My Uninteresting Life as a Maintenance Man

According to personnel records, I(we) am(are) an “Electronics Repairman”. Sounds like a highly paid TV shop job, eh? Yeah, we make pretty good money. And that’s as far as it goes with a lot of guys(and a few gals). Take the money and run.

Me, now, I’ve got a shop at home that is actually better equipped than the shops at the mill. I go to work to pursue my hobby. I guess you could call me a “gearhead”. I like to piddle with machinery. And build miniatures of it.

The big bucks come from the conditions that we work in. Most of you folks are all fired up about this “heat wave” foolishness. Lemme tell you about heat. And the operators have it worse than the maintenance men. They have to stay there the entire turn. We get in, fix it and get out.┬áThe steel comes to the machine at about 2900 degrees F. The ladles are 200 net tons, plus about 100 tons tare. That’s the empty weight of the ladle. And a lot of residual heat.

The tap is through the bottom, with a ceramic shroud so the air never contacts the product. The electronics are hardened against the heat, to a point. The sensors are as close as 6 inches to the cast. Plus the controlling equipment, within a few feet. If the liquid steel spills on the equipment, all that protection is worth squat. It gets melted off, right along with the equipment.

Most of the area has an ambient temperature on the order of 110 degrees, in the winter. The operators usually wear silver suits, like the firefighters use. During the summer months, well, I’ll leave that to your imagination. The operations guys get cool air pumped into their suits.

The maintenance folks can’t wear the hot suits, they are electrically conductive. Wouldn’t do to get an aluminized arm into an electrical box. Beau coup sparks … A shocking experience, to say the least.

During the summer months, the handrails around the catwalks are too hot to touch with bare hands.

I have a story I often tell. Too complex to get into here. But the circumstances involved a deep winter night, about 3:30 AM on a functional line. I ended up with the bottoms of my shoes melting and my trousers so hot it was burning the hair on my legs. AND HAD SNOW BUILDING UP ON MY MUSTASCHE!

So, why do we do it? With some, it’s the money. With others, it’s what their father did. And a few, like me, that just plain like the adventure of it.

Liked it for 35 years and more. I got injured last year, can’t pass the physical to go back. Actually, a few years ago I stepped on some high horsepower toes. I think they are taking advantage of the injury and would rather I not come back. They got it finagled so I don’t get disability, anyway.

So, anyway, now I do communications cable splicing. It’s physically less demanding than the mill work. Sadly, it doesn’t pay quite as well. Ces’t la vie

I “burn glass”. Fiber optic splicing. I pull a small trailer(16′) that sort of looks like a horse trailer, but different. Set it up on site where the cables are accessible. The cables come in through a hatch to the bench. It looks almost like an electronics bench, but with different instruments.

An overview of the benchwork is at There isn’t much there. Some of my work is proprietary, some of the locations are secure. Some I would just rather not talk about.

Is it fun? Well, for a gearhead, it’s kind of boring. But, I like the outdoors. I usually don’t start the generator until I need to power up the equipment. Building the enclosures is all bull work with hand tools.

So I get to enjoy the air and listen to the critters. They accept my presence after a while and start tuning up again. Of course, if it’s raining or brutally hot. I button up and run the air handler. Hot as in sitting on the shoulder of a four lane highway in the noon sun with no wind blowing. Not as hot as the steel mill, no… But with breathing problems, it gets pretty rough.

The air handler is an air cooler and filtration system. I have to purge the trailer for a while before I set up the instruments. Almost as clean as a “gray room” or a hospital ER. Not as sterile, though. Although, some of the hospitals I’ve seen in the third world … But, that’s another story.

OK, the prompts for text content;

How do you feel about your boss? Well, he is a disgusting, despicable, lecherous old pervert. Hard nosed, cantankerous, unforgiving, wanting more work for less money and fewer breaks. Yada, yada, yada…
I work for myself, you see? And yes, as a businessman, I treat myself that way.

What bothers me? Sitting in one spot doing the same thing for 6 hours. If things are going smooth, I do 18 splices an hour, on a good day, if I feel good, maybe. Anything over 100 splices a day, I split the job over a couple, three days, unless it’s an outage restoration. Those, I work ’til I can’t see anymore then take a nap on the bench.

What would I rather do? Run a robotics R&D shop out of my personal shop. Build prototypes and experimental stuff. I don’t have the stamina to work long hours at it, though. Enough to make a living, anyway.

Why did I take this job? I got hungry…

What do I want to be doing in 30 years? I’m sort of like my pop. I’d like to die at the age of 102 being shot in the back by an irate husband as I go out the window. It’s been tried a couple times, but I ain’t 102 yet. Beyond that, anything interesting, specially if I haven’t done it before.

What city do I work in? Well, my business office is in Abbeville, S.C. Obviously, the work is where ever the cables are. Telephone and Cable TV, mostly. I work the Carolinas, east Georgia, and would like to get work in north Alabama. That’s where my shop is…

How did I get the job? I was injured at the steel mill. Couldn’t work. Steel mills -are- physically demanding. Money reserves got to running low after 8 months or so, and the lawyers were telling me I wasn’t in too good a position with Workman’s Comp. My personal shop wasn’t helping much at paying the bills…

My brother is in the communications business, systems construction. With all the young guys running off to the Gulf Coast for the big money, he needed a splicer. Storm restoration.

Loaned me the equipment to get me started. It’s a large investment, close to 100 grand, to get started.

It’s a BAD move to do business with relatives. We both are VERY careful to keep business and family seperate. Makes us less close as brothers, but we are of different dispositions anyway. Very little common ground. He doesn’t always approve of some of my more adventurous shenannigans. Like chasing a gal halfway around the world… literally. So it works well enough.