Collecting experiences – diversity in work, life and expertise
Text and photos: Ilkka Istukaissaari
It was August 1988 when I found out that Linnavuori (then Valmet Lentokoneteollisuus) was looking for technicians. I was more than interested, and carefully prepared my application papers. I had high hopes of getting at least an interview, as I’d already gained a broad range of experience in a variety of tasks.
I’d graduated from Pirkanmaa Vocational College as an auto body mechanic in 1984 – and started work the very next day at Volvo-Auto in the Lakalaiva district of Tampere. My first task was to make 80 crane cabins for Lokomo, which I did by modifying the then-new Volvo Globetrotter raised cabin. To get the crane boom down low enough, I had to cut the roof off with an angle grinder, and then make a new roof practically by hand from profile pipes and 0.75-millimetre sheet metal. All of the completed cranes were sent to Siberia in the Soviet Union. I was 18 years old at the time, so at least by official standards a grown man. I enjoyed myself there, doing maintenance and repair work on trucks, and even fixing them up after crashes. During that time, I also completed my national service at the Air Force Technical School in Halli. The best thing about my time in the military was getting into the Hawk squadron in Rissala (near Kuopio), and from there to working with propeller planes. I also had to get my A and B permits, so I could fly and service operational aircraft. The aircraft in use at that time were the Valmet Vinka, the Piper Chieftain (as a commuter), and a tiny Cessna (the 172, I think). We had a great little team working in the old wooden hangar there. Several soldiers and me. They were great times, too.
But then I was invited for an interview by Ilkka Jaakkola, the then head of the Linnavuori unit, whom I mainly knew from his great performances in orienteering. This led to us shaking hands on my new job in Linnavuori, which I started in August 1988. Here, I’d like to point out that educational branches and criteria were very different back then if you were applying to work with, for example, aircraft engines. At that time, it was considered an advantage to have a technical training and be something of a handyman. Nowadays, we mainly have people with specialist qualifications. When you work with airborne fleets and engine repairs – not to mention maintenance in the nuclear industry – certifications and ever-stricter norms are a routine part of daily life.
I started work at the repair shop in Linnavuori, where they assembled, tested and repaired engine components for Hawk, Draken and Mig aircraft – just as they do with the current models today. But it really was quite different back then, compared to repairing today’s modular engines, in both good and bad ways. However, I personally like creative work in which I have to pull solutions out of a hat – like applying a heat-resistant Sermetel W coating to the outer casing of a AD-1008 combustion chamber. It sounds easy. But it wasn’t. At least, not at first. There was no information about humidity, heat treatments, electrical conductivity, or much anything else. I succeeded by trial and error, and those coatings are still in place today.
GE’s new engine configurations appeared around the mid-90s, and after I’d spent some time working with them, a guy came to talk to me about marine engines, that is, from the Diesel department. That guy is Erkki Martikainen, a gentleman who still works as a maintenance engineer. He asked me if I was interested in getting into diesel engines. Maybe it was because I’d been playing around with racing cars and piston engines? Who knows! I was flattered, and said yes. Those years were also extremely interesting, both in terms of the work itself and the workplace community. I was more or less involved with all models of engines, working on everything from navy ships, Road Administration ferries and nuclear power plants to the tiniest commuter vessels. And occasionally, some amusing mishaps also occurred. Once, a group of us lads were out on a maintenance job in Upinniemi. Our target was a Tuima-class, Soviet-made missile boat equipped with three M 504 56-cylinder radial engines. That engine had originally been designed for a bomber plane. The power/weight ratio of one of these engines is still effective today: weight approx. 5,000 kg, power approx 5,000 hp. Anyway, I was adjusting the valve clearances on the final cylinders with the aid of mirrors and gauges, and then had to get out of the bilge. But I couldn’t move forwards, or backwards. So I just stood there, listening to the lapping of the waves outside the boat, about two metres above me. And I wondered, what if the water starts pouring in ... well of course it wouldn’t, but you can’t help your thoughts from racing sometimes. My colleague, Tomi Koskinen, yanked me out from between the pipes and beams. Anyone who’s worked on ships and yachts will know what I mean.
The 90s were quite a hectic time for me. I needed three tax cards. I spent my days working on engines, and my nights as a soloist in a dance orchestra that played until the early hours. At best, I had eight gigs a week and more than a hundred a year. And by then, the pubs and clubs were open until the early hours of the morning. It was only from the dance halls that you sometimes got to go home at a reasonable hour. I remember one time we had a gig at the legendary Tanssiravintola Kaijakka in Tampere. We first spent about an hour running through our new tunes, and then chucked the stuff in the car and quickly took our places. We started playing at about 8 pm and finished at about 3:30 am. That evening, too, I sang nine 45-minute sets, mainly in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Well, personally I’ve never taken a drag on one in my life. Then some promotional shoots for tv and the press. Sometimes it was quite a hassle, having to switch between gym things and suit bags almost on the fly. My gym was, and still is, my church. It will never let me down, never leave me. There it calmly awaits the humble wrench turner. Oh yes, and at that time I was still a rallycross driver at Finnish Championship level. Of course, I had to put in extra effort to make up for any financial shortcomings – both when driving and building the car.
But as the decade drew to a close, I felt as if I needed to come up with some kind of fun new challenge. I’d been interested in peacekeeping missions for a while, and preferably those involving some kind of technical element. Yet I thought it would be almost impossible to secure a posting, as I was already getting a bit too long in the tooth. The maximum age back then was exactly my age at the time: 35. But to my surprise I got in, and even better into a repair shop in Lebanon. The main vehicle there was the “house product”: the Pasi XA-180. There were a lot of carriers there – more than a hundred in the UNIFIL area.In fact, when I was serving there in 2000, we picked up fifty Pasis from the Port of Beirut. These carriers had been overhauled in Hämeenlinna, and were then flown in from Pirkkala Airport on an Antonov-124. There was plenty of work to do; mainly brake maintenance and some transmission and engine trouble due to a combination of mountainous terrain and misuse. There were people of all nationalities there, and it was always enriching to get to know new people and, consequently, different cultures. I also worked in the fire brigade, and it was my job to both extinguish fires and take care of the equipment.
I came back to Finland in May 2001, and ended up in Linnavuori for a second time. By then, the company was called Patria (after having briefly been Finavitec in between). I think I was on the Diesel department’s payroll then, and there were several of us manufacturing and assembling chassis components for the Embraer-145 passenger plane, for instance. Many people also spent a long time working with those chassis in Kuorevesi. It was said that the WTC strikes put an end to that work.
I continued working with engines, but in 2002 I received a really interesting job offer from Kuwait. I found it easy to approach the highly esteemed head of the Diesel department, Seppo Tamminen, as it was easy to chat to him about the job that I’d been offered. I thank him for giving me the green light and even encouraging me to go. My job title was maintenance technician, and it would be my responsibility to handle maintenance, spare parts and warranty issues for Kuwait’s fast-start diesel MTU engines. The MTU department was just one piece in the giant Mercedes-Benz organisation, which encompassed both passenger cars and trucks. Al Bisher & Al Kazem was a family-owned business with about 500 employees. Its biggest customers were the Kuwait Coast Guard, the Kuwait Fire Brigade, private yachts, oil refineries, and the larger gensets. The biggest yacht I worked on was a 100-footer equipped with three MTU V16 2000 engines. That’s about 33 metres long for anyone interested in boats! A state of war was declared in Kuwait a few months after I arrived. I had no intention of leaving the country, but my nearest and dearest were worried. I was often in the engine room when the sirens starting blowing. When I left, the plane was taken off the apron three times. Local shopping centres were targeted by Chinese Silkworm missiles from Iraq. They’re able to fly as low as two metres above sea level, meaning they’re barely visible on radar. I could keep going with these memories, but I’d run out of space! I had a three-year contract in Kuwait. It ended in 2005 and I didn’t renew it.
I returned to Linnavuori as an inspector in 2005, just as the Linnavuori team began the modification of the GE engine’s afterburner in collaboration with the Air Force, Volvo Aero (now GKN), and RUAG.
However, I spent a lot of time in 2007 thinking about what to do. I’m not going to get into why it’s always been like this for me, that I can’t seem to stay in one place. But I bet it comes as no surprise to hear that it was nothing other than a job offer that sent me back on the road.
It was, once again, time to leave. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, to sell the home I’d just bought, to leave a good job, and to put 650 kilometres between me and my friends, because I was moving to Tornio. And I wouldn’t have left if it hadn’t been such a good offer – a real big deal for an autobody mechanic. I was going to be the maintenance coordinator for Havator Oy, the largest mobile crane operator in the Nordic countries. At that time, the company had thousands of scissor lifts, boom lifts, harbour lifts, and more than three hundred mobile and crawler cranes of various sizes in Finland, Sweden and Norway – including the largest crane in the Nordic countries. The company had more than 500 employees and net sales of over EUR 100 million. My supervisor was Erkki Hanhirova, then Group President and principal owner, and later CEO. I was in charge of maintenance operations, and you can only imagine how much work that involved. I’m eternally grateful to the aforementioned people for giving me the opportunity to work in such a wide variety of positions and, apparently, for earning their trust to some extent at least.
In 2012, I “came home” to Patria and Linnavuori. I was once again on inspection duty in the modular repair shop’s afterburner department, where technicians Hannu Myllymaa, Arto Hannula, Markku Mäkinen and the undersigned worked as inspectors. The conversation flowed easily among us, but we also got the job done. A down-to-earth bunch. These days, I work in expert tasks at the equipment repair shop. At the turn of the year, if everything goes without a hitch, I’ll have been with the company for 25 years, albeit with ten years spent elsewhere in between. So this is the fourth time I’ve come to work for Patria. Last time, they asked me if I was intending to stay. I said that it was my firm intention to try to do so.
Personally, I see a person’s life as just a journey from one place to another place, and it’s the journey itself that’s important. But, of course, you have to get something done along the way. Some of the best things and moments have been the people I’ve met during my work, and with whom I’ve spent time. Both here and abroad. Sure, I’ve fixed up many technical things and solved plenty of problems. If I’m not able to – which is often a possibility – it’s my duty to find the information or the people to ensure that no job is ever left on the table.
We all share a common factor – our employer, Patria. There are quite a few of us, working in many different positions and on many different challenges. We are our greatest resource – us, the people, the workers. It’s always been easy for me to return to my den in Linnavuori – there’s always been a great bunch of people here. I’m starting to be at the older end of the spectrum these days, but it’s nice to see the younger and smarter ones keeping things going.
And I would like to take this opportunity to send my best wishes to all Patria personnel on the company’s centenary!