Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Mucking Out a Launder

This week's Sunday Scribblings topic is "First Job, Worst Job, Dream Job". Being the darkish sould I am, I've decided to write about the single worst day of work I ever had, doing the worst job I was ever assigned.

I did this job when I was a freshman in college over one of our holidays. I think it was Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. I was working at the Zinc Plant of the Bunker Hill Company. Uncle Bunker was very good about giving college students work during breaks from school and, on this particular day, I was an extra, so I didn't do my usual job of stripping zinc.

I got a job that needed to be done from time to time and that I'd never heard of anyone else doing.

At the Zinc Plant, the zinc was produced in electrolytic cells which had a solution of sulfuric acid running through them, with zinc particles in the solution. Thanks to a high electric charge, zinc collected on a cathode.

This process created waste, a slow building sulphuric acid sludge that collected below the cells in launders. These launders had to be cleaned.

My worst day of work ever was cleaning a launder of black sulfuric acid besotted sludge.

My shift boss took me to my work place. "Here, you'll need this shovel. Here, put on this rain gear." The rain gear was bright yellow, heavy. "I'll bring the ladder," he said.

Quietly, I gulped.

We went to a launder. The shift boss put the ladder down the launder for me, about six feet down. I started to climb down.

"Wait. I'll have to hand you the shovel. There's barely room down there for you. You go down there and get situated and I'll hand you the shovel."

I began my descent. The shift boss turned on a dim, naked light bulb so I could see a little bit, and when I got to the bottom, I stepped into the ankle deep sludge. My shoulders nearly touched each side of the launder. I had barely any room in front of me or behind me.

"It's kind of shitty down there, but do the best you can to shovel that shit and toss it up here. It's kind of tight, but you'll figure it out."

It was shitty down there. It smelled like rotten eggs. It was hot. The raincoat, which protected me from slow drips of sludge above me, was awkward. My footing was not secure, but, I didn't have anywhere to fall. I figured out how to angle the shovel and get scoops of the sludge and move them just over my head into a pile on the walkway the ladder leaned against.

I got the launder sufficiently clean. At least I shoveled enough out to reveal the wooden floor the sludge had piled on.

It wasn't an all day job. I finished before noon and went to eat my lunch, knowing I'd have some other extra job to do for the rest of my shift.

I went to the lavatory to clean up before I ate lunch. I noticed in the mirror that a spot of sludge was on my face. I tore off a paper towel to wipe off the black spot.

I wiped it off.

The skin over my upper jaw bone went with it.

I nearly shit.


gautami tripathy said...

Handling that sludge is kind of dangerous. What else can you expect from sulphuric acid?

Being a chemistry student, we had to handle conc. H2SO4. I remember a few accidents occuring.

Jo said...

Good grief....your willingness to finish that awful job says a lot about you. And your face, oh my!

the Brave said...

Thank God for Occ. Health and Safety laws. That sounds God awful.

Inland Empire Girl said... trumped me... I guess the short-lived career of a drive-in waitress wasn't that bad.

seenthatbefore said...

Where would the workers of the world be without benevolent employers sticking them in hell holes full of caustic chemicals with no notice, no training and no real protection. Naw that wouldn't happen today...wanna bet? I am curious, though, what willingness to finish the job has to say about workers today and their misplaced faith in their employers.

Herb Urban said...

I thought my five years working at an outdoor flea market in a dirt field in central NJ, next door to a raw sewage plant, was bad. Trying to sell women's sweaters to Russian men in 100% humidity and 100 degree heat was not an ideal way to spend my high school and early college years. But, at least I was not covered in sludge.

My hat is off to you for your determination in seeing a job through to its bitter end.

Anonymous said...

OK, that DOES sound like the worst day of the worst job I can imagine. I am amazed you got through!

Just Jen said...

Oh my goodness! What did you do when you lost skin? Out of all the posts I have read on this topic, that is definitely the worst job ever! The worst job I could possibly think of!
PS sorry I haven't been around the blog world for awhile. Hopefully now that we are settled in our new home, I'll be over to visit more often!

Anonymous said...

Uncle Bunker was famous for it's hell holes. When I was on the college crew we once had to muck out a sump (underground waste area) on 27-level, #1 shaft. It was 100 degrees and 99% humidity, and we uncovered a, well, shall we say, 'honey bucket', which spilled its contents throughout the sump. It was one of those times when first you say it, then you do it.

Oh, the pleasant pasttimes of our youth, eh, R.P., just tryin' to get through college?

(I love the word verification for this post IDBPU. Perfect.)

John Austin

MarmiteToasty said...

Good grief...... good bloody grief....


Dawn said...

Good Lord! Just when I think you can't top yourself, you manage to do so! I remember being the young wife of a smelter worker and being called from the hospital on more than one occasion. Rick has a pretty good hole in his leg from one incident involving battery acid and after the zinc splashed him in the face, he was never able to grow a beard! Keep up the wonderful entries, bud!!

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

Talk about hazardous waste - and they threw you in to handle it without proper protection! Those were the days of yore. . .I'll bet facing a classroom full of heckler's doesn't come close to that!

Student of Life said...

Holy f'ing shit! That sounds like my worst nightmare. You know? I think it would do a lot of college students some good to spend a day in hell like that. Perhaps our society would be a little better off.