I sometimes wonder if they still teach hand drafting in high school.  Or do engineering majors of today know how to hand draft?

Now as a mechanical engineer, I don’t typically encounter legacy operating systems (COBOL, anyone?), but I have had to dig up some very old technical drawings. Blast from the Past

I was reminded of my early high school days when I first knew that I wanted to be some type of engineer.  I wasn’t sure what type of engineer, but I was drawn in with my first class called Mechanical Drafting.  I drew and drew and drew and loved that class.  I became one of those who excelled and was given different type of work from most of the other students.  I was the only one who got to ink my drawings to mylar.  This turned out to be a good experience for later, as I learned how to letter, different ways to erase on mylar, and everything associated with hand drafting.  Little did I know that hand drafting would soon become antiquated as computers really came into being the only tool to use as I started college in 1997.

As I entered the School of Engineering at UC Irvine I walked into the computer lab surrounded by Autocad.  This was Autocad R14 and my very first time seeing the GUI.  We were taught how to use this software purely through the command line.  I was hard headed and decided to still hand draft as I was faster at that then learning a new software.  I started not getting A+’s on my drawings and knew I needed to switch.  If my hand drafting wasn’t coming out of the computer I was not going to get a good enough grade in my first drafting course in college.  I took a day or so learning on an educational copy and was able to draw what was needed so much faster.  And then my grades went right back up.  I realized at the end that completing the final might have taken too long by hand as they wanted us to make a full set of plans for a flyable paper airplane.  I know that sounds silly, but talk about forcing us to learn the basics of the software very quickly.  This method became more apparent as for the class the next quarter we would end up rendering an object of our choosing and make the full set of plans.  I probably shouldn’t have picked a contact case, but that really taught me how to use the software.  Lesson learned, drafting on the computer was many times faster and more precise than hand drafting.

Fast forward to my first job where I went into an Engineering and Survey company which used an older DOS based drafting software.  I had to learn a completely new set of commands.  The commands made no sense at first, but after a few weeks of drafting up Parcel and Tract Maps I could draft in my sleep on this older, yet new software to me.  I mentioned that I really liked understanding how engineers and surveyors did this work in the past, and the old school guys decided to break out the Leroy Machine.  The Leroy Machine is so uncommon now that I can’t even find a proper link to a description searching on Google.  Just think of the Leroy as a lettering guide that when used properly can write text very quickly and look like an exact font on a set of plans.  Seemed interesting to learn about older equipment, but I didn’t know I would eventually end up using this on the job.

At my next job I was working with an older project manager who could draft a grading plan by hand and make the plans look like a computer spit them out.  We became good friends and he liked to teach me how to engineer and draft on both the computer and by hand.  I would get little assignments almost like homework from him.  I started out learning to design smaller subdivisions on mountains.  Then he would show me how to do the earthwork by hand using a planimeter, always being told this is the way I could see the entire site in 3D from a flat piece of paper or using the monitor.  I couldn’t get enough of these small challenges.  I was then given the task of finding the earthwork for a large subdivision.  I got to take about half of the site that kept changing and will never forget, I was calculating about 6+ million cubic yards of cut and fill.  I kept thinking to myself, how many younger engineers get the opportunity to do something like this?  And how many engineers in general have done something like this.  Designing part of this large subdivision on my own still to this day is something i will never forget.  This was a 500 lot 1/2 acre per lot major subdivision that after all the fine tuning would have 6+ million cubic yards of dirt pushed around.  This was around the point where I was given my own team.  We did pretty well on our next major lot subdivision I have to say, applying everything that I was taught.

And then what happens?  Time to hand draft on old mylars for some older projects.  Out came the Leroy Machine.  I laughed and told the project manager I can’t believe I am about to use one of these.  I am laughing right now as I type this.  I knew how to use a Leroy Machine previously for fun, but he showed me really how to use the device.  Little did I know how useful this would become when we started B+W Engineering and Design.

To this day we are still hand drafting street plans onto original mylars that we have to check out from certain cities.  I use a lettering guide as a Leroy Machine is pretty hard to come by.  I owe quite a bit to all of those past Civil Engineers I worked with who took the time out of their busy schedule and would keep teaching me everything they knew.  Reading the Blast From the Past article made me remember all of these amazing old school devices that still work to this day in the engineering field.

Old School versus New School Engineering was last modified: January 27th, 2013 by Brandon Lee

One thought on “Old School versus New School Engineering

  1. sirDarrell

    Sounds familiar. I have abandoned CADD completely after trying it for many years however due to inability to see the entire set of plans at one time. Plus, the programs always glitched and many hours were lost. The design was no better. I do long hand calculations for structures, drainage, and energy.

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