Sunday, 17 March 2013

Genesis of an engineer

Progress on project donkey continues in good form, with the first engine runs successfully completed. Still a bit of tweaking here and there, but the fact that it started without any major problems having been sat neglected for over three years was cause for a little celebration (I opened yet another beer) and gave the reassurance that I haven't been completely wasting my time.
Furthermore, it's finally given the boy an opportunity to play with something mechanical - he stripped and rebuilt the clutch under direction yesterday. This appears to have given him the incentive to do more, as he actually seemed to derive pleasure and satisfaction from carrying out the task. Who knows, he may yet surprise me and realise there's more to life than the xbox.
To date he's shown little or no aptitude towards such things, but if he's finally prepared to learn then maybe there's hope after all.

For me it was all rather different. As a child I annoyed my parents by dismantling everything I could lay my hands on. As soon as I was old enough to tell which end of a screwdriver to hold, nothing was safe. If it was mechanical I was on a mission to take it apart and find out how it worked. When the item in question was in kit form on the table was usually the point at which one of the parents would walk in and it would take a moment for it to register that the pile of components in front of them was actually their prized whatsit.
The frustration seemed oddly compounded when I proceeded to rebuild it and it still worked. You'd think they'd be impressed, but whatever....
Not that the learning curve was a continuous upward trend. I've been reminded of the time when (long before the days of gripper rod) there was a new carpet that needed to be tacked down. Leaving the room for a cup of tea, dad left me with a hammer, a box of carpet tacks, and instructions to continue tacking the carpet in place. The sound of hammering left him with the impression that all was well and good progress was being made. Unfortunately, upon his return he discovered that rather than working around the edge of the room, I'd decided to make sure the damn carpet was never going to move by using up half a box of tacks all within about one square foot of carpet. I understand I was a bit unpopular then, and that dads efforts to undo my work were accompanied by much swearing and a resolve to never leave me alone with a hammer again. Give me break, I was only about five....
Time moved on and it wasn't long before it was bicycles that felt the wrath of my spanner wielding, and this progressed from essential repairs to preventative maintenance.
Leaving school to do my apprenticeship as an airframe fitter gave me the next stage in my education. A year in the training centre learning many aspects of metalworking and being able to work to very close tolerances in all these areas, followed by a further three years of on-the-job training. This time and the following years as a qualified aircraft engineer carrying out repairs and maintenance, both structural and mechanical, on Tristar, Hercules, 727, Gulfstream, Andover and others, was a terrific time that was ruined by the company management. The working environment sucked the life out of me and when I managed to secure a job at Cambridge University's Dept of Engineering I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.
I've now been there longer than I was at Marshall Aerospace and I would never go back.
Cars and motorcycles have been a constant source of entertainment over the years. I've always done my own repairs and maintenance (apart from changing tyres because the tooling is very expensive) and over the years I have learned much from just doing the jobs, along with some help in the early days from a couple of like-minded friends. These days there isn't much I wouldn't tackle vehicle-wise and complete engine strips and rebuilds are not unheard of along with anything related to suspension, steering, and brakes (including caliper rebuilds). I'll turn my hand to anything practical and I dread the day I should lose the ability to do so because in a way I consider my engineering capability to be my defining characteristic.
If that time does ever come it would be nice to think that I could have passed on some of my ability and knowledge to others so that they too may be able to do such things for themselves.
People who 'can do' are becoming rarer, and I hope that the boy does find it within himself to embrace engineering in some form, and I don't mean hugging a tractor.