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An engineer’s life, Part II

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Mike learned a lot about HVAC from his passion for vintage motorcycles.

By Michael McCartney

In my last article, back in September, a lot of interest was generated at a recent ASHRAE meeting about whether or not I would have preferred to become a licensed tradesman or if I was happy as an engineer?

Well for one thing, if I was more “hip” at machining, metalwork, and electrical wiring, my vintage motorcycles would all be in better shape than presently! Yes, I can use a timing wheel to set up ignition, tune carburettors, and have taken apart several motorcycle engines, but sometimes you need to turn to the expert.

When I bought a couple of motorcycles in 2006, both engines turned out to be totally clapped out: crankshaft bearings were damaged, and castings, seals and pistons had been MacGyvered with band-aids. In short, both engine internals were shot.

I turned to a local specialist, the late Michael White, and put the engines in his hands.

White welded broken cam pinion housings, line-bored the crank bearing housings, and where necessary, inserted oversized bearings and seals. His work was perfect in every sense and the result was two “good-as-new” engines. Do I wish that I had his skills? You bet!

Job site experience a must

When I wonder if I’d be better off as an HVAC technician or sheet metal worker, it’s more so because of my hobby. That’s it.

I’ve been on countless job sites and picked up a lot of knowledge on HVAC, sheet metal and the electrical trades. Field experience and osmosis are really good ways for any engineer to become better grounded in what it takes to design a well-functioning system. I was lucky. When I started working as a design-build sales engineer with companies like Cimco, Toronto, Ont., and Techaire Systems, Brampton, Ont., it made me a better engineer.

However, what I do workwise now suits me just fine.

Arkady Wrobel of Sundawn Technologies, Mississauga, Ont., recently helped McCartney on an HVAC retrofit.

I’ve been a licensed P. Eng. since 1979 and I like the work. I must be good at it because, unlike a few engineers I know, I’ve never been sued!

I work from my home in Toronto, the coffee is really good, and I work at my own pace. If an afternoon one-hour nap is called, then I turn off my phones and close my eyes.

I keep good company. My wife is my best friend and she’s about 40 feet away – should my coffee need a warm-up. Our three cats are a source of endless entertainment, and it’s kind of fun to have one sleeping on my desk while I click away on my computer. You don’t get to enjoy such frills if you’re working in a large engineering firm.

Self-employment freedom

On my projects, I like the use CAD (computer-aided design) 2014 and unlike the stuff I produced back in the 80s, you can actually read my printing. Bonus!

Of course, the work doesn’t stop with developing systems and putting them down on paper. Once the job has been tendered and awarded, I handle getting permits and conduct routine site visits, followed by issuing site reports to the architects concerned.

I have the freedom to choose whether or not to stay in all day at the computer or head out on-site. You don’t get that sort of freedom if you’re working in a large engineering company. Although there is some pressure to product drawings and specifications, the pressure is far less than when I was with Techaire Solutions, for example.

Sunday nights were the worst. I’d worry about scheduling, equipment shipments, and a ton of other stuff related to project management. I learned not to schedule a hoist on a Monday or Friday because mistakes can be made, and adjustments might be needed.

I don’t have partners or employees. At time of writing, I’ve got a good friend helping me on a project in Mississauga. He’s freeing up time to go to a few other jobs that are in the design concert stage. I can contact a highly skilled CAD-specialist to help with my drawings.

Workers faced a rats’ nest of wiring and equipment when they went to change out eight 10-ton condensing units, four old air-handlers and eight duct furnaces, converting to boilers, air-cooled chillers and new air-handlers.

I have had some excellent partners. People like the late Tony Dallaway, former head of design-build for Beaver Engineering, Toronto, Ont., the late Rick Ellerby, former top centrifugal chiller technician, and Roy Benton, designer, project manager and salesman. They taught me a lot and I use their knowledge every day.

Am I happy with my choice of career? Not having to stress about having to find enough work to feed 20 families, losing sleep on Sunday nights, or finding out ways people might scam my business? You better believe it!

At the same time, maybe I’ll go take a night-school course in machine shop and welding. My bikes will be in better shape!

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