• Technicians doing "brake patches" instead of brake rebuilds--"He'll do a brake job on a trailer, and he won't replace the drums! The drums will be all worn out and grooved, and he'll just put in brake shoes. Or he'll do a one-wheel brake job; you can't have balanced brakes when you just do one wheel, or one axle."
• Technicians who are taught that it's okay to adjust an automatic slack adjuster--"You've got an internal problem somewhere with the brake foundation that's causing this adjuster not to work. You're just covering up by trying to adjust the ASA, because in two weeks the brakes are going to be out of adjustment again."
That last problem sometimes hits close to home. "I've even had a hard time here, convincing my own guys, that you do not adjust an automatic slack adjuster," Dale admits. "When a truck comes in and needs a brake adjustment and it's got an automatic slack adjuster, do not adjust it!"
The six technicians at FMPC are a loyal group, although it can be hard to find good candidates for open positions. One new tech was hired away from a fleet last summer and only lasted three days; he felt the work at FMPC was "too technical," and he wanted to return to the fleet world, where he knew he would be working on the same trucks and the same problems day in and day out.
"He was used to filling out a PM sheet next to the truck, which is what I find a lot of my competitors do," Dale shrugs. "I hear this from new customers who come in here after having taken a truck to a dealership, and I've got technicians who have worked for dealerships; they don't physically go under the truck! They fill a sheet out at the service desk."
The Kruegers are willing to hire graduates of the local technical college's diesel program, but they feel those candidates don't receive enough real world training. "Tech schools aren't preparing technicians," Dale says. "It's all diesel training, but it's not the basics, it's not preventive maintenance."
Tech school-trained technicians are eager to do troubleshooting with a computer, Dale says, or to replace injectors, but they balk at the prospect of tearing down a truck. "I had a young man here who I trained on doing an air brake job," he says. "Well, he had had air brake training at the technical college, but they had new axles that somebody had donated to them, and when you take new axles, they're not rusted, they're going to come apart really easily. But when you get to the real world and you pull that wheel off and everything's rusted and you can't get that anchor pin out, you learn how much work it takes."
As a matter of course, every new technician who joins the staff works closely with one of the experienced technicians, sometimes for a number of years.
"One of our older guys will spend an afternoon with a younger guy as he does a PM inspection, then the older guy will go through with him and show him what he missed," Dale explains. "We once had an older guy follow up on a younger guy who had lubricated a truck--to me, lubricating a truck is just as important as anything we do, because I don't want our parts to wear out for the customer--and every grease fitting he had missed, he had to give the older guy a quarter!"
The Kruegers have high standards for their technicians, and some of the recruits struggle to meet those standards, but those who succeed never forget the lessons they learn. In fact, one technician who began his career at FMPC and has gone on to a maintenance position with Michels Power, a local utility construction company, has vowed that the Kruegers will always be his #1 outsourcing vendor.
With that kind of loyalty, it's not hard to understand why FMPC has just finished its best year ever without spending a cent on advertising.
When you do good work, word gets around. Michels Power, as previously mentioned, sends all its overflow maintenance work to FMPC, and has done so since the Kruegers opened their shop ten years ago. Not only has the former FMPC technician who now works for Michels sworn his undying allegiance to the Kruegers, but when a group of Michels employees left that firm to start their own competing company, they also came to FMPC for help!