A Proposed Lecture to the Shop Classes at Healdsburg High School
by Timothy McGraw, February 7th, 2020
My name is Tim McGraw. Yes the same as the famous country
western singer. Years ago I found some invitations to the Country
Music Awards for Tim and Faith in my hotel room in Las Vegas, but
that’s another story.
I’m here to talk to you about what I learned in my 25 year career as
an aviation mechanic, mostly with seaplanes up in Washington
When I was 24 in Seattle I had a wife and infant son. I enrolled in
South Seattle Community College, which is actually in West Seattle,
to get the Airframe & Powerplant licenses from the Federal Aviation
Administration. I was hoping to get a well paying job at Boeing
Aircraft which was the major employer in the Seattle area at the
time. This would be 1976.
I went to night school for five hours a night, five days a week for
two years. I had to punch in and out of class just like a job. I worked
during the day in the sewers of Snohomish County.
It was a tough two years. When I graduated I passed the oral,
written, and practical exams for my licenses from the FAA.
Boeing was not hiring in the 1970’s. There was a billboard in Seattle
that said, “Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn off the
Kenmore Air Harbor hired me as an aircraft mechanic. They started
me out at $4.50 per hour. I had to buy my own tools and tool box.
My family lived on Top Ramen. I rode a bicycle to work.
In a year I was making $5.50 per hour and every year I received a
raise. Working on the airplanes in the cold wet of Seattle was
difficult. It’s like climbing into a beer can in the refrigerator and
fixing its insides.
The worst job was float repair. I would have to put my head and
shoulders down into the float compartment to buck rivets. I wore
two layers of hearing protection and had an air hose in the
compartment to provide oxygen. It was smelly. It was noisy. It was
uncomfortable in the extreme.
But it was the depression of 1981 and there were no jobs in Seattle,
so I stayed on. I was at Kenmore Air Harbor from 1978 to 1988 and
by 1983 I knew every rivet, pipe, wire, switch, and fitting on the
planes at Kenmore Air Harbor. They are the largest seaplane base in
the world. They are still in business.
Most of their planes are DeHavilland Beavers, like the ones in the
photos. They also have a few Cessnas.
I’ve rebuilt several aircraft and have done dozens of engine changes.
Engine changes were my favorite. I was on the swing shift by 1983.
It was just the three of us in the photo working from 4:30 PM to
1:00 AM maintaining the company fleet of twenty aircraft.
I would have a room to myself in the hangar and listen to classical
music on a warm Seattle night as I replaced the old parts on the old
engine with new accessories on the rebuilt Pratt & Whitney R-985
Junior Wasp engine. It was fun. And it was very satisfying to install
that engine and watch the plane fly away.
The other two photos are from my time in the Amazon in 1990. I
was hired to work on the film “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” as
the aircraft mechanic who would maintain the DeHavilland Beaver
used in the film. I was 38 at the time.
It was a six month adventure to another world. Hobnobbing with
movie stars and some of the poorest people on Earth. The Amazon
So what can I tell you about being a mechanic?
The first rule is take care of yourself. You are the most important
tool in your tool box. I was a marathon runner back in the day. You
have to be strong, flexible, alert, and intelligent. You will learn most
of your mechanical skills by keeping your eyes and ears open
watching mechanics who know more than you. That’s how I did it.
The second rule is, don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. We
all make mistakes. It usually took me at least three tries to really
figure out the right way to do a job.
The third rule is, avoid company politics. Stay out of it and keep to
the machines. If you get frustrated, yell at the machine.
The fourth rule is, check your work at least four times. Every nut,
bolt, wire, plumbing connection… check it again and again. I’ll be
proofreading this lecture at least four times.
Finally, be humble. You don’t know everything. I know I don’t. Be
willing to learn and forget your ego. When the job is done and it all
works. Go home. Give yourself a high five and smile. Don’t brag
I hope this helps you in your careers as mechanics.
Oh, and one more thing; you will know how the machines work.
That’s power! The bosses don’t know. The elites don’t know.
But you will know. And no one can take that away from you.
Thanks for listening.