The (16) Foot Long


Engineering today involves a lot of technology. Ideas are sketched on the computer in 3D, and testing can be simulated to save material. Well duhhh, you say. But you might like to know what a day on the job was like sixty years ago. I talked to Ernie Bacsanyi, a retired design engineer for Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, MI. He retired in 1983 after working for 35 years.

Let me give you his schooling background: Ernie went to the Henry Ford Trade School for high school and graduated in 1943 (trade schools were really big back then and often served as a substitute for college). For the next two years he served in the United States Air Force, taking math and science classes along the way. After being honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1945, he studied mechanical engineering at Wayne State University. He also took art classes there - his drawing skills would come in handy later. Next came the Detroit Institute of Technology, where he took geometry and other math classes. Later on, he took classes offered by Ford, such as vehicle dynamics, strength of materials, and advanced descriptive geometry (this was for turning 2D body panel drawings into actual 3D parts). He received a diploma from Ford in 1950.

Ernie during his years in the Air Force. While in training, he was Crew Chief for the BT-13 shown.
Ernie during his years in the Air Force. While in training, he was Crew Chief for the BT-13 shown.
Ernie started working for Ford in 1948. During his time there, he worked in both the design and development departments. He was working as a design engineer in the truck department (semis, not pickups) before the age of computers. “[Design] was all done in pencil, not ink. I had drawings that were sixteen feet long. We had drafting tables with inch lines on them. So if you were drawing one part and then another one that had to be ten feet away, the lines helped give you an accurate measurement.  But even with that it was hard to be accurate and we had a lot of errors and buffers. Do that on the computer, you want ten and a half inches plus or minus nothing, it’ll do it. That really improved the whole business.”

As a development engineer, he tested trucks and truck parts. Truck testing was performed on the road and in a wind tunnel. At least once a year, the engineers would take a trip out to San Francisco, driving six or seven trucks with new design features. “We’d leave Dearborn and drive way out to California. We’d have a few days off there in San Francisco and then we’d drive the trucks back home again. And while we were doing all that we had the questionnaires where you would make comments on stuff as you went along, like how [a part] rattles or lack of power going up the mountains or hot fuel vapor lock, so that made the job real interesting.”

So there you have it. And now please enjoy this final story from Ernie’s days at Ford:

“Ford’s Tractor Engineering department had between 20 and 30 designers and draftsmen (no girls in there back then). One guy (I’ll call him Murg) had a bad attitude and didn’t get along with anyone else.  Some of the other guys were getting really sick of dealing with him and decided to pull a prank. After Murg left for the day, they taped a fish to the underside of his drafting board. They figured Murg would get rid of the fish before it got too ripe. But in an unexpected twist, he never did. That fish sat there a good solid week (poor ol’ dead fish), and during that time Murg didn’t say a word about it or make any indication that he noticed the smell. The other guys got sick of the rotten stench and finally one of them gave in and removed the fish. They left Murg well alone after that.”

P.S. In the last blog, I asked, “How do you go in one hole and come out three?” 

You put a shirt on.

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