The diverse range of work that “comes through the door” keeps my attention and teaches me a lot. I always say that if you stop learning you’re dead, and it’s true. I don’t even know how to sit on the couch and do nothing. I have to be doing and learning.
This line of work brings me new experiences every day. One day I’m making structural repairs on excavator booms. Another day I might be spending endless hours building up heavy equipment wear surfaces. Some other day I’m working high in the structure of a steel building. Yet another I’m repairing an aluminum pontoon boat, and another I’m making wrought iron furniture. And you wouldn’t believe the things that people need made or repaired (or their reasons why). Every one of these tasks brings me an opportunity to think about what metal I’m dealing with, what it’s been through to put it in its current condition, and what it will take to turn it into a functional piece. These thoughts take me through a course in metallurgy, on the side of the metal at hand, and on the side of the filler metals and processes I might use to put it all together.
This week has been interesting because I’ve had not one, but two wood furnaces (boilers) fall in my lap. The company that built them went out of business, and they’ve only made it four years before having major corrosion problems. Now, if I spent $10,000 on something I would hope it would last more than four years, but that’s a whole other story.
These boilers have taken me down a path where I’ve had to pull my basic knowledge of commercial boiler systems out of my hat, and apply it to wood boilers, where the fuel is different and so is pretty much everything else. I’ve taken quite a ride down the metallurgy road, learning which metals might work better in boilers than others. I’ve also expanded my knowledge of the chemical processes, gasification, condensation, heating and cooling cycles, and so on. My uncle (a nuclear engineer) has been a great resource, since he has worked on power plant boilers the last 40 years.
As I’ve come down this road, every turn has brought me a new opportunity to learn. Yesterday I learned that the steel we’ve chosen to rebuild one of the boilers just doesn’t weld like regular steel. I’ve had to adapt and develop a new process to make it all happen, because I’m rebuilding the firebox from the INSIDE. There’s nothing like sitting inside a 27″ x 28″ x 60″ box, fitting steel and welding it together. It’s a challenge all in itself. Needless to say, after a long day yesterday, I’ve essentially shut the project down so I can adjust the process, bring different welding equipment to the site, and apply all of my new knowledge in full force. I just don’t like the concept of doing something a certain way when I know it could be done better. I’m really confident in the new process, the new filler metal, and the better idea. I’ll have to order the filler metal, but it’s essential to make sure everything is right. My customer has been down a tough enough road already. It’s my job to make sure he doesn’t have any more problems.
I love this job and the challenges it brings. I also love the people it brings into my life. We provide a service that everyone needs (whether they know it or not), so I meet people from all walks of life. I love the conversations as much as the work, and every phone call brings me a new opportunity to have a great day, and remember that it’s not the metal that makes this business successful. It’s the PEOPLE that come our way.