Sunday, July 25, 2010
I learn more skills
Most of the ore we handled originated at the Red Dog Mine in Alaska and was brought by freighter to Vancouver,unloaded and reloaded into the ore cars that were diverted into Washington State and up to our location.
Frank was known to be a cantankerous, cranky fellow who worked at a breakneck pace and most of the other senior guys refused to work with him.
I accepted the offer to get onto my preferred shift mostly, but was also interested in learning to run the car mover.
He and Frank were enemies by this time and therefore there was only me left to fill the position as I came onto the job the following Monday afternoon after having been checked out on the machine by Sandro for a few days the previous week.
The car mover job was very tedious at this time due to some equipment failure.
The job went as follows.
The car mover operator and the excavator operator drive down the tracks to the ore car lineup.
The excavator operator acts as helper to jump out and hook up the car's airline to the car mover, then run down 4 cars, uncouple them from the string and turn off the air valve on the last car.
The car mover operator then builds air pressure to release the brakes on the cars and begins moving back to the unloading shed.
The helper runs back and jumps into the car mover as they pick up speed and roar along into the shed.
Pulling under the hoists used to remove the covers they stop in the correct position and both climb out and onto a catwalk where they remove each lid with two hoists per lid and raise them clear of the loaded cars.
Recording the number of each car, the car mover operator returns to the machine while the helper climbs up to his excavator and gets it ready.
The loaded cars are moved under the excavator and stopped to line up with a painted stripe on the wall which enables the excavator to reach the front of the car to begin unloading.
The car mover locks up the brakes on a radio signal from the excavator and waits about 5 minutes until told to recharge the brakes and move again.
This is repeated about 4 times and took Frank about 15 minutes to finish a car with 100 tons of ore which was amazing compared to the other operators who took nearly twice as long.
Frank was an awesome operator who used the huge bucket like a finger and could gently scratch away at something, or move an entire string of cars with locked brakes effortlessly.
I had to sit in the car mover watching the proceedings until the fourth car was done, when I would push them back under the lids.
We both then replaced them and locked them down with the 4 latches on each corner. They were often difficult to cooperate and had to be jumped on by the elf-like Frank who would dangerously leap onto the lids that were slippery with ice in winter.
The cars would then remain where they were until the next 4 were brought in and the car mover would push the empties along while pulling the next 4 in.
The 4 empties would be moved onto a track during the unloading to be stored until the train picked them up.
I would have to do this quickly in order to return when Frank was ready for the next move of the car he was working on.
Having no patience he would be heard cursing as he waited.
He used a very dangerous method of pushing the empties down the track at high speed and releasing them to hurtle on their own to where they would crash into the parked cars down the track.
He broke so many of the rules that I had been taught when I first was hired I had to talk to Cliff who was not happy to hear of Frank's actions.
Frank was very pissed off at my "squealing" but I felt lives were at risk and this was a serious matter.
He did back-off after this and we ended up working very well together.
Frank actually bragged about my abilities to my surprise and totally lost his crankiness with me.
Sandro was the only other co worker he liked to work with and we had our own little cliche.
We were expected to unload 12 cars per shift and could (and did) unload twice that number easily on occasion.
Once our cars were done we cleaned up the area as mentioned previously, shoveling spilled ore onto the conveyors and checking our equipment before heading over to the repair shop where we hung out until it was time to shower.
As winter came the job became more difficult as the ore would freeze as hard as concrete.
Jack hammers were rented and the teams had to break up the contents of their cars as they finished them to remove the residue from the corners. The cars had to be spotless or Cominco squawked.
Frank used ingenuity to figure a way to scrape up the frozen ore with his bucket by getting it into the corners and breaking up the chunks.
The other guys were down to 4 cars per shift while we continued to do at least 12.
We were transferred back to the early shift and had the added "fun" of thawing out our machines each morning.
The car mover had to be jump started with a shop truck many times and took ages before any warmth came from its weak heater.
I wore layers of clothing and was okay except when in the shed where wind blew through constantly.
The tracks became very slippery with ice too and the brakes were not very effective at times.
Sometimes I slid right through the shed or crashed into the empties with some force.
The aforementioned equipment failure I mentioned was an automated system where Frank could control the air brakes of the cars using a switch on the joystick of the excavator.
Finally the shop had it repaired and I saw it in action with great relief.
Now we brought the cars into the shed and attached an accordion-like section of air hose to the last car.
Frank could then unload the string by himself, freeing me to carry out other duties with lots of time to spare.
I would unhook the car mover and drive out for the next set of cars which I would unhook and move alone.
I would bring them close to the shed to save time and then return the car mover to its position ready to move the empties when Frank was done.
Frank would employ me to fetch him coffee too which he lived on while at work.
I never saw him eat anything during our two years together. He drank copious amounts of the very good coffee supplied by management and smoked constantly although warned not to on our contaminated work site.
I could also carry out checking of the conveyors, moving the "pant legs" which were the apparatus that funneled the ore into the huge piles in the sheds and cleaning up as we worked so that once finished we had nothing more to do.
When it was very cold I could duck into the electrical control room where the various equipment kept it very comfortable.
Wandering alone in those dank sheds was an erie experience. Condensation dripped in the form of acid rain that corroded the metal walkways and loaders kept within and an ever present mist hung in the air making it hard to see the far end of the dimly lit building.
I was much happier being able to keep busy and pass the time in a useful manner.
Next, we were back on the afternoon shift when the car mover's engine gave out and we were forced to use the big IT38 loader to move the cars.
We were down to about 6 cars per shift and Cliff put us on 10 hour shifts to make up for lost production.
We worked from 4 p.m. -2 a.m. for a month even after the car mover had returned with a new engine and other repairs completed making it much improved.
We now unloaded 16 cars with ease and sat in the shop for a few hours every night collecting overtime.
Once the shop manager learned of my mechanical background I had a regular place to work assisting the truck mechanics.
It was common for the train not to show up at least once a week meaning no work for the crew who were told to stay home.
I was welcome at the shop and never missed hours of work.
One very stupid thing about Trimac was the way nobody was on a regular schedule.
Each afternoon the next days roster was put up and we never knew if we would be on days, afternoons or no work.
Another job that could be done during a shortage was loading slag.
There were usually a few of the hopper cars (at right)
on hand that could be moved to a conveyor where using the IT-38 we loaded from the pile of black material onto a feed belt which carried it up and deposited it into the cars' 3 compartments.
The belt had a scale that automatically stopped the belt when the required 65,000 pounds per compartment was reached.
The car was then moved to the next compartment until filled. The job could be done at a leisurely pace that took at most about half an hour per car.
During dark snowy nights the slag was invisible making it hard to operate around.
The slag also froze into big chunks that had to be manually broken up with a long wrecking bar in order to move up the belt.
If it was windy the sharp glass-like granules pelted our exposed face and got inside our gloves.
By a year and a half into my "tenure" we had 4 other guys added to the crew with Kris having been fired after his numerous write-ups. I liked him and had worked on dunnaging with him numerous times.
Although he did work at a relaxed pace it was his mouth that was his undoing as he argued with bosses and other coworkers constantly.
There was often overtime available on Saturday or Sunday and I sometimes put in a shift dunnaging by myself, or worked with Frank unloading.
They bent the rules prohibiting working alone as long as I "promised to be careful" and I enjoyed many shifts hammering and sawing away as I secured the big ingots.
A few times Cliff would appear on a Sunday on his way home from the Salvation Army Church to see how I was doing.
Cliff was a very humane fellow and, although about 6'7" was very mellow and caring.
One night without Frank I filled in my time dunnaging and somehow found I had completed 12 cars on my own by shift end.
I arrived for work the following day and was called into Cliff's office.
Cliff was so impressed by my work the previous evening he ordered me to take Shelagh for a "nice dinner" and give him the bill.
Soon after, Cliff was transferred to a better posting in Alberta and a new lady manager took over.
She was daughter to one of the big wigs and totally unsuited to her job.
One day I was assigned to improve productivity by being stationed in the ore shed for 12 hours to load the trucks as they came through.
It was usual for the drivers to load their own ore and she thought it would speed things up.
I spent my worst day ever imprisoned in that hell hole from 5 a.m. to 5. p.m. one Sunday and saved them a bit of time, but the drivers felt it was a wasted effort.
I was totally fed-up with the new management and when told to do the job again I refused.
I said they could fire me if they wanted, but I wouldn't do it again.
I was surprised to find they assigned another new guy to it and said no more about it.
I went back to my usual duties with Frank until I saw an ad in the Trail Times.
With things getting worse on the job I had begun to search for a new position and saw in the paper that the Salvation Army was looking for a driver and sorter full time.
I applied for it knowing I would probably take a pay cut, but hoped I would be doing something where I could help others and feel I was making a difference and not a pawn as I felt as part of Trimac.
I was pleased when I was hired for the position and could put in my notice.
My coworkers understood and supported my decision .
My last shift was spent in the shop repairing tarps on the ingot trailers.
This concludes my working life for now.