Awww Shit. Part Deux.

Well, just finished our seventh straight day of working in Hell.  We’ve put in over 80 hours in those seven days, and it’s now official, I’m not coming home Friday as scheduled.  Instead I get the pleasure of staying over till Monday night and working through my second straight weekend.  TGIF, or whatever.

The Unit 5 smoke stack at Cane Run. My view from the roof.

Below all this is a little slideshow that might paint a better picture, because I’m pretty sure I’ve cooked my brain retarded.  It’s hard to spell my name right now, let alone form coherent sentences…  But I’ll give it a shot. 

This trip has been fucking brutal.  And coming from me, that means a lot.  I’ve grown pretty accustomed to this, well, as accustomed as one can get to working in these absurd conditions.  But this job takes the cake.  This has been the single worst, scariest, hottest, dirtiest and most dangerous job I’ve been on in my 3-and-a-half-years of doing this shit, with my visit to this plant last summer taking a close second.  I’ve never had to be so continuously exposed to the heat and the filth.  A lot of our sites have a certain spot or two that are as hot as the crap I’ve been dealing with out here, but they also have spots where it’s a mere 100 degrees and I can cool down a bit.  Not Cane Run.  The coolest place I’ve found in our work area is 130 degrees.  After almost killing us out here last year, my boss consented to send ice-vests (they’re just what they sound like, vests with pockets for ice packs that you strap to your chest) and a small tent with a portable air conditioner.  The ice-vests help, but they generate an incredibly unique sensation.  Strapping five pounds of ice to my chest while my shirt is soaked is fucking freezing.  Then I get up to the boiler where it’s 170 degrees, and my torso feels frostbitten, while the rest of me feels medium-rare.  It’s an incredibly weird feeling.  We set up the tent and a/c on the roof of the plant, up one flight of stairs from our work area.  It was wonderful for a time, and provided us with a nice 65 degree area in which to recover from our repeated forays into the underworld.  However, the a/c died on us yesterday, so now the best ‘break’ we can get is outside where it’s 95, sunny and humid.  Twice now I’ve run to the roof feeling nauseous from the heat.  I’ve dry heaved a couple of times, but so far so good on the whole not puking thing.  My co-worker Glen has been having the same problems. 

Any who, we work right next to the boiler, and the boiler is structurally contained by very large I-beams known as buckstays (why they’re called that I couldn’t tell you).  These are physically in contact with the boiler wall, and are quite conductive of the heat.  We have to stand on these things to work on our crap, and it’s so hot the soles of my boots have started to melt.  As I mentioned in the first Awww Shit post, I sweat more than I ever thought possible while I’m doing this, and yesterday I looked down to where my sweat was dripping out of my hard hat, and take my word on this one, my sweat was immediately boiling on contact with the buckstay.  Absolutely unreal. 

The adverse health effects of working here are starting to get to me too.  I have the usual sore back and stiff legs, but I get those after working 12 hours anywhere.  What I don’t normally do is develop rashes all over my body from being completely soaked with a combination of sweat and condensation from the ice-vests.  It’s so dusty here that my clothes turn into this muddy concoction of awful, grimy, stinky fabric, which then rubs me raw just about everywhere.  My right armpit (not the left one strangely enough) is breaking out in hives, leaving me with a delightful decision: do I not wear deodorant and smell so horrible that a Haz-Mat crew has to follow me around, or do I put some on and irritate my little rash…  My face looks like that of a hardcore pubescent 16-year-old.  I think this is from wiping sweat off my face like 3,000 times a day with my ash-and-dust-infused shirt sleeves.  It’s pretty sweet. 

Just to add to the fun, a lot of the tools and equipment that we use to install these measurement systems are malfunctioning due to the heat and dust.  For instance, we have a fusion splicer, a pretty neat and quite expensive (like luxury sedan expensive) little machine that uses an arc, not unlike a welder, to melt two fiber optic lines together.  The fiber we use is smaller than a hair on your head, so as you can imagine it’s a pretty sensitive machine.  Yesterday, I broke the shit out of our splicer by dripping sweat right onto the electrodes it uses to make the arc.  The only thing worse than working in these conditions is having to work in them with malfunctioning equipment. 

That being said, we’re getting there.  We should only have to work five more days, and the majority of one of those days will be installing a new laser in the system, and to do that we get to work where it’s climate controlled and heavenly.  Bites about losing my weekend, but unfortunately I’m pretty accustomed to that too.  And it means a shitload of overtime, which almost, almost makes it worthwhile.  Ok, in this instance it totally doesn’t make it worthwhile, but I’m going to continue to believe that it does so I stand a chance of getting out of bed in the morning.  

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Until next time,

-B. Littleton


Filed under The Sights, The Work

4 responses to “Awww Shit. Part Deux.

  1. jim

    to borrow a phrase from the texas roadhouse: well done.

  2. thank god for overtime! buy yourself something nice after this trip 🙂

  3. phil candiliere

    It sounds grueling and not the type of work that would appeal to me. Doesn’t modern technology have clothing/equipment available that would alleviate some of that intense heat? During the course of an 8 hr. day how much liquid, “not counting beer” do you guys consume. What’s your job title and do you know how many people do that type of work?

  4. Grueling it certainly is. They’ve given us those ice vests and those have specially made ice packs that stay frozen for about 45 minutes in these conditions. They help a fair amount, but it’s still tough.

    The amount of gatorade and water we go through is pretty incredible. Tough to count, but probably 12-14 bottles a day. The amazing thing is, that even after drinking all that, I rarely have to take a leak at work, it all comes out in sweat immediately after drinking it, staying hydrated is a challenge.

    My offical title is Field Service Technician, and I don’t know of any people that do this other than the guys I work with. At our company we have Glen, myself, and our newest guy Kevin Kelly. There are some other companies that sell and service equipment on and around boilers, but for the most part they do the work when the boiler is off-line to avoid these conditions. Our work won’t allow that, as our system requires the boiler to be online to service.

    Thanks for your interest, Phil.

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