A Teacher's Perspective - Overhauled S1E8

A Teacher's Perspective - Overhauled S1E8 is now on your favorite podcast app!

Want to be a guest on Overhauled? - https://www.diesellaptops.com/pages/podcast-guests

In this podcast your host Melissa Petersmann (The Diesel Queen) discusses diesel technicians, trucks, the diesel economy at large, and many more interesting topics in a style that only she can bring - raw and unfiltered. 

Melissa welcomes Chris Schafer. A 30-year veteran diesel mechanic who is now teaching at Donaldson Career Center.

As always, thank you for watching and listening!

Connect with Guest:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-schafer-60446324/
Website - https://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/donaldsn/

 

Transcript for A Teacher's Perspective - Overhauled S1E8

Melissa Petersmann:

Hey, guys. Welcome to Overhauled. This is Melissa Petersmann. I am your host today and today I have a guest on here today. His name is Shafer. He has 30 years of experience and he is currently automotive teacher. Shafer, why don't you introduce yourself?

Chris Shafer:

My name is Chris Shafer. I'm a diesel mechanic, 30 years. Varying experience from dealerships to fleets and now I currently am a teacher at Donaldson Career Center over by Greenville, South Carolina, teaching their new diesel program.

Melissa Petersmann:

What got you into the industry?

Chris Shafer:

I grew up on a farm up in Michigan and when it was come time to make a career choice, I started off thinking I'll work on cars, but when I went to school up at Fair State University way up north in Michigan, I decided I met some friends in the heavy equipment side and found that more interesting, so went that direction and started working on trucks when I got out of there and been doing it ever since. Love it.

Melissa Petersmann:

Did you work on then a majority of trucks pretty much your entire career then?

Chris Shafer:

A majority of trucks, tractor, trailers, varying sizes. I did do a short spin at an equipment dealer working on John Deere, Komatsu and equipment like that, but my experience and comfort level has been with the trucks, so that's pretty much where I've stayed. And then of course I work at Diesel Laptops for a couple years, their technical support division, helping people fix their stuff remotely and then most of that was trucks as well, but a lot of equipment through that program, and very enjoyable.

Melissa Petersmann:

So that's actually something I wanted to dive into a little bit because Diesel Laptops does have a tech assistance program. So with John Deere we had... Obviously there's DTAC, which is a dealer technical assistance, and that's with engineers at John Deere that help you, but most dealerships actually had an internal tech help line too. Like the Honda dealership I worked at had HETAC, which was Honda and technical assistance, and what it was was veteran mechanics usually and a group of their pretty smart retired mechanics or mechanics didn't want to be in the industry anymore but still wanted to be a part of it and help people, that they would all come together and when you would call for DTAC, you had to go through them first as they would help you first through the technical assistance and run through the diagrams with you if they needed to run through the procedures, run through your tests. Then if they couldn't figure it out, it'd get passed on to DTAC. So how exactly does Diesel Laptop's version of that work?

Chris Shafer:

A customer calls with his issue and we take down some information and if we have an answer, we immediately give it to him, and if we don't, we'll do some digging and what I would do is, "But wow, you got a good one there," and I would take some time, do some research and call them back with some more information that I was able to dig up through the internet or my various sources and plus what Diesel Laptops had available and call back with a repair plan. A lot of times I would call the customer back and say, "Hey, man. How you doing on this? And do you need any more help?" And just follow up on a lot of the cases and hopefully get them to a solution. And then if we ran out of answers, I'd call some old dealership friends and this, that and the other and see what we can do for them.

Melissa Petersmann:

So your customers you're dealing with are probably they're, what, fleet mechanics?

Chris Shafer:

Fleet mechanics and lot of road services out there that were on the road needing help, and sometimes it was something as simple as a wiring diagram they needed pulled up or sometimes it was, "Man, I'm reading this information and I've done everything and I'm still striking out. I've replaced this part after diagnosing." So then you would come up with some different ideas for them, just another second set of eyes, so to speak, to help them walk through some of the hard problems. And like I say, a lot of times there's some of them I'd work on for a week with a person and go back and forth, lots of phone calls, digging up more information, come up with more ideas, "Hey, try this or go by this tool or this gauge and hook that to it and try this out." Just get them to the end hopefully. A lot of good techs out there but sometimes even the best tech that's working in a one-man show hits the rocks and just needs a second opinion.

Melissa Petersmann:

Well, some of these machines are just complicated. At one of the John Deere dealerships I worked at, we had a grader that was throwing everybody, including DTAC, for a loop. What it would do is you would go to try and run the smart grade, the auto grade, and what it's supposed to do is it's got little sensors on it and it's supposed to grade for you to make it easier. So I'm not going to get way too technical into this, we spent three months on this motherfucker, but what it would do is you would go to drop it to cut the grade and it would sit there and do this and it would create washboards all the way down. And we messed with that grader for three or four months, and we had season techs, DTAC. It took forever to figure... I mean, I don't tell you how many goddamn calibrations I did on that motherfucker, how many smart grade calibrations I did on that. It was ridiculous. 

And what it ended up turning out to be is the customer expected it to run like a... These machines have a basic form of smart grade on these machines stock where you can set the level of it, you can set the grade of it, you can set the height of it and you can control one side, and then the other side will mirror what you do. You can also have an auto where you lower it down and it's supposed to just stay at one grade. It turned out to be a mixture of there was some issues with the controllers, or not controllers but with the controls themselves, and there was some issues with that, but a lot of it was just the customer expected it to run a Topcon Ready Machine, and Topcon's, it's got the sensors on the blade, it's got the sensors on the front of the machine and the mass and all that stuff and it's got its own little monitor and it's satellite-controlled.

This customer is expecting just a normal smart grade version of that to be like Topcon Ready Machine. Yeah, I commend you guys for trying to fix stuff like that over the phone because it's... Or try and understand what a customer's trying to tell you on how a machine's running without actually being out there. None of us understood what he was trying to talk about until we went out there and we actually saw the washboard in his grade and we're like, "Damn. That is bad. You were not over-exaggerating." It was so bad the poor operator was running it on manual mode because he couldn't use the auto grade. Yeah, sorry. I went on a total ramble there. So I'm sure you've heard of the shortage of diesel technicians in this industry and I've talked to about eight people, eight or nine people now, and everybody seems to have a little bit different opinions on how we get people in. You said you teach, correct? So are you teaching high school kids or are you teaching-

Chris Shafer:

Yes, 10th grade through seniors.

Melissa Petersmann:

So how full are those classes? Because the automotive classes in high schools especially has come up a lot in this podcast. So how full are your classes? Are you getting people into your classes?

Chris Shafer:

We're on our second year, and the first year program, the kids that did the maiden year, we've got seven left over from it. So the second year kids are seven, but now the first year this year we got 16 in the class and I believe it's going to grow. We've done a lot of tours, we've got people going out and getting them thinking about it at the junior high level, the middle school level, and it looks like it's going to stay full. It's designed for 18 kids per class and we're hoping to have it filled up each year now going forward after this year.

Melissa Petersmann:

Is it just a basic automotive class?

Chris Shafer:

Basically, ours is going to be anything diesel, but we've also teamed up with a local community college, Greenville Tech, and we're going to be doing college level classes and they should be able to walk away with a degree or college credits in, let me see here, brakes, PMI, electrical and that's the three, and plus we're doing ASE training, so they should be fully certified in brakes and being able to do a PM and hopefully I have a good handle on electrical, and that's where my focus is going to be. And then we'll hit transmissions and everything else as well, but we're going to hit the biggies that I think even when I was a service manager several years ago, that we'd hire people and walk in to show them how to use an Ohmmeter. So I'm hoping my kids are pretty proficient with it. They're going to get tired of practicing that.

Melissa Petersmann:

So your classes are strictly heavy-duty then?

Chris Shafer:

Mine are strictly heavy-duty, based on trucking, but we'll go hit a little bit on equipment, but we have mostly truck equipment to work with, so that's what we're going to concentrate on and hopefully make ASE-certified truck mechanics when we're done. So we're getting ready to take our first brake ASE test with my second year students and hopefully they do well on it.

Melissa Petersmann:

You said you're teaming up with the college, so how many years does it take to earn all of these certifications through your course?

Chris Shafer:

Well, between my course, which would be two years in high school and then the two years in the college if the student proceeds, it'd be about four years total, and I'm hoping to make it so they really don't have to go to college. Some people do not have any interest in it. So we're also starting... Well, we're not starting, we're doing some work-based learning. So the idea is going forward that we have 10th grade and 11th grade and then their senior year they do what's called work-based learning and they go to high school in the morning, their base school, and then go to an employer in the afternoon and still receive high school credit and they're working at the same time, and that's what we're building some relationships to hopefully build that.

Melissa Petersmann:

Get them some hands on training.

Chris Shafer:

And I think a lot of these kids are so done with school, I don't know if they'll... Probably half of them or less will go on to the college part. So we kind of want to make them work-ready out of high school. A lot of kids, they're done, they don't want to go to school much longer. They just want to get to work, buy their four-wheel drive truck and get on with life.

Melissa Petersmann:

That's how I was. That's how I was. I had two weeks of summer between my graduation and the day I started at WyoTech and then I had school straight for one year, and obviously everybody knows WyoTech's a trade school, so there's no college classes associated with WyoTech, it's just mechanics. So it only took me a year to finish with extracurricular activities, I had an extra class on there, and I was also done with school at that point in time and I was ready to work. So I feel blessed though of the high school experience I got to have when I was younger because we had an automotive class and we had welding classes, we had ag mechanics classes, we had agriculture classes, and a lot of these classes, one form or another of this class was required to graduate and one being which at least one semester of automotive and one being of which at least... Or I think it was a year. And then the other one was at least a year of either woodworking or welding.

I feel pretty lucky about that because there's a lot of kids I watched go through that class, but there's no fucking way in hell they would choose that, but some of them really liked it, some of them were really good at it. I've always been a big advocate and a big preacher of getting this stuff into high schools and getting it available to high school kids that want to try it, especially now with social media, the convincing to try and get some of these kids to do this or try this is not as hard because they see the romanticized glorified version of the industry on TikTok everywhere and they're like, "Fuck yeah, I want to go rip engines down." 

Obviously they have a little bit of a learning curve on what the beginning of the industry actually looks like, but I'm hoping between trying to get more classes to see more classes into high schools and having classes available to high school kids and then also have that social media to show them like, "Hey, this isn't some low-end unrespected job. This is a career that is very lucrative and you can have a job anywhere. Anywhere. Like Tyler told me when he was convincing me to come onto the Diesel Laptops because I've told him before, I didn't want to leave the industry, I love the industry, I don't want to leave it, I don't want to fall behind and I love what I do. 

I told him, I'm like, "I don't know," and he looked at me and he is like, "Melissa, you can work for Diesel Laptops for six months, a year, two years, four years, whatever the case may be, and you can go back to John Deere and get a job immediately for good pay and they would immediately hire you back." It does not matter. I'm like, "Well, I'll give it a shot. I'll give Diesel Laptops a shot." But he's right. You can find a job anywhere. There is way more job positions available than there are people to fill it.

Chris Shafer:

Yeah, I can't even count how many times while I was on the phone with different customers that are offering me jobs over the phone when I was working for Diesel Laptops. It's like, "Nope, I'm sitting tight." I'm 51 years old, my back is done. I love talking about it more than doing it now.

Melissa Petersmann:

Yeah, I miss it. Going from working 10 and a half hour days and then half days on Saturdays even sometimes, which I hated, and working on stuff, your brain's constantly doing things, every machine is a giant puzzle and every machine is a giant problem that you have to solve, and there's intricate steps in figuring it out and it takes so much brain power. People think mechanics are stupid, but it takes so much brain power for 10 hours straight a day to do this job, and it's something that I'm very proud of.

Chris Shafer:

Manipulating and scheming. Yeah, they're great. Everybody pictures a mechanic being Goober off of Mayberry, but that is so much not the case. There's a lot of thinking going on. Slow brain don't like it. But no, it was fun. Enjoyed being a mechanic. I'd still be doing it, but like I say, my back got to the point I was taking the cane out on the job sites, some my field service job. I'm like, "Yeah, it's time to hang her up." I've done a lot of dumb things when I was young and it's paying for it today.

Melissa Petersmann:

Yeah. Kids, the old guy that tells you stop jumping off the tracks of the excavator about 800 times? He's right. You should probably listen to him.

Chris Shafer:

All those safety meetings you say, "Ah, don't worry about that." Yeah, worry about it. Take care of yourself, especially if you enjoy it because it'll hurt. But the same token, it was worth it because it was a lot of fun. Fed my family off of the diesel industry my whole career. That's all I really know short of farming and I love it. I'm hoping my kids love it and take the ball and run with it that I'm teaching.

Melissa Petersmann:

I would love to raise little mechanics, but I have to have kids first for that. So hopefully one day. Well, I didn't think I was going to be a mechanic until I was 17, so give them time. How old are your kids?

Chris Shafer:

25, 17 and 16.

Melissa Petersmann:

Nevermind. I figured they would be younger. Welding's a good industry to be in too.

Chris Shafer:

They're actually pretty good at it. In her class she had in high school, she took a welding class and her welding beads actually looked better to mine.

Melissa Petersmann:

Nice. Fuck yeah. I used to love welding class. That's a really good industry to be in too. All the trades actually are really great to be in right now.

Chris Shafer:

Yeah, her boyfriend's going to school for welding, so maybe she'll jump in. Who knows?

Melissa Petersmann:

That's that's what made me bite the bullet on going to WyoTech was hanging around my ex at the time and all of my friends and his friends that were working on stuff and they went to Wyotech too, and it's kind of what sold me on that. So she has hope yet to be a tradeswoman. It's not for everybody though. It's not for everybody. It's hard work, but man, is it rewarding. If you're the type of person that doesn't sitting down at a computer all day, fucking try the trades. Fucking try the trades because it's worth it.

Chris Shafer:

I couldn't work in a factory, I couldn't sit by a computer all day. I tried management and quite frankly that was a combination of sitting by a computer and getting yelled at all day and I'll go back to that machine anytime.

Melissa Petersmann:

Yep. At least you can yell back at the machine without HR involved, right? Some bad words and then all of a sudden it decides it's not going to go back together and it's going to fight you the entire time, you're like, "Okay, maybe I should try nice words now." I think all of us as mechanics have been there where we're like, "Should I sweet-talk this in the bad way or sweet-talk this in the nice way? Maybe it'll listen if I'm mean to it."

Chris Shafer:

You'd be sitting there, things aren't going together right, a job you did 100 times, putting something on and it just won't go, and you just step back for a minute and go back and it goes right on there.

Melissa Petersmann:

It's always the easy things or the relatively easy and relatively simple jobs that end up fucking you. It's never the giant job that you've got to spend 80 hours doing. It's always a stupid little shit that should be easy, and then there's this one little thing about this job that's not making it fucking easy.

Chris Shafer:

Yeah. When I was in field service, I'd be in my service truck, I'd finish something up and, "Well, I hit this other one up on the way home that's only going to take me about a half hour." Three hours later calling your wife, "Yeah, this didn't go as planned. I'll be home when I can."

Melissa Petersmann:

Yep. The whole one broken bolt away from a 30-minute job being a three-day job sometimes is not very far from the truth, but that's part of the beauty of the industry.

Chris Shafer:

And that's why we do so. That's why we make good money.

Melissa Petersmann:

Oh, yeah. You're paid very well in this industry for knowing how the fuck to take shit apart, rip shit apart and put it back together. Putting it back together, that's the important part. That's the hard part. Yeah, you can rip anything apart. I can fucking rip anything apart. It's figuring out how to go back together and go back together right. I have an entire bolt store in my toolbox from that exact thing because I thought I lost something and I go and got a new bolt for it and I put a new bolt in it and then I go to clean up later and there's all my bolts that I thought I was missing and now I have an entire drawer full of them. But at least I replaced them.

Chris Shafer:

I didn't keep anything. I was pretty bit good about-

Melissa Petersmann:

I'm such a hoarder. I am a hoarder mechanic. I had to control my hoarding at one point in time because I had two five gallon buckets full of bolts and caps and plugs and all kinds of random shit, and I finally had to be like, "I'm so tired of every time I want to look for a bolt, I have to dump out both of these fucking buckets and dump them all over the fucking floor and dig through these giant fucking piles. I'm done." So I went and got these little dividers from Snap-on that fit in my drawer and I put those in there and I'm like, "Okay, Melissa, if they don't fit in these dividers, how you have them all divided, you don't need it. If you fill this up, you don't need anymore," and I've had to stick by that. 

But I mean, shit. I helped set up the tool room in one of the shops I worked at in Wyoming, and it was a new shop and I helped set the tool room and I had spare parts drawer and spare parts drawer turned into hose clamps and exhaust clamps drawer, and spare seal kit parts drawer, and then other random fucking parts. It turned into three fucking parts drawers and every single time you'd rebuild a hydraulic cylinder and you never use all the seals in the kit because they always come with seals that cover multiple models. So they would all just get thrown into that thing. Well, it's pretty handy when you fuck something up and you need another seal.

Hydraulic cylinders have these, the smaller ones at least are plastic, these little plastic wear rings that go in the inside of them in the center. Them motherfuckers are so easy to break. They're stiff as shit and trying to get them wrapped around themselves enough to shove down into the center of this tiny little rod guide's pain enough, but the thicker ones will fucking snap and it's like borderline going to snap before it goes in. Yeah, I've had my ass saved a couple of times because I've had a couple of those in my wonderful little spare parts drawer that I loved so much. I'm a hoarder though. I've got caps and plugs and...

Chris Shafer:

Caps, plugs, and like you say, little seal parts, stuff is going to break, and the extras. They did come in handy a lot, but I'd keep them in. I was too cheap to buy the Snap-on organizers. I just cut off a windshield washer in all these jugs and dumped it all into that, kept it underneath the bench.

Melissa Petersmann:

I had a boss, a couple bosses that were very... I'm not necessarily the cleanest worker. I will have a fucking tornado in my bay by the time I'm done something, but I've worked for a couple bosses that were pretty anal about neatness and cleanliness, and something that always drove me crazy too was having a bunch of extra shit in boxes of shit around my toolbox. So that's when I finally I moved my bolts into my toolbox, I moved my important caps and plugs into a really nice divider. 

I have a video on TikTok, which was one of my first videos on TikTok, and I have my caps and plugs all nice and organized in my drawer and I have my camera up and I slowly open it and every heavy equipment mechanic on the planet saw that video and they're like, "This is mechanic porn. Oh, my God. That drawer is beautiful," because everything, everything, all my caps and plugs were so... It did not stay this way that long. But at the time all my caps and plugs were perfect and organized and it was so pretty and everybody loved it. I also had these little working boxes that the little mill teeth came in and they're like little plastic boxes. Here's another hoarding thing. Oh, God. We're going to get into Melissa's hoarding addiction. I have kept every single connector off of all the wiring harnesses I have replaced and John Deere has not asked for back. I learned this from an old mechanic because they make great test ends and test shit, or if something's fucked up you've got spares and I have two boxes full of those.

Chris Shafer:

I kept that kind of stuff definitely because even if you're taking something apart and that plastic over years gets brittle and it's good to have those. Crimp them in there and done.

Melissa Petersmann:

Well, I loved them. For dozers, for example, for John Deere dozers. Their motor speed sensors are way underneath the fucking belly pan of these fucking things where it's covered in dirt, it's fucking packed full of shit and you got to run tests with it. Well, you have to be in the cab to run these, so what I would do is I had these two little connectors I cut out of a harness and I wired two other connectors to it and ran it all the way up into the cab because what I was doing, I was trying to do bypasses is what I was trying to do from the...

I think this was actually a J Dozer because I was trying to run circuit bypasses from the piece of shit controller that they had down to the speed sensor and that was the easiest way to do it. And I still have those. I curled them up and kept them because then if I ever need to test a wheel speed sensor on pretty much any dozer, I can plug it in and crawl out from underneath the shit pile of dirt and test it. Or you can jumper them. I fucking love those things. I love those things because-

Chris Shafer:

Anything just stay out of the tunnel of... I got claustrophobia a little bit anyway, so dozers always freak me out having to get under them. So it's anything I could do to keep out from under those buggers, I was happy.

Melissa Petersmann:

I don't blame you, especially it's... Well, and everything's going to be a face full of dirt. Everything. Anything you touch underneath that thing is going to be a face full of dirt and there's no stopping it. And safety glasses are okay, but it's still just... Yep, it gets down into the top. Been there before. So with the questions that people have with this industry, I know I kind of started on this and then I didn't really give you a chance to answer, how do you think... I get on these wild rampages and then get sidetracked about stories. I don't get to talk to mechanics anymore. I don't get to fucking talk to mechanics anymore, so I end up rambling on my podcast about dumb shit.

How do we attract more people in this industry? Because for people like me, people say like, "Oh, Melissa, that doesn't make sense. How can you be in this industry? That doesn't make sense." I'm like, "Actually if you look into my background, it makes a lot of sense." My dad's a logger, I grew up around equipment, I grew up around him fixing shit. Exactly, like farm kids. That shit makes sense. These are kids that already know what this entails. So how do we attract kids that don't have a background in this? Because that's the fascinating part for me is trying to get kids that don't already have a background in this into this industry.

Chris Shafer:

What I've had a hard time with, the kids in my class, an attention grabber's always that diesel truck that's jacked up with the... They've deleted the emissions that's blown a bunch of black smoke. That's what they come in talking about, thinking of the industry. So basically just when I talk to kids, they'll ask questions about stuff like that, and so I just go on with that with them a little bit. But as far as over that, the attraction, if they don't know anything from... Anything out of the city will say it's kind of hard. It's really hard because it's hard to connect to them without showing something cool in the process, like those big Dodge Cummins diesels or whatever.

Melissa Petersmann:

I'm feeling personally attacked here. I have three of those, thank you. You can call me some backwards redneck fucker with some jacked up piece of shit all you want. It's fine. I know. It's cool. I'm okay to terms with it. It's fine.

Chris Shafer:

My personal vehicle's a '67 Chevy C 10 that's got some rust holes in it and that's what I drive on the day-to-day. So I got a POS myself.

Melissa Petersmann:

Perfect. You could fucking beat them up and you don't care. It's nice.

Chris Shafer:

Parts are cheap. Just keep driving it.

Melissa Petersmann:

Yep. I have an '86 Chevy that is still in Wyoming that I actually ended up giving to my parents for them to sell unfortunately because that thing is... It's two tone, but it's two tone, primer gray and rust, and I am so scared that if I try and bring it out here to Indiana, it's going to rust to the ground. But that truck is perfect. I mean, it's got 33s that I had to cut the fenders to fit, heater works fucking phenomenal, it's got the glass headlights, it's got a 350 small block so it starts every fucking time. Fucking love that truck. Fucking love that truck. I have five trucks and that's the truck I chose to daily drive in the wintertime. I mean, who wants to fucking deal with plugging in the goddamn diesel every single night and then the heaters don't work that great for the first 30 minutes of your drive?

Chris Shafer:

Well, the only reason I don't have a diesel is quite frankly I'm a tight wad. My old 283 Chevy runs pretty darn cheap where diesel's one injector. I don't know what they go for anymore, but when I did own a diesel and had to replace one, it hurt my feelings. It was $350 or so. It'll probably jack way up now, but it's like, "No, no. I'm going back to the old carburetor."

Melissa Petersmann:

It depends on what diesel you have. My 24 valve that I have, my second gen 24 valves that are not common rail, those are just nozzles. So those are like you can get a performance set for 400, 450 for all six. Now, you get into the common rail Cummins, like the third gens, and those are the ones that are 350 bucks a piece. Those are the ones where you could be looking into almost two grand for a set of performance injectors for. It's fucking ridiculous. But I just... to my trucks because I love them and I don't know what else to do with my money.

Chris Shafer:

My other vehicle's a '62 Willy's Jeep. So I guess I just like old-

Melissa Petersmann:

I'm familiar with the Willy's. I am familiar with the old Willy's. Those are cool. My maroon truck that's sitting in my shop right now, which was my daily driver, has lost a wrist pin bushing and the piston has been free balling it in my cylinder in number six and it scored the out of it. So that's cool. It ran well enough to... I drove it for three days like that not knowing what was actually wrong with it, thinking it was like a fuel knock. Actually, I knew what it was. I was actually just praying it was just a fuel knock, and I'm like, "No, it's not. It's not that. It's fine. It's not that. It's fine."

Well, long story short, the lesson learned, kids, is don't buy a fucking rebuild kit off of eBay. Buy from Cummins. Buy from Cummins. The person that was helping me with this insisted that I needed mall pistons. Insisted that I needed to buy a kit with mall pistons, which was great with the exception that every single other part in that fucking rebuild kit I've had issues. Fucking seals. All the seals were junk in that rebuild kit. I've had to replace almost every single seal with a OEM seal and it's fucking irritating.

Chris Shafer:

OEM anymore. I go right to the dealer and people said, "You can get it cheaper here or there or otherwhere," and I'm like, "I've just had bad luck. I go to OEM with a Chevy. I go to Chevy." My wife's got a Hummer, I go to Chevy, get everything. I buy a very little aftermarket anymore just because of my luck with it.

Melissa Petersmann:

Oh, yeah. I agree. That's what I do. I mean, shit, even down to simple things. I was changing a wheel speed sensor on my boyfriend's car and we ran down to the dealer, the dealer was closed. So we're like, "Well, we want to get this fixed today." So we ran to Riley's, put that wheel speed sensor on, didn't fucking fix it, and I'm like, "What the fuck?" And we did swapnostics tactic where you move the sensors and see if the problem follows. Well, the problem followed. So I'm like, "What the fuck? I just replaced this," and then I'm like, "This is Mopar. Mopar does not aftermarket electronics." So we went to the dealership and we got the speed sensor, which looks fucking identical to the other one, by the way. Got the speed sensor from fucking Dodge and put it on and fixed problem.

Chris Shafer:

Yep, my time is worth something. I'll pay a little more extra and just get the OEM and fix it once.

Melissa Petersmann:

That's how I am now too, especially after that rebuild kit issue I had on my maroon truck. I'm so mad about that. That only had 80,000 miles on it and lost a wrist pin bushing, and maybe it was a machine shop that pressed them into the pistons. I don't know, but I really doubt it because the machine shop I used was a very high-end machine shop that built Cummins engines all the time, which they didn't build it, all they did was do the machine work and the block and the head work. I had my exhaust port and polished and I obviously knew valve seals and guides and all that shit put back in it, but everything was decked, everything was piston-matched. They actually took my pistons and my ring kits and they matched each cylinder to each one and numbered for me. Yeah, so I really struggled to believe that they were the reason why my wrist pin bushing failed, especially after all the other issues I've had with the rest of the rebuild kit.

But back to our original question. So how do we get kids that are interested in this? Because actually my second interview that I did, or the third interview that I did that's actually coming out tomorrow was with a kid that I asked him like, "Hey, man. What's your..." He's just started. He's only got two years in right now as an apprentice, and I'm like, "Hey, man. How did you get started in this industry?" I was like, "What's your background?" He's like, "I don't have a background. I just saw this class and it looked fun." How do we get more people to do that? Because we're missing-

Chris Shafer:

Discussing it really because we just talked about Dodges and old Chevies and old Jeeps. The best thing that I do is just talk about the stuff that I enjoy, which is what we're talking about, and then relate it to the industry and some of the fun times I've had doing this. I mean, where else can you fix a truck and go on a test drive on a semi-truck and problem happens every 20 miles? All right, let's go for a ride. Or tear it apart, and you know this, there's nothing to make you feel better than after you've worked on an engine and diagnosed a problem and fired up for the first time and any problem solved, problem fixed, or you brought it back to life. There's no better feeling really sort of having a vape, something like that.

Melissa Petersmann:

Oh, yeah. Well, there's a reason why mechanics call big projects their babies.

Chris Shafer:

But when it's done and it's successful, you have a really good feeling. Really good.

Melissa Petersmann:

It's so rewarding. People are mad at me right now on TikTok because I don't actually work in the industry anymore, but back when I did, I tried to make content all the time about what this industry is about and I did it off the clock, my bosses knew about it, so it was fine, but I made a video one time that was... I was running an excavator and I'm like, "Everybody thinks my favorite part of my job is fixing shit. Nobody is thinking about the fact that you can take this excavator out when you're done with it and dig a giant fucking hole in the yard. That's the best fucking part." I can come out here and fuck shit up in the dirt? Fuck yeah. Who doesn't fucking enjoy that?

Chris Shafer:

Yeah, no matter what the machine is, you can't fix it until how it works or how it operates, so part of a mechanic's job is operating it to try to duplicate it in the process instead of spending, like an operator, 12 hours a day on it. You get to play with a couple hours and then fix it and then go onto a whole new fun, exciting machine and figure out how to work that one. And it's fun to operate them, whether it be a dozer or excavator or a semi-truck, go do different things and you play with it, then you fix it, and then you go on to another one. There's no boredom whatsoever. Lots of laughs too.

Melissa Petersmann:

Oh, my God. Yeah. Well, shops are kind of like a big unruly family sometimes, and I love the shop atmosphere and talk shit, give shit, fucking laugh at other people's mistakes and then watch them laugh at your mistakes when you make them, and life is good.

Chris Shafer:

Yeah, there's a lot of laughs in the shop, some of them we probably can't talk about, but...

Melissa Petersmann:

I mean, Tyler told me I was allowed to do this podcast how I wanted to, and I think he's more than aware of what mechanics are. I mean, it's kind of like he told me, "I could say fuck," but I'm also not using fuck near as frequently like a comma, like I usually do. So it's slightly restrained, but-

Chris Shafer:

But now that I'm teaching school, I find myself blushing whenever I use a bad word.

Melissa Petersmann:

Sometimes I feel like I need a more offensive word because fuck doesn't cut it anymore.

Chris Shafer:

What the freckles and frick? Mr. Shafer, you're swearing. That's not a swear.

Melissa Petersmann:

Oh, that's why I was in the back of the shop. I'm just kidding.

Chris Shafer:

Yeah, I was the farthest back you could get. Tyler's office is at one end of the shop and my bay was at the other end behind two walls, so he couldn't hear what come out of my mouth most of the time unless he walked back there, and I'm pretty sure he turned right around, went back to his office.

Melissa Petersmann:

Yeah, I think it's kind of right bred into us a little bit, but it's kind of the nature of the job. But I love the shop atmosphere and I think it's a great environment and I really wish we could figure out how to get more people into it because they're missing out. If you don't want to fucking sit at a desk all day, trust me... You're sitting at a desk, trying to do work and you get a couple hours in and you're like, "Oh, my fucking God. I cannot fucking stare at this fucking computer screen any longer. I can't fucking do it." I get that with my phone too. It's the same thing with my phone. I can only stare at my phone for so long before I'm like, "I got to do something," and if you're that kind of person, the fucking mechanic industry is for you.

Chris Shafer:

So that's why being a diesel mechanic was a good thing because you don't have to concentrate on any one task for too darn long, and-

Melissa Petersmann:

No, because your boss has got about 30 jobs in your queue, so you can pick.

Chris Shafer:

And hey, can you get this one done before you go home? I don't know which one you want to put it in front of, I'll do whatever, but I'm going home at some point.

Melissa Petersmann:

Right? Yep. I always had about one or two big jobs and then four or five smaller ones in my queue.

Chris Shafer:

You always had that big one and a few to go along with it to keep it flowing because you're always waiting on parts for one or two.

Melissa Petersmann:

Yep, especially in 2020. Oh, my God. The parts waiting was a fucking disaster. It was horrible.

Chris Shafer:

Yeah, 2020 was weird.

Melissa Petersmann:

We were out of stock of fucking fuel filters and shit like that. A fuel filter? Really? And of course as a mechanic you're like, "Goddammit, John Deere. What the fuck? Can't get my fucking my parts," and then you talk to Caterpillar and they're having the same issue and Komatsu's having the same issue and all the truck dealerships are having the same issue, and you're like, "Well, that sucks. Looks like we're going to have to wait this one out."

Chris Shafer:

Well, when I was at Diesel Laptops, customers would call and they diagnosed the def sending unit, the def header being bad and they're like, "Look, nobody has one. It's a month or two out. This truck's going to be parked. We're making payments on it. Do you know of a workaround I can do temporarily?" And that was before Cummins and them released to being able to, I don't know, legally delete them until the part came in and like, "Nope, I got nothing."

Melissa Petersmann:

Oh, yeah. Well, you can't. If you try to delete that out of the system, it's going to not run, it's going to derate. There's no way around that unless you tune it obviously and you delete it and put a delete tune on it, there's really no... I actually had an excavator... You might get a kick out of this. I had an excavator that I worked on at one point in time that was deleted. An excavator and it wasn't final tier four, it was an interim tier four, so it didn't have def on it. But yeah, it was the weirdest fucking thing because the customer didn't tell me, right? I didn't know until I opened the hood of this and everything that's involved on the EGR is unplugged, there's no DPF filter anywhere to be found, and it's literally just a pipe out of his fucking turbo into a stack. That's his exhaust. And then later he's like, "Oh, yeah. I deleted it. Isn't that fucking awesome?" I'm like...

I mean, it sounds fucking cool, I'll give you that, but you realize I can't work on half this shit. You realize that this involves flashing the ECM or doing any kind of tests in the ECM. I'm not going to be able to do a lot of that stuff because I can't get into your ECM because your ECM doesn't... So the first problem he brought it in with was we did a fan motor on it. Fuck yeah, I can do fan motors. I can do mechanical shit on that all day long. Fuck yeah, I'll do that. Then it turns into he kept having this charge... What was it? It was turbo outlet temperature too high, and that's not actually a sensor for that value. Yeah, and it's calculated from multiple sensors. Three actually. Guess what? One of those sensors that it calculates from is un-fucking-plugged. So how the fuck am I supposed to know? He's like, "Well, it just started doing this." I'm like, "Well, how the fuck am I..."

I tested the other sensors. I'm like, "This is a calculated measurement. How the fuck am I supposed to be able to diagnose this if I can't... One of them's unplugged and if I plug it back in, your little fucking program you bought in there's going to freak out." So finally after a few months of convincing him, because he was mad at us for a while, which I mean, we worked on his AC. I can work on AC, I worked on everything on his machine that didn't have to do with the ECM or electrical on the engine, and finally he called me up one day and he is like, "Hey, Melissa. Well, figured out that code." I'm like, "Did you now?" "Yep. My tuner guy plugged into it and he fixed it." I'm like, "Imagine that. It's what I've been telling you for months."

But that's the thing with deleting that people don't understand. It's kind of contradicting because if I owned a pickup truck, I would delete it if it was out of warranty. There's no fucking way in hell I keep all that junk on there. No fucking way I keep all that junk on there. But from a dealership mechanic standpoint, it renders a bunch of tools that you have at your disposal useless. You can't contact ETAC because you're not even supposed to have it in the shop. So you can't contact ETAC, you can't have any kind of dealer's assistance, you can't do anything like that. You can't plug into the ECU, you can't look at these things.

It's one thing if it's just a sensor and you can read the values and kind of figure that out, but when it's something like a calculated measurement that goes by a bunch of other sensors that half of which are unplugged for your delete that you did, it ties our hands a lot and it's frustrating because some customers don't understand that like "Well, it's a Deere," and then the guy's over there, he's like, "I want to trade it in. Can I trade it in?" I'm like, "Yeah, if you spend $20,000 on a new filter and you plug all your shit back in and let us reprogram your ECU, then yes you can. Until then, you can sell it on Richie Brothers, but I wouldn't recommend it because this machine's actually a decent machine, it's just deleted, and your guy that did the tune kind of fucked up."

Chris Shafer:

And some of them are probably pretty good, but majority of them are just, I don't know, half-ass hackers. I don't know. Some of them done some funny things. The dealer never really ran into it because if it came in and it had been deleted, we wouldn't even touch it for anything. We'd say, "You're not supposed to take it off. We're not touching it." But now at Diesel Laptops, you'd have people calling in, mechanics are working on one that's been deleted and my whole service manual that I used to help them is just throw it out the window because it's useless and I said, "I'm sorry, just take it back to whoever tuned it and deleted it and have them fix it because there's nothing I can help you with because my service manual, the fault codes you're getting, everything it's asking us to do, it's not there, so I don't even what to tell you."

Melissa Petersmann:

The values taken from the engine, and some people don't understand this, is some of those values and those readings are used by other controllers, like excavators, for example. They have an entire system on the excavator that keeps it from stalling if you overdo the hydraulics and it uses a bunch of information from the ECU to control that. The one thing I noticed that was really weird about this particular machine is the second you started it up, turbo ramped all the way up full spool. The VGT turbo. It's like, "What the fuck?" And it stayed like that. The second you started up, it spooled up. It's like, "What the hell?" I don't know. 

It was a cool machine. It was fun to dig with. It was really loud. It was really loud. At one point he wanted a muffler on it and I'm like, "Bro, got bigger problems than the muffler here," but sometimes when you're scraping for work in a new shop, you got to take what you can get. That dealership knew how to survive in hard times. They knew how to survive. If it came down to it, them smaller shops, they weren't turn a work down. Didn't matter what it was. They weren't turn a work down.

Chris Shafer:

They take it in and keep the till filled. You got to. You got to feed ourselves.

Melissa Petersmann:

Well, is there anything that you would like to add to our kind of conversation about the diesel technician shortage and what we can kind of do to invoke people to try this industry? Because we're missing out on a bunch of people, including people that aren't even in high school. We're missing out on people that are older too.

Chris Shafer:

All I can tell people is it's fed my family for over 30 years. I had a lot of fun. It went fast. It is hard work, you do get dirty, but it's so fun you really don't care. I mean, it's tons of fun and I've made more money than your average Joe my whole career, so it's great. Jump in, do it. Make a small investment in tools, but you can choke that down to however you want to do it on a personal level, but other than that, it's great. Come on board, guys.

Melissa Petersmann:

Yeah, bringing up the tools thing is something that somebody has not brought up yet actually, and everybody gets scared of it, right? Oh, my God. It's like a lot of money, and it's like, yeah. I spent probably 10 grand my first year. Some of it in loans.

Chris Shafer:

Get off the bat starting out. That's a lot of money starting out, and that's the worst part is your first few years. After that, it's just a tool at a time and merry Christmas. You don't have to have Snap-on either. I mean, most of my original set of Craftsman I bought in 1989, and I thought, "Well, when I get more money, I'll just replace that with some Snap-ons." You know what? I never did. I still have my very first set of Craftsman tools my mom and dad bought me starting out back in the '80s. Yeah, it doesn't take the Snap-on or Mac. You don't have to spend all that money.

Melissa Petersmann:

Yep, you got to do what you got to do. It's kind of one of those things that... I was a big spender on tools. I've got $115,000 worth of tools. People worry about, "Oh, the price of tools, the price of tools," and it's like you don't have to do what I did and rack up a bunch of fucking tools in your first year. Like you said, you can get cheap stuff or there's a lot of programs out there that will actually give you tools. John Deere's got programs where if you get sponsored by their dealership and go to their school, not only will they pay for your school, but they will also pay for a beginner set of tools.

Chris Shafer:

And Harbor Freight has this fellows program too I'm looking into for my kids where they'll give scholarships. It can be used for tools or other things in regards to starting their careers out. So there's all sorts of programs out there to help a person get started. Mine was mom and dad, but there's other programs.

Melissa Petersmann:

Hey, my three quarter inch drive Snap-on ratchet that I have is all thanks to my step-dad that happened to find one at an auction, and it was rusted and broken, and I brought it to my Snap-on man and I said, "Hey, I'm going to be straight honest with you on how I got this. Is this warranted?" And he's like, "Well, I'm only going to warranty the head," I'm like, "Fucking sold. I will buy the bar. Give me the longest handle you got. I will buy that. Fuck yeah." I got that. But I've always been picky on my tools. I started out with working with Harbor Freight Tools and craftsmen and Sears and stuff like that, and once I started using... There's certain tools, it's not all of them. 

Once I started using Snap-on ratchets, I'd never buy another ratchet besides Snap-on. Ratcheting wrenches. I have Gearwrench, I have Matco, I have Cornwell, and the best ratcheting wrenches I have are Snap-on with the exception of I've got the Matco ones that are really long and are double-ended. Ratcheting, I love them fucking things. They're not near as fine-tuned as the Snap-ons, but I bought them for doing bell housing bolts on transmissions on graders and now I fucking use them for everything. I love them. Snap-on angle wrenches are a patented design you cannot get anywhere else and for hydraulics, but I have Snap-on angle wrenches and Snap-on wrenches up through inch and a quarter, and then everything else is Pittsburgh. Everything else. All of my jumbo wrenches are Pittsburgh.

Chris Shafer:

I got a lot of stuff that just says China on it.

Melissa Petersmann:

Yep. Well, you got to kind of know your limits, right? Having Snap-on's nice and all, but do you really need a two-inch Snap-on angle wrench or a two-inch snap on wrench? No, probably not. My sockets are all kind of mixed and matched. Some of my sockets are Snap-on. Some of them are the bluePOWER power from Cornwell, and some of them are fucking Blue Point. So I got a giant fucking mix of sockets and I actually have a set of Pittsburgh in there too, but they're if I need something to hammer on set.

Chris Shafer:

All my impact sockets are Snap-on and Mac and one set of Cornwell, but my chrome sockets are mixed-matched or whatever.

Melissa Petersmann:

I actually never bought chrome sockets. I had a set of old Craftsman six points that were chrome that I rarely used, hardly ever touched, and finally one day I broke down and bought... Snap-on's got those intermediate length chrome sockets, they're not deep, but they're not shallow and I bought those. I fucking love those things.

Chris Shafer:

Yep, because a lot of times deep ball can't get into everything but the shallow's too shallow.

Melissa Petersmann:

Exactly. But yeah. Well, is there anything else you want to add to our conversations, or any thoughts or advice for people?

Chris Shafer:

Just man, jump into the trade. It's fun. Biggest advice is whatever you do, just don't get stuck in a factory somewhere. It's boring. Do something fun.

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