Today, let's meet an unexpected auto mechanic. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
Here's an arresting photo in
the New York Times. It shows an
attractive 66-year-old woman in a business suit.
Her right hand holds a socket wrench and rests on
an automotive transmission. You look closely and
realize that she's standing under a car, up on a
rack at a garage. Her name is Lucille Treganowan.
Writer Carol Lawson has been interviewing
Treganowan -- following her through her day.
Treganowan starts her car. As it begins moving away
from the curb, she says quietly, It's a
miracle. And that remark is what we need to
talk about today.
They arrive at one of the Transmissions by Lucille
shops in Pittsburgh. Lucille Treganowan is an ace
mechanic who specializes in transmission repair.
Her story began with a divorce in 1960. She needed
to support her three children so she found clerical
work in an auto repair shop. At first, she found
herself answering all the customers' questions with
the same sentence: I don't know.
Treganowan knew nothing about cars. She'd never
even been terribly interested in cars. But her
father had been a plumber and he'd never let her
get the idea there was anything mystical about the
way things worked. One key phrase in Treganowan's
story is [My father] treated me just like my two
So she decided to quit being ignorant. She studied
how cars worked. By 1973 she knew enough that she
was ready to go into business for herself. It's
been hard for women to break into male preserves
when they're a minority. But auto mechanics is an
undiluted male world. Treganowan wasn't a minority.
She was what mathematicians like to call an
She was so improbable that the media gave her free
advertising in the form of feature articles. She
was soon a public figure -- first teaching one of
those Powder Puff Mechanics courses, then
hosting her own TV show: Lucille's Car Care
But at the root of her success was something more
important than ambition or even dedication. It was
passionate mental engagement. Where other
automobile problems can be obvious, automatic
transmissions are mysterious. What goes wrong is
hidden inside. Diagnosis means solving a mystery.
She says something that is at once innocent and
powerful about that process. She says,
To fix something and then drive down the street
and have it shift perfectly -- boom, boom, boom --
makes me think, Wow!
And we're back to that It's a miracle
remark. That's where Treganowan's strength lies.
She looks at a machine and sees the miracle. In the
end, her story isn't a story about gender after
all. It's about understanding technology. For her
success has come from savoring that love of mind
and function -- which we build into all our best
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds