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How One May Become a Stationary Engineer

( Originally Published 1930 )

What a Stationary Engineer Must Know.—The stationary engineer must have a great deal of practical knowledge to be able to operate a plant efficiently. He should understand the care of steam boilers and the conditions affecting them. He should be able to care for the fires so as to prevent a great deal of smoke, and he should be able to use the fuel to the greatest advantage. A knowledge of boiler repairing, of the operation, maintenance, and repair of ventilating and heating systems, and of the maintenance and repair of elevators is also necessary. He should be familiar with the maintenance and operation of electric motors and generating equipment, the operation of feed pumps, the use of steam indicators, and the method of determining the efficiency of all this equipment. He must be skilled in the. use of all the hand tools of the occupation, and he should be able to use all of the equipment efficiently.

Technical knowledge and training are invaluable to the stationary engineer. He must be familiar with the theory of steam engineering which means that he should be able to understand the principles underlying the generation and expansion of steam, as well as the uses of steam. In order to be able to figure power-plant costs, he must have a knowledge of shop mathematics, which includes arithmetic and a little algebra. He should know something about electricity, including its generation and transmission; something about motors and wire sizes; and he should also understand how to operate and maintain refrigerating machinery. If promotion to the position of chief engineer is desired, he must master the principles of higher algebra and trigonometry. The stationary engineer must be able to read blue prints and make sketches. Therefore, he must have a knowledge of mechanical drawing. The technical knowledge required in this work must be gained outside of the power plant. It is highly desirable that at least a highschool education should be secured before one takes up the practical work of this occupation.

Age at Which One Can Become a Stationary Engineer.—The state and city laws relating to stationary engineers usually specify, among other things, that an applicant for a license must be at least twenty-one years of age and must have had a minimum of two years' experience in the management or operation of steam boilers and engines. The state laws pertaining to the labor of minors as a rule prohibit boys under sixteen from working around boilers and machinery that is in operation. In view of the fact that such limitations are in force, it is well to wait until the age of eighteen at least before beginning to learn the trade. Entrance at that age gives one an opportunity to gain, by the time the age of twenty-one is reached, all the practical and technical experience necessary to pass an examination for a license as stationary engineer.

Physical and Personal Qualities.—The stationary engineer must have mechanical ingenuity or the ability to work with and repair machinery and engines of all kinds. He should have a liking for such work and should be interested in mechanical devices. He must have a sense of responsibility which means the ability to concentrate on the work and stay at it until he is relieved. The ability to get along with others is another quality which the stationary engineer should possess in order to be successful.

No outstanding physical qualities are required of the stationary engineer. As a fireman, he should be strong enough to shovel coal and manipulate grates all day long. Of course, good health is as necessary in this occupation as it is in any other.

The Apprenticeship Training.—The period of training for apprentices (when apprentices are hired) in this trade is from three to four years. The length of the training period depends upon the arrangement made with the employer. When a boy becomes an apprentice, it means that he agrees to remain with his employer for a certain number of years in order to learn the trade. The employer agrees to teach the apprentice all there is to be taught about the trade, also to pay him a stipulated wage. Provision is made in the contract for increases in wages at certain periods. The apprenticeship method is the best way of learning any trade because it provides for systematic and thorough training in the fundamentals.

Many boys enter the trade as firemen instead of entering as regular apprentices. They then work up through the ranks without much supervision by their employers or by any one else. Promotion is apt to be slower as a result and the preliminary training probably will not be as thorough as it might be had an apprenticeship course been undertaken.


The Promotional Steps.—The entrance occupation in this trade is either that of fireman or apprentice. As an apprentice the beginner is given an all-round training, but as a fireman he may not secure such experience. Promotion to the positions of third-class engineer, second-class engineer, and first-class engineer, is then possible if the necessary requirements have been fulfilled. Each grade requires a different examination and a different license. Holders of first-class licenses may take charge of and operate any steam or motive power plant regard-less of size. Those holding second-class licenses are allowed to take charge of and operate a plant in which the horsepower does not exceed three hundred. Persons holding licenses of the third class may take charge of and operate a power plant in which the horsepower does not exceed seventy-five. Rules similar to those stated above have been formulated by many city governments. Per-sons desiring to become stationary engineers must pass examinations given by a board of examiners appointed by the mayor or aldermen of a city. It is also possible for a stationary engineer to become a superintendent of a building and be in charge of the maintenance of such a place.

The Value of Education in Securing Promotion.—Education is of value to the stationary engineer because it enables him to handle more responsible positions. It requires comparatively little education beyond the entrance requirements to hold a position as engineer in a small plant. In large plants, however, where a great many men are employed and a great variety of power-plant equipment is used, men of broad, technical training are required to direct the work. It is impossible for any man to gain all the technical knowledge needed to supervise and manage a big plant while he is actually at work in such a place. It is also impossible for him to keep up with the new inventions and practices if he does not make an effort to secure some technical training. He must, therefore, obtain the required education in some school or college of engineering. While the practical experience is absolutely necessary, it must be supplemented by technical education if promotion is to be gained. The combination of the two makes promotion more possible and more rapid.

It must not be thought that there is no hope for promotion for those who are not able to attend a full-time day school where technical subjects are taught. Many men who are now in the trade have risen from the ranks because they have made use of the available facilities for study outside of working hours. The extension divisions of many universities offer correspondence courses in subjects of interest to stationary engineers, and the trade and vocational schools hold classes in the evenings during the fall and winter months for those who wish to increase their fund of technical knowledge.

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