Motorcycle Diaries: One Son's Unforgettable Education on Tools

Not all of us are born with wrenches in hand. For some of us tools are in the blood. I didn't own my first set of tools until I was in my early 30's. I decided it was time for professional life to take an alternate path and opted to become an electrician. As an apprentice industrial electrician, your tool bag is pretty small. I was told to keep three things on me at all times: a knife, a sharpie, and a tape measure. This seemed reasonable and well within my budget!

Though I wasn't able to fully grasp it at the time, great fortune had befallen me. My electrician co-workers would ultimately become my teachers, mentors, and life-long friends. The veterans advised not to spend money on tools. The crew had everything I needed, and they even pieced a bag together with bare essentials for me. They suggested that I buy one new tool per payday. By the time my bag was fully equipped, I would probably know enough to get to use it. 

My father was the quintessential shade tree mechanic. A BMW motorcycle aficionado, he shared the same sickness as most old school BMW riders—the inability to let another's hands perform ANY maintenance or repairs to his baby. As a tike, I was strapped to the backseat of a mid-1970's, modified/5 boxer twin and shuttled across the United States. I attended BMW MOA rallies in Des Moines, Iowa, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Durango, Colorado by the time I was a teenager. Long, mind-numbing rides for a hyper-thinking, fast talking youngster. Dad was focused on attending seminars conducted by German, factory trained and certified mechanics and engineers. Seated at my father’s side, I listened to thick German accents describe the importance of vacuum levels, bore size accuracy, and many other enthralling topics. I endured, and whatever I learned was purely through osmosis, as it was a true test of my youthful attention span.

Though my exposure to tools came early and frequent, it did very little to peak my interest until the arrival of the Snap-On truck! Better than the ice cream truck, at least twice a month, magic on-wheels would stop by and I’d climb inside to peruse the newest wizardry. 

Dad enjoyed explaining the purpose of the oddly shaped specialty tools he had collected or wanted. He took great pride in his collection. Friends, family, and neighbors knew better than to even joke about borrowing them. Using one of Dad's tools meant he’d be peering over your shoulder like a hawk until you placed the ratchet extension back into his palm. Have a desire to see how hard he can swing a belt? Put a metric wrench mistakenly into the standard drawer. Want corporal correction AND a verbal lesson? Leave grease smudges on a chrome metric deep socket.

These lessons were deeply embedded, apparently. Like Dad, as an overhead crane technician, I am quite particular about my tool layout, storage, cleanliness, and quality as well. I am moved by well-engineered tools and material quality. I will pinch pennies on all things...except tools. Same with my crane tech buddy from Galveston, who's whole week can also be brightened by finding JUST the right tool. Whether an every-day user, or the one you have to pull out for rare emergencies, what is greater satisfaction than the right tool for the job?

When paying bills with overhead crane labor, tools are prime contributors to the daily cause. Galveston and I still share can't-miss finds. The last two goodies are his.

Knipex 9855 Dismantling Knife, 6 Inch

With a vacuum-hardened, stainless, surgical steel blade Knipex’s dismantling knife is a crane technician’s dream for both flat cable and round wire. The sickle shape and rounded blade guide allow for the ripping of festoon jackets without having to worry about damage to internal insulators. There is a bit of an artform that must be practiced in order to be quick and efficient, but once perfected PB cables and collector arm power runs don’t stand a chance!

Proto® Slotted/Phillips Screw Starter - 6-1/4"

There isn’t one amongst us who hasn’t struggled with trying to get the tiniest of screws into a toggle switch, or between a mess of wires at the bottom of a contactor. Proto created a way to let your hair fall out naturally rather than from tugging it out from frustration. A tool that must be tried to fully appreciate, once you use it you’ll buy a 5-pack to share this marvel with everyone you know!

Klein 322807MAG 7-in-1 Nut Driver

Not everyone is a fan of nut drivers. Some of that is due to the lack of space needed in a tool bag to accommodate the 7 sizes you commonly require. Klein, as usual, has a cure! Meet 322807MAG. It contains 1/4", 5/16", 11/32", 3/8", 1/2", 7/16", 9/16" drivers all in the space of one screwdriver. Color coded, magnetic bits and a wrench-assist torque point make it an all-in-one, compact option!

Got a favorite tool in your arsenal for overhead crane and hoist repair that you’d like to evangelize? Spread the wealth and share it in the comments!

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