April 2, 2020
Meet the Legend: 5 Questions with Paul Becknell
Commercial HVAC service technician marks 50 years with Trane, shares his wisdom with us mortals
Paul Becknell is known for a lot of things. He’s known for starting up the first boiler Trane® ever made. He’s known for calling how he sees it and telling you how he really feels – without holding anything back. Paul is also known for his vast HVAC knowledge and experience – he’s the guy the experts call for troubleshooting help. He’s also known for his vibrancy and a mind like a steel trap – at age 81.
And in March 2020, he became known for his 50 years as a Trane service technician. Paul works in Commercial HVAC’s sales office in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has rolled with all the equipment and technology changes of the past 50 years. Today he leads a team of eight service technicians on Charlotte’s start-up team, and in this interview, he looks back on his rewarding career with our business.
Q: How did you get your start in the HVAC industry?
I grew up in a textile mill town, and several generations of my family worked in the textile mills. After four years in the Navy, I went to work for Springs Industries’ engineering department, performing HVAC maintenance and working mills, until I realized that I’d need an education if I wanted to excel at life. So I went to tech school at night for two years to become an HVAC service technician and landed the first job I interviewed for.
Q: What do you enjoy most about coming to work each day?
I love the challenge and the constant change in our industry. The products and technology have changed so much over the years, I feel like I’ve seen more change than most people do during their careers. I’m excited about where we’re going and that we never seem to stand still.
Q: What is your favorite on-the-job challenge?
I love problem-solving and learning new things. When we start up a piece of equipment, I almost hope it doesn’t work properly so I can figure out what went wrong. That’s how you learn. If you start up the equipment and it works just fine, you don’t learn anything new.
Q: What was the most exciting time of your 50-year career?
When Trane got into the boiler business in the 1970s, I flew to Kansas for training. I started up the first boiler Trane ever made. I ended up with five Trane boilers in my territory. It was a really exciting time.
It was also exciting to see many changes in our equipment over the years, such as:
· the switch from float control to PCV orifice in our CenTraVac® line of chillers
· the movement from chillers to large rooftop units
· and the movement from water-cooled chillers to air-cooled chillers.
Q: To what do you attribute your long career? Why do you keep working well past the time most people tend to retire?
When we moved into the computer era, I was already getting up there in age. I was probably 55 or 60 years old when Trane gave computers to three or four of the younger guys in my service department. I knew what to do with the information we could pull out of those machines – not everyone did – and so they gave me a computer when I asked for one. But I struggled with it at first.
Michael Lewis, now national fulfillment project manager, was my supervisor at the time, and he set up my computer so I could use it more easily. Because he did that for me – and taught me how to use it within my trade – I was able to keep working all of these years. It was a gift; without his help I would have had to retire.
And I didn’t want to retire. I keep working because I love what I do. I like the challenges, I enjoy satisfying the customers and all the change is exciting – it’s what keeps me here.
Get to know Paul:
Grew up in: Fort Mill, South Carolina, and I still live there today.
The mill owners poured money into the community, giving us the best schools, swimming pools and recreation facilities – it was a good life.
First job: Mowing lawns and delivering newspapers at age 11. Then I worked in the textile mill during high school, served in the U.S. Navy after graduation, and returned to the mill before finding my way as a service technician.
Hobbies: Golfing and boating. I am a lifelong river rat and I love water sports.
Favorite place to be when not at work: We enjoy the beach, and we have a lake house. My brother built a house next to mine and now we’re here together enjoying what we did as kids.
Least favorite chore: Getting the motor home ready to go. I take my wife to the beach, where she’ll stay for a few months at a time. I can never stay past two or three weeks – it would drive me up the wall. I’d rather be working with the other techs and taking care of the customers. Contractors call me a lot – I get a lot of entertainment by helping them with their HVAC issues.
Favorite type of music: Music from the 1950s and 60s, especially Elvis Presley
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