently, the best fishing spot on the lake was rather weedy and these treasured times with Dad were often interrupted by broken shear pins on the old outboard.

The father used shear pins as a teaching moment. Instead of chores, Tommy was trained to run a very small lathe and make replacement shear pins. Every week he would make a handful of pins. Every week they would break and replace shear pins.

Eventually, Tommy became quite irritated with shear pins. This breakage was limiting his fishing time. The solution, his ten-year-old mind decided, was to make better shear pins. So, he substituted drill rod for the mild steel his father had been giving him. They looked just like the old pins, but his “research” had told him they were much stronger.

And they were. Strong enough to strip the gears in the outboard’s lower unit in the middle of the weed patch. Father was not pleased with his “improvement”, something they “discussed” while Tommy rowed the boat back to the cabin.

 Perhaps it is a good thing for people to make some of their mistakes far away from the watchful eyes of parents and future employees. I think the family firm was sold before Tommy could return to it. A lesson to keep in mind when you are tempted to comment on the “good fortune” of a “legacy owner.”  

About Charles D. Schultz 546 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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