I’ve always felt I had an innate mechanical aptitude. It was actually bred into me. My father taught me how to change the oil in my car (I never dumped it in the backyard, though). He also taught me how hit a baseball using more physics theory than always pitching right into my sweet spot (that’s baseball talk for the area located about two feet away from your body waist high). Top that off with lessons in mowing the grass and I’ve been prepared for a mechanical engineering job for quite some time.
Thankfully my STEM career affords me with the funds to pay a local well-deserving mechanic and lawn company to care for my car and my yard. My softball career was full of singles, doubles and the occasional triple, thanks to Dad. I do wish he had taught me about using a ball glove, but that’s a story for another time.
As I’ve related before, I flunked model airplane building in the Introduction to Engineering class. I just knew my degree would not rest entirely on my ability to turn balsa wood into a 747. And it didn’t. Mechanical engineering opened my eyes to the wonders of statics and dynamics, fluid flow, and heat transfer. The real engineering world relied more on what I call the basics of mechanics.
Inside a new chemical tank completing my check out duties, I noticed that some nuts used to attach a baffle to the tank rib were loose. I hollered up to the guys watching me from outside the tank to lower a wrench into the tank so I could tighten them up. You can do that kind of thing in this non-union plant. I congratulated myself thinking that I had saved the vessel from certain catastrophe during startup by keeping those nuts in check. My naiveté at the time assumed no one went behind me fixing the nuts correctly with some kind of adhesive.
I thought I was doing great having closed the gap between mechanics and mechanical engineering. I learned the difference between a wood screw and a lag screw, and a Phillips head from a slotted head screwdriver. Then one of the technicians at the South Carolina plant in the middle of a fix for one of my projects asked me to get him a one-inch long screw.
I found one in the tool bin and brought it to him.
He laughed. “What is that? An Oklahoma inch?”
“What?” I was confused.
He pointed out I had retrieved a screw that was at least two inches long. Distance was never a strong point for me.