Saturday, April 28, 2007

Commerce & Industry: Spring Fashions

Earlier in the week, blogger Tommy Devine poked a little good-natured fun at me in one of his posts, naming me the "wizard of all things Westfield," after I let the Cliff Claven inside me show - once again - by offering in a comment on a previous post of his ("Westfield's Dead") the somewhat obscure bit of information that the key to the Old Westfield Burying Ground is located at the Westfield Athenaeum, for those who wish to peruse the pasture of peace located on Mechanic Street. He also described the word "athenaeum" as a "high-brow" word for library.

Ouch. High-brow.

Almost as bad as the Who selling their songs for commercials and TV show intros.

Lest anyone get the idea that I consider myself mystically and linguistically sophisticated: I only knows what I know. Growing up in Westfield, the library was referred to formally as the Westfield "Athenaeum" enough times for it to sink in as a regular word in my vocabulary. Not to mention the required one-year of Latin in Catholic high school I managed to score a B in. A real conjugation conflagration, that was.

Anyway, would a high-brow wizard find himself spending his Friday morning under a rain-soaked garbage truck like I did yesterday? I think not. Just a regular guy with a twisted sense of humor, like life has, and the folks too, that ride on the back of this truck day after day, doing their job, rain or shine, ice or sun...

For over 20 years, nearly half my life, I've been putting bread on my table by climbing under cars and trucks and fixing the things that break under there. Some days it may be a '69 Firebird rag-top, other days it may be a stinky, but artistically-decorated, garbage truck. The best jobs to do are those that folks are grateful for, like RV-ers broken down far from home or a long-haul trucker on a tight schedule who manages to limp into the shop off the highway for repairs. Say what you will about the big trucks on the road, but they and the folks that drive them are what keeps America's shelves stocked. I like being a part of keeping America moving along.

The flowers are a nice touch for Spring. If there was a contest for best-decorated garbage truck, this truck would certainly be a contender.

Safety glasses are an important piece of personal equipment on most industrial jobs. An ability to see humor in the mundane is also essential.

Somehow capturing both the glamor of Jackie O and the grittiness of Courtney Love, the leis add a splash of color to an otherwise mechanical personality.

These are leaf spring main-plates and wrappers. The main-plate is what attaches the leaf spring to the frame of a vehicle, on which a hanger for a pin that slips through the "eye" of the spring is usually mounted. The wrapper is usually the second plate in the stack of leaves, its "eye" more open and wrapping around the main-plate's eye for safety. If the main-plate breaks, the wrapper will keep the vehicle's axle in place temporarily, with repairs recommended to be made as soon as possible. If both plates break, it is possible for the axle to come free from the vehicle. The first two numbers on the end of the leaves signify the make of the vehicle that the item fits, running in alphabetic order, lower numbers corresponding with lower letters. 13 represents Autocar; 16, Brockway; 22, Chevy, and so on. In this photo, the 43-460-1 is a Ford main-plate for an old cab-over style truck that some local fuel companies used to favor. I don't miss working on those. The plates starting with 62 are for Mack trucks.

These are complete leaf springs, bought pre-assembled per OEM specifications from our American distributors. Some springs are made overseas or in Canada or Mexico. Japan is well-known in the industry for its expertise in making tapered parabolic spring steel. The springs pictured here are for passenger cars, pick-up trucks, vans and SUVs. When I first started as a suspension mechanic in 1986, leaf springs as a component of passenger-car suspensions were just beginning to be phased out, but we still saw our share of Novas, Camaros and Chrysler Fifth Avenues, and such. Now the transformation to struts and coil springs is nearly complete in the passenger-car market, with the transition to softening the suspensions on SUVs and pick-ups by using the same basic technology of struts and coils beginning in recent years and picking up steam. Many larger trucks and trailers are coming equipped with air-ride technology. Guys like me who bang steel with a hammer for a living are a dying breed. That's one thing about the ever-changing world around us: It keeps us learning.

These are known as "plain-plates," spring steel plates that we receive in varying widths, lengths and thicknesses, with a center-hole for the center bolt, which holds the leaf spring stack together, punched in each. The leaves come in even lengths, measured out from the center bolt: 24" X 24," 26" X 26," etc. Leaves range from as short as 6" total to upwards of 6'. Thicknesses are measured in decimals, .262, .291, .323, etc. Some steel is over an inch thick and some complete leaf springs can weigh more than 650 pounds. When a spring needs to have an individual leaf in the stack replaced, or a leaf added to the spring for extra carrying capacity, a plain-plate matching the thickness and width of the original leaf is selected and its length then cut down to the desired size. If a leaf is being replaced, the new plate would be cut to that length. An "extra-leaf" added to the spring is generally fitted underneath the main plate whenever possible, the idea being that the longer the plate, the more extra carrying capacity achieved. Every spring is different, with its own unique shape and arch. When a plate, or leaf, is added it must be shaped to match the existing leaves, either with a shaping hammer on a special anvil, or with a hydraulic shaping press. For me, the method I use depends on the thickness and width of the leaf. A 2 1/4" wide piece of .262 steel will succumb to the hammer pretty easily, a 3" wide piece of .401 won't. The trick is, as my Grandfather, Pop Vinisko, always told me, is to let the tool do the work. The shaping hammer, when swung properly, will feel no more heavy in one's hand than a fly swatter. Steel shaped on an anvil will hold its arch longer than steel shaped with a press.

Racks o' springs. With the warmer weather, it's nice to be able to open the bay doors to let light and air in. This is another view of our inventory, in what's referred to as the "back room." The springs on the three lower racks directly in front of the bay door fit a variety of trailers, including over-the-road and dump trailers. I'll be taking some photos of the 6-bay shop area to share with you sometime, along with a post on the different tools used in the repair and replacement of vehicle suspensions. I know: Thrilling, adrenaline-stirring stuff. Hey, I'm no wizard!

Take care, and thanks for stopping by. And make sure you check out Tommy Devine's blog, he's been blogging in the Valley since Windows 98 was just a twinkle in Bill Gates's eye.

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