Junior Mechanic: Some Hands-On Engineering


I knew how to change a car’s oil before I knew how to change gears. When I was 14 years old, my dad came to me: “Anne, you’re going to be learning to drive in a couple of years. Time for you to learn about how a car works.” He had an ulterior motive–he needed an assistant for doing the car maintenance on the family auto fleet. There’s a story behind his decision to start that I’ll eventually get to.

Changing the oil was only the beginning of my role as junior mechanic. Dad and I rotated tires and changed the brake shoes. I handed my dad the tools and read over the maintenance manuals for our Chrysler cars. Sometimes I used the socket wrenches! I enjoyed working as Dad’s assistant, and by his side I began to learn the hands-on aspect of engineering. There exist reasons for the sequence of steps, like changing the oil–the car’s life blood. Technical documentation uses lots of adjectives to be clear. Regular maintenance on a car reflects the realities that friction wears out brake pads and that over time oil becomes dirty. Both which result in a less efficient car.haynes-dodge-plymouth-dart-demon-valiant-duster-barracuda-1967-1976-repair-manual

Working with one’s hands has value in understanding how things work, whether it is from sewing or using a wrench. I consider myself fortunate to have learned the practical aspects at a young age.

Have a Productive Day,

Anne Meixner

Dear Reader, please share your comments and stories that are sparked by this piece. Did your parents enlist you to help with chores around the house that contributed to your development as an engineer? What did you learn from those experiences? See Contribute for how you can share a story at The Engineers’ Daughter.

Additional Reading

Temple Grandin shares additional value in hands on learning in this 2014 article.

Learning from experience has been shown to be better for retention. This Wikipedia article provides a nice overview.

There are many career opportunities in the trades.  Check out this list of schools.

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