Sunday, December 17, 2006


This post is for Jackie Sue. When I called her from work the other day and attempted to explain to her what it was like here in the big wide wonderful world of paper mills (yeah right) I don't think I got the idea across. So, as in the old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words", I thought I'd provide a few visual aids. (as always, click on the picture for a larger view)

I work as a control room operator in the boiler house/power plant/water & waste treatment part of one of the largest mills in the USA (the mill covers more than 60 acres, none of it forestland). We provide all the electricity, steam, water and sewage treatment for the entire place.

Yeah, that's me with my feet propped up, talking on the phone. But I'm working, really truly cross my heart I am. See all those monitors? I'm constantly scanning and watching for problems, tweaking set points and making adjustments so the damn place don't go "BOOM" (high pressure boilers tend to do that sometimes). It's like an air traffic controller, the job is more about preventing problems than manual labor. Believe me, I felt better when I went home back in the day when I was shoveling bark and handling heavy equipment. We don't have scheduled breaks or lunch periods. Someone has to be here all the time, you eat at your station and if you have to go to first aid or whatever someone has to cover for you. A little stressful, bad on your back but hey, I'm told I'm fairly good at it. Nice to know I'm good for something!

This is our mill on the Tennessee River.The steam you see going up from those stacks in the middle is where I'm at most of the time. If I'm not there, I'm where the stacks closest to the river are. The two tallest buildings are our 2 boiler houses.

Just to give you an idea of how big we are: your light bill is measured in watts. A kilowatt is a thousand watts. A megawatt is a million watts. We have the capacity to make 60 megawatts an hour here, more than the city of Huntsville, AL uses. We also process more than 55 million gallons of river water a day; cleaning it up to drinking standards, then take the resulting waste and clean it up enough to win environmental awards before returning it to the Tennessee river.

So there you have it. Not very interesting but now you know what I do for a living.

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