Our state motto in Michigan is, “If you seek a beautiful peninsula, look about you.”

Far to the west in the northern suburbs of Seattle lies a small town I’d like to coin a new motto for: “If you seek an award-winning hvacr instructor, look very hard about you.”

You see, the B.R. Engelking Co., Inc., Hvac Training School is very hard to see. It is about as nondescript as you can imagine. Nestled behind a residential home in an inconspicuous part of this appealing small town is a school that has graduated 3,500 hvacr students in the past 11 years.

If you drove by it you might not know it was there, especially at night. A small, unlit sign tells the curious what lies 200 feet from the road — a training school in a former garage. If you visit with anything larger than a car, please park it two blocks down at the local church. The city doesn’t want a lot of traffic and large trucks taking up space in the driveway of the school.

At least that’s what school owner and instructor Ben Engelking (he goes by the title of Head Master) tells the new students in his Gas Training class on this mid-September evening. He’d prefer that some of his 21 students (a full class) walk a little more than others if they enjoy the trucking lifestyle. There is little objection from his students. They know better.

Engelking is something of a legend in the Seattle hvacr community. There are waiting lists to get into his classes. Tonight, students in his “Gas Class” have been sent by local contractors to brush up on their skills; area plumbers are here to expand their knowledge and, hopefully, move into hvacr service; older men looking for a change of careers or to brush up on their knowledge are also here.

Some students apologize for being late but Engelking understands — for the moment. If one misses too much of his lecture, they are bound to miss a lot. That’s because Engelking does very little lecturing. He asks his students questions, they don’t ask him. In fact, he doesn’t allow questions (rule No. 1). He wants students to figure out their own questions and arrive at their own answers.

On this Monday night, he asked me to turn out the lights while he demonstrated the simplicity of an open gas flame. He told his students the flame was all he had to warm a home, and it was time for them to design a system to keep residents comfortable. After some fun and good-natured joking, the students eventually constructed a heating system from the simple flame Engelking demonstrated.

I’m not sure Engelking would want me to go into too much more detail about his class. After all, I was taking notes and his students were not allowed to (that’s rule No. 2).

But I will say this much about the man: He packs in students every year and sends them away with a thorough knowledge of the course subjects. People wait for a year to benefit from his knowledge and the “Discovery Approach to Learning.”

I call it a system that our trade should embody and exemplify.

Congratulations, Ben, on being selected as The News Best Hvacr Instructor of the Year for 2000. You set an example that I hope others will adopt and that our trade will embrace.

And if you think Ben would like to tell you a little bit about his method, drop him a line. If he’s got a moment between teaching and tending to his backyard full of bees (he’s also a beekeeper), he’ll probably give you a tip or two.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-6417; 248-362-0317 (fax); halljr@bnp.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 10/02/2000