After my first year of college I decided it was time to get a real job. My grades were great but full-time school and 40 hours of restaurant work had me exhausted. My favorite high school teacher — drafting teacher Don Strube — suggested I look into an apprenticeship. He gave me contacts at Harley Davidson, P&H, and Falk that I vigorously pursued. Falk, then the largest gear company in the United States, got tired of my weekly follow-up calls and gave me an interview. Another month of phone calls netted a March 1, 1971 starting date and I have been a “gear man” ever since.
There was a lot to learn back then — there still is — and the most valuable lessons were not always technical in nature. I spent my first SIX weeks scraping a single part number off the back of Mylar-constructed bills of material, turning them over and writing a new number on the front side. Six weeks, eight hours a day of hand-numbing boredom — for less money than I had been making as a steakhouse cook. The bills of material were for Radicon worm gearboxes that Falk had just secured license to sell. Falk had never “held” with worms before, which meant that there wasn’t widespread support for the move and few people to ask questions about why those oil seal numbers had to change.
So it was a great relief to learn my next assignment would be in the shop, although I was so green I did not know until much later that working in the foundry’s sand lab was usually reserved for apprentices in need of “discipline” for offenses like long hair or poor attendance. The safety video alone should have warned me; e.g. — photos of foundry accident victims that would have caused the re-rating of any horror movie. I didn’t have to be warned twice to run for cover when the “pouring alarm” went off. My duties included collecting sand samples from a conveyor five stories above the foundry floor, water samples from the settling pond, and then running simple lab tests on the samples. Lots of ladder climbing — but still not a gear in sight. Plus an entirely new definition of what dirty was; air quality in those pre-OSHA days was not a priority.
The title of this post is an example of one of my new favorite things — the six word memoir. You can google it if you like and see a wider sample of other “life summations.” It is impossible to do justice to 45 years in this wonderful business in just six words, so I will share a few more stories in upcoming posts. Hopefully you will be inspired to come up with your own six word memoir.