The value of on the job apprenticeship training goes far beyond the technical content of the program. The best training programs expose each member to the social side of the organization and insures the participants learn how to successfully work inside the company.

Entering the two year training program following two years of trade school, brought me into a setting where time each week was split approximately 30/70 between the classroom and time on the shop floor.

Right off I encountered some self imposed performance anxiety that seemed to be associated with the thought “You’re already supposed to know that.” I noticed I wasn’t alone in this. Depending on what our learning style is, we all feel learning anxiety to some extent. My trouble with reading comprehension also complicated things.

However, since the setting was one of learning, it eventually helped us relax and absorb the material. Then, during our time out in the shop working with experienced mechanics and welders, it was the same way. Everyone knew who the apprentices were and most went out of their way to help. Once the experienced hands knew you were inclined to listen, the flood gates would open as they would give you their best shot on technical topics. There was also an ongoing discussion of two vital topics; the company’s management policies (or how to fit in with the company) and also the customer’s expectation for each job.

I was very fortunate to work on the shop floor with three masters in their field, all mechanics who were experienced in oil field equipment repair. Two were master mechanics and one a master welder: They all happened to be gifted teachers. Roy T. Gilkey would patiently explain while demonstrating important mechanical procedures. He added liberal good humor. Doug M. Kinnett was an engine specialist who figured out how I learned. He would hand me a printed copy of the Caterpillar Special Instructions for the task at hand, and then walk away while I studied it. Due to my reading problems, I’d go over the instructions repeatedly until I could coordinate the drawings with the accompanying text. Then he’d answer any questions and we’d go to work and have a successful outcome.

The welder, Bob L. Benton, worked a little differently. He had me come to his shop at home one night a week where we’d do repetitive welding exercises. Afterward we’d go in the house for his wife, Kathleen’s, home made pie and ice cream. It gets no better than this. Bob was a fully qualified aircraft mechanic before he settled on welding. He was a self educated metallurgist and tool maker. It was Bob who showed me how to fabricate special tooling when needed, and this really made the difference during my time performing field mechanics throughout Alaska.
Let me mention at this point, that there is a sizable difference in the mechanical trades, between automotive mechanics and heavy equipment mechanics (including marine mechanics). While automotive mechanical procedures are quite standardized, many heavy equipment upgrades and repairs are not.

This is because a large amount of heavy equipment work consists of upgrading the machines to a higher capacity or capability, as much as repair work. Many upgrades and repairs require additional engineering for the best long term outcome after the work. Just one example of this is a marine engine replacement. Many factors must be considered when a boat is re-powered with a more efficient or powerful engine. This can include upgrading the systems that support the engine: 1-exhaust system, 2-cooling system, 3-control system, 4-mounting system, 5-power-take-off system, to name a few.

However, getting back to my three friends; they had a knack for sizing up jobs early in the process, to the point of first deciding if there was even going to be an upgrade or repair process. By experience they had learned where they could win. I can’t say they verbalized much about how to size up jobs this way, but I eventually got the point.

If an equipment problem did meet their often unspoken criteria, they would tackle even the most complicated project with confidence. As we worked together over the next few years they shared many, many practical items and most important, their practical mindset. Just one small example, which Bob Benton shared, was repair of broken pressure gauges which I’m showing as an example of the resourceful mindset these men shared. I haven’t seen this temporary repair published anywhere else, but it works.

Gauge Repair
Bourdon Style Pressure Gauge Repair

Bourdon gauges break and fail if dropped, if over pressured, or when they are installed long term where the pressure fluctuates rapidly. Inside is a delicate jeweled movement something like that found in a mechanical watch.

The gauge shown here (1) no longer returns to zero when the pressure ceases. To repair the gauge, take off the face and remove the screws that hold the back of the gauge housing to the threaded pipe stem. Next, gently squeeze the tube (2), grasping it where the arrows point, thereby bending it back into a slightly smaller diameter. This re-positions the gearing back to the original “zero” side of the gear travel. Perform the final adjustment by slightly bending the link where the pencil points (again item 2), or as shown in item 3, by popping off the indicator and re-installing it precisely at zero. The finished gauge (4) will not be as accurate as when new and will not be accurate through the entire pressure range.

I’ve used this repair technique to successfully perform equipment pressure testing. This saved the delay and expense of a second charter flight to the middle of nowhere and this kept the customer happy.