Tradespeople of Calgary: Mike Melanson

Calgary Tradespeople

At 60 years of age, Mike Melanson has fixed more machines than you can shake a socket wrench at. Despite having over 40 years of experience working as a mechanic, Melanson says he still learns new things all the time.

In many ways I still consider myself an apprentice to the trade.

“In many ways I still consider myself an apprentice to the trade.” Melanson gives the impression even masters of the trades always have room to grow.

Melanson is originally from Nova Scotia. He left trade school in 1971 and went to Halifax’s Nova Scotia Institute of Technology (NSIT) to complete his apprenticeship. For the past 20 years, he’s been living and working in Calgary.

For four of those years, Melanson taught high school students the basics of auto mechanics, teaching first at Henry Wise Wood, and later, William Aberhart.

As any high school teacher knows, teens love to test the limits with their teachers.

“They would go out of their way to try you out and see how good you are,” Melanson confirms.

Melanson would return the favour. Using a Mustang GT convertible donated by Ford, he assessed the student’s mechanical skills by entering flaws into the car and then challenging them to uncover the problems.

Some of the students did exceedingly well that year; two of them had the highest written scores in Calgary. In a subsequent contest put on by Ford and AMA, his students placed fourth in the province. Melanson says the success they had was the result of a team effort between the students, himself and his fellow instructor, Steve Bidwell.

Tradeslife-Mike-Mount-Royal

This John Deere unit has 4WD which makes it flexible enough for both summer and winter use.

 

When Melanson’s contract ended, he moved on, eventually landing at Mount Royal University where he’s been serving as the sole Grounds Equipment Mechanic for the past five years.

Melanson’s job involves making sure that Mount Royal University’s ground crew has well-functioning equipment. Grounds Manager Shane Williams says his crew looks after an area that is approximately 120 acres in size. That’s bigger than 90 football fields, which translates into serious wear and tear on the over 100 pieces of equipment used to keep the grounds looking pristine. The equipment Melanson services includes everything from weedwackers to pickup trucks from a range of different manufacturers including Bobcat, John Deere, Toro, General Motors and Kubota.

When you’ve got so many different kinds of machinery and equipment, it’s challenging to know where problems lie when something breaks down. Melanson says a good mechanic needs to use all his or her senses to diagnose malfunctions. For example, a piece of equipment may not sound right or it may produce a strange vibration; it may have a strange smell, which can indicate an electrical short or an oil leak.

“You have to rely on your senses and past experiences,” Melanson says, adding, “But you should always check the simple things first. If you check the simple things, first chances are, that is where you’ll end up finding most of your problems.”

If you look after the little things, the big things take care of themselves.

Preventative maintenance is a crucial part of keeping equipment in good condition.

“If you look after the little things, the big things take care of themselves,” Melanson advises.

However, some problems have nothing to do with preventative maintenance. Sometimes the design is flawed and that’s when creativity comes into play.

Calgary-Mechanic

Melanson has his automotive mechanic inter-provincial standard, provincial safety inspection ticket, propane ticket, commercial safety inspection ticket, and is in the process of getting his heavy duty ticket.

 

When some of the grounds people reported feeling ill because of exhaust fumes getting into the snowplow cabins, Melanson realized that it wouldn’t be a simple fix.

Often operators who were plowing or sweeping snow would get into areas where they couldn’t turn around, so they’d have to back out, driving directly into their own exhaust. Just opening the windows wasn’t a solution because of -30°C winter conditions.

“There was a lot of exhaust getting in these things. You just can’t have that. It’s a safety hazard, big time,” Melanson says. “So we actually had to physically seal the bottom of the cabs, all around the floors where the pedals and all that stuff comes up through the unit, anywhere exhaust could get up through the cab.”

A CO2 detector was used to test the air quality inside the cabins, ensuring the safety of the operators. “It took quite a bit of work, but it made a huge difference,” Melanson says.

Not taking shortcuts is paramount, especially when worker safety is a priority. “Band-Aid fixes never work. They wind up costing you more money down the road.”

Unfortunately, not all mechanics are committed to doing things right. As a result, those mechanics contribute to misconceptions of the profession. Melanson says the general public underestimates how much skill it takes to do the job. Many people don’t realize how much talent and training it takes to become a great mechanic.

“There are a lot of people I’ve been fortunate to work with that are highly skilled, very talented people.” As Melanson jokes, in a world without mechanics “there’d be a lot of people walking.” Well said.

According to Melanson, being a great mechanic requires composure and ability to communicate well.

“You have to have a lot of patience because a lot of this equipment is very difficult to work on and it can be very frustrating.” You also have to be able to interpret information passed down by the users of equipment and then try to replicate a problem.

Another misconception is the importance of fancy tools, as if they can solve every problem, but as Melanson says, “Tools are important, but they are only as good as the person using them.”

ford-model-a

Photos courtesy of Mike Melanson.

When Melanson isn’t tending to the machines at work, he is attending to the machine at home: a 1928 Ford Model A. This relic is his hobby project and has kept him busy for the last few years.

He found the car in Saskatchewan. The first thing he did was take out the original chassis and sell it. Then, he began to construct a whole new one.

“What I did was build a frame table to build the chassis on. I set the whole thing up with a digital smart level to the point where I could actually set wheel alignment toe-in, driveline angles, steering angles, all while sitting on the frame table.”

Melanson’s baby has a small-block 350 engine. He has fitted with care stainless steel brake lines and fuel lines, rack and pinion steering, four wheel disc brakes and a dual exhaust.

“I’m building it to drive,” Melanson says. “It’s not a trailer queen.”

When the car is finished he would like to take it out east where he’s from. The cross-country trip will be a reward for all the hard work, ingenuity and passion Melanson has poured into the project.

For a guy that has seen and done so much, you couldn’t blame him for thinking pretty highly of himself, but Melanson speaks about his achievements with modesty.

“As with any trade you rely on your logic, your skills, and your common sense,” he says. “There’s nobody out there that knows it all. If they think they do, they’re going to get very disappointed very quickly!”

Wise words.

 

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  • jakot

    That’s not a classic car, but a beast! nice stuff