“I would consider myself a motor-head,” Denny Swanson says. “My friends and family would, too.” For someone who fits that description, Swanson has what seems to be a dream job: “I’m the Test Tech manager for Lube Tech, Inc. I manage the day-to-day activities of the mechanical testing laboratory and its personnel. That includes engine test design, fabrication, set-up and execution.”
Swanson’s division of Lube Tech makes a range of products for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of two-stroke and four-stroke engines.
“We get the engine from the OEM and set it up in our lab,” Swanson said. “We run the engine to their testing standards, then take the engine apart and inspect it.
“I went to school for engine rating. In the end, you’re looking at 30-odd areas on an engine. Sometimes it takes a couple of engines, sometimes 80.”
A customer often comes to Lube Tech with a specific problem, Swanson said. “They say, ‘We need an oil that’s going to put less carbon on the piston.’ Or ‘The valves stick after three thousand miles. Can you design an oil that’s not going to do that?’ Our job is to create the formula. It’s not an oil problem—it’s an engine problem. We can solve engine problems with oil.”
Testing the engines is just half of the job, Swanson said. “The other half is getting all the results together, doing reports, providing high-resolution photos. I go with the salesman and present results to customer. I like dealing with other engineers and motor-heads who are designing this stuff.”
Although Swanson had interned with Lube Tech, he took a job with another company after graduating from Minnesota State University, Mankato and worked there for almost ten years. “I bought a house, got married, moved up in the company. All the while I was keeping an eye out for something on the automotive end,” he said. In February 2011, Swanson heard about the position at Lube Tech from a friend, applied and got the job. “It was a very major change,” he said.
While a background in engineering and knowledge of computers is important for the job, Swanson said that a love of engines is the common denominator at Lube Tech. “You’d be amazed how many people here race snowmobiles, ride ATVs, ride bikes,” Swanson said. “I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of these things at home—it’s expensive to run an engine on a dyno. It’s just fun to do.”
Was it scary to make a big career switch, even though you were moving to your dream job?
You always question it. I’ve got three kids at home. I was at a comfortable, secure place to be. What helped me take the leap was that I knew the history of Lube Tech. I’ve known the owners for a long time. Even back when I interned I thought, “This would be kind of a fun job.”
After working on engines all day, do you still like to work on cars in your spare time?
I’ve got a 1954 International pickup that I’m working on. I’m putting a newer drive train in it, just the old body. I wish I had more time to work on that. For a cousin, I’m updating the brake system in a 1964 pickup truck to make it drivable again.
As a professional, what advice would you give people about engine oil?
Everybody’s got their own opinion. The best thing is to use what the manufacturer has specified. □