It was a coal preparation plant being built in the dead of winter in Central Illinois. None of us had ever even seen a coal operation, but we were now experts. After all, it was the early eighties and there wasn't much work around, especially for pipers. The contractor was recently cut from a nuke as construction was stopped and they were hungry too. The owner of the mine was cheap, but not the one who had to pay twice. It was us who paid several times over. But we were working and that made up for it.


Unlike the new rental trailer the construction superintendent had, ours was purchased used in the area from another contractor. From the color (aqua blue), the age of the trailer was thirty. It had no heat, much less water. And it was winter. We learned to draw while wearing gloves and coats. Coffee left in your cup overnight would freeze. We finally bought an electric heater and that maintained a temperature of about 50° F, but we turned it off at night. In that pre-computer age we had no electrical problems.


The project was mostly housed in a large metal building. There were three process areas in the building, each having its own separate steel structure, with about two feet between each structure to isolate vibration. These three areas were designed by different persons who didn't seem to communicate with each other. Pipe would end at a drawing match line and begin on the adjacent drawing, but not in the same position or elevation. To save money, the cheap owner pulled the job so we could do the piping in the field.


We did a good job, and gained a lot of knowledge, some of which we never got to apply again except in stories. What is the moral? I don't know unless it has to do with the fact we were all hungry and that a cheap man may pay twice, but a cheap company may only pay once while the employees (or contractors) keep paying.


Dennis Novotny

© 28 February 2001

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