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Freelance Equipment Repair?

Discussion in 'Shop Talk' started by Wes J, Mar 13, 2018.

  1. Wes J

    Wes J Senior Member

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    This is going to sound odd, probably because I'm an odd guy.

    To an extremely long story short: I grew up in a shop, mostly farm equipment repairs. Worked in a truck repair shop and one year in a car dealer shop while I was in college. Degree in mechanical engineering. Don't like working as an engineer, 6 years chained to a desk was enough of that. Started a CNC machine shop. Found out I liked fixing machine tools much more than I like running them.

    For the last 3 years I've been doing field service on CNC and manual machine tools as an independent contractor through a large company that sells parts and service for a few dozen brands of machines. I provide the tools and transportation, they find the work and handle the money. I get paid an hourly rate just a few dollars less than my shop rate. I'm good at it. I do electrical, controls, mechanical, etc. Basically, anything that needs to be done.

    The problem is that it's 100% travel and most times overnight. The first year I stayed in a hotel over 100 nights. That was fine then, but now I have a 1 year old son and it's not really fair to my wife, who also works full time. Also, things have been very slow and I put too many eggs in one basket.

    I've tried to find local work fixing and rebuilding machine tools, but haven't come up with much. Larger places have their own people or have new equipment that is serviced by a dealer. There are 4 other companies in the area providing the same services, so lot's of competition for a fairly small market.

    Anyway, I'm trying to find a way to stay busy without so much travel or going back to a desk. I was thinking heavy equipment or truck repair is an option. Are there independent contractor opportunities in this line of work? I've never actually been employed as an equipment mechanic, but I have most of the tools needed and I think most of the skills. The equipment I have worked on is really old, but maybe still relevant (old IH TD-9 and Cat D4 and some old Bobcats). I have rebuilt many engines and gear boxes. I'm very good on the electrical stuff and hydraulics. I can weld and obviously have a handle on machining. I have a small line boring rig I built. I still have my shop and machine tools, so I can work on anything that can fit through a 12X12 door. I have a class A CDL.

    I don't know if it would work out to go back to work for someone as an employee, but I'm not too proud to do so under the right circumstances.

    I guess the question is am I qualified to repair heavy equipment? Is there a place for a guy like me? How do I go about finding work? I don't really know anyone in the industry in this area.

    Hope that makes sense.
     
  2. DIYDAVE

    DIYDAVE Senior Member

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    Craigs list ad might be your friend, its free, but you sometimes have to weed out the kooks. Also, Important thing, you will need insurance, if you are working on machinery, in a customer's shop. A neighbor of one of my service clients had hired a cl mechanic, to fix an old truck. and he ended up burning down their house, then running away. That particular neighbor was once a customer of mine, but I hadda collect on a $400 bill, from him, and he didn't like that... So in a way this was kinda divine karma, but what I'm saying, is stuff happens...;)
     
  3. Junkyard

    Junkyard Senior Member

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    Yes CL will get you more than your share of crazies. Word of mouth works too. Look around and start taking notice of the smaller companies that have equipment. Make some cards, talk to their guys, drop in with cards and key chains, hopefully they'll end up in the machine and they'll know to call you when it won't start. Part stores sometimes will lead you to work as well. It's pretty easy to get busy. Getting paid is another thing. Be as up front as possible about your terms and get setup to take credit cards.
     
  4. td25c

    td25c Senior Member

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    Look in to the Agricultural Industry .... They need people with your skills .

    Being your from Peoria IL you wont have to go far to find work .

    Farms , Fertilizer plants , Grain elevators ..... They all need a feller that can turn a wrench & multitask !

    Good luck Wes .
     
  5. Junkyard

    Junkyard Senior Member

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    Mechanic, welder, millwright yada yada....
    :)
     
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  6. ETER

    ETER Well-Known Member

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    Wes, to answer your questions, it sounds like you are well qualified and resourced to do about whatever...not sure about the "freelance equipment repair"? But if you mean that you have given consideration to self-employed "pulling on the big wrenches" for the next 20 years or so, ok... and then when you're in your 50's and waking up with sore knees, bad back and hands / fingers that won't loosen up till 10 in the morning, have at it!
    To me (and many others I'm sure) to get paid well for something that I was college educated in (not sucking in diesel fumes all day) (even chained to a desk, as long as I can reach the coffee pot!) doesn't sound so doom and gloom:).
    There is going to be a need for someone to do the "bull-work" for a long time to come, so if you want to do it bad enough, you will eventually find your niche in the industry. Don't sweat the part about not knowing anyone in the Peoria area...The HEF community is a pretty good resource for all "big wrench" turning info.
    Regards, Bob
     
  7. Wes J

    Wes J Senior Member

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    I do carry my own liability insurance.

    I'm 33 and already have carpal tunnel and bad knees, so that's nothing new. Surly my perspective will be different in 20 years, but for now, I prefer working with my hands to working at a desk. I enjoyed college, but found that the actual work of an engineer is incredibly boring to me. Luckily, I graduated with little debt and pretty quickly paid it off.

    I'm sure I can do the work. I'm not sure I can convince customers of that fact. The nice thing about contracting through an OEM is that the customer just assumes that you are some highly trained employee of the company and you are there to save the day. Many times I am working on machines I have never seen before. The customer doesn't know that, and am always able to fix the problems, so everything works out in the end. But it feels different trying to land the job on your own. Human psychology is a major obstacle. Your ability to actually do the work typically has very little to do with your ability to get the job. The bigger the customer, the worse it is.
     
    check likes this.
  8. check

    check Senior Member

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    College educated people are indoctrinated in the politically correct notion that all people are equal, that degrees, qualifications and experience are what makes them different. In reality you could take 3 people with the exact same degrees, qualifications and experience and the results of their efforts would vary considerably. You remind me of myself in my younger days. Although I was uneducated, it was very easy for me to adapt to working on equipment that I had never seen before. I could think my way through most anything and learn new trades easily, working alone. I think you are like that too. You operate using reasoning rather than memorized procedures.
    The most rewarding work environment may be one where your unique and diverse abilities are required, as opposed to one where a monkey can be trained by repetition. Not many people have what you have.
     
  9. Wes J

    Wes J Senior Member

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    Yes, I agree. However, it's not easy to monetize that skill set.

    I don't know how to articulate it. The world does not reward the jack of all trades. Most people would rather hire a person of moderate skill that claims to be a "specialist" in one specific area than a person of high skill who can tackle any job. Even if the latter can do the job better or cheaper or both, they still prefer the "specialist".

    I've known extremely smart people who really believe that. I worked for a guy who was an outstanding truck mechanic. He would take his motorcycle to the dealer for service instead of working on it himself. He really thought the kid at the dealership who took a weekend course in bike repair was better qualified to fix that thing than he was.

    Car dealers are even worse. People will take their car to the dealer for repairs over and over and let the dealer fire parts at it trying to fix it. These people will drive right past qualified independent shops that could actually fix their vehicles to go back to the dealership believing them to be experts.

    Anyway, I'm getting a bit far afield. How do you guys advertise on craigslist? I've sold some things using it and had mixed results. I seem to get equal parts normal people, crazy people, and complete silence.
     
    check likes this.
  10. Junkyard

    Junkyard Senior Member

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    There are places that reward a jack of all trades. I'm one, actually damn good at a couple of them. Smaller companies that like to have a person fit multiple roles are what you'd look for. Where I'm at now is that way. They really look for multiuse employees. Keeps things interesting for sure.

    CL is a 50/50 deal. I've gotten some good work off of it and some not so good. You'll have to learn what to turn down. It would be a good way to hopefully generate a few contacts that begin the word of mouth snowball. Stick your head in a few places. Being there in person goes a long way.
     
  11. check

    check Senior Member

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    I'm retired so I don't know the current job market very well. My thinking is that the smaller the company the farther you get away from the "qualified expert specialist" mindset, which is a byproduct of indoctrination. People with skills that far exceed their "qualifications" are often the ones who start small businesses. But small companies are not really known for generous compensation.

    edit: Junkyard beat me to it.

    The farther you go from large metropolitan centers, the better the results from Craigslist, at least as far as buying and selling goes.
     
  12. Birken Vogt

    Birken Vogt Charter Member

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    My observation is when the boss of a trucking company or whatever gets mad at the last mechanic he picks up the phone and calls the next one on his list. So if you are on that list, when your number comes up you can stay employed by those type of guys as long as you keep them happy.
     
  13. John C.

    John C. Senior Member

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    I've been following this with interest and know most if not all to be true. Smaller places tend to more emphasis on a broad range of skills but not necessarily reward them at what most experience craftsman feel it is worth. The larger shops want experience and monkeys because they believe they do the specialty repairs fast and have the special tools required for the specialty. I have found that to be true for the most part. The problem for the large shops is they think there are people lined up down the street that can do the monkeys job. They also have the special people who are "protected" that, short of kidnapping someone's baby, will never be shoved out the door. All that is politics and that goes on everywhere anyway.

    Two things needed to find those jobs are shoe leather and a grape vine of communications. Get on the road and start talking to the shop people and leave something with them so they can call you if they hear of something coming up. Once you establish a reputation of dependability and honesty you will probably spend little time looking for work in the future.

    Good Luck!
     
  14. Jonas302

    Jonas302 Senior Member

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    Starting a equipment repair business with 0 experience? Not a great plan
    Kinda like a guy being a journeyman machine tool repairman on his first day of the job. If financial stability and time at home with your family is important get hired on with a construction company you would be an amazing plant mechanic they absolutely will appreciate your wide range of skills and mechanical aptitude get your 60 hours and a paycheck every week Do your side work at home build your knowledge and reputation in the business
     
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  15. check

    check Senior Member

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    I started a mobile equipment repair business when I only had 1 1/2 years of diesel experience, but that was 1981 and equipment was tinkertoy simple. The stuff I was working on was made in the sixties and seventies. I was 26 years old. I don't ever remember seeing a repair manual back then. We called the dealer for torque specs.

    Now that everything is electronically controlled and special tools are often needed to work on newer machinery, it gives the dealer monkey an advantage over the much smarter independent mechanic. This is exactly what the manufacturers and dealers want.
    Sorry for the lack of constructive ideas. There is no doubt that someone needs the exact skill set you have and would be willing to pay dearly for it, maybe even take you in as part owner, but for both parties to make the connection and realize they are good for each other is a long shot. Good thing Craigslist is free.
     
  16. funwithfuel

    funwithfuel Senior Member

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    Considering you're in Peoria, maybe look at local 649. I'm not recruiting.
    When I worked trucks, I bounced all over looking for a place that followed through on what they promised. Ultimately wound up joining local 701 mechanics. Spent about 15 years in various shops with good insurance and building retirement. Last year the last shop I worked at closed. It was heavy equipment repair under 701 contract.
    Now, the catch. That was about the only place to work on heavy equipment under 701. In chicagoland, there is a demand for heavy equipment mechanics. In chicagoland , everything heavy equipment is under local 150 operating engineers. They are very protective of their craft. So i took withdrawal from 701 and currently working under permit in 150.
    I know some guys frown on unions. I used to be one. But you can't argue with good wages and unbeatable benefits. 649 is operating engineers in your area. You have several dealers right over in east peoria along 116.
    Good luck in whatever path you choose. I hope this helps and apologize if it was unwanted info.
     
  17. DIYDAVE

    DIYDAVE Senior Member

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    Check, there was also no internet, in the old days... Now, you can hunt up some good internet videos, of repairin just about anything...;)
     
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  18. Wes J

    Wes J Senior Member

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    LOL. Good repair videos. Like Scotty Kilmer?
     
  19. Delmer

    Delmer Senior Member

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    A decent looking service truck and a tiny amount of mechanical ability is all it takes to get started, as long as you're willing to work for what the other guy is charging, show up at a moments notice, fix neglected junk quickly and cheaply etc. The trouble will come when you expect to get paid twice as much as Jim Bob because you're more productive/can handle more complicated whatever. If Jim Bob only charges $X, why are should I pay you $2X? especially if I'm uninformed enough to think that the dealer is the only place to get good service, and I'm taking chances with any independent.

    One way to look at being an independent mechanic is are you going to be a commodity or a specialist? You seem to have the skills to be able to specialize in electrical controls, if you get the reputation for being able to fix stuff others walk away from, then you can justify the price you're worth. Of course that's the opposite of what you have to do to get started, fix the kids broken wagon wheel to get the word out.

    If you want more time with the family, going independent isn't a typical move. Maybe something like an industrial mid/lower level manager? You're just going to have to deal with paperwork to make good money. And industry is willing to pay for the mix of experience and degree in a way that Jim Bob's customers aren't willing to pay.
     
  20. DIYDAVE

    DIYDAVE Senior Member

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    I take back anything positive I said about craigs list... Just found out that the bustards started charging a $5 fee for all service related ads, as of march 15, this year! I will prolly end up buyin an ad a week, or so, but not as much as I used to post. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the type that posted 5 ads a day, on 5 different computers, but I generally dod OK, posting 1 ad per night, alternating in 2 areas, which border each other. I don't think I abused the system, but I've seen other landscape contractors who have. Buncha worthless a$$hats ruining a good thing, fer everybody else...:mad: