Them bones, them bones, them dry bones!

Posted 11/16/03

By Emil Schoonejans

Back in the 1950s, the Day Shift at TWA’s hangar #4 at LGA had a unique way of initiating newcomers into their world of problem solving. Even today I can clearly remember the humorous way they welcomed me. One day they had been having a particularly difficult time troubleshooting a rough engine report on one of our piston-powered aircraft, and the Twilight Shift reporting for work needed to be briefed in order to pick up where the earlier work of the line mechanics had ended.

During a shift change, the normal sequence of events began in the foreman’s office as the foreman going off duty records all work left undone in the "TO DO" book. He would then verbally elaborate on open items as he transferred his responsibility to the foreman coming on duty. During these conversations, in addition to the lead mechanics it was desirable for the incoming line mechanics who will be completing the job to sit in on the session -- I was one of those.

The conversation began by covering the obvious trouble-shooting issues: Check engine oil sumps and screens for metal particles, which if clean eliminates any internal failures. Conduct an engine run-up magneto check, and if a drop in rpm is present, do a magic wand check. If the cold cylinder can’t be found, do a compression check. Finally, replace all spark plugs and check ignition timing.

After all this work was reported as accomplished by the foreman going off duty, he then took particular note of my high degree of concentration -- I literally was hanging on his every word. He also knew I had just been transferred into LGA from EWR which made me the new kid on the block.

With this engine’s specific problem not yet identified, he said, "I think it’s time for the chicken bones!" I was really unsure if I had heard correctly as no one else reacted to those words with anything but stoicism. After a moment of quiet contemplation the new on-duty foreman said, "Yes, I think you’re right," as he stood up and reached for an object on top of a tall cabinet we used for office supplies. He took down a large old dented Ovaltine can which he ceremoniously opened, turned upside down and emptied onto the middle of his desk. You could have heard a pin drop in that office.

The desk was covered with dozens of chicken bones and they all looked quite old. There were leg bones, wing bones, ribs and wishbones. All eyes were fixed on the desktop, with mine no doubt open wider than the others. Then very quietly and dramatically, a number of the veteran mechanics approached the desk and began moving their hands slowly over the pile, making sťance like movements. They let the effect sink in for a while before shouting, "DON’T MOVE THEM" and breaking into laughter.

The joke clearly was on me as the "sick" engine really didn’t exist, but I did appreciate having been accepted by that fine group of older TWAers. And yes, the bones were carefully put back in the can atop the cabinet to await the arrival of the next "new kid."

Emil Schoonejans (1949-1985) worked in Technical Services/Line Maintenance as an aircraft mechanic and fueler at EWR and LGA, and in Flight Operations as a flight engineer and international relief officer based at JFK and LAX.

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