The Mind of a Mechanic

Mechanic’s Mind – a term I have not heard before – and yet one that would seem to be obvious. I have never read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, yet the title brings to mind a definition possibly close to Mechanics Mind.

For the uninitiated, the closest thing might be the 1963 Movie Classic “The Man with the X-Ray Eyes“. This is the story of a normal man who started to see through things. At first, he only saw through the first layer…such as clothes or a wall. But as his powers increased, he started to see the breakdown of EVERYTHING to the extent that it all eventually became molecular!

Another movie with a somewhat related plot is Lawnmower Man, in which the subject of the film becomes so knowledgeable that he eventually turns into pure energy (digital bits) and implants himself into cyberspace.

But you don’t have to worry, we are not going that far!

My own youth provided relatively little in the way of mechanical experiences. I do remember enjoying overnight camp at a very early age (6), especially because of shooting rifles, riding sailboats, pottery and other such arts. Luckily, I had an older brother with a scientific interest, and when I was a pre-teen he showed me the wonder of chemistry sets and model rockets. Along with the usual childhood fascination with explosives and fireworks, this gave me what might be termed a minimum mechanical education.

Yet I still made it to 18 years old incapable of running a saw, drill or just about any other tool. In fact, I was probably not too handy with a screwdriver or hammer! This all changed when I moved to rural WV in the early 1970’s. I had to learn to use and maintain a chain saw as well as how to keep the car from going over the bank into the river. This road, cut into the side of a steep hill rising up from the Gauley River, would get very muddy and difficult to travel with our Chevy Nova. Often we would end up with the drivers side wheels going over the bank and “beaching” the car. This may have provided me with my first real experience of thinking on my feet. I figured out that jacking up the rear of the car….and then pushing the car off the jack…..would do the job of moving the car back into the road. Problem solved…

Soon after we moved to rural Tennessee where I had the chance to meet a lot of people who actually knew how to do things! Amazing! Some folks could weld, others could lay masonry and yet others could fix or rebuild any sort of vehicle. I got a job with a Demolition team led by my friend Andrew.
If you want to learn how ANYTHING is put together, my advice is to TAKE IT APART….and so under Andrews tutelage I helped take apart everything from factory buildings to bowling alleys. Andrew is one of those guys who does not know the meaning of “We can’t do this”. Even if he never did it before! Such an attitude can help with the School of Mechanics Mind.

Rural Tennessee also exposed us to multitudes of teachers in the art of mechanics. I remember one Hardware Supply house where we would buy our chains and shackles (for pulling buildings down, etc.) – and the owner took Andrew under his wing. He would joke with Andrew every time we came in….like this “Hey, a man went to the well AND DREW out a pail of water” – yeah, pretty dry humor, but I do remember his saying to Andrew “Son, I’ll make a Mechanic out of you yet”. Truer words were never spoken, as Andrew has spent the following 35 years doing high end remodeling of stone houses and artful tile, kitchen and bath work.

With demolition under my belt, I took on a job as a carpenter and framed houses and apartment buildings. Following that, I started my own business as a remodeling contractor, which gave me some experience in most of the trades involved in construction.

About that time I started understanding the Mind of the Mechanic. When I was in demolition, I noticed that I tended to look at EVERY building as if I was hired to take it apart. Then, when I was in construction, I looked at everything as if I had to BUILD it. Looking back, I can see that this was a small portion of the physical world unfolding before my eyes. Layer by layer my eyes, hands and mind would deconstruct things until I had a basic understanding of them.All this deconstruction and construction has helped me greatly in my enjoyment of work and life. Although my capabilities to actually DO things are limited, my understanding of How Things Work is not. I like to think I am a Jack of All Trades and perhaps a master of one or two!For those who wish to develop this sense, my suggestion is to garner an appreciation for technology and the accomplishments of those who have come before us. Look at every item, element, process and try to understand what makes it work. Much of this information can be found online as well as on the new crop of TV shows such as “How it’s made”, “Megafactories” and others. Shows like Mythbusters will show you how a team of Mechanics take a problem and work out the solution.

There is one down side to  X-rays eyes Рthat of losing a bit of the childhood wonder that all these mechanical things are magic. On the other hand, my quest has given me MORE appreciation for the technologies which our amazing species have put to work.

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