Diesel mechanic becomes instructor: 'Now it’s my turn to give back'

Posted on
July 11th, 2021
Image
Drake Davis, diesel mechanic and instructor, works with a student to install king pins and spindles on a F100 Truck
Drake Davis, diesel mechanic and instructor, works with a student to install king pins and spindles on a F100 Truck
'This experience needs to be handed down for the profession to thrive,' says Drake Davis. In addition to helping new technicians at Bane-Welker, he also shares his knowledge as an instructor at McCutcheon High School. (Credit: Courtesy Drake Davis)
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Drake Davis's love for fixing things started early. He first applied this energy to restoring tractors, including one his grandfather gave him. He took it apart and rebuilt it from scratch. He turned that into a training path, then a job fixing agricultural equipment. Now, he's sharing his knowledge with a new generation of mechanics. 

And he's just getting started. 

The 23-year-old from Crawfordville, Indiana, first started working at Bane-Welker Equipment, a Case IH equipment dealership, in 2017 as an intern. "I started out sweeping the floors and helping other technicians work on planters, combines, tractors and lawn equipment. I finished college with an associate degree in applied science in the Case IH Diesel Mechanics program."

He started full time in 2018 as a diesel technician for Bane-Welker, where he has worked for three years.  In that role, he worked on everything from tillage tools to combines, tractors and even lawn mowers. He gained deep experience with engine diagnostics, transmission diagnosis and small engine repair. 

After his first full year, he became a road service technician, which meant going out to the field to work on farm equipment any time of year, but especially during the busiest times of the year: spring planting and fall harvest.
 
Why did you get into this line of work? And did you always want to do this?

I have always had a passion for working on tractors and fixing things. 

When I was in high school, I was heavily involved in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program. I participated in the Chevron Delo National Tractor Restoration Contest. For this project, you choose a tractor of your choice to restore. 

My first year I chose a 1949 Farmall Cub that my great grandpa gave me before he passed away. This tractor had to be completely disassembled to the last bolt. I had to go through every system — the engine, transmission, electrical system and hydraulic system. 

I performed all the work myself, with the help of mentors, while attending my freshman year of high school. After this first tractor restoration contest, I was hooked. I then completed three more projects. My second tractor was a 1962 Farmall 504, and my third tractor was a Farmall F-12. I won third place nationally with this tractor. During my senior year of high school, I restored an International 1086, which included a cab. I tore this tractor, like the others, down to the last bolt. I rebuilt every system in the tractor, which included the engine, transmission, torque amplifier, hydraulic system, the cab and air condition system. I won Reserve Grand Champion nationally with this tractor. 

This is how I got started in the Bane-Welker Service Technician Program at Parkland College. Working for Bane-Welker had always been my goal while attending high school.   
 
What does a typical day look like?

I start the day by making sure my toolbox is clean and ready to go for my current or next service call. I first ask the service manager what he has planned for me for that particular day. It could be anything from an inspection, equipment setup, servicing or repair work. Also if I’m working on a shop project, I could get sent out on a service call to the farm. This would involve diagnostics and repair. We use a computer, in some of the diagnostics, to read codes. Being able to read manuals and schematics are a must. Many hours of overtime are usually typical during planting and harvest.
    
What do you like most about your job? And least?

My favorite part of this job is being on the road as a road service technician, rather than working in the shop. Being able to go to the field, diagnose the customer equipment, and get the equipment back to field operation is very important to me. I like meeting new customers and being able to solve their problems with the equipment. This is very important to becoming a good road service technician. 

I would say one of the things that bothers me the most about my job is when a customer hovers over me while I’m trying to diagnose and repair. This can get a little uncomfortable while I’m trying to think and look things up! I try to distract them from the task by asking them about farming and what they do in life. This kind of takes the heat off of me and relaxes the situation a bit.
 
What’s the most common misconception about your job?

The biggest misconception in the mechanic field in general is about the technology. Every piece of machinery has continued to change, with more and more electronics, sensors, parts and computers, which means you have to continue your education to stay up to date. We get sent to the training centers quite often, for several days at time. The advanced equipment today includes tractors and planters that can drive themselves, and combines that can harvest themselves. 

I’m sure most people outside of the industry don't realize how technically focused you need to be to diagnose and repair each piece of equipment.
 
What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?

My high school offers a technical program that allows students with good standing to sign up for a vocational class, which is a three-hour block at a career center, during your junior and senior year. Knowing that, I signed up for the automotive career class. I didn’t realize until I was almost through my senior year that I could have done this through a place of employment. I would have chosen Bane-Welker Equipment, which would have given me a jump-start. 
 
What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

I came into this industry because I love working with my hands and trying to diagnose and repair each problem. I absolutely love working on tractors and heavy machinery. 

Agriculture is advancing every year right before our eyes. There are also advanced farming applications that use self-guiding equipment. This requires a bit more of computer work in the field and on the equipment. If you like working with your hands, like mechanics, like challenges, and like a fast-paced environment, this is the career for you. 
 
What are some of the risks and rewards of the work you do?

Safety is a big risk with this large equipment, so it’s extremely important to be safety-conscious. The job is most rewarding when you go out into the field and complete the job.
 
Is there a time when you felt your job made a real impact on someone’s life?

Sometimes in the workplace, other technicians are not too helpful when they are asked for advice and help. They can kind of intimidate you at times and make you feel unworthy. I don’t think they remember what it was like being the new person. 

I always try to make it a priority to help new technicians into this challenging career because I remember when I was new. You are still in the learning phase. To tell the truth, I don’t think that you ever get out of that. I have a coworker who thanks me every day because I take time to help and answer his questions. He appreciates me, and that’s rewarding for me. After all, this experience needs to be handed down for the profession to thrive.
 
Why would you recommend that someone go into this line of work?

Each day is a challenge, you don't know what you’ll get into. The field of agriculture diesel mechanics is constantly growing. If you like to problem solve and work with your hands, this is the job for you — plus there’s great job security because there’s a shortage of technicians.
 
Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

This past year has been an amazing career change for me. I’ve accepted a teaching position at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Indiana, as an automotive instructor and agriculture power & technology instructor. I enjoy working with the students, teaching them about automotive and agriculture mechanics. 

This is my first year teaching, and I’m enjoying working with the students on various shop projects. When I was in high school, I had a lot of mentors throughout the years while I was restoring the tractors. Now it’s my turn to give back to the community and mentor the students. 

I help teach them basic mechanics, basic automotive, agricultural mechanics and applications, and welding. This is so rewarding. The students tell me that I’m their favorite teacher, and some tell me that my class is the only class that even gets them to school. This really makes me feel good, that I can have such an impact on kids’ lives. This is my first year, so I hope to make an impact on many more lives to come!

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