Lance Sawrey kept helicopters and fixed-wing jets in flying shape as an aircraft mechanic in the U.S. Coast Guard for 16 years and the U.S. Navy for four years. Now he's keeps dump trucks and excavators on the road for the Clatsop County Public Works Department.
"The principles are the same. You're dealing with hydraulic, pneumatic and electronic systems, just put on a different animal and you use bigger wrenches," Sawrey says.
Sawrey works part time as an equipment servicer, assisting two full time mechanics and the shop foreman to keep the agency's fleet running. That's 80 vehicles - about 30 different kinds, ranging from pickup trucks and dump trucks to graders, rollers and asphalt distributors - and 140 pieces of other types of equipment - from mowers and chain saws to compactors. The in-house shop services and repairs most of the equipment, unless under warranty.
Shop foreman Sasha Raichl explains that the equipment is too specialized and sometimes too large for local private garages to handle, and bringing in a specialist from Portland would be too expensive.
National County Government Week runs through Friday. This year's theme is " Transportation: Counties Move America's People and Products." County governments build and maintain about 45 percent of the nation's roads and 44 percent of bridges nationwide.The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring the week locally and the county is profiling some of its Public Works employees.
Vehicles and equipment are serviced regularly based on the number of hours of use, mileage or calendar time. Pickup and dump trucks, for instance, come in for their regular check-up after 250 hours of engine use - whether clocked during 5,000 miles of long hauling or 500 miles of chugging.
Sawrey uses a steam cleaner to blast caked-on dirt, grime and hardened tar from the exterior, undercarriage and engine so he can see the tiniest crack as he inspects the vehicle from top to bottom, front to back for signs of wear or damage. Oil and all other fluids are replaced. A sample of oil is sent to a lab to analyze for problems. Regular replacement of lubricants and warming up the engine can reduce 94 percent of engine wear, according to Raichl.
The mechanics groan when they see the rubber tire excavator come in, because of its size and cost, or the asphalt distributor, because it will be saturated with tar. Sawery's personal worst is the street cleaner because it kicks up a cloud of dirt that seeps into air cleaners and hydraulics.
He enjoys the variety of vehicles and the challenge of working on those that have five or six different hydraulic systems harmonized with computers.
The oldest equipment is a 1952 flat-head engine oil circulator that heats oil for chip sealing to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. "The technology hasn't changed and it's still working, so there's no need to replace it," Sawrey says.
One of the 10-yard dump trucks has logged more than 210,000 miles. "The truck will be in service for many more years," he says.