Monday, August 11, 2014

Dirty Jobs

Dirty Jobs

   After watching the Dirty Jobs show for years I got to think of what kind of dirty jobs I've had over the years. Starting out years ago I reckon crawling under peoples houses to gather up dead rats might fit the bill, especially if they had been dead a long time! I started doing that for Ray Crawford back when I was in the forth grade. I got a quarter apiece which I thought was a killer wage back then plus he told other people so for years after that I've been under houses to get everything for dead dogs to rattle snakes to skunks and coons. Some of those weren't really that bad but others would sure make you think about a job change!

   I started out in steel plants as a grinder. That's a kind of dirty job. You're always covered in dust and rust and getting burnt by sparks all day. The only protection we had was safety goggles which protected your eyes but didn't help much with breathing in the dust all day. Same thing with working with fiberglass. Laying it wasn't bad but when you had to grind it you ended covered in white dust and looking like the ghost of Christmas past. Lucky for me I wasn't allergic to it like some people were so all it did was make me itch a little during hot weather.

   Painting might come close. When I was painting water towers we use red lead as a primer and after a day of spraying that the only parts of you that wasn't orange would be your eyes and teeth!

   Diesel Mechanic, been there, done that! There are parts of that can be a sure enough dirty job. I'm not sure it would count because most of it is just a simi dirty job. On it's best days you use up a lot of hand soap (borax is the best and rinsing them with gas helps).

   I think the dirtiest job I've ever had was working on oil storage tanks. the company I was working for cleaned them out and put new fiberglass floors in them. We would show up on the job site and the first thing we had to do after getting our tool shed set up was to dig a hole about 20' long and 8' wide right next to the tank. Once we had that done we would cut a "door sheet" out of the bottom of the tank. That means we would cut out the bottom 20' long and 10' high sheet of steel. That was a lot harder than it sounds. When you fill a tank with crude oil all the solids would settle to the bottom over time and since they only called us in after the tank had been in use for 20 plus years there was lots of stuff in the bottom. All the guys call the sludge at the bottom sour crude and once you got a whiff of it you understood why!. Anyway, most of the tanks we worked on were riveted together so we cut the heads off the rivets and pried the steel out of the way. Two reason right off for you to be really careful on this part. Number one - a 10' by 20' piece of steel is HEAVY! We had to pry the top loose then connect it to a winch truck to hold it while we pried out the rest of it. We used a clamp called a "dog" to connect the steel to the winch cable it had jaws with teeth so when you slid it onto the steel they would bite in and hold it. The bad thing with these was having them slip and drop the steel, I've seen that happen enough to always worry about it. Number two was the sour crude in the tank. You never knew how much was in there till you opened that door.

   Once we got the door sheet out of the way and what oil that would had poured out into the pit we had a pump truck standing by to pump it out and take it to a different part of the refinery. Then came the fun part. We had an air winch set up on the far side of the it. We had a couple of pieces of 2 x 12 boards bolted together in a "V" shape with cables hooked to it we would take that and wade back into the tank. Our job was to push that board down into the oil as far as we could while it was pulled out to the opening scraping the oil out the door and into the pit. It's hard to describe what that was really like. Most of those tanks were at least 80 feet across and the sour crude would be piled taller than I was. We just wore regular cloths because it was just to hard to move around in that stuff with any kind of haz-mat suit on. We were supposed to wear masks to help with breathing but you would have them coated with oil so quick it was a waste of time and we went without most of the time. Our average work day was anywhere from 12 to 16 hours depending on how quick we needed to get the job done so they could start using the tank again.

   At the end of the day you were so covered in crude oil that the only way to begin to get clean was to first rinse off with diesel then strip and hang your cloths up and take a bath in acetone, then "GoJoe" hand cleaner, then water. We would try to wear the same work cloths as much as we could but most of us just ended up throwing them away because no laundry was going to let us wash them. We could spend a week or more wading waist deep back in that sludge before we managed to get it all raked out. Next came the washing. Stuck inside the tank steam cleaning it. Even as big as those tanks were you couldn't run the steam cleaner for more than five minutes before there was so much fog you couldn't see a foot in front of your face. You would just try to pick a spot that needed cleaning and stand in the spot till it got to hard to breath then stop and take a break until the air cleared up enough to see. We tried putting fans inside to at least move the fog around but they really didn't help much. Now we went from being covered in oil at the end of the day to being soak and wet, not sure that was any better!

   Once we finally got it clean and dried out we needed to cover the floor and at least two feet of the sidewalls with fiberglass. The first part of that is using a chopper gun (cuts the class and adds resin as it sprays) to coat the bottom edge and the sidewalls. We got to wear coveralls for that, not that it does much good. Even inside the tank with no wind you still end up with fiberglass all over you. You wear a fresh air mask so you can breath with all the fumes and just keep working as long as you can. Then you go outside and wait for all the glass and resin on you to cure so you can take them off. If you stay inside long enough it sounds like glass breaking when you take the cover alls off.  I was spraying one time when the compressor that supplied the fresh air quit working. I only had about 50 feet left on the back side of the tank and being the young and dumb person I was I decided I could do it without the fresh air. I did really good for about 15 feet then I started feeling a little dizzy. Another 15 feet and I was having a little trouble standing up. I figured I'd bit off way more than I could chew so I dropped the gun and turned to head out of the tank. Remember the "door sheet" we had cut when we first started? I was less than 80 feet from it when I turned but it looked like it was only about 1 foot by 2 foot and at least 5 miles away! The last thing I remember was falling to my knees about half way across the tank. Thank God the guys outside were watching me and came and dragged me out. I woke up in the hospital the next morning with a hangover headache worse than any drunk I'd even had or heard of! Got my butt chewed for trying to spray without air also, never did that again (at least not that much).

   I'm sure lots of folks have had worse jobs, I've even had a few one-time deals that I thought were worse but as far as an entire project I'm pretty sure that was the dirtiest one!