My main “beat” in this business has always been the techie side of things. It’s a predilection I come by honestly, having torn down my first engine in the parental basement at the age of 15. Mom complained mightily about the fumes, and I complained – to myself alone – about what a complicated bloody job I’d taken on. I gave up, frankly, but my oh-so-kind grandfather took pity on me, boxed up all the bits and took them to a local shop to have the thing rebuilt by pros. Relief!
Ah, but the good news lasted about as long as ham and eggs on a truckstop counter. One of my life’s lesser tragedies came three months later when I overcooked things in that little Morris Minor and sent a rod through the block. And that was the end of car number one.
Dozens of other cars followed over the years, the majority of them old and tired and owned during impecunious stretches that forced me to get utterly filthy while fixing their faults myself. I was never terribly good at it, truth be known, but I kinda liked it. Even through a cold February week that saw me in a snowy driveway underneath my next Morris Minor three nights in a row as I replaced successive electric fuel pumps and still couldn’t get the bugger to send juice forward. I liked the process so much that I managed to laugh when one of Dad’s friends came by one night, suggested I might simply be out of petrol, and proceeded to start the darned thing after pouring a gallon or so of fuel down its gullet.
Another learning experience.
Why my public trip down this particular memory lane? It first arose after a long conversation with one of trucking’s best and brightest a while ago. A veteran of some repute, he called to ask if I had any brilliant ideas about how we might do a better job of attracting young’uns to the heavy-duty mechanic trade. In a position to do something about this huge problem, he said the things we’ve done so far haven’t worked and a new approach is required. But he was bereft of ideas.
I countered by suggesting that we haven’t really done all that much, and he agreed, but all we could really achieve after an hour’s chat was an agreement to think on it and reconvene down the road a piece.
Since then I’ve been trying to think outside the box, as people like to say, and it led me to wonder if we might somehow tap into that urge to fix things that so many young guys like me – and quite a few girls too, it seems – display in their teenage years. I know, the cheap cars they might be playing with are worlds apart from the simple 1950s and ’60s machines I enjoyed so much, but it might be something worth pondering.
So I’ll leave you with a challenge: Expand on that fuzzy idea or tell me one of your own. I submit that the shortage of able technicians is going to bite us if we don’t find a fix. It already is.