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For all you operators!

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by xcopterdoc, Dec 29, 2003.

  1. xcopterdoc

    xcopterdoc LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 752


    A long, long time ago, back in the days of iron men and wooden spoked wheels, a ritual began. It takes place when an operator approaches a mechanic to report some difficulty with his equipment. All mechanics seem to be aware of it, which leads to the conclusion that it's included somewhere in their training, and most are diligent in practicing it.

    New operators are largely ignorant of the ritual because it's neither included in their training, nor handed down to them by older operators. Older operators feel that the pain of learning everything the hard way was so exquisite, that they shouldn't deny anyone the pleasure.

    There are operators who refuse to recognize it as a serious professional amenity, no matter how many times they perform it, and are driven to distraction by it. Some take it personally. They get red in the face, fume and boil, and do foolish dances. Some try to take it as a joke, but it's always dead serious. Most operators find they can't change it, and so accept it and try to practice it with some grace.

    The ritual is accomplished before any work is actually done on the equipment. It has four parts, and goes something like this:

    1. The operator reports the problem. The mechanic says, There's nothing wrong with it."
    2. The operator repeats the complaint. The mechanic replies, "It's the gauge."
    3. The operator persists, plaintively. The mechanic Maintains, "They're all like that."
    4.The operator, heatedly now, explains the problem carefully, enunciating carefully. The mechanic states, "I can't fix it."
    After the ritual has been played through in it's entirety, serious discussion begins, and the problem is usually solved forthwith.
    Like most rituals, this one has its roots in antiquity and a basis in experience and common sense. It started back when mechanics first learned to operate the operators, and still serves a number of purposes. It's most important function is that it is a good basic diagnostic technique. Causing the operator to explain the symptoms of the problem several times in increasing detail not only saves troubleshooting time, but also gives the mechanic insight into the operator’s knowledge of how the machine works, and his state of mind.

    Every mechanic knows that if the last use was performed at night or in bad weather, some of the problems reported are imagined, some exaggerated, and some are real. Likewise, a personal problem, especially romantic or financial, but including simple fatigue, affects an operator’s perception of every little rattle and thump. There are also chronic whiners and complainers to be weeded out and dealt with. While performing the ritual, an unscrupulous mechanic can find out if the operator can be easily intimidated. If the operator has an obvious personality disorder like prejudices, pet peeves, tender spots, or other manias, they will stick out like handles, which can be steered around.
    There is a proper way to operate a mechanic as well. Don't confuse "operating" a mechanic with "putting one in his place." The worst and most often repeated mistake is to try to establish an "I'm the operator and you're just the mechanic" hierarchy. Although a lot of mechanics can and do operate equipment, they could give a damn about doing it for a living. Their satisfaction comes from working on complex and expensive machinery. As an operator, you are neither feared nor envied, but merely tolerated, for until they actually train monkeys to operate those things, he needs an operator to put the parts in motion so he can tell if everything is working properly. The operator who tries to put a mech in his "place" is headed for a fall. Sooner or later, he'll try to crank and take off in a hurry with parking brake set. After he has twisted the drive shaft around like a pretzel and completely burnt out the clutch, he'll see the mech there sporting a funny little smirk. Equipment mechanics are indifferent to attempts at discipline or regimentation other than the discipline of their craft. It's accepted that a good mechanic's personality should contain unpredictable mixtures of irascibility and nonchalance, and should exhibit at least some bizarre behavior.
    The basic operation of a mechanic involves four steps:

    1. Clean the nastiest skid steer loader on the lot. Get out a hose or bucket, a broom, and some rags, and at some strange time of day, like early morning, or when you would normally take your afternoon nap) start cleaning that thing from top to bottom, inside and out. This is guaranteed to knock even the sourest old wrench off balance. He'll be suspicious, but he'll be attracted to this strange behavior like a passing motorist to a roadside accident. He may even join in to make sure you don't break anything. Before you know it, you'll be talking to each other about the equipment while you're getting a more intimate knowledge of it. Maybe while you're mucking out the operators area, you'll see how rude it is to leave coffee cups, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, and other trash behind to be cleaned up.

    2. Do a thorough pre-use inspection. Most mechanics are willing to admit to themselves that they might make a mistake, and since a lot of his work must be done at night or in a hurry, a good one likes to have his work checked. Of course he'd rather have another mech do the checking, but a driver is better than nothing. Although they cultivate a deadpan, don't-give-a-damn attitude, mechanics have nightmares about forgetting to torque a nut or leaving tools in or around the engine compartment. A mech will let little things slide on a machine that is never looked at, not because they won't be noticed, but because he figures the driver will overlook something big someday, and the whole thing will end up in a smoking pile of rubble anyway.

    3. Don't abuse the machinery. Mechanics see drivers come and go, so you won't impress one in a thousand with what you can make the equipment do. They all know she'll lift and pull way more than max gross weight and will smoke the tires and do wheelies in low gear while holding it to the floor. While the driver is confident that the gears and engine and massive frame members will take it, the mech knows that it's the seals and bearings and bolts deep in the guts of the machine that fail from abuse. In a driver, mechanics aren't looking for fancy “gimmie hats”, flashy belt buckles, tricky no clutch shifting or lots of juicy stories about how fast a 500 Cat will run fully loaded up I-95. The mechanic already knows she’ll run a lot faster than you have ever driven it but he set it back last time he tuned it so you wouldn’t end up a statistic. They're looking for one who'll operate the thing so that all the components make their full service life. They also know that high maintenance costs are a good excuse to keep his salary low.

    4. Do a post-trip inspection. Nothing feels better than to end the day by stepping down from the rig, brushing off the dust and walking off into the sunset while the turbo slowly whines down. It's the stuff that beer commercials are made of. The trouble is, it leaves the operator ignorant of how the equipment has fared after a hard days work, and leaves the wrench doing a slow burn. The mechanic is an engineer, not a groom, and needs some fresh, first hand information on the equipment’s performance if he is to have it ready to go the next day. A little end-of-the-day conference also gives you one more chance to get him in the short ribs, if you dare. Tell him the thing operated like a dream. It's been known to make them faint dead away.
    Remember that you aren’t likely to impress him in any way. His monthly tool bill is more than likely closer to a new pick-up truck payment. Just his roll around toolbox, empty, costs more than an operator’s house trailer did 10years ago. He has a pay- to- get paid job. The operator’s expenses are all paid for. The mechanic has to pay for all his tools, some of which will be obsolete when a new model comes out. Every new piece of equipment that comes out means “WOW” to the operator but to the mechanic it means more money spent to keep his tools up to date. Never, never ask to borrow his tools! This is a major mistake made by rookie operators only once! Think of that shiny Snap-On toolbox as a nuclear waste area and if you venture to close you’ll become a gelding instead of the stud you think you are.

    As you can see, operating an equipment mechanic is simple, but it is not easy. What it boils down to is that if an operator performs his operator rituals religiously in no time at all he will find the mechanic operating smoothly. ( I have not attempted to explain how to make friends with a mechanic, for that is not known.) Equipment operators and mechanics have a strange relationship. It's a symbiotic partnership because one's job depends on the other, but it's an adversary situation too, since one's job is to provide the equipment with loving care, and the other's is to provide wear and tear. Operators will probably always regard mechanics as lazy, lecherous, intemperate swine who couldn't make it through high school, and mechanics will always be convinced that operators are petulant children with pathological ego problems, a big watch, and a little whatchamacallit. Both points of view are viciously slanderous, of course, and only partly true.

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