By "One Thing," I mean a statement you heard that sticks in your mind .. an observation that lasts for years! It could be advice a person had about living, or an insight from their work experience.
My dad was a construction-machinery dealer so he did a lot of dickering on equipment transactions. I remember this advice: “If you’re not willing to walk away when someone makes an offer, you can’t negotiate!”
Here are some I've collected over the years from my interviews.
On helicopter cross-country travel: “I don’t do unplanned back-lot landings because I don’t know the municipal attitude. They all have to have a say in helicopter landings. You’re walking into trouble to do that kind of thing.” Actor and helicopter pilot Harrison Ford
On tall-tower work: “Sometimes you can see waves coming at you in the cloud banks. There's a certain thrill to it, but you have to appreciate that you can die. I remember a foreman asking me, 'Are you scared about this?' I said, `Yep!' And he said, `Good! That'll keep you alive. If you stop being scared, you're in trouble." Nate McIlhaney, steeplejack
“They say you can teach a monkey to fly, but to know the systems is very important. If you know what the aircraft will do in all circumstances you can save yourself.” Alaskan helicopter bush pilot Mel Campbell
On the World War 2 shipbuilding miracle: "One thing we did to make the Kaiser shipbuilding yards succeed was to send out expediters across the country. These were men who located and cleared up logjams that blocked supplies or equipment we’d ordered and weren’t getting. There were just two rules: no rough stuff, and never give up." Clay Bedford, Henry Kaiser's key man in the WWII shipbuilding effort
On leadership: “You have to know where the decisive point is. That's where a leader is supposed to be.” John Novomesky of IBM, on his West Point training
On coping with first-hand disaster: “The things I saw inside the wreckage could be called horrifying – what happened to the people caught inside. But it didn't bother me and it still doesn't. To me, those bodies were husks. Their spirits had left.” Greg Gothard of The Washington Group, on his work in body recovery at the collapsed Marriott World Trade Center Hotel.
On astronauts and deep-space exploration: “You can automate the piloting really well, such as for landing. That you can do. The real question is the on-site judgment, to sense the situation and make rational judgments. Man’s unique ability is to assimilate data and make decisions, not to be an expensive replacement for robots.” Ed Gibson, who in 1973-1974 flew on the third mission to Skylab
On backcountry travel: “I use the four-wheel drive to get out of trouble, not into it.” Phil Thomas of Gerlach, Nevada, on crossing the Black Rock desert in his pickup “Grapes of Wrath”
On tunnel work: "It can be dangerous enough, so we work together. It's not the wild rushing about that you might see other places. We call that highballing, when you rush too much." Charlie McWilliams on sandhog work in the deep tunnels of New York City
On oil exploration: "Just pretend you're going to Las Vegas. If you've got money you can afford to lose, fine, but don't take the kids' savings." Danny Biggs, oilfield superintendent
On the long-term life of buildings: “The idea of a 50- or 100-year life span for buildings is patently ridiculous. There's no structural reason not to go on and on. The effective life span is completely dependent on those who maintain them. Properly maintained, a building is ageless." Structural engineer Leslie Robertson, chief engineer for the World Trade Center towers
On persistence: “There ain't no hold that can't be broke.” Major General Robert Littlejohn, before tackling the war-surplus problem that remained after WWII
On training for emergencies: “We want to avoid chaotic responses. Two or three seconds of panic can kill, but one or two seconds of thinking can save you.” Chris Judah, executive director at Survival Systems, which teaches how to escape from crashed and sinking aircraft
On unpublicized Cold War plans: “You didn't want to have the fireball touch the ground. But there might be decisions to make, say if you had a lot of Russian bombers coming in, not just a couple. You might say 'To hell with it' and accept some fallout. That's if you knew absolutely it was Russians and they had 25 megatons on board.” Frank Evans, former Nike base executive officer, on the authority that Army antiaircraft batteries had in the 1960s to launch nuclear-tipped missiles for detonation at low level over American cities
On trying to see orbital hazards from a space station: “We always looked outside [during the close passes] to spot oncoming objects and it was inevitably futile. Imagine trying to see a small dot ten kilometers away over your left shoulder, and a second later it's right next to you, and another second later it's ten kilometers over your right shoulder." Astronaut Michael Foale on trying to spot orbiting objects while on station Mir