MegaZone (zonereyrie) wrote,

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Oh man - this sucks...

Joe Gale died.
Joe Gale was the coolest instructor I had at WPI - period. He wasn't a professor, he worked in the machine shop. I took ME1800 with him - aka Grunge Lab. That was probably the most fun I had in a class at WPI, I love working with my hands. I still have the 'spool' we made. I can't say he taught me how to weld, like kadath, since my parents own a heating company and i grew up working in the metal shop. But it was fun working with him - he also features in one of the WPI stories I like to tell...

When we started the welding portion of the program Joe had all of us in a circle for a Q&A session. He asked why we had to wear long sleeve shirts while welding - people gave the expect answers about sparks, etc. I raise my hand - "Sunburn. Arc welding puts out a lot of UV and you can get sunburn." Right. His stumper question "You're working on a project late at night and you run out of welding rod. You can't go out and get any more and you have to finish the project by morning. What do you do?" Everyone is stumped I had to think for a minute - then I remembered. "Coat hangers." Joe looked at me, rather surprised. "Right." Metal coat hangers are low carbon steel - pretty much the same as welding rod. It was just something I'd picked up as trivia along the way. So at the end of the Q&A he asked people to raise their hand as he named majors - Nuke, mech eng, aero, etc. He got to the end - and I never raised my hand. So he asks me "What is your major?" "Technical Writing." "What are you doing here? And how do you know this stuff?" "I grew up in a metal shop." :-) I ended up having a number of the other students asking me for tips and since I knew what I was doing I had time to hang out and jaw with Joe about WPI.

Joe had a great memory and he'd been at WPI since 1946! So he'd seen a LOT of changes. He told me about the old foundry and how it used to have a dirt floor, and how there was a tunnel from Washburn over there - that was probably still there, just buried under the new floors. One day we went walking around outside and he was pointing out where all the changes and additions had been made to the buildings, and he remembered when it each was done. He talked about how they used to pull students cars in and turn the brakes on the machines, etc. Some of the real industrial level casting they did. He knew so much cool WPI history. He was amazingly skilled as a machinist, and he could tell what someone was doing wrong by the sound of the lathe - from across the shop. "Hey! Back that off a sixteenth of an inch!" Just by the sound it was making he could tell when someone was cutting too much, too little, etc. He could've probably worked the tools with his eyes closed.

I really respect people with that level of skill in any field, and it is a shame that a lot of the students didn't really respect him. A lot of engineering students seem to think highly of themselves - like they're 'above' getting greasy and working with machinery, and don't really think a 'machinist' is all that important. But it takes a lot of intelligence and skill to really work with the tools and do the job right - and Joe was really an artist.

He was really, really cool. It sucks that he's dead.
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