The Work of the Stationary Engineer
( Originally Published 1930 )
Tools and Equipment Used.—The stationary engineer is called upon in the course of his work to perform many tasks of a mechanical nature. In the performance of his duties, he must use many appliances and tools and different kinds of equipment. Sometimes a repair job requires the use of wrenches, hammers, chisels, and screw-drivers. Frequently he is called upon to repair leaky valves which necessitates the use of materials called packing and special tools that are called packing tools. Calipers and files are also found in the power-plant where they are used quite often.
The equipment of power plants varies with the size and the service rendered. In most of these plants are found boilers, engines, generators, pumps, motors, water heaters, turbines, and meters of various kinds. Indicators are an important part of the equipment of all such places. They are the instruments which give a record or diagram of the action of the steam, air, or ammonia on the inside of the cylinder. The stationary engineer must know how to use the indicator and how to read the record which it gives. For instance, on a steam engine the diagram may show whether the valves are properly set, what the initial and final pressures are, and other information that aids in the efficient operation of the plant. The stationary engineer must be familiar with the operation and repair of all the mechanical devices found in power plants.
Operations Performed.—The size of the plant usually determines how much supervisory work the engineer performs. If the plant is small and few men are employed, he must do quite a bit of the actual work of operating the machinery and performing all of the other duties. In a large plant, he supervises and directs the work of others. The duties of a stationary engineer and his crew in a power plant consist of firing and cleaning the boilers, oiling the equipment and making repairs to it, laying pipe lines and blower systems for heating and ventilating, making all kinds of steamfitting repairs, operating the switchboard and other apparatus in the plant, and handling all electrical troubles in the building. In addition, they operate the elevator machinery and the refrigerating system.
Conditions under Which He Works.—The hours of work in this occupation are ten per day, as a rule. Many power plants never shut down and, as a result, the men working in them must be "on the job" every day in the week. Of course, the men are allowed a day off at certain periods, but some one must be in the plant at all times. It is sometimes impossible to maintain a regular schedule of hours when the work is especially heavy or when repairs must be made. At such times, the ten-hour working day is disregarded and the men work as long as necessary. In those power plants which serve factories, the engineer and his crew usually work every Sunday morning at overhauling the equipment.
There are no particular dangers in this occupation. The boilers must be watched closely to see that the proper steam pressure is maintained, also to see that they receive an adequate supply of water. The men who work around the engine-room equipment and the other apparatus must be careful to avoid contact with all moving parts of the various machines.
The oiler and the fireman have the dirtiest jobs in the power plant. The work of the fireman is also quite strenuous, and at times there is considerable heat. Naturally, we cannot expect work to be clean in a place where there are many machines and other mechanical devices. But, all of these places have provided washrooms with plenty of hot water and soap where the dirt and the grease accumulated during the day may be removed. Although stationary engineering is an indoor occupation, it is not an unhealthful one.
The earnings in this trade vary with the size of the plant which the stationary engineer is called upon to operate, the purpose it serves, and the knowledge and ability which he possesses. Some men in this occupation earn as much and sometimes a great deal more than do those in many other trades. On the other hand, there are engineers who are not so well paid. There is no set standard of pay for these workers. Thus there is an opportunity for the individual to get the most that is possible out of his job.