Weekly Comments Archive
Archived Issue
Sunday, June 6, 2010
ISSUE #606
#606 June 6, 2010

Will sees bright future for these engineering students

PEORIA, Ill.: For the past four days I’ve been here in Peoria, Illinois, the heart of the state, and home to Caterpillar. Folks here in farm country are kinda reluctant to admit they are part of a state that includes Chicago. They’ll remind you this is the Land of Lincoln, not the land of Capone and Blagojevich.

I’m here with engineering students from 25 colleges in the U.S. and Canada who are competing to see who can design and build the best pulling tractor. These schools have teams, (mostly agricultural engineering students), that work all year and then travel to Peoria for the contest.

Now, these are not the big tractors you’re used to seeing on farms or at Tractor Pulls. These are quarter-scale. Each team is given some small Goodyear tractor tires that are about two feet tall and a foot wide. And Briggs & Stratton gives them 16-horsepower engines. The students design the rest of the tractor. No two tractors look alike. They can have from 2 to 5 of these engines hooked together, and either 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive.

If you ever wonder about the caliber of students graduating from college today, this bunch will stack up against any of them. I happen to be affiliated with the 13 from Ohio State University and know them better, but the whole contingent worked day and night to get their tractors running and ready to meet the technical specifications. Kinda like NASCAR, the tractors had to meet certain requirements related to weight, safety, braking, and ease of servicing.

This tractor design competition is not a class assignment. But these students probably learn more than in any 10 classes about the practical, problem solving skills they will need in business. They learn from failure, working long hours to correct a problem. If the new plan don’t work either, think up another. It may take a dozen tries to get the tractor to run good enough to pull the heavy competition sled even a few feet.. But this week in Peoria we saw many examples of failure turned to success. Dejection replaced by elation.

The government won’t need to create jobs for these students. Their experiences in working together, keeping focus and determination to use creative ideas to complete a task on deadline will get them hired by companies like John Deere, New Holland, and Cat.

These students are too young to remember Winston Churchill, but they followed his declaration during the dark days of World War II: “Never Give Up.” They sure didn’t. And as I watched these students trying one creative idea after another to correct deficiencies, I was hoping that, in a similar competition, there are teams of petroleum engineering students working on designs to cap an oil well a mile under water.

When asked about the extremely long work hours, one engineering student replied, “It’s not work when you’re having fun.”

Recently, we lost two great and influential Americans who lived close to a century, Art Linkletter and John Wooden. Whether it was Art entertaining on radio and television, or Coach Wooden inspiring basketball players at UCLA, they also knew how to turn work into fun.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:
“There couldent possibly be anyone that knew less about Machinery (than me).  I never raised the hood of any car I ever had…  If I raised up the hood and a Rabbit jumped out, I wouldent know but what he belonged in there.  I drive ’em, but I sure don’t try to fix ’em.” WA #317, January 20, 1927

“There is no team of horses in the world that depreciates (as quickly as a tractor). And you can raise what he eats. But can’t raise what a tractor eats. A horse will keep on going even when it’s hungry, but let the old tractor get hungry and, brother, he stops.” WA #561, Sept. 24, 1933


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