Figuring and fixing

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That truck owner has a $100,000 rig and his payments roll in every month – and if he’s not rolling, he’s not making any money. That’s their livelihood out there, so you’ve got to come at it from their side of things, too.” –Sylvester Chandler, technician, Rush Truck Center, Dallas TX

Talk with any of the technicians competing here at the third annual Rush Enterprises technician skills rodeo – being held at the Nashville Convention Center in (where else?) downtown Nashville, TN – and you quickly come to understand that to outperform in this line of work, you can’t be focused on just a paycheck.

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[Technican William Myers out of Laredo, TX, shares a laugh with Jon Boswell of Cummins, one of the contest's judges.]

Not that money isn’t a primary concern; far from it. There’s a lot on the line for the 54 technicians culled from Rush’s ranks of 700-plus scattered throughout 48 truck centers nationwide. The top three winners in each of the four divisions – top Caterpillar tech, top Cummins tech, top Eaton tech, and top medium-duty tech – all take home some serious prize money and a big boost in hourly pay.

Third place winners get $3,000 cash and a $1 extra per hour added to their paycheck; second place finishers get $4,000 and a $1.25 extra per hour; and first place winners get $5,000 and $1.50 extra per hour. Then there’s the “best all-around” technician face-off, where the top 12 winners from all four divisions compete for an extra $5,000 and a brand new top-of-the-line tool chest. No slim pickings by any means.

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Yet despite the prodigious largess put up by the company for this event, even the most veteran technicians in Rush’s ranks stress that it requires a tremendous amount of focus, hard work, and sheer determination to make a career out of repairing trucks and all of their related components.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I still learn something new every day,” explains Sylvester Chandler, one of the senior technicians at Rush’s big Dallas TX dealership (pictured to your left). “You’ve got to like challenges and you need to keep an open mind and be willing to work hard to stay on top in this profession.”

[Hear some of Rush’s veteran techs explain what makes a good technician in their own words …]

You need to listen, too, especially to drivers, who know first-hand what’s going wrong with their truck. “It can be hard when a driver is upset, but I like talking to customers – you are getting first-hand information as to what the problem might be,” Chandler told me. “The best source of information about the truck is the guy driving it. Listening to the customer also makes them a part of the repair process – it shows you value their input.”

A willingness to work hard is also a pre-requisite, despite a wider reliance on computers to make repairs. Daniel Spencer, a technician with 17 years in the business (three of them with Rush), explained that you sometimes need to bull through the physical challenges of the job.

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A native of Wisconsin that worked for years in sub-freezing temperatures – nine of them as his own boss providing road call service around Chicago’s busy highways – Spencer (at right) moved to Tucson, AZ, when he joined Rush and found he needed to adapt quickly to the heat.

“I worked under a trailer one day while lying down on the pavement. Later that night I found the heat from the asphalt burned the parking lot’s pattern into my back,” Spencer told me. “I also found you need to bring a bucket of water around with you when you work outside for cooling off your tools.”

Michael Willoughby, a 13-year veteran technician out of Rush’s Oklahoma City center a finalist in last year’s competition, stressed something else to me – that some of the best guys in the business of figuring out and fixing a whole slew of maintenance problems never get a chance to come to competitions like these because they don’t take written tests well.

“There are guys on our shop floor that have forgotten more about engines and trucks than I and several other guys know put together,” he said. One of the hardest working techs you’ll find, Willoughby is quick to point to “old timers” as some of the industry’s best – guys that didn’t grow up with the electronics and computers today’s younger techs have, yet are the ones that instinctively know engines and transmissions backwards and forwards."

“Don’t get me wrong – the guys competing here are great, some of the best techs you’ll find,” he told me. “But just being able to do well on a written test isn’t all there is to this profession. There’s just so much more involved.”

[And what’s life without a little fun? Below is a music video (of sorts) showing the Rush rodeo competitors in action. Enjoy!]

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