As the Wrench Turns: Revenge of the Midnight Mechanics, Humor by John Goglia

I don’t have to tell any of you how bad shift work can be. Our bodies never seem to adjust, especially when night becomes day. It’s hard enough to sleep when the sun is up; it’s even harder to get proper rest when week day family obligations are on a normal 9-5 schedule. And forget weekends. The pressure to attend family functions can wreak havoc on sleep-deprived workers on the midnight shift.

Add to these pressures, a man I’ll call Terrible T. A supervisor from hell if ever there was one. No, I won’t name the airline or the airport but some of you will recognize who I’m talking about. Maybe not personally; but you may have had a similar supervisor of your very own: more interested in tormenting his workers than getting the job done properly. Terrible T. was a regional director for maintenance, responsible for more than a dozen maintenance stations from Washington, DC to Vermont with over 500 mechanics. The maintenance at these stations affected hundreds of aircraft and ranged from changing light bulbs to rigging flight controls, and everything in between.

Terrible T. delighted in unannounced station visits on the midnight shift. Checking on the quality of work performed was clearly not - at least to us mechanics - his first priority. It certainly seemed to us that his main goal on these surprise visits was to catch a hapless worker overcome by fatigue who dared to shut his eyes for a few minutes, either because his work was done or because he was just too tired to go on. Terrible T. would search the lunch room, break room, parked equipment and the airplanes: on the lookout for the occasional dozing figure. He sure seemed pleased with himself when he found one. He would send for the manager to witness the mechanic in the act of catching a few z’s, and then yell loud enough to wake the dead, “You’re fired!” 

And the mechanics were actually fired from their jobs although after union appeals, the mechanics usually got their jobs back minus a few days or even weeks of pay. Terrible T.’s routine continued for a number of years. Workers everywhere had had enough. But the mechanics at one of the larger maintenance bases had their fill and got their revenge. A couple of workers spotted Terrible T. pulling into the parking lot. They quickly found a pair of coveralls, stuffed them, placed a cap where the head should be and put the dummy in a vehicle parked in a dimly lit area.

Sure enough, on Terrible T.’s rounds, he spotted the new “employee,” apparently asleep at the wheel. As was his habit, he called for the manager to witness the offense. Little did he know that several mechanics were also acting as witnesses that night. Sure enough, true to form, as soon as the manager arrived, Terrible T. yanked open the vehicle door and shouted “You’re fired” to a dummy. As the laughing workers, melted into the shadows, it was clear that more than one dummy was on the ramp that night. Word of the dummy firing spread like wildfire through the maintenance underground.   For months afterwards, Terrible T. would be asked, “Fired any dummies lately?” 

The embarrassment of that night had its intended effect. While midnight shifts continued to play havoc with our lives, at least we stopped having to worry about Terrible T. sneaking up on us if fatigue overcame us.

Moral of the Story: Don’t mess with mechanics on the midnight shift.

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This is great!

Posted by Michael Kralicek via LinkedIn

I am disappointed that this story paints Terrible T as a villain out to do in the poor, oppressed technician! I would, in fact, argue the exact opposite and I would personally look for many more Terrible Ts for my operations.

Let's start with the fact that you have malingering technicians not performing their assigned tasks at the expense of the safety of the aircraft and those who fly on it. Compound that by ineffectual supervisors who knowingly allow this custom to permeate the midnight shift. All exacerbated by unscrupulous unions who fight to get worthless mechanics their jobs back while many more deserving [and most likely more qualified] remain unemployed.

There are no excuses for these pathetic technicians who shirk their responsibilities yet stand up and face forward, hands extended when accepting their pay check!

What ever happened to "Upon my honor I swear that I shall hold in sacred trust the rights and privileges conferred upon me as a certified aircraft mechanic. Knowing full well that the safety and lives of others are dependent upon my skill and judgment. I shall never knowingly subject others to risks which I would not be willing to assume for myself, or those dear to me.

In discharging this trust, I pledge myself never to undertake work or approve work which I feel to be beyond the limits of my knowledge, nor shall I allow any non-certificated superior to persuade me to approve aircraft or equipment as airworthy against my better judgment, nor shall I permit my judgment to be influenced by money or other personal gain, nor shall I pass as airworthy, aircraft or equipment about which I am in doubt, either as a result of direct inspection or uncertainty regarding the ability of others who have worked on it to accomplish their work satisfactory.

I realize the grave responsibility which is mine as a certified airman, to exercise my judgment on the airworthiness of aircraft and equipment. I therefore, pledge unyielding adherence to these precepts for the advancement of aviation and for the dignity of my vocation." You remember, The Mechanic's Creed?

There's a major push nowadays because industry people perceive that aviation technicians don't get their deserved respect. AskBob published a blog about 'grease monkeys' in the same theme. I offer to you that respect is earned not bestowed or entitled when you receive your tickets. You must prove by your actions that our respect is deserved. Sorry, but sleeping on the job doesn't earn my respect!

No one promised you a rose garden when you began this career trek and you couldn't and shouldn't have dreamed it would be easy. We must work all hours of the day and night, in all kinds of extreme weather conditions and, yes, with human factors like family pressures involved too! But to call yourself a professional and demand the respect of others you must overcome the adversities of life and DO YOUR JOB!

You see Terrible T as a tormentor, I see him as the only one in this story doing his job...


You are completely correct in your statements. But it is still a little humorous as being one of those night workers in this industry. Sometimes you need a little entertainment.

Join in and Be Heard,

Entertainment is one thing, a front page blog is something else! One would think it would be under the topic of [wry] humor, if at all. I'll chalk it up to being a new kid on the block...

I think John tries to mix it up a bit. Some stories like this are mostly fun while others have a lesson or reminder of the serious side of the business. He has a large number of people that like to follow his stories so we feature all of them so no one misses an issue. This story sure invoked memories for some of the staff here that had midnight shift experience including tales of positioning a Potra-Pottys in the supervisors reserved parking space and stories of blue scribing ink on earphones.

And mixing it up is fine just Bob as long as the intended purpose is stated! I'm a 33 year aviation veteran and I took it as serious. Obviously, just look at my retort. But what happens if just one technician in the early stages of aviation development takes this seriously too? You can see where I'm going with this.

In hindsight, I think it's an amusing story but hindsight is always 20/20...

Valid point, I will work on making the differences obvious between "Lessons Learned" & humor stories. Thanks for the feedback.

I had the privilege of listening to Mr. Goglia address a group of AMT's years ago in Indianapolis and enjoyed his talk on safety in maintenance immensely. I thought he made the point in the story here that "Terrible T" did not seem to be focused on the quality of the work being performed, which in my book makes him a prime candidate for a good practical joke. I wouldn't be surprised if it helped ole T to see that he was losing focus on some more important things to look at. Those who come from the bottom and work up as John did have great insight, and usually a great sense of humor as well. Thanks for the very humorous story.

So Bill, what you're saying is that Terrible T has lost his focus? Let me pose a hypothetical situation - You're the owner of Bill's Aviation, an above average FBO who just signed a lucrative Service Center agreement with the latest technological breakthru in aviation - the 'Platinum series Aircraft'. You operate 24x7x365 in the heart of the New York tracom and Terrible T works directly for you.

Tell me how you would rehabilitate Terrible T. What would you suggest his focus be? Then explain to all of us how malingering, counterproductive, feckless employees enhance safety, lower your liability and make you profitable, Mr. owner?

Sorry but Terrible T is still number one on my Hit Parade! In my opinion, his focus aligns on a point of convergence that's right where I would want it to be. I know, it's a tale designed as chucklesome and I need to focus on that. But when I read comments imputing Terrible T, I feel the need to respond...