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Tools from the Heart

Explorer C

I’m a girl who loves tools and knows how to use them.  I don’t pound a nail into the wall using a high-heel shoe.   I own a compound miter saw, jigsaw, two power drills, and a bevy of other miscellaneous tools that can be used around the house for a variety of projects. Of course they are all hung in their places on a pegboard in the garage.  And none are pink or girly, though I do admit having a tool belt my Mom decorated for me one Christmas with pink boa around the pockets and drawn on flowers.  I love that thing.  But that’s another story.
Keeping all that in mind, you can only imagine my delight when I walked through the Maintenance hangar here in Dallas when I first transferred over to this Department.  There is a sea of toolboxes.  I’m not talking about the small toolboxes you can carry a few things around in; I’m talking these huge boxes on wheels that could haul a family of four in them. 

Maintenance Hangar

And as you can see in some of the pictures, they’re each decorated in the style of their owners, some splashed with stickers gathered throughout their careers, others with family pictures, some polished like a prize vintage car.  One in Dallas even has its own miniature helipad for a radio controlled helicopter.  Others show the signs of their career in the industry with stickers from airlines in the past or other aircraft they’ve worked.

Personalized Toolbox

Eric Edwards, a Structural Mechanic, was in the hangar as I was taking pictures, so I cornered him to ask him about some of the decorating.

“You work in an office or cube, right?” he said.  “Well, this is our office.  We personalize our toolbox  just like you would your cube, and we have the tools we need to do our jobs in our office.”

Some of them have small boxes much like most of us have in our own garages for only a few tools, and others have giant, stable cabinets full of their wares. 

So why do they have their own tools?  I asked Don Hammer, a Charles E. Taylor award winner, about this.  He said that each AMT (Aircraft Maintenance Technician) has tools that fit their own hands and ones that have a specific purpose in mind.   Now the Company does provide some tools, mostly those that require precision and calibrating.  Those are kept in an area and are checked out when they are needed. 

It’s common practice that airlines require AMTs to buy their own tools.   They tend to take great care and pride in those tools that they personally own; sometimes lining them up in the boxes carefully like a surgeon might prepare his operating room tools.  You can see that neatness and precision in Structural Mechanic Pete Vanrachack’s toolbox below.

Pete's Toolbox

In fact, in explaining what he does, Structural Repair Supervisor Bob Gwaltney said that, “In some respect being an AMT is sort of like being a surgeon to aircraft.”  If you think about it, it’s a great analogy – they get into the guts of an aircraft, diagnose what is wrong, pull out some parts that aren’t working, and repair others while they’re still attached.

So think of these hardworking AMTs the next time you pop open your toolbox and grab the nearest wrench or air drill.  Chances are, these mechanics are using some of the same things.

Explorer C
Great job Kari!!! It has been almost 10 years since I rolled my toolbox out of the giant airplane garage and into its new two car domicile. That toolbox is my pride and joy still decorated with stickers and quotes from back in the day. There is always an achy spot in my heart when I peruse its contents and see specialty tools that will probably never be put to use ever again. You did a wonderful job capturing the coolness of such a simple device.
Adventurer B
I just figured out how to make my getting the Snap-on franchise for the DAL area ;-) Paul In CRP
Explorer C
Creativity and precision - two things I'd expect to see side-by-side at Southwest! Thanks for this story. It's great to fly aboard planes that are under the care of this group of aircraft surgeons!
Explorer C
Hi Stuart, You know, the surgeon comment that Bob said spawned off another story idea I hope to get to later. It was a great analogy for what our Folks do on a daily basis.
Explorer C
wow these are tool boxes? Pretty huge huh... You maybe can build a house using all that's inside hahhaa... My husband love collecting tools too . he uses it to assemble and reassemble his Big RC Helicopter.. I guess i should get one of this on fathers day.. tools are messing around the backyard and i hate it,,,, 🙂