Extra Body

I guess that I had about 25 different jobs before I matriculated in 1978.  I spent 7 years after High School bouncing around from one job to the next.  I started my Engineering career in 1980 working as a drafter after I received my Associates degree in community college, but nothing I learned in any of my engineering classes was helpful to me on my job.  I got a few more direct jobs and then I started working as a contractor consultant, doing whatever work was needed.  I had some great jobs, and one gave me my own private office with a desk and a couch and it had a window with a good view of the parking lot.  Another job paid me $51 per hour and several jobs that allowed me to travel.  I went to California for one job and another job flew me to Sweden.  I had over 40 different engineering jobs and most of them lasted about 4 to 5 months and then I moved on to another position.

My favorite job was working at a company called Ross Air Systems, Inc and I worked for them as a contractor from August 1998 – March 1999.  Ross Air made several different products all involving temperature control systems.  I worked on an air-drying system, and two air pollution control and heat recovery units used on processing lines which were called thermal oxidizers and they decomposed hazardous gases at high temperatures, so they could be safely released back into the atmosphere.  The first job was a new tobacco dryer and they sent me to Brazil to get their PLC program working down there.  I had my own laptop with my own Allen-Bradley PLC5 software installed on it and they had a similar dryer in Venezuela and it had the same communications to a WonderWare SCADA system, so they gave me the program for that, but that program needed to be edited, because the Brazil one was using FLEX/IO.

The FLEX/IO was a cost saving improvement and this guy Rick who wrote their Venezuela dryer programmer was busy, so they needed somebody as R.J. Reynolds wanted to see the programmer down there doing the work.  This was a good opportunity for me as I had never worked with this FLEX/IO before.  Most PLC programmers are sent to school to learn the craft, but me being a consultant, I had to read the manuals to learn how to program.  It is always nice to get your hands of somebody else’s program, to see how they do things and I could tell right off that Rick’s program was a piece of art.  The other hitch was that this system contained a Motor Control Center that featured DeviceNet communications that they had never used before.  The big changes involved addressing, as the FLEX/IO had a different addressing scheme, which I had to figure out, because even Rick had never worked with that.

I finally got all of the addressed changed, but I was not able to download the program, because the processor did not have enough memory storage in it.  I told them that they needed to upgrade the processor and they said that there was no money in the budget for that and that I was going to have to find a way to make it work.  I saw that Rick left large gaps of space in the data tables and I felt that if I tightened them up, that this would give me the memory that I needed.  I told the guys that I was going back to my hotel room where I could work undisturbed and that I would have the new program ready for Monday.

They were a great bunch of guys and this is why I liked this job the best.  My trick worked and the program was able to download, but the PID loops were not functioning.  They sent Rick down and he seemed happy at the work that I had done and he knew just how to fix the problem, but he needed the original Venezuela program to do that.  I had everything backed up on a portable Zip drive and he found these address values, which I did not update on the PID loops when I changed all the addresses to make the program fit.  Rick finished up this job and I was sent back home to work on a program for a thermal oxidizer in Minnesota.

Before I was able to finish the Minnesota program, they told me that I was going to Scotland for a different thermal oxidizer.  They had a programmer over there who had started the program but he was not able to get it to work.  He did a good enough job but he was not able to get these M files to work.  I had never heard of or worked with M files before, but basically, they were necessary to get this remote Panel View (Human Machine Interface) to work with the PLC, because the company was too cheap to buy a better processor.  I learned the M files and I got this program working and then Rick arrived and I was sent back home.

Now it was February and I was going to Minnesota, a place that nobody wants to be in during the cold temperatures of February.  I successfully completed this project from initial programming through Start-Up and customer sign off with out any aide from Rick and then I was let go.  I did what they hired me to do and since I was hired to be an extra body, I knew that I had to find another job and that is what being a contractor is all about.  I worked a lot of overtime and I was being paid hourly, so I made a lot of money putting in 12-hour days all the time that I was in the road.  I got paid for traveling and they even paid me to get my passport in Philadelphia and to get my working Visa in New York City, so I could do the job for them in Brazil.

Written for Fandango’s Dog Days of August FDDA #30 where the prompt is your best job ever.

10 thoughts on “Extra Body

  1. “I had over 40 different engineering jobs and most of them lasted about 4 to 5 month….” So what you’re saying, Jim, is that you couldn’t hold down a job. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is the nature of the beast when you work as a consulting contractor and some of my jobs lasted years, but on the average because of all the short term assignments that I accepted my employment length per job was much shorter. I made good money and the work was always very interesting and I wore a lot of different hats, but none of them were red.

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  2. I was in the printing trade for 25 years (mainly as a compositor) but I actually could and should have been a postman. I had the interview for the postman’s job and didn’t hear anything for over a week. I applied for the printers job as I thought I didn’t get the postman’s job but got a letter two days after telling me I had it! I’d just started the job at the printer’s.
    I explained the situation but I did often wish I waited a few days longer.

    Liked by 1 person

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