On a cool January day at about sunset, with a spirit of camaraderie among three teenagers that would parallel that of a NASA rocket launch, we gave each other the “all systems go” to start the engine we’d just rebuilt.
Inside the house my father was watching the news on TV while my mother and one of my sisters were in the kitchen making dinner. Out on the driveway we fired up the freshly rebuilt engine and the high-pitched sound of the electric starter groaned as it pushed the high-compression cylinders to life.
At first the engine coughed and shot a foot-long flame in a backfire through the carburetor. We loved it — even though it meant that we had to adjust the ignition timing before the engine would actually start. Then again I cranked the engine and, after another brief starter groan and a few individual ‘pops’ out the exhaust, it breathed the thunder of new engine life that we all were seeking.
The intensity of the sound was deafening. Inside the house my father no doubt shook his head in dismay as he again reflected about how his son was turning into what he called a “grease monkey.” My mother was more optimistic about what a passion and curiosity about cars could lead to in adventures ahead.
Still they both agreed that an uncorked car in the driveway was too much. Immediately, they both came out to tell me and my sidekicks to “Put the mufflers on that car! The vibration is knocking the crystal off your mother’s shelves and I’m trying to hear the news on TV!”
To my friends and me that initial 30-second roar from the engine was “symphony in agitated metal.” It meant that we had succeeded in mastery over a complex piece of machinery that few in society — even years older -understood as well as we did.
To my dad, the professional educator, the blast from that un-muffled and souped-up V-8 was just another reminder that somewhere he’d failed to inspire me into academia — or something more substantive than being a car buff. To my mother, an actress in her other “profession,” she enjoyed seeing me develop pride in being able to repair and rebuild cars — except for the noise from an “un-muffled” engine. Yet even my dad was supportive of my automotive career once I later graduated from college (funded, by the way, from employment as an automotive technician and later as a professional car buff in the automotive industry).
DRAWING YOUNGSTERS INTO AN IMPORTANT CAREER PATH
The point of this scenario is the vista from which I was fortunate to begin my journey into the auto industry — from a hobby into a profession. Yet more importantly, how critical it is becoming to support young individuals who take interests in automobiles today. Though the field of automotive service has always been a vital element in our society, it has never been more esteemed than it is quickly becoming right now.
With varied industry and business predictions, there have been estimates that as many as 30,000 or more new, highly trained technicians are required each year annually to 2020. Whatever their number, the technicians who are taking us into tomorrow are going to be remarkable “hybrids” — working on conventional internal combustion engines, hybrid electric-internal combustion powerplants, alternative-fuel engines such as natural gas, as well as advanced new lower-emission diesel engines. Certainly by training and education they will represent the most authentic blend of computer systems and automotive mechanical pros that society has every known.
The next time you hit your brakes in heavy rain and the ABS computer works seamlessly with your mechanical brakes, or you have to steer precisely around another vehicle with steering and suspension component leaving no gap for error, remember who you’re encouraging to enter high school “auto shop.” Your life may very well depend on the exacting work of that young individual in just a few years!