My Career in Gears: Ray Drago

When I was in high school (Manual Training High School in Brooklyn, NY) I had a general science teacher, Mrs. Gaudiello, who recognized something in me and suggested that I consider a career in science or engineering. At that time, I had no clue what she was talking about, but my curious nature took over and I started studying about careers in those fields. I did very well in high school and upon graduation I was admitted to the City University of New York system as a pre-engineering student. At that time, all students who thought they might like to be engineers had to complete two years of science, math and liberal arts courses aimed at preparation for engineering school. This preparation was done at one of the five colleges that made up the City University system. Those students who successfully completed the pre-engineering curriculum, then transferred to the City College of The City University of New York (CCNY) to complete the five-year Bachelor of Engineering degree. One of my most vivid memories of the assembly we had on the first day of pre-engineering was the response to a question asked by one of my fellow students regarding why most of the pre-engineering students were assigned to one of the other colleges in the system instead of going directly to CCNY. The response was that there was not enough room at CCNY for all the pre-engineering students. The answer to the next question — “How do they make room after the first two years?” — was a real eye opener. “At the end of the second year, only 20% of you will still be in the engineering program.” The response was followed by a deep silence, but it was indeed true. I was one of the fortunate 20% and at the end of my two years I transferred from Queens College to CCNY.

During my time at CCNY I took a course taught by a full-time engineer who was the gear designer for Neptune Meter Company, Manuel Marina. He was a full-time engineer and part- time teacher. He loved teaching and it showed. He was the “inspiration” for my interest in gear technology. In hindsight, he was far from a gear expert, but to me at the time he exuded gear technology expertise.

Upon graduation from CCNY, I got a job at what was then helicopter manufacturer Vertol (formerly Piasecki Aircraft Forum but purchased by Boeing to become Boeing-Vertol). In view of my affinity for gears I was assigned to the transmission design department. Unfortunately, that assignment involved lots of drafting. At that time, BC (Before Computers!) drafting was done on a big drafting table using triangles, a real lead pencil and a long string actuated horizontal slide. In my college career I barely passed drafting! I did not know it at the time, but my supervisor, Vince Perillo, was intent on moving me out of his group because of my poor drafting performance. Vince treated me very well and tried to teach me to draw but his efforts were futile. After a few months in his group, he told me about a gear technology research group that was being started up by Al Lemanski and suggested that I might like that type of work. I jumped at the chance because that group would also have access to the new-fangled mainframe computer that had just been installed in the engineering building (actually it occupied virtually the entire first floor!)! That was my introduction to gear technology! Vince unknowingly did me a very large favor at that time! In hindsight, I like to think that he was simply prescient.

In this capacity, I had the great fortune of working on many gear system technology research programs, which led to the publication of many technical papers and research reports. As I published more papers, I started to receive phone calls at my Boeing office from folks seeking advice about gear technology. Being the helpful sort, I answered every call. As the calls became more frequent, my supervisor, Al, told me that I could not take company time to provide so much free advice. Al suggested that I give the callers my home number and follow up on my own time. He also suggested that I charge money for answering questions. I responded that I thought no one would actually pay money to talk to me. Al responded that I’d be surprised — and I was! That led to a part time career in gear technology consulting, and the formation years later (in 1973), of Drive Systems Technology, Inc. (DST). As my consulting practice grew, I brought several colleagues in to work with me in their own specialties, and today DST is composed of four specialists so that we can, as a group, address virtually any gearbox system issue.

During my early years at Boeing, I took advantage of Boeing’s excellent graduate school reimbursement program. In those early years, I went on to graduate school to obtain two advanced degrees from Drexel University and Pennsylvania State University, thinking that advanced degrees would help my Boeing career as well as my consulting side business. While I do not regret the advanced degrees (they are very useful additions to a resume when serving as an expert witness in court!), my Boeing colleagues and my gear technology clients were much more interested in results than degrees!

I also obtained Professional Engineering licenses from Pennsylvania and Minnesota because many of the consulting projects that I worked on were related to “public works” and they generally required a PE. This also helps when serving as an expert witness in matters of litigation, especially if court testimony is required.

In my earliest days of college, I thought that I might like to be a college professor, but soon realized that I really preferred the “real” working engineering world; but my love of teaching was always in the back of my mind — especially after grad school graduation. Then, in 1982 I was asked to teach a course on gear technology for the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee School of Continuing Education. I did so and found that I did indeed thoroughly enjoy teaching! That one course was the start of a part-time teaching sub-career. One course eventually led to three courses, one of which is a hands-on computer analysis-based course, which I still teach annually at UWM.

That UWM teaching experience eventually led to teaching a gear technology course for AGMA. That course was well received and led to the development and presentation of many more courses, both to the general engineering public (through UWM and AGMA) and specialized on-site courses for single clients. I am aware of George Bernard Shaw’s line in Maxims for Revolutionists: “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.” While there may be some truth to that, I truly believe that those who do also make the best teachers. Thus the two paths are not mutually exclusive! If I ever do truly retire from “doing,” I will simply retire to “teaching.”

Though he did not use these words exactly, Mark Twain in his often-poetic wording said that “Travel is Broadening!” In my case, my gear technology experience also caused me to do a great deal of traveling, virtually around the world several times. DST has been involved in projects in such diverse areas as the Australian outback, the Atacama desert in South America, the Arctic, both Eastern and Western Europe, Thailand and the Far East, among others. Gear system technology is the common factor in all this travel, and it did, indeed, broaden my own outlook and experience. In my teaching efforts, I often advise my students to think of their gear technology knowledge as a “Bag of Tricks” thus encouraging them to pay attention and learn even when the subject seems like something they will never need or use. That bag of tricks allows one to pull out something learned on one project and apply it to another project, thus appearing to be something of a “genius” while we are actually just knowledge gatherers and appliers.

And that is how I got started in the gear business — more than 52 years ago!

And I have loved every minute of it. And I plan to continue doing so as long as I am able.

Returning to Twain, his actual words were: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

This is true of gear technology as well — whether the application is an electric kitchen mixer or a planetary gear system for a rover to be used in outer space exploration!

Raymond J. Drago is Chief Engineer of Drive Systems Technology, Inc. (DST), a mechanical power transmission consulting organization that he founded in 1976. Drago worked for the Boeing Company — Helicopters Division — from 1967 until his retirement after 37 years of service in 2003. Currently Drago is involved in the analysis, design, manufacture, assembly, and testing of many gear systems. In his role with DST, Drago is active in all areas of mechanical power transmission, including the design and analysis of drive systems in a very diverse field of application — from heart pumps to consumer products to aerospace applications and very large mining & mill gears — among others. Drago has also prepared and delivered more than three hundred seminars dealing with various aspects of gear design and analysis and has published over one hundred twenty technical reports, society technical papers, and magazine articles.

About Charles D. Schultz 556 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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