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Okie engineering is the meeting of necessity with an adequate amount of knowledge and ability to make things work. It’s not always pretty but it does serve to get the job done. Sometimes, Okie engineering is brilliant mechanics and sometimes it’s just practical common sense. Either way, it usually saves time and money and comes in quite handy. I use it all the time - and I’m not even from Oklahoma. Fixing broken things without the right tools and without the right parts may not produce a grand masterpiece - but if it works then who cares, right?
Well, the answer to that is: professional people or government inspectors. (I’m not entirely sure the last category counts). Apparently, both groups frown on unorthodox methods of rigging things together, even temporarily.
Several years ago, when I first started driving a truck for a living, I was cruising down the highway late one rainy Friday night. The steady hum of the tires on the pavement was interrupted by my low-air warning buzzer and then the bright red light came on. Almost as suddenly, my brakes locked up. Contrary to popular belief, when a semi loses air, it does not lose the brakes, rather it loses the ability to release the brakes. A complete loss of air means the truck is not going anywhere except very quickly to the side of the road. The nice part was that with the rain, the eight trailer tires slid easily off to the shoulder.
And so, there I was alongside the road, not able to move. It didn’t take long to find the problem. One of the main air lines on the trailer had been cut completely in two. (This was sort of odd considering these air lines are about an inch thick, reinforced hard rubber). I didn’t have much for tools (a Gerber all-purpose tool on my belt) and had no parts. An extra air line would have been nice but then, I would’ve had no way to make a splice anyway. After determining the line had been too loose and swaying back and forth, I saw what had severed it - the spare tire rack.
Returning to the cab, I looked through the junk in my toolbox, hoping to find something I could use. I did. A roll of duct tape. Knowing the tape would never stick to the air line, which was covered with an oily road-grime, I used a can of Coke to clean it, drying the line with a rag. As anyone who’s ever wiped up spilled soda can imagine, that left things pretty sticky. I wrapped a single layer of tape around the line to hold the two parts together - barely. With 120 pounds of pressure that would be going through the line, the duct tape would provide an initial seal but would never hold by itself once the system was charged with air. I soon solved that.
Finding three large paper clips, I used the file on my Gerber to sharpen the ends and pushed them through the ends of the air line. The third paper clip was used to twist all three together. This would keep the two lines from pulling apart but it was still flimsy. I needed something to provide more strength. Spotting a small tree limb from the shoulder of the road, I used the knife on my Gerber to shave it into a splint. Then, attaching the splint to the splice, I covered it all with half a roll of duct tape. I still had eighty miles to go to the terminal and I crossed my fingers as I pulled back onto the road.
The mechanic on duty took a look at my handiwork when I pulled into the shop and I could tell he wasn’t impressed. Shaking his head, he pulled things apart and fixed it the “right” way. “You’re lucky you didn’t have to cross a scale,” he said. “The DOT (government inspectors) would never let that Okie engineering pass.”
It didn’t bother me that he found no use for my repair job. “It worked,” I told him. “And it saved you from going on a service call on a Friday night.”
He didn’t answer.
A few years later - or slightly more than a few, time flies when you’re having fun - I was going across a scale when an ever-observant weighmaster heard an air leak. After finding the leak, he showed it to me - a sizeable hole in an air line. And after he messed with it a while, the hole grew even larger, in fact, it was barely holding together. He told me he would have to put the truck out of service.
Great, I thought. Friday night, just a few miles from home and there I sat. It would be several hours before my company could send a mechanic.
“Looks like you’ll be here awhile,” the DOT guy said as he started filling out the paperwork. “Unless... Can you fix it?”
“Uh, sure,” I answered, recalling that I had a roll of duct tape in the truck. And paper clips. And I still carried my Gerber.
An hour later, I rolled across the scale with the weighmaster outside listening carefully for air leaks. Then, shining his flashlight under the trailer, I saw him shake his head. But, he gave me the thumbs up, and I hit the road.
That mechanic years ago was wrong. Apparently, I can get my Okie engineering past the DOT!