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Aphelion Editorial 104

August / September 2006

by Dan L. Hollifield

The Usual Rant from the Aphelion Senior Editor

Wow! August just flew by, didn't it? I was on vacation from work for most of the month. We help ApheliCon 2 the first weekend of the month and attendance was at a record high... Yeah, this year we had *eight* attendees! LOL! Whatta crowd, 'eh? Would have been nine, but Kate Thornton had to cancel at the last minute. Well, I still had enough food and drink for twenty, so we dove in and had a wonderful time anyway. My thanks go out to everyone who showed, and thanks for being there when we needed you, afterwards, too.

It was a good party, but next year's will have to be held at a somewhat cooler and less volatile time of year. Start e-mailing me now with requests for the date for ApheliCon 3 and I'll work the schedule out ahead of time. Either Spring or Fall, 'cause Summer down here in Georgia is just too bloody hot! LOL!

OK, now for something completely different... While I was on vacation, the factory where I work suffered a few-- accidents. Thank goodness that no one was injured. But it was a close thing, only the vagaries of chance prevented several deaths. Thursday the 18th of Augusta new tank for liquid urea was installed on the third floor of our Binder Mixing area. The tank was newly fabricated and weighed 20,000 pounds, empty. Installation went flawlessly and the crew in that work area began to fill the tank. By the time that they finished filling it with 30,000 pounds of urea, it was time for their scheduled lunch break. So they all left the area, to return in 30 to 45 minutes and give the new tank its final leak test. There was also a special lunch laid on for our Maintainance crew in honor of their excellent safety record for the year. If it hadn't been for that Safety Award lunch, two men would have been killed. They would have been scheduled to begin working on some pumps directly underneath that new tank. Within minutes of the area having been vacated, the newly-fabricated tank ripped loose from its mount and plunged sixty feet to the floor, twisting foot-thick I-beams like silly-putty on the way down and punching a hole in the yard-thick reinforced concrete floor when it finally came to rest. When the workers came back the stench of spilled urea was overpowering, but thankfully there wasn't also the added scent of freshly spilled blood. The two men who were scheduled to start working under the tank were a bit weak-kneed at the realization of how close they had come to becoming human pancakes, but otherwise only the company budget was injured. It turns out that the tank was *not* built to the specifications supplied to the fabricator, who vehemently denied ever receiving *that* page of the blueprints! The question remains as to how they were able to place the anchor bolts in the right position for us to install the tank without *also* seeing that those self-same anchor bolts were to have been mounted *through* the sides of the tank, and not just stuck on underneath the fiberglass thermal coating? That matter is now in the hands of the company's lawyers.

But wait, there's more...

Half an hour after the urea tank fell, the one of a kind, 20 year old and only halfway through its rated service life, 12,000 volt input/variable output electrical transformer for the world's second-largest electric glass-melting furnace shorted out during a routine pre-start warm-up, spewing a cloud of flaming oil and molten metal a hundred feet up into the sultry Georgia afternoon sky. The special fire-suppression systems kicked in and kept the flames from spreading, but tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment, switch gear, and wiring was ruined. Once again, by a miracle, no one was in the area of the transformer itself when the accident occurred. Hundreds of construction contractors were taking *their* lunch break and would have otherwise been in the middle of that inferno, except for mere chance. Forget the fact that the transformer could not have been replaced for less than one and a half million dollars and a year or more of fabrication time, the loss of life could have been more horrible than an airliner crash - if not for the coincidence of the explosion happening while everyone who had been working within mere yards of the equipment having gone to lunch 45 minutes beforehand. Fate, it seems, was on the side of everyone working there on the 18th. Lady Luck decreed that *no one* would die that day. Sure, it cost the company a lot of money to replace the switch gear and wiring... Sure, Georgia Power is losing $50,000 a day for every day that our factory is not making insulation... Sure, the company is losing three quarters of a million dollars in profit for every day that our factory is down, but *NO ONE WAS EVEN SCRATCHED! I'll take that over *any* of the alternatives, any day. If I hadn't been on vacation, I would have been working within 50 feet of *both* disasters. But I chose to hold ApheliCon 2 and take vacation time, just at the right time.

But these accidents were not without repercussions... Because of the extent of the damage and the extreme cost of the repairs, the owners of the factory came within a hair's breadth of closing it-- forever. The workforce was faced with the most terrible of questions --- would it be more expedient to shut us down and build a new factory in Mexico? Would all 500 of us be Unemployed and, not long afterwards, damn near Homeless? Almost none of us have large amounts of emergency savings. Almost every one of us lives paycheck-to-paycheck and knows no other way of life. One month without a paycheck could spell absolute disaster for everyone in the workforce. Breathlessly, we walked like mindless zombies through the following week of make-work tasks that were the best we could do towards some sense of normalcy at the plant-- while we awaited the WORD from On High... Rumors spread like a prairie fire, each one worse than the last. Gloom and doom were the order of the day. If the vending machines in the break room had been stocked with anti-depressants, the machines would have been empty by lunchtime each day. I could not function at home, on any level, while this Sword of Damoclese hung above my head. Investigations continued 24/7, reports were files, run-logs were requested and submitted... And on the 22nd of August, *The WordTM* came down to the workforce... "Nobody's fault," it said. "Equipment failure was the cause. All proper procedures were followed to the letter," it added. "Thank goodness that no one was hurt," was the next missive. "Make the repairs, resume the Start-up, order whatever parts and equipment you need to get the plant running again. Money is NO object..." came the final reprieve. And thus the Lords of Fiberglass spoke, and so your dear Editor is still gainfully employed. And damn glad of it...

And that is the reason that this issue is a little bit late. I admit, it's a bit different from my usual excuses, but every word is true.


I now return you to your regularly scheduled reading...


2006 Dan L. Hollifield

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