CAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL
By Norris Chambers
When I was hired as an aircraft electrician at a place called an Air Depot I supposed it would be something like a train depot except airplanes would come and go. An air depot was a huge plant where all air force military planes were completely overhauled and repaired. I had seen airplanes flying overhead and that was about all I knew about them. I did have a good knowledge of electronics and experience in radio repair.
The first two weeks on the job consisted of schooling on the various electrical aircraft systems. When this training was finished I was assigned to work for two weeks in the various component overhaul departments – starters and generators, aircraft instruments, relays and controls and radio equipment. By the time I finished the school and the “on the job” training in the different departments I had a pretty good knowledge of the aircraft systems at that time. The school was continued for an hour two evenings a week after work.
After my training in the various departments I was assigned to a P-40 plane that had been forced to land with the wheels not extended. It was a mess along the bottom of the fuselage. Workers started removing parts from the machine. The hydraulic crew removed all the hydraulic parts – lines, valves, tanks etc. The mechanics took all flight control items – pulleys, cables, control surfaces and related items. The engine crews removed all engines and accessories. Another electrician and I were to remove all wiring, all electric conduits, instruments, lights, switches etc. These parts were then routed to the departments that repaired those particular items. When they were completed they were like new and were ready to be re-installed. It took months to complete a rebuilding job like this.
Before my first job was finished WWII began and someone decided that the elaborate rebuild jobs were not practical. New airplanes could be manufactured quicker. We removed all of the newly restored equipment and the plane was junked. We then did aircraft modifications and minor repairs.
In my journey though the different shops I was especially interested in the instrument repair area. We disassembled the instruments much like a watchmaker does in cleaning a watch. All of the little springs, pointers, bearings and gadgets were removed and thoroughly cleaned with a special fluid. They were then reassembled, lubricated and calibrated. When completed the instrument looked and worked like a new one.
This experience led me to start working on clocks and watches. A big book on watch and clock repair supplied me with a general knowledge of the art and I began to repair watches for friends and neighbors for the cost of parts. I needed the experience! Many of the tools and parts normally available were not available due to the armed forces needs and I was forced to substitute several methods.
One machine I could not find was a dryer to be used after removing parts from the cleaning solution. The book suggested a substitute method using a fine wire and stringing the parts on it. The string was then held in front of or over a fire until they were completely dry.
One of our neighbors presented a very small wrist watch that had quit performing. My job was to fix it. I removed it carefully from the case and disassembled every tiny part. The tiny screw driver set and the eye loupe or magnifier were very handy for this work. After a nice bath in the cleaning machine I proceeded to string the parts on a guitar string and sat down in front of the heater to dry them. I held both ends of the string and the nice collection settled to the bottom of the loop.
About the time I considered the drying operation complete I accidently released my grip on one end of the string and the little parts fell to the floor. They scattered in many directions. After Ella and I completed our search and could find no more I began to reassemble the watch.
One very necessary escapement part was not there and could not be found. The supply company did not have a replacement and told me they could not get one. There was no way to make the nice little watch work.
I sadly told the lady that I could not get a part for it. That was my first failure – this was also my last. I decided to quit the watch repair business. It was probably a wise decision.
Was the watch repair business fun? Perhaps it was for awhile, but I have never regretted my decision to try other things in my efforts to succeed!