A Freshman Class Turns Into a Career

Pens Pencils

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DRAFTING

The pre-engineering curriculum at Mendel included Mechanical Drawing.  My drawing skills were pretty fair by then, and I became familiar with the tools by watching my brother Bill use a T-Square and a compass. The first day of class it became obvious I had to begin from scratch.   Each student received a package of drawing tools that included a small board, T-square, 2 triangles, protractor, compass, a triangular scale, some pencils, a brush, and a Pink Pearl eraser.

Printing the alphabet became the first assignment, but before starting, I learned how to use masking tape to fasten paper to the board.  Mr. Allen, the teacher, showed me how to properly use a T-Square, and to draw parallel guide lines for the letters.

Pencils suddenly became a science.  There are many grades of pencils. I learned to identify the softness of lead by the code number and letter printed on the end, ranging from very hard, to very soft.  For instance, a 4H lead is very hard and will make a very fine gray line, and an HB is very soft and black.  Pressing hard on a pointy 4H pencil  to make a heavy line will cut the paper.  Soft leads like “HB” make blacker, wider lines that look good, but smear easily, and smudge the paper.  A dirty drawing brought a reduced grade.  Neatness was essential to survive the class.

During my years of employment, I learned that machine drawings are larger and more complicated. They smudge easier because of the amount of lead on the paper.  The smudged lead makes the background gray resulting in a poor blue print copy. A print machine requires light to pass through the drawing paper everywhere except where there is a line. If the background around the lines is smudged and dark gray, the copy will show blue lines on a dark blue background. The quality is lousy. The most easily read prints consist up of sharp blue lines on a white background.

It seemed like weeks before we actually began to put a pencil to the paper. That is when I learned to print letters using prescribed strokes. First came large capital letters. When Mr. Allen felt I had mastered those, he started me on lower case. I learned to print letters between guide lines upright, slanted, large, and small before progressing to lower case. It must have been four classes before we finally got to draw something real; a two-inch square.

Mr. Allen referred to every drawing as a plate. Each plate required a border, a title block, and finally the object.  The title block needed space for the plate title, the date, our name, and class number.  Each time we turned in a plate, he graded the quality of printing, line sharpness, and neatness. He subtracted points if lines defining a corner did not meet by touch.  Conversely, he subtracted points if the corner lines crossed.  In modern Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs, the computer will not recognize lines that are not connected to form a geometric solid model or wire frame.  The lines appear on the screen, but the surface is not fully defined until the lines connect by five decimal places.

I loved the drawing class, and still love all aspects of it till this day.  I loved making the plates and using two views to create a third.  I really like making 3D solids views using a vanishing point perspective.

Mechanical Drawing was my first and only “A” in freshman year.   Mr. Allen did a great job teaching the fundamentals and I eagerly learned by doing the work.  Drawing takes practice to develop skill, just as cooking or working a computer.  Without the hands-on practice, the skills are lacking. The training served me well, because I used that basic skill to make a very good living.

One of my classmates had a terrible time with drawing. After several weeks, he still lacked the ability to draw a right angle using the tee-square and a triangle. His square never was square, his printing looked infantile, and the drawings were dirty. The lines resembled those made by a crayon. It was painful to watch him struggle so hard with something that came so easy to me. I helped him as much as I could by coaching, but he failed the class, and dropped out of pre-engineering.

Many years later, one of my draftsman was similarly handicapped. The man graduated from a prominent technical school with a degree in drafting. I assigned only the most simple components for him to draw. He struggled with completion. It took days for him to finish a drawing that would have taken another draftsman a couple of hours to complete. I reviewed his work often. I finally spoke to him frankly,

“Ike, you are not qualified as a draftsman perhaps you should find another field of work.”

“I have a diploma from my school.” I paid $5000 to get it.”

“Ike, I don’t care how much tuition you paid, you are not a draftsman.”

Because Ike was the first and only black employee in our engineering department, my boss wouldn’t let me fire him. Ike had nine kids, and worked part-time as a minister. Often, when I made my rounds, and walked in on him, he was on the phone counseling one of his congregation. Eventually, I learned that Ike started a second full-time job with benefits. That became the trigger for my boss to give me the signal to let him go.

Firing a guy is not easy, but in this case, I did Ike, the company, and me a favor.

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