The importance of continuing education


August 23, 2019



Hello! My name is Pete, and I’m mechanically challenged. Need proof? Read on:

  • My dad used to buy me fancy car models to put together so I would learn how to build things. It didn’t work. My Ford Mustang model car ended up looking like an AMC Gremlin.
  • My stepdad made me take a shop class in junior high. My salt-and-pepper shakers looked like the Coneheads from “Saturday Night Live.”
  • In college, I made myself get a job at a full-service gas station (remember those?) so that I would be forced to learn about cars. Six months on the job, I still accidentally put 10W-30 motor oil in a customer’s power steering reservoir.

I’m not sure why I can’t build or fix things. God has given me the ability to sell products and services, to manage people and money, and to be a great dad and husband. But when it comes to following instructions on how to wire a garbage disposal, I might as well be reading Chinese. Once, while managing my dad’s office in Glenview, Ill., I nearly blew off three fingers when I accidentally touched a socket wrench to a car battery and the metal car frame. I had second-degree burns, and blisters on most of my hand.

My light-bulb moment

Earlier this summer, I was sitting at my desk, opening the company mail, when I came across a sales brochure for McHenry County College. Inside, I saw a class for small-engine repair. I thought to myself, “At 50 years old, should I finally figure out how an engine works?”

A couple of moments later, a light bulb went off inside my head: “Why not offer this class to all of my techs, to troubleshoot their power spray rigs?”

I like the local rig company I use because the team builds sprayers specifically for our fleet models. Not only that, they usually get us in quickly and fix our problems fast. But unfortunately, repairs can be expensive.

When I first started Schopen Pest Solutions 13-and-a-half years ago, I made the decision to use 50-gallon tanks and power sprayers vs. gas or electric backpack sprayers. At the time, a 50-gallon tank, 300 feet of hose, a high-pressure spray gun, a brand-name motor and a pump cost me $2,200. Today, a similar custom-built rig costs me $3,600; hoses wear out after two to three seasons and parts start to erode after four years. The one piece of the power sprayer that doesn’t tend to break down is the motor. We normally change spark plugs and oil at the end of July and in November. Air filters are changed as needed.

Back to school

To make our engines last longer and avoid costly service calls to our manufacturer, I signed up for the small-engine repair class and offered it to all of my techs. I would pay for the class ($45 per person), but the techs would voluntarily attend the class “off-the-clock.” Six of my guys signed up. I called the college and they were shocked, but pleased so many of our techs wanted to take advantage of the class. Later that same day, the instructor called me back and asked us to bring along some equipment to work on. No problem! We brought two lawn mowers, two blower/misters and three trucks.

The class was held at a local high school, and consisted of four Thursday night sessions. The first night, we learned about the very basics of engines and how they work. We learned about intake, compression, power and exhaust. The second week we learned about spark plugs, air filters, different types of oils, and so on. We also learned about the carburetor. The third week, we delved more deeply into the inner workings of our small engines, and also learned how to sharpen the blades of lawn mowers, rototillers, snow blowers and more. The final week, we actually completely tore down and rebuilt a four-cycle engine.

At the end of the first week, I surprised my techs by telling them I was going to pay them for their class time. They were all very appreciative. I asked one of my guys, Jeff Asmus, whether he felt the class was worth our time and money.

“Tearing apart an engine and seeing how it works was very enlightening,” he told me. “I never really knew how it all worked.”

I also asked him what his favorite highlight was: “The boss buying us dinner!”

While the pizza was darn delicious, the highlight for me was gaining a comprehensive understanding of small engines without destroying anything. Bonus!

Schopen is owner and founder of Schopen Pest Solutions, McHenry, Ill. You can email him at or reach him via Twitter: @schopenpest; Instagram: @peteschopen; or Facebook: Schopen Pest Solutions, Inc.


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