I Love These Guys

I’ve been preoccupied with budgeting and gobbling up as much hands-on work as possible the last several months. The most recent journeymen I’ve worked with have spoiled me because:

– They have great personalities and we have an easy rapport. I feel comfortable asking questions and we can joke around. Trust is inherent.

– They’ve helped me understand how our one little project ties in to the overall goal. We’ve been quick to confirm that we’re working from the same perspective.

– They have double-checked my logic and my measurements and turned me loose to fabricate and install our electrical components. We can have discussions about anything that needs to be re-done or things that might have been done better. I’m developing a feel and a fluidity with my tools: yet it’s not always perfect (yet). At least we can laugh about my moments of awkwardness. I’m definitely getting more efficient. Read the rest of this entry »


On the Hook

This is the first week I’ve been “on the hook” and I don’t like it one bit. Work has slowed down to the point of my construction manager telling me, “We have no work for you, but we’ll call you as soon as something comes up.” Basically, I am receiving an unannounced furlough of indeterminate length or, through different lenses: unpaid vacation days. I like the sound of the latter much better. This is known as “staying on the hook” or “being on the hook”. Even though it would be easier and more comfortable to go with the flow and marry myself to this shop, I’m shaking myself outside my comfort zone and begging the apprentice training center to rotate me to a different contractor. Besides, I was never good at sitting around, waiting for the phone to ring! Read the rest of this entry »

Gruff Love

Recently, I spent about two weeks working with the same journeyman. He looked like an overweight and scruffy version of Tom Selleck or Burt Reynolds. (ok, really – he just sported the 70’s mustache and had a full head of brown hair) He loved his cigarettes, couldn’t drink coffee – opted for hot cocoa instead – and when he was in a joking mood, would hold his pot belly and say, “Yup, this has been honestly bought and paid for!” In his moodier and more melodramatic moments (which hit frequently and without prediction), he either yelled at pieces of equipment that weren’t installing easily, vented his low opinion of our office bidder/estimator or grumbled about how tired he was of “all this shit.” He was a process-out-loud kind of guy who got frazzled when all the variables of our trade didn’t pull together smoothly. And I couldn’t quite gauge his humor. One minute, he fervently told me he cared more about accuracy than speed. The next minute, he’d stomp into my work area with a scowl and say, “We’re not crafting a watch, you know!” or “Making a career out of that or what?” At the end of our project, he handed me a cable termination tool and said, “Here! This is for you. You can probably use it soon.” Then he stomped off. Read the rest of this entry »

1,000 Hours Old (The First Six Months)

I’ve turned 1,000! Each term in our apprenticeship is measured in on-the-job hours and accompanying formal class time. For me, this means I got a 5% raise and I’m in class one day a week for the fall term. This class day is unpaid and it’s no big deal to the employer; in fact, it’s an expected event. All electrical contractors understand their apprentices will be available four days a week rather than five when class is in session. Here’s how my class notification went:

– Me to my construction manager: “Hey, I just got my notice from the training center. I’m in class on Wednesdays starting October 3.”
– My construction manager to me: “OK. Fine.” Read the rest of this entry »

These are (some of the many) Parts I Love

Things are getting real! There are tidy and parallel cascades of conduit – precisely angled and placed – running up and across the grain silo. The huge wires have been pulled in to the transformer and terminated. Lights and receptacles are wired up and in place. Now, our team has been pulling in the smaller wires and hooking them up. I love this process because it’s satisfying to see the end product so near. My last couple days have been spent “fishing” and terminating wires. I can’t believe in this year of 2012, with all the technological advantages that have been discovered and created, we resort to such old-school and brutish methods!

Have you ever contemplated how all the insulated rainbow spaghetti gets stuffed into the pipes? We use a three-step process that reminds me of playing telephone with cans and string: Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Never Overt, Is It?

I got mansplained all over the place last week. Willy Wonka, who has a unique blend of lineman and electrician talents, is also a bit of a buffoon. He’s got a crass and immature sense of humor. You can hear him bellowing in his gravelly, Michigan/Wisconsin-accented voice from just about anywhere on the job site. One of the first things he informed me when he was my main journeyman at a different job site was that I didn’t have to worry if I farted around him. He’d worked around diesel for so long that his sense of smell was fried. Then, he rambled on and on about whether that was an offensive thing to say or not. “Listen, ” he says through his thick glasses and walrused-out mustache. “I just tell it like it is, ok? Down’t be thinkin’ I’m sexist or nothin’. I’m an equal opportunity farter!” He never looks you in the eye when he talks to you. Thing is, Willy, has a huge heart so it’s not like he’s an instantly despicable person. He just… wears on everybody he works with. Because he’s so over the top, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his craftsmanship in the trade. Somebody once told me I would learn more from the difficult people than from the even-tempered ones. It’s true! Sometimes it’s in a “this is what NOT to do” context. I remind myself of this frequently on my current site – and I’m not even working directly with Willy! Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Labor Day!

I love the image of Rosie the Riveter: such a blend of quirky fashion and toughness! Imagine: Rosies never had to pick a power suit out of their closet each morning and deal with office hen-pecking because they went to work ready to get dirty!

Rosie makes me sad, though. These jobs were a fleeting moment of women (yet again) shouldering the tasks that had to be done “while the men were away.” Why couldn’t they continue to be bad-asses after the war ended? Is this another martyr thing? Giving the jobs back to the boys because it had to be done? After all – the boys needed something to do when they came home; and who would tend to all those domestic chores?

I was stoked to see this short video by Oregon Tradeswomen. I think Rosie could, indeed, use an update. I still love her image and the flexed muscle; but c’mon! Women working in the trades have been doing it for decades, and it’s NOT because they were killing time in waiting for their war hero to come home and rescue them. Women are skilled kinetic workers: using body AND brain to build bridges, erect buildings and wire up traffic signals, street cars and lightrails. All under equal wages. It’s time for the stereotypes to morph with the realities.