It was an accident
Update: I used Google Earth to get a satellite view of the plant (there's a link on this website) and see that they now have a walkway all the way to the center of a new, larger pond.
Water Treatment Plant

I worked in 4 different plants, or "units", as they were also called: Water Treatment (Water Treat), Chlorine (Chlor-Alkali), Ethylene Oxide (EO), and Styrofoam (Styro). In terms of safety, the most "unsafe" was Chlorine. The easiest to work in was a tie between Water Treat and EO, and the most physically demanding was Styro.

Posted on Sunday, July 14, 2019


At Water Treatment, we produced treated water from raw water from the North Saskatchewan River. We had no river water pumps, so we bought the water from nearby Sherritt-Gordon Mines who sent it by pipeline to our raw water pond. Inside the plant was a vertically-mounted 100 horsepower pump that was in a "deep well", connected by pipe to the pond. The water was pumped to clarifiers outside the plant where settling of dirt and other suspended matter would settle out. Powdered alum (aluminum sulfate) was added by automatic feeders located inside the plant. The alum created "floc" that hung onto the dirt, making it heavy enough to drop to the bottom.

One day when I went to blow down the clarifiers, I saw a big hairy animal at the bottom of the ladder. It wasn't moving and I was sure it was dead, but I had to know for sure. I threw things at it and it didn't move, but I figured it was just playing dead, waiting for me to go down there, then it would attack. With a piece of pipe in my hand I stepped down the ladder, pausing on the second last rung, in case this thing jumped up at me suddenly. Feeling really brave, I stepped down to the last rung, and then kicked this animal with my steel-toed boot. Whew! It was dead. I grabbed it by the tail, and brought it to the plant floor for inspection. Then I dumped it around the building, putting a comment in the shift log book about it. I also indicated the dangers of working at this plant. My supervisor looked at the animal the next day an said it was a muskrat. We suspected that the rat was in the clarifier and came out through the 8" blow-down lines when I opened them up on a previous occasion. How it got into the clarifiers was a mystery because it would have had to pass through the deep-well pump.

The water from the clarifiers entered the Clear Well. This water was treated with sulfuric acid, to control the pH level and flowed into the cooling tower basin. This thing was an underground concrete reservoir that the cooling towers and huge cooling tower pumps sat on top of. Cooling water was a very important product that we produced because it was necessary in all other processes: if this failed, the other plants would have to shut down. Eight large pressurized sand filters filtered the cooling water on a continuous basis, taking the water from the pressurized headers and returning it to the cooling water sump.

The cooling tower pumps, 5 in all, were vertical, multi-stage high pressure, high volume pumps, operating on 2300 volts. Together they pumped out 40,000 gallons per minute into a 36" pipe, at about 85 pounds per square inch (psig). A natural gas-driven "fire engine" also pumped out of the reservoir into the same header, pressurizing the header to about 100 psig when the other pumps were on. It was used in case of power failure, when it would automatically start.

We also produced boiler feedwater. Boilers are more finicky than humans when it comes to treated water so their demands are greater. We had to soften the water using Zeolite softeners, filter it, making sure it passed all laboratory tests before we sent it to the steam plant. The softeners had to be monitored closely, and when boiler feed water was being used, we had to regenerate them quite often on a shift. This was done by backwashing the softener, then slowly adding a concentrated brine solution, allowing it to permeate the Zeolite so its hardness removal capabilities would become restored. A regeneration took about 1-1/2 hours.

Drinking water was also produced at our plant. The water from the clear well entered a sand and charcoal filter and chlorine gas was added for purification. Many times the chlorinators stopped working, or the tanks went empty, so frequently people were drinking unchlorinated water. (You know, the sewage from the City of Edmonton immediately upstream!). Sorry guys.

Posted on Sunday, July 14, 2019

Chlorine is a real gas

The chlorine came in huge 2 ton cylinders that we put on a scale so we could monitor when the chlorine started to run out. It was kind of strange and ironic, that with all the chlorine the Chlorine Plant produced, these 2 ton cylinders full of the liquid (it became a gas at atmospheric pressure), came from another source who bought the chlorine from us!

Posted on Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday, July 14, 2019

chlorine tonner
One day I had to switch tanks and I just could not open the valves of the new tank I had just hooked up. I tried a "snipe", a piece of pipe added to increase leverage. I was getting a little scared, because this was the only tank I had, and it had to produce. I called my friend and former trainer, Crest over to help me. We both wore our respirators, in case the valve broke with all our screwing around. (Scott Air Pacs would have been too unwieldy in this situation). This would be disastrous: 2000 pounds of liquid chlorine, expanding into a gas. It would have been a major spill, not to mention the potential loss of life (ours!) if the valve would have blown off. Crest really "reefed" on the valves and managed to get one of the two open, without incident. He pushed the envelope (well, actually the valve) more than I would have.
I had two accidents at Water Treat, and they
were both my fault because of my own
ignorance. The first was a twisted ankle that
occurred after I ran down a dozen flights of
stairs (60 vertical feet), from the top of the
cooling towers down to the bottom. I wanted to
find out just how fast I could make down to the
bottom. At the bottom, I jumped off the last step, hit the sidewalk sideways
with my foot and wrenched the ankle. I was wearing safety shoes, but they
had no ankle support, thus causing the injury. I reported to the safety
supervisor, then spent a couple days at home watching my ankle turn blue
and yellow.
The other accident, which I did not report was when I was helping a pipefitter
repair the steam turbine that Zero (page 12) had knocked over with the
forklift. I removed a piece of pipe for the fitter after he had unbolted it from
the flanges, and when I tilted it to get it out of the way, hot steam condensate
flowed out the one end, down my arm. The pipefitter saw immediately what
happened (I was whining), so he just grabbed me roughly and pulled me
over to the bathroom. I was scared! Not because of the burn: because of
HIM dragging me to the bathroom! He turned on the cold water and forced
my arm under the tap and told me to keep it there, which I did until it became
excruciantingly cold. He saved my arm from serious scarring.
Screwed up Ponds
Monday, July 15, 2019
I screwed up once at Water Treat. I had to check the raw water pond just outside the control room at least once per shift as part of our routine. This included night shift of course, and had to be done rain or shine. One late evening (afternoon shift from 4 PM to midnight), on a cold snowy day, I trudged through the 2 foot snow banks to get to the closer edge of the pond to our building. I started walking around the pond, which was about 100 feet long per side, and held maybe 1 million gallons when full to the top. Since the feed from Sherritt-Gordon was at the far end of the pond, we were expected to walk all the way around to manually inspect the hole in the ice and discern where the level was. Very unscientific. What made it worse on this evening, was I was too lazy to go all the way around, so I stopped halfway. Shining my crappy flashlight towards the ice, I saw the hole and assumed there was water in that hole, so made a rough guess of what that level was. When the level would drop significantly from a previous reading it was our duty as operators to phone Sherritt and ask them to bump up the flow. Yeah, very unscientific. The following midnight shift, although he insisted he DID walk all the way around, made the same determination. On day shift, we ran out of water.

Boy was this a serious faux-pas. The day-operator couldn't be blamed because he was the one who spotted the hole in the ice, without any water underneath. Of course his "seeing" ( an astronomy term) was pretty good in broad daylight! Mind you, he had the discomfort of watching mud get pumped into the plant, to the clarifiers. After making the pond check and finding it empty, he got on the phone real quick to Sherritt and got them to pump like hell.

The clearwell inside the plant was pumped dry and the boiler feedwater make-up pumps lost suction. I know there were no shutdowns in the other 3 plants that used cooling and boiler feedwater, because I was still employed the next day, but there were serious repercussions nonetheless. I was taken out on the carpet with the midnight shift operator and we were given a good tongue-lashing. In my usual argumentative state, I tried to defend myself but it was to no avail, although my supervisor did concede that it would be hard to determine the level under the conditions mentioned. The supervisor pointed out the meaning of the word "assume" by spelling it out ASS-U-ME. I was in a little more trouble because I assumed from a "further distance". The plants cut back on production to ease the cooling water demands, and the boiler house dropped back as well in steam production, reducing the need for make-up water. About a week after this incident, we had a bubbler level indicator installed. That should have been the end, but the bubbler would fail, giving us an incorrect indication, which was as bad as assuming a level. I don't know how they ever got around this problem. A walkway out to the center of the pond would have done the trick.

It takes a farmer...
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
My first boss was an operator, when I was a junior operator starting out at Water Treatment. His name was Crest. I remember it (unlike some of the later ones) because he was truly a mentor, and later a friend who I socialized with. He was about my age, married with no kids, whereas I had two.

Crest taught me a lot about machinery, because until I worked there, I barely knew how to change the oil in my car. (I've learned how to do that now. In fact I drag-race an 800 horsepower Mustang pumped out of a 351 cubic inch engine.) Crest came from a farming background, and it's somewhat legendary how farm kids knew a lot about machinery from working with their fathers on the farm. I didn't last long as a junior operator because there was an opening for an operator in another plant, and Crest was going to fill it. So, the faster I learned, the faster he could move out.

The Czech is in the Plant
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
I started work at Dow on the same day as a Czechoslovakian expatriate who left his country when the Russians moved in with tanks in 1968. So Crest was actually training two of us. Frank had been an engineer at a huge chemical complex in Czechoslovakia, and had been in a supervisory role. Now, here he was trying to work as a junior operator. I admired his spunk. He had a family to feed so he was quite determined to work hard to keep the position, and move up as opportunities became available. What was really incredible was that he had been in Canada for only about 8 weeks and when he first arrived didn't know one word of English! We could just barely have a conversation with him, sort of like baby-talk, and we had to use our hands a lot. He wanted to learn so much, so fast, he would grab something off the table (I remember a gasket) and say "Vat is dis?". I'd say "gasket", which he would repeat a few times, looking up to me for acknowledgment. Then he'd write the word in his little book, with his definition, in Czech of the same word. I'd barely have time to breathe when he would point to something else, and "Vat's dat?" When Crest would take us out into the plant to explain some facet of Water Treatment, Frank would nod approvingly at most everything that was pointed out to us, because he really knew more about it than Crest did! Sadly, when I owned a pool hall many years later, his two kids would frequent the establishment and hang around with a druggie crowd. Not like their hard-working father at all.

I moved up to operator in about a week; Frank about two weeks later. It was only because of the language thing that I went first, because the readings we took at the brine wells had to be communicated to the Chlorine Plant. Frank really knew a lot about process equipment. I was petrified!
First Day
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
The first day on my own was actually a night shift. I went nuts. I was scared as hell of those tall 500 horse-power cooling-well pumps, the chlorine gas we had to inject into the water stream, the high voltage (2300 volt) switchgear, and the responsibility of keeping the plant running. My first night, I was running back and forth between the control room and production floor every five minutes! I was so worried that the water levels would drop and I wouldn't be able to compensate or that a motor would suddenly burn up and I wouldn't know what to do. It's much like public speaking for the first time: nerves. After a week of this foolishness, I learned how to sleep on night shift, and still get the work done!

I didn't sleep much though simply because I wanted to use the time learning. I would bring all kinds of books, read anything that was left there, like old log books, or manuals. I would run experiments with the chemicals, run experiments on the pumps, like shut them down, start them up. I would play with the fire engine, a natural gas driven engine used to increase the water pressure in the fire water lines through-out the plant. I was also always looking for ways to improve operations, and got a few nice letters from the Works Manager for my ideas. (Dow had a "suggestion" policy, whereby you could submit a suggestion on paper, and the supervisor would act on it, or forward it to the right people).

I was at Water Treatment for 3-1/2 years and was quite comfortable there, having learned my job extremely well. Frank meanwhile decided to go to the Chlorine Plant where he began taking Steam Engineering Courses. Every year I talked to him, he was at a new level. He was a smart guy, and once he got better at English was really able to grow by leaps and bounds with correspondence courses. He eventually obtained a 1st Class Steam Engineering Certificate, a tremendous achievement for anybody let alone someone who had only been in Canada for 4-5 years. I took my 4th Class and that was hard!

It was a good thing that they took the operators out of Water Treat. It was done for austerity measures, but it had the effect of forcing me to learn more! I realized that after I moved to the next plant, Chlor-Alkali. Though I was quite hesitant to go there, and was a little afraid of the stuff I had to work with, after awhile I got to know the ropes and began to settle in.
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
One other operator that requires mention is the one we called Zero. I don't remember his real name, but I know he was an older Dutch fellow, and he had no brains. I heard stories from not only other operators, who followed or preceded his shift, but also from my supervisor! The latter told me how he once came in early in the morning and looked through the control room window to see Zero disconnecting the bolts on a 3 inch pipe flange. Nothing unusual there except that he was doing it on a pressurized line! His reason for removing the bolts? He said the valve was stuck and thought it should be replaced. This was a 3" valve, and it was just stiff. Once a pipe wrench was put on it for leverage, the valve worked fine. Not only was he doing the job for nothing, he was doing it unsafely.

Another time, Zero jumped off a forklift without securing the brake. Come to think of it, he didn't even shut the unit off. The forklift kept moving and ran into our emergency steam turbine damaging it, and the pipes that were connected to it. This is the bad turbine that burned my arm.

We used to get milk from the main building for our coffee, but we had no fridge. In winter this wasn't a problem because we could use the air outside, or other areas where temperatures were in between the inside and the outside temperatures (e.g. in between the walls). In summer, it only took a day before the milk turned sour and started to curdle. This is when Zero would drink it. One operator told me he was going to throw out a quart of curd because he couldn't stand the smell, when Zero grabbed it from him with a "no, no", put it to his mouth and gulped it down! The operator had to hold his lips, because he almost lost his stomach contents. Zero did other stupid things, like blowing the trans-axle in the Scout four-wheel drive. This guy would come to work in a top-coat like he was some kind of spy for Nazi Germany during the war. He was weird. He was fired.
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
I made a lot of friends at Water Treat, mostly millwrights and electricians, because on day shift, I would always have fresh coffee on, and they would escape the hustle and bustle of work in the other plants by hiding out at my plant. They would come by bicycle, or by truck, sometimes two or three in a truck. I had four or five guys there on a daily basis, just like clock-work. Some of the electricians were Dow employees, but many were working for Dow's maintenance contractor, Catalytic Construction. Dow employees got coffee free, Catalytic did not. That's why they came. In winter it was particularly gratifying to come in from the cold for a free cup of hot, fresh coffee.

I made friends with other people too, like the dump-truck driver. He wasn't well educated and was even a little slow, but he was a nice guy and we became friends, because I didn't treat him like he was anything less than anyone else. I didn't get out much to the other plants to socialize with the other operators because I was too shy. Some of them came over to see me.
A Good Ticket to Have
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
My supervisor at Water Treat had a first-class steam ticket, as was required for being the supervisor of Water Treatment and the boiler house. The 3 boilers were pretty big units, generating 600 pound steam (i.e. pounds/square inch), and the requirement by the Alberta Boilers Branch dictated that this much "horsepower" had to have a 1st Class Engineer on day shift and a 2nd Class Engineer on the off-shifts. The latter was the Supervising Technician of the Chlorine Plant, and under him was the person actually taking care of the boilers, the 3rd Class Engineer, also known as the Senior Operator. Anyone who wanted to progress from 4th Class, the second lowest class according to the Boilers Branch (the "Fireman's Certificate" was lower), to 1st Class, had to get boiler time (or "hours"), working in the boiler house as a senior operator. He could use the same boilers, but had to spend more time actually operating them and learning more about them to become a second class. All this took years of correspondence school study as well. It was no cake-walk. This was the reason Frank went to the chlorine plant: so he could get boiler time in the boiler house, because this area was part of the process. ( The production of chlorine created as a side-product caustic soda, which required a tremendous amount of steam be used, so the steam plant was close to the caustic production).
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
When I worked at the Water Treatment Plant, one of my duties was to go down to the river flats twice on my shift to take readings and samples at the brine wells. I also had to switch effluent ponds, a process that involved opening and closing valves to another series of settling ponds. This was pretty spooky for a guy with an imagination like mine, because you see, the area I went to was basically in the bush. Almost monthly there were break-outs from the Fort Saskatchewan Gaol (the old English spelling, as it appeared on the signs), and the convicts would escape along the river, which is basically where I had to be. I had to take samples from within these little heated shacks in the winter, a perfect place for convicts to congregate. Not to mention the Sasquatch that lived in the bush beside the river.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019
So it was that I decided to bring my German Shepherd dog, Queenie, with me to work. Since I've always believed in the adage "Better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission", I didn't check to see if this was an allowable thing. I just did it.

Queenie would sit in the front seat of the car on my 40 minute drive from Morinville to Fort Saskatchewan. As we approached the Dow Chemical complex, I would tell Queenie to "lay down" and "stay". She was well trained, because this is exactly what she would do as I slowed, and sometimes stopped for the security guard at the gate. She would stay that way until I got to the Water Treatment Plant, where I would meet the current operator on shift. When he left, I would let Queenie out of the car.

She was quite nervous and afraid of the noises inside the plant, but was okay inside the control room, where I would give her fresh water and share my lunch with her. When it was time to get the readings, she was quite excited at being able to ride in the truck. Sometimes I put her in the box, other times, I made her run, and other times she came in the back. I preferred the latter because then I had "someone" to talk to. The downside was that if she got wet, she left the smell of wet-dog behind her in the truck, for the next shift!

Bugs Bunny
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
One winter day we went out on the reading-run when she spotted a rabbit. People who knew the dog understood how she probably only wanted to play with the rabbit, as she set off to chase it through the open areas between the road-grid that was covered with about 2 feet of snow. On hard-pack a dog may have a chance to catch a rabbit, but in snow there is just no way. So here's my dog leap-frogging in the deep snow, sinking so deep it looked like she had no legs at all, trying to catch a rabbit sitting on top of the snow. The bunny would stop, wait for Queenie to get within 20 feet, then blast off 50 feet ahead, stop and wait. All three of us were having fun: the rabbit watching this poor snow-shoe competitor; Queenie, determined to get that rabbit, like a farmer-boy at his first Klondike Days shooting gallery; and me, watching the whole affair. I finally had to call the dog off, because she would have chased that animal back to Edmonton.
The Rock
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Another day I was driving slowly back to the plant from the river, letting Queenie run behind the truck , when she started barking profusely. I shone the large flashlight I had at the subject of her interest and saw a large round object in the ditch. It was a large stone, that must have looked like something threatening to the dog. In spite of my pleas to stop barking, telling her "it's only a rock, Queenie", she persisted. Finally I had to get out of the truck, walk up to the rock and "pet it" to show the dog it was "safe". She reluctantly moved forward and sniffed it, letting out a couple barks as I was walking away, as if to say "Well, I wasn't really barking at the rock, I just wanted to bark!".
But I Was Hungry, Master?
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
I never brought Queenie to work on day-shift, unless it was the week-end. Then, it was just for company, and to "bond" with my dog, not to have her for security. One weekend I left her tied up using her choke-chain to a metal post in the control room, while I went into the plant, where she did not like to go. Just as I returned through a side-door to the control room, the electrician-supervisor for the complex walked in through the front door. Well, the dog snarled and barked and pulled on her choke-chain as if a grizzly bear had just popped up out of nowhere. The electrician almost peed his pants! His face turned crimson-red! I got Queenie to stop barking, and explained that her bark was worse than her bite, although he didn't really want to test my synopsis. A few days later, my supervisor informed me that "animals" were not really allowed on the plant site. He said that he had to tell me that, it was his job, but he understood why the dog came with me. He told me to not bring her on any day shift, just in case.
Wanna Go For A Ride, Queenie?
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
I was late for work one winter morning and was really moving down the highway, in my 1968 fast-back Mustang, with Queenie in the passenger seat. The wind was blowing and it was snowing. Up ahead on the highway was a large snowdrift covering the two lanes of the road. Now a normal person would probably slow up as they approached such a barrier, but I figured I could just blast through, so I put the pedal-to-the- metal, hitting the snowdrift at about 80 miles per hour. I felt the car go up in the air, turn around one and one half times, and land, sliding backwards into the ditch on the other side of the highway. When I stopped I asked Queenie if she was okay, because by then she was laying hap-hazardly on the floor of the car. I was REALLY late for work then, getting out of the ditch by paying a farmer $20 to pull me out with his tractor.

Three years after I started there the company pulled the operators out of Water Treat, giving management and control to the Ethylene Oxide Plant . As a result, I was transferred to the Chlorine Plant. I could no longer take Queenie with me (nor would I have wanted to expose her to the chemicals there), and since I didn't have to do the river run, I had no good reason to.

A few years ago I took my "significant other", Barbara, with me to the Bearspaw Water Treatment Plant in Calgary. I left her in the control room to chat with the operators as I repaired some part of their control system. When we left the Plant, she asked "Just what is it operators do anyway? These guys were reading, one was sleeping, and the TV set was on!". I explained that an operator isn't paid to work every minute of the day: he's there to keep the plant running, and if its running well, with no routine work to be done, then the operators can "relax".

So it was at Dow. I had routine work to perform, usually at certain hours of the day, but when that was done, I could do other things. Like work on my car. Or drive the hell out of one of the company trucks. Anything to keep one amused.

One of the Water Treat operators was an amateur astronomer/photographer, so he just loved night shift. He didn't have to go far from the plant to get darkness and good seeing conditions. I'd wash my car on the off-shifts, that is, the shifts that weren't the normal 8 AM to 5 PM, Monday to Friday day-shifts. I didn't work on cars too much then, and wouldn't want to take the chance that my car wouldn't start the next morning. For the most part, I read a lot. I had bought this 3000 page Science Encyclopedia, a book that was almost 4 inches thick. I read it. Not only that, but I took notes. It took me over a year to go through it. I still have the book. I should read it again.
Rubber Stoppers
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
I entertained myself in other ways too. One of my favourite past-times was picking up the rubber stoppers on the cooling tower decks and throwing them into the outlet of the huge horizontal-mounted 22-foot fan blades. Those massive blades would kick that stopper 100 feet into the air. Quite amusing to watch. Not so amusing would have been me slipping on the algae-infested water-flooded deck,where I was retrieving the stoppers from. It was 60 feet in the air, with no guard-rail to stop my fall.

I used to experiment with some of the chemicals, just for fun, and scientific curiosity. We had to add sulfuric acid to one of our water streams in the Water Treatment Plant, so I would mix this with other chemicals or burn insects. All in the name of science.
The Mud Bath
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
When I was at Water Treatment and having to go down to the river to take readings, I used to "experiment" with the company trucks. It was especially fun when we were given the only 4-wheel drive vehicle (an International Scout) at the complex. Four-wheel drive vehicles were very rare in the early 70's, so this truck was quite expensive and special. Well, one fine spring day I wanted to test the 4 wheel drive capabilities of the truck, so I decided to forget the roads and get to my destination "cross-country". I headed across this area that looked like a dried up lake bed, well at least the surface was all cracked and dry. I hit the area at about 40 mph and sunk the truck right up to the doors! When I managed to push the door open against the mud, I got out and sunk to my knees. No way I was going to get out of this mess with only 4 wheels. Since it was Saturday, I radioed to the security guard (a person I had befriended) to come and get me. He did so, but said he couldn't help me out because he had some other important activity to do. (He just didn't want to get involved with a trouble-maker like me). I was driven to the shop area where I managed to procure a large truck known as the "cherry-picker". It supposedly got it's name from its original purpose: to pick cherries! However, rather than having a bucket at the end of its extendible boom, it had a hook for lifting, or winching objects. I had never driven such a big vehicle, let alone operated all the controls for the boom and winch, but what the hell, a person has to learn sometime.

I understood just how much trouble I would be in if I got this big unit stuck, so I didn't take any more chances, and parked the truck on the road. I put out its extendible support legs, and then started the winch unrolling. Grabbing the huge hook, I dragged it back to the Scout, about 200 feet away, then ran back to shut the winch off before it started looping back on itself, possibly breaking the cable.

I didn't care how dirty I got at this point, because I was in danger of being severely disciplined, (or at the very least get my peepee whacked), so I laid down in the mud to get the hook attached to the truck. Then I ran back, winched the Scout out of the bog, disconnected, brought the truck back, walked back to get the Scout. Then I washed it off to destroy the evidence of my folly. Luckily, the plant that I was responsible for was running okay and there were no upsets. No one ever discussed this matter with me, despite there being a witness from another plant who was laughing too much to come and help me with my plight. He was sitting in his truck on another road, watching me winch the Scout out of the muck.

A few months later, "Zero" got the truck stuck near the cooling towers. It was always wet and boggy around there, so it was easy to visualize a vehicle sinking in the water-saturated earth. Zero didnt know when to stop when it came to trying to free himself, and he destroyed the trans-axle that cost about $5000 to repair. When this was mentioned to me by my supervisor, all I could do was exclaim what a fool Zero was. "What was he doing off the road anyway?" I asked. "Some people; always fooling around!"

I used to throw a very strong dye, used for colouring anti-freeze, into the sewer at various locations, then rush down to the effluent ponds or the river outlet and measure the time it took to get there. This was only for fun and scientific curiosity: figuring out the speed of the effluent flow.
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
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Bone Yard
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
I'd spend a lot of time in the Complex's "bone yard". This is where any old, unused parts, like pipe, valves, wire, etc. were stored because they were surplus. I used to check out stuff, take some of the obviously "junk" materials to my plant, or home to use them for my own projects. Some of the more potentially "worthy" goods I would ask for, and was almost always granted permission. I once picked up a gas chromatograph for nothing because it was just old junk. I still, to this day, have a bunch of the precision calibrated potentiometers that I use in my electronic projects. Dow was really the beginning of my second career: that of junk-collector!
Curious Bob
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
One day at Water Treat a flowmeter that metered the raw water from the outside settling pond into the plant stopped working. Because I was curious how the meter worked, rather than phone for an instrument man, I decided to check it out myself. I shut down the deep well pump, blocked everything in, and pulled this very large, and heavy, turbine flow-meter out of the 12 inch pipe line. I don't remember what I fixed (it could have been weeds jamming the mechanism), but I did fix it. When I reported it in the log book, my supervisor was quite pleased that I had take on a job like that. I told him I was "having fun. With more experience under my belt as an Instrumentation Technologist, I look back and think this was a pretty trivial job. But at THAT time, it wasn't. I had no idea what I was doing, and I had to shut down the deep well pump, allowing the clearwell to get dangerously low. I could have lost the boiler feedwater pumps, which would have been REAL bad! Fortunately the meter went back together okay, and I got the gasket on correctly so it didn't leak. (If the gasket would have broken or leaked, I could have lost it all then as well).

That incident reminded me of a situation I had when I was about 13 years old. We had boarders at our house who worked the pipeline as it passed through town. One of boarders, Ralph, stayed around and began dating my mother. He bought a new lawnmower for me to cut the grass, and one day, in my curiosity of how things worked, I took the thing apart! I had the head of the engine off and any other easy part I could remove. I put it all together and the damn thing didn't work! Now I started to sweat. I would be killed for doing this, even though Ralph was such an easy-going guy. My cousin, a mechanic was asked for his opinion of what the problem could be (I didn't tell him what I did) and he thought it was the head gasket. So the next time someone went to Edmonton and I went along, I got a gasket from some small engine repair shop. I took the engine apart again. Now that I was an expert, it came apart much faster. Sure enough, the gasket was shot and the replacement fixed the problem. No one ever knew I had done this, but I did tell Ralph about it 30 years later.
Drilling rigs
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Whenever drilling rigs were on site to drill new brine wells, I would check out the equipment when the workers weren’t around. One well that had been drilled and cased was about 6000 feet deep, the average depth of the salt field. Of course the light of a flashlight only went down about 5 feet before it diverged enough that one couldn’t see down to the bottom. Ahh, to have the lasers I have now to play with! I dropped one end of a very long extension cord down the pipe, and the entire string dropped out of site. I then entertained myself by dropping stones down the well, trying as best I could to get it to drop straight down and not bounce off the insides of the pipe. The sound reverberated for what seemed like minutes on the rock’s journey to the bottom. Did I calculate the depth using the time and Newton’s equations for acceleration due to gravity? No. The sound gradually petered out without an ending "thud" signifying it got to the end. In spite of the rock making lots of noise all the way down the tube, it was so deep that vibrations in the pipe just petered out to nothing.

The security guard called me one evening to tell me the workers on the rig were complaining about a strong chemical smell that was burning their eyes. I met the guard down by one of the huge Commonwealth Drilling rigs that was drilling another brine well. He had a gas sniffer with him to detect minute vapours of chlorine gas, which he had been using at ground level, detecting nothing. The rig hand said it was worse up in the crowsnest, about 60 feet above the drilling deck and would the guard or I go up there? He said "here, I’ll show you how we get up there", as he proceeded to step on this little 18 inch square plate and grab a cable coming down from the crowsnest. When he gave the signal, he was accelerated upwards like a friggin’ catapult! Up until then it sounded like fun, but now it was like that sling-shot ride at the Calgary Stampede. I didn’t need any organs repositioned so I said no, and instructed him on how to do the sniff test.
Fun with the Wife
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
I had fun one night at Water Treatment with my wife. Yes, my wife. I was 20, she was 19, and she was 8 months pregnant. Lynn didn’t want to stay alone in our apartment in Edmonton one night, so I asked her if she wanted to come to work with me. "Is that allowed?", she asked. "What’s that got to do with it?", was my reply. So I came upon a plan to get her in without asking for permission, which I most certainly would not have obtained.

About a mile from the plant, under the cover of darkness, she got out of the seat of my car, and into the trunk. Now this car was a fastback 1968 Mustang, and those that know the kind of car it was know the trunk was very small. I had put some blankets in there so she would be comfortable and hopefully not pop the kid on my way through the gate. How would I explain THAT!

We went through the gate, then to Water Treat where I hurriedly shoo’ed the operator away so I could see if my wife survived. She did, and lasted about 2 hours before she couldn’t stay awake anymore and had to go to sleep in the back seat. That was more uncomfortable than the trunk.

In the morning, I had to wake her up to put her back in the trunk so I could sneak her out. The baby, our first, was born a month later. In a hospital.
Homer And The Coke Machine
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
I used to go to the warehouse/shop after hours not only to snoop around and play with the equipment but also to get pop or candy from the machines in the lunch room. One night, convinced that I could probably get a free pop if I could figure out how the drop mechanism worked, I stuck my arm up the outlet channel, and felt around. I could feel the cans, and the big wheel that they were stored in. I kept feeling around, thinking if I could find a micro-switch or something that would open the trap door, I could trip it and get my free pop. Well, I touched the wrong side of a switch and got the shock of my life, with my arm halfway up the machine! Man, did I get a lesson fast.. I was reminded of how "art" imitates life recently when, on a episode of "The Simpsons", Homer had to walk around with a pop machine on his arm because he got it stuck doing the same thing I did!
The Hand
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
When I was 17 or 18 I saw a show on TV that scared the daylights out of me. Of course, when I was about 12, I used to scare the daylights out of myself by using my own hand, fingers outstretched coming towards my face! The show I saw was about a human arm that fell out of a space capsule after the craft blew up in space. Despite the corny, unbelievable concept, it got scarier as this arm crawled around the country killing anyone who somehow had something to do with the space mission. It would pull itself around by it’s fingers, crawling into open windows, up fences and the like. Then it would find a victim and strangle it with the one attached hand. Quite a versatile arm, considering there was no brain around to tell it what to do. "The Hand" came back to haunt me one night when I went down to the brine wells to get samples.

First I had to switch settling ponds. Effluent from the plant flowed into one of two small ponds, which was filled to allow the heavy chemicals to settle out, and then allowed to drain into the bigger settling pond. Since there were two smaller ponds, one pond was always filling while the other was draining. My job, and I accepted to do it Mr Phelps, was to crank open the large 10" valve that diverted the outlets of pond 1 or pond 2 to the main pond. So it was at 2 AM that I’m down in the river flats doing this. It was dark and it was damn spooky. From what I had seen on television, this was the perfect setting for the Sasquatch. Where was Queenie when I needed her?

Anyway, I positioned the truck so the lights shine inside the door of the building I have to enter to switch the ponds. I had a flashlight in my hand, and shone it out into the trees to make sure no Sasquatch is on his way over to say hello. Wish I had a machine gun.

Satisfied that nothing hairy was in the area, I entered the building, and shone the flashlight inside. No one there either. I shone the light down to the "basement" of the building. Nothing coming up. So far so good, I breathed easier. Picking up the valve wheel and using my flashlight to light up the socket the wheel has to fit into I see this goddamn ARM! Lying there with its fingers pointing up, waiting to grab my neck! Arrrgghggh!!! The hair on my neck is sticking out so much no one could have gotten their hands around it. My hard-hat is being lifted off my head for the same reason. I bolt out of there like a bat out of hell, jump into the truck and drive a million miles an hour back to the plant!

The next day, I was asked where the valve handle was because the next operator couldn’t find it. Apparently it fell in the basement and broke, because it was made of brittle cast iron. When I escaped from THE HAND, I let the handle fall wherever it wanted to; I wasn’t hanging around for a piece of metal when a horrible death was staring me in the face. And the ponds? Well they never were switched, so the one pond filled up and overflowed into the main pond. Since the material in the main pond was flowing into the river, there’s a chance that some real crappy stuff got into the ecosystem. The people living downstream of the river ought to thank me for there being no Sasquatch attacks, because of the extinction of the beasts from drinking the water straight.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019
The Hand? It was an industrial rubber glove, the kind I wore when I took samples from ponds. I went back on dayshift and got rid of it. That took guts.

Addendum April 2008: I submitted this story to CBC Radio as a scary story for Halloween and won first prize!!  I'm still waiting for the movie deal.

The Friendly Giant
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
There was a funny story (funny because it wasn’t me), concerning this same area on a night shift, and a former Water Treat operator who, like me, had been taking samples. It also involved a giant named Bob. I met Bob one midnight shift when I was alone in the control room of Water Treat. I was "resting my eyes" by resting my head on the desk, which faced the door. I didn’t want to be stabbed by an escaped convict, or grabbed by Sasquatches, so I always sat with my back to a wall, facing the door. All of a sudden, the door flies open, and this incredibly huge "thing" ducks under the door sill (an 80 inch door!) and walks in. He looks like a mountain man: long blonde hair to the middle of his back, full blonde beard, at least 2 inches long, dressed in the most ragged clothes I’ve ever seen. Were it not for the Dow hard-hat he was wearing, I would have pissed my pants then and there. (Maybe I did, but I ain’t admitting nuthin’!) Bob was an operator at the Herbicides Plant where chemicals like 2-4-D and 2,4,5-T were manufactured. Because of the chemical splashes encountered, everyone was issued with khaki uniforms, and these invariably became tattered, especially around the boots. Bob was 6’8" in socks, the boots gave him another inch or inch and a half, and the helmet about another 3-4 inches. What a nice guy! He had just come over to see me, the new operator, to introduce himself.
The Sasquatch
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Now that you know who/what Bob was, I’ll relate the story that was told to me by Reg, the same Reg who worked with me at Styro later, and had worked at Herbicides with Bob. One night the Herbicides guys wanted to pull a prank on the new operator at the Water Treatment Plant. One of them drives Bob down to the ponds, where he hides behind a small hill. Normally, when an operator would drive into the yard to park, he would take a wide turn so that he wouldn’t have to back up the truck, and could conveniently exit the truck on the driver’s side. Well, the operator enters the yard, and just as he’s into the wide turn, the hairy giant Bob, in his tattered clothes jumps out from behind the hill with his arms in the air! Yeeeeehhaaawwww! The operator put the pedal-to-the-metal, almost losing control of the truck as it over-steered and headed towards the big settling pond. He managed to control it and drive at least as fast as I did back to the Water Treatment Plant! The Herbicides guys in on the trick had a real good laugh over that one. I’m not sure what happened to the operator, if he even finished his shift.

When Bob worked at Herbicides he had problems walking under high-lines which were supports for piping and electrical conduit: he hit his head on the cross braces. So he brought the matter up at a plant-wide safety meeting. Of course we all snickered when he told his story, because after all, he WAS 6’8" tall! He made his point that his height, though above average, was NOT that unusual. (In fact a guy at Chlor-Alkali named Tiny, was 6’8" as well.) Within a couple days, all the braces in the entire plant were cut out and moved up a foot.

No one would take on Bob in an argument. After all, he could kill a person just by standing up! So when a safety rule came down that long hair was not allowed, he once again took the matter to task. When he heard the reason behind the long-hair rule was that it was unsafe because it could catch in moving equipment, he suggested tying his hair back. Would that be acceptable? After drilling his arguments into the heads of management, and getting some support from other operators, the safety supervisor conceded that tying one’s hair back in a pony-tail would meet the requirements.

When I went to Toronto with Bob and two other operators, we would always follow Bob into the bar. It was quite neat being associated with this big guy, kinda like tagging along with Dirty Harry. More than once Bob’s head would hit something hanging down from the ceiling in those bars and restaurants. People would always stare and point at us (well Bob) when we walked in.
Going, going, Gong!
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
I heard another story of some fun the Herbicides guys had with another operator. It was routine for operators to go out and inspect tanks and other vessels in their area at regular intervals. If any strange noises were heard, (possible signs of an impending chemical or steam leak) it was important to investigate. Many operators become nervous wrecks, never knowing what could happen to them on a shift.

One night the operator is making his rounds taking tank readings when he stops to listen to what he thinks is a leak. Unknown to him, a second operator is approaching from another direction. This guy sees the first operator slowly walking around this large tank, moving his head to and fro as he tries to pin-point the source of the sound. The second operator approaches quietly, just around the bend of the tank so he can’t be seen. Knowing full well that the tank is empty, he takes the 30 inch-long pipe wrench he has with him and swings it at the tank. Well that tank responded with a sound you could hear all over the plant, followed by laughter of the perpetrator as he watches the first guy jump out of his skin!
The Commandos
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
We had a shift supervisor at the complex who was responsible for all the plants on the off-shifts. He had the authority to call out any help or equipment needed in an emergency. He related the story of how some Herbicides commandos went over to the Chlorine Plant and hit the operators there in an early morning raid. Three guys, 15 gallons of water. It was a slaughter. Not to be outdone, a few nights later 3 guys from Chlorine went over to Herbicides to do the same thing. It was well choreographed: they would sneak into the main control room and strike whoever was in there. Past the first door, they looked inside and saw someone at the desk, back to the door, reading the log book. One commando slowly opened the door, two commandos with 10 gallons of water, creep in, splitting apart on each side of the guy at the desk. He had no chance. Five gallons of cold water first from the left, then from the right deluged him, soaking the desk and all the materials on it. The Israelis would have been proud. Perfect execution. Too bad they got the wrong guy! The guy they got was the supervisor of the plant who was there because of a plant upset! Heh heh. There were no operators in the control room, only one supervisor.

The Chlorine Commandos were too busy dumping their water on the poor sloth to consider that he was dressed in civvies, not the traditional khaki of the plant. He obviously had a sense of humor (or an inferiority complex), because he never reported it or had any disciplinary action taken..