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Old 12-24-2014, 09:26 AM   #1
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Cool Nostalgia

OK, so I'm gettin' old. Someone on another board mentioned pumping gas as a kid and, I got to thinking about how the stuff I did all those years ago prepared me with the knowledge and skills to be on my "Skoolie" journey.

Dad had a service station. You know, one of those places that pumped the gas for you, changed the oil and filter (very few spin on filters), did grease jobs (many cars had over 30 grease zerks) and all other repair work on cars. We also washed cars by hand pretty much all day Saturdays.
My first job when I was about 5 was to hand stamp every page of the receipt books, I think I got paid $ .05 a book, they had a LOT of pages.
As I got older I got "promoted?" to janitorial duties. First, cleaning the office. Sweeping and mopping floor, dusting everything,washing windows. That push broom was a lot taller than I was.;)
I don't recall how old I was but, pumping gas came in there somewhere, probably when I was 10 or so. Pumping gas (no automatic nozzles) meant, cleaning windshield, checking oil level, (engine and transmission if automatic) and checking battery water level. And if asked checking and adjusting air in tires. Also if asked you would check radiator water, power steering, brake fluid and w/s washer and top up. All for free. Regular gas sold for about $ .25 a gallon.

About the time I was 14 I was working every day at the station. Pumping gas, oil changes, car washing. The service bays had the floors scrubbed by hand every night.

When I graduated from high school, I was working full time, 1-11PM.
We did everything except body and paint and automatic transmissions.My pay when I joined the Navy was $50 a week and a free tank of gas a week.

We also did things at home like, remodeling, and repair of what ever. I don't think I can remember ever having some one come in do repair or build something for us except the new siding and the tower for the TV antenna.

When I went into the Navy I ended up.........................wait for it......................repairing ground support equipment. You know, automotive stuff.

After the Navy I did a lot of things preparing for my ultimate project. I opened a repair shop that specialized in imported cars that ended up as a full automotive machine shop. Was a crew chief on a IMSA car for a couple of years. Worked for a auto restoration shop as lead mechanic.
Some of the things I did there were:
  • Rebuilt a Cole engine
  • Rebiult a Rolls Royce engine
  • Put a model A engine in a REO truck(don't ask)
  • Completely rewired a 1940 Ford for the Great American Race(every connection was crimped and soldered}
  • I also did major engine work on Ferrari, Lamborghini,Porsche,Lotus,Crosley and Maserati.
  • I also did pretty much all of the electrical troubleshooting.

I then trained stock dogs for 10 years, not sure if this has any relevance to the bus build but, I had a good time.

After that I drove semi truck cross country for 20 years until I retired.
I pretty much go by the "If I can't figure out how to do it myself, it don't get done" way of doing things.

So, what's your story.


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Old 12-24-2014, 10:57 AM   #2
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Thank you

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Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.
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Old 12-24-2014, 11:29 AM   #3
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Great thread.
I started work at 14, too. Cleaning the equipment and stuff at the local meat cutters/deli. Saved every penny to buy my first car- a 1966 VW.
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Old 12-24-2014, 03:40 PM   #4
Join Date: Dec 2014
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I feel kind of cheated sometimes because while my dad had a lot of knowledge about cars, he felt like working on them was beneath me and intentionally kept me away from it for the most part. It was only once I got into my teenage years that I started doing any wrenching with friends, and in a lot of cases felt way behind as many of them had been working on cars for many years already.

To a small extent I can see his logic, he figured I'd make way more working on something more cerebral and would have no problem paying someone to do it for me. The problem with this is you never know if someone you're paying is honest if you don't know about what they're fixing. You also can't always buy your way out of car problem if you're in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. To be fair, he did educate me about cars more than your average person, and I could troubleshoot most minor problems by the time I could drive. But doing major rebuilds and modifications was largely kept from me.

I've since learned that being very specialized in one thing, while useful in the job market, can be pretty useless in real life. Where do you think microchip designers will be when SHTF? I'd much rather have a working understanding of lots of things than a complete understanding of one. Because of this I've taught myself basic carpentry, concrete, tile, plumbing, computer programming, graphic and web design, organic gardening, well work, heavy equipment operation, and lately have been playing with microcontrollers to do sensing and automation tasks.

In my quest for knowledge, I watched a lot of diy shows. The one similarity between every show that always seemed to stick out in my head was this... they'd show you all the things to do for whatever project, then when they got to the electrical it was the famous phrase, "now is when you hire a licensed electrician." They wouldn't ever show you any more than that.

Dollar signs went off in my head. Everyone was so afraid of screwing something up that this was the one place they'd actually call in a pro. And rightfully so, screw up painting, paint it again, screw up your plumbing, you might get wet, screw up your electrical, burn to death in your sleep. The other issue is people cant see electricity, so its difficult to teach or understand. They just assume whoever did it knew what they were doing and plug in their appliance.

I wanted to get into the field immediately. The apprenticeship program in my area was entirely controlled by the unions, and was prohibitively expensive and far from where I lived. Without relocating I had no way to go this route. So I started calling electrical contractors. I told them I had zero experience, but I was a hard worker, I knew what I wanted to do, and would do whatever they asked for as little as they wanted to pay me. Mostly this lead me to dead ends. But I finally found a very good electrician who took me on. Minimum wage of course, and I didn't see much but attics, basements and trenches for the first 6 months. But he gave me a raise right away when he saw how hard I worked, and even let me use one of the work trucks when he discovered I'd been riding my bike to work at 6am and locking it up out of sight out of embarrassment. He worked me hard and taught me right, and I thank him for the experience. Unfortunately he was a much better electrician than businessman and ran himself out of business through poor management.

I continued to do electrical, eventually got my journeyman's license, and have been doing it now for 10+ years. I no longer need to work full time for a contractor and have been making a decent living doing side jobs for the last few years. I don't advertise at all (not legally allowed to w/o a contractors license) and function entirely on word of mouth. But I treat people fairly, don't overcharge and do solid work. I always try to make my customers feel like they got something extra or that I went the extra length to understand exactly what they wanted and discuss all the options. Because of this I get tons of referrals, since everyone's afraid of the sticker shock that goes along with calling a contractor they don't know.

Throughout my time in construction I always paid attention to what the other trades were doing, and asked questions when I didn't understand something. Sometimes the old timers would shrug me off, but more often than not they were very willing to teach me about their trade. This paid off because eventually I got some property of my own. All this knowledge I'd gained saved me a ton of money in labor and expertise, though I made plenty of mistakes of my own.

I still have so much to learn. A professor of mine once explained it this way... Imagine your knowledge taking up the area of a circle. The perimeter of that circle is your amount of ignorance to the things outside which you don't understand. As you gain more knowledge, your perimeter of ignorance also grows as you learn how much you really don't know. In other words, its easy to think you know everything when you really don't know sh1t.
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Old 12-25-2014, 11:52 AM   #5
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My father was a mechanic all his life and ended up having his own shop. I would work with him during summer vacations and he taught me a great deal about engines and cars.

He could also fix anything and was always working on some kind of project. His build skills gave me a lot of knowledge as well which really helped me on my bus build.

He wanted me to go to college and get a degree, which I did. But I am most happy when building my projects, as he always was doing. My father gave me more helpful knowledge than all my college years put together.

And Somewhereinusa, the thing I remember most about the old service stations is the "ding" of the bell as you would pull in.
My Conversion Thread:
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Old 01-03-2015, 11:49 PM   #6
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I was always curious about how things worked. I wanted to know the why and not just the what. My parents sent me to a local museum for “Science on Saturdays,” with all the Bill Nye-type experiments, etc.

I devoured all the Popular Mechanics issues that came in to the neighborhood branch of the library. Every month, I was one of the dozen or so people that would check out the new issue. When they got to be about a year old, they went into the small back room, and after two years, the librarian would sit me down in the back with a pen so I could write "DISCARD" on the covers and take them home. I lost them about 35 years ago when a friend's basement flooded.

My father was a school teacher but not overly mechanically inclined, but he did manage to do a couple of things. For example, when the vacuum windshield wipers on the old Rambler went up but not down, he took a handful of elastic bands and made a daisy-chain wiper retractor. As a kid my parents had me try to fix things around the house they considered were beyond hope, and it was me in the basement on Christmas Eve putting together a new bike for my kid brother, not my father.

As a teen, I passed my driving test in a mild December snow storm. The family's basic Valiant wagon with “three on the tree” had no synchro in first. With the low output from the 170 cid (2.8 liter) economy engine, I taught myself to double-clutch back into first when needed on steep hills.

Most of my jobs have involved driving in one way or another. My first job was to go to Motor Vehicles almost every day after high school, and process license plates as a messenger for the local insurance agent. I have since delivered flowers, shingles, hardware, asphalt, and made bank deposits. Then in 1980 I got into the radio business, and did field service, mostly within 6 counties, but occasionally in parts of 4 states.

We had several skoolie fleets as customers, several districts plus an extensive fleet of short buses. We also had a city bus garage that had two Prevosts I had to wire, in addition to a number of transits. The first skoolie I remember working on was a 1970's Chevy, a short-length full-sized bus. It was taller, as it was the only one in the garage with 4-wheel (actually 6-wheel) drive. It is still my all-time favorite.

I moved on to another outfit that had a big Class B radio truck built, so my employer paid for all the techs to get our CDLs. Two of the techs just drove around in a dump truck with an automatic transmission to get a Class B, but two of us shifted gears in an old Kornbinder tractor-trailer combination to get Class A. You could take as many written learner's permit exams as you wanted for one low fee, so I got passenger, tank, doubles/triples and HAZMAT because someone dared me to. I have since let the HAZMAT expire.

I moved on again, and my new boss and I designed another radio truck to build. We wanted anyone to be able to drive it, so we dumbed a Freightshaker down to Class D, with an 18,000 lb gross weight and hydraulic brakes. As soon as it was finished, the State upped everyone's Class D to a non-CDL C, good for 26,000 lbs. DOH!

Now I spend more time writing specs and going out supervising field projects done by others. I try to get a screwdriver in my hand again when I can. Where I used to look up to the old-timers for guidance, that generation is retired, and now I am the old-timer with all the background lore.
Someone said "Making good decisions comes from experience, experience comes from bad decisions." I say there are three kinds of people: those who learn from their mistakes, those who learn from the mistakes of others, and those who never learn.
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