The Mystery of the Missing Green Valley Project Wheels

Shop Talk


Mechanics in general, cherish their tools and the toolboxes they carry them in. This is partly because they earn their daily bread using them. However real mechanics love the feel of a good wrench in their hands. You can see the look in their eye when they browse through the truck of a tool vendor and gaze in awe at the displays of special wrenches. And in truth, the right tool at the right time does make life easier. If deep feelings can be stirred by a wrench, they are compounded by possession of a classy multi-storied rollaway toolbox, a necessity if you are going to pretend to be a mechanic.

Owning many tools is valueless if you can’t find the right one when you want it.

When working in a shop with permanent workstations, mobility of the rollaway is not an issue. Working in a large facility or having to go out on the tarmac requires mechanics to move their tools with them and preferably without the assistance of twenty mules. Often the rollaways came equipped with small casters that were better suited to a piano stool. The wheels needed to be larger in diameter or they would get caught in the cracks. The narrow wheelbase also lent to that sometimes ended in a spilled box.

Often we would add a wooden base to the box to widen the wheelbase, but we would have to procure a better set of wheels to put underneath. Complaints would soon be heard about wheels disappearing from the test equipment leading to inspections of the rollaways to see if one had sprouted new rollers.

On one notable occasion the “gate crew”, who serviced various foreign customer’s aircraft at the International Arrivals Building (IAB), had procured a new waste oil bowser by raiding the back lot behind the auto shop. The bowser was just what was needed to go under an engine and catch the oil when a CSD or oil filter was pulled. The New York Port Authority was fussy about oil on their new IAB tarmac. Trouble was the bowser’s wheels were in bad shape and getting another set by the proper channels was not possible. They weren’t supposed to have the bowser in the first place. The midnight crew was not down-hearted and visited the hangar area one weekend and noticed a portable wooden guard shack lying on its side by the auto shop. The base had rotted and needed repairs. The four large wheels — two castered, two fixed — presented themselves in the moonlight. It a moments work to remove them and put the bad wheels back by the guard shack. Certainly a clean operation.

It wasn’t until midweek that the loss of the good wheels on the guard shack was noticed and all hell broke loose. The guard shack was one of several used when one of the Green Valley aircraft was serviced. They would roll several of them to points around the aircraft, link them with stanchions and ropes and station guards to watch the aircraft. Green Valley was the project name for the some particular aircraft which, when the President of the United States was on board, became Air Force One. Ouch, federal property!

The question of the day became, “Who stole the wheels off the Green Valley Project Guard Shack?” It was immediately assumed they must have been taken for use on a toolbox. The head of security and several guards roamed the hangar checking. They even came over to the IAB to look at the gate crew’s boxes. No one there suggested they look in the courtyard where Air France stored their GSE.

The gate crew supervisor wisely suggested the unit in question not be used for some considerable length of time and that we stay away from the hangar and auto shop except on the most legitimate of purposes. He was also wise enough not to ask where from the wheels came from.

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