Roadtrip Capsule: A Quick Trip to Mexico‏

Beetle 1200w

What do Engineers do for enjoyment on business trips?  I try to be on the lookout for things that are interesting.  Recently I was in Mexico for two days and here’s what caught my eye.

I was in San Luis Potosi (SLP) for a project meeting and fabrication review.  SLP is in central Mexico, so it’s not a huge tourist destination but is an industrial city of about a million people.

ATR 1200

This is an ATR 42 turboprop regional airliner.  I’d never flown on one before or even heard of ATR, apparently it’s an Airbus/Italian venture and is built in Naples. Since I’m from Canada we usually use Bombardier Dash 8’s for this sort of thing. It’s a pretty reasonable small plane, although I prefer the Dash 8 if only because it’s fun to watch the landing gear unfold from the engine nacelles. The ATR 42 keeps the gear in those side pods where you can’t see it.

WFS 737 600

One comforting thing about flying in Central or South America is that every airport seems to have a WFS plane (Withdrawn From Service) lying around in case you need parts. I didn’t get a shot of it, but here’s the maps view of an engineless 737 at SLP airport. From a bit of internet searching I can tell you that this is probably airframe 22647, built in 1981 and a former America West aircraft awaiting its fate off the edge of the tarmac.

SLP is a relatively prosperous place, the economy has been doing well for several years and there are several large plants in town including Cummins and GM. Driving around you see a real mix of vehicles, from a few examples of the formerly ubiquitous VW Beetle to “normal” North American cars to things like the 2015 Ford Ranger pickup, which is not available in the US or Canada.

car show 475

There were posters up at the hotel for this local classic car show. Do you suppose an actual Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet showed up?  I can only imagine what would happen if I had signed up with my 1963 Beetle. It would probably confuse people, since I’d guess “vochos” are still considered beaters and not classics.

The fabricator we visited uses a mix of modern, old and ancient equipment to get their job done, and I took a few photos of the oldest machines I saw, to try and figure out how old they actually are:

niles 1200

First up is this lathe, not currently in use but located inside the machine shop building. The Niles Tool Works Co. of Hamilton Ohio merged with another company in 1928, so it must have been built before then.

roller 1200

I couldn’t see any markings on this old lathe other than “1900” cast into the end of the bed, but this machine has been re-purposed into a system for applying rubber onto conveyor rollers. It’s no good for cutting metal anymore, but still useful.

boiler 1200

Lastly we have this machine, which is a plate roller for bending flat steel plates into curved tank wall sections. It’s outdoors in a lean to, but from the open can of paint I’d say it’s being refurbished and used occasionally. They have a newer and bigger unit elsewhere.


Rushworth & Co. Makers, Sowerby Bridge, England is currently Morgan Rushworth and has been in continuous business since 1872. Here’s an 1883 catalog shot of a similar machine.


Despite being made in the UK, I don’t think the 1883 guarding complies with the current EU Machinery Directive, which is a very strict standard of guarding and safety. (Engineer humor there 🙂 if you didn’t recognize it.) Wouldn’t it be interesting to know this machine’s history, and trace it’s path from West Yorkshire to Central Mexico?

fab 1200

The actual fabrication work was progressing at a number of stations like this. A couple of guys working outdoors on a concrete pad with a lean to for storing tools and materials. Despite what you might think, the productivity and quality that these guys put out is phenomenal. I’m no weld inspector but I know pretty welding when I see it.

weld 1200

Ten years ago Mexican fabrication would have likely meant inferior quality, but that is no longer always the case. Not here anyway, despite appearances this shop is highly organized and quality driven, and they work with the local University for welder qualification and inspections.

As it turned out our meetings went well, the client was impressed with the progress at the fab shop and we were off to the airport again to catch a Bombardier CRJ to Dallas, then an American Airlines MD-80 back to Canada.


I haven’t flown on an MD-80 in years, this flight may have been my last chance since AA is phasing them out by 2017.  The basic design is older than I am, the DC-9 first flew in 1965.  It’s the only plane I know that has three seats on one side of the aisle, and two on the other.  Does that make it want to fly in circles?

It was +20C when we left SLP but we arrived home to -22, no wonder so many Canadians go South for the winter.  If you’ve never experienced the glamorous world of business travel, that’s pretty much as good as it gets for me. Safe travels, a positive meeting and a few interesting things to see along the way.