Kaiser Sub-Station

Kaiser Aluminum Corporation had two plants in the Spokane area.  They were built in the early days of World War II because there was a need for sheet aluminum for aircraft.  Some portions of the facility had been built quite rapidly.

Like a transfer sub-station built right next to the building.  It had been built out of wood.

Eventually the time came when the sub-station needed to be replaced with a steel frame work.  The replacement building work could not be done by shutting down the plant.  This meant working on “live” electricity.  Since aluminum processing, casting, molding, etc requires a large amount of electricity, the amount of “live” electricity was very high.  Very Very High.

There were two men on the crew who had extensive knowledge about working with high voltage.  We paid very close attention to their instructions.  We used a large supply of rubber mats.  When transferring the wires from the old wooden structure supports, we only moved one at a time, and used rubber gloves while doing so.  Take note: these are not the rubber gloves Playtex used to sell for washing dishes by hand.  They are specially manufactured to protect the user in the case of  inadvertent contact with live electricity.

Temporary support poles and beams had been built and supplied for this job.  We would remove one wire from where it was fastened to a post or beam and attach it to the temporary post or beam.  When all the wires fastened to the old post or beam had been removed, the old post or beam was taken out and replaced with a new steel post or beam.  Then, one wire at a time, we would refasten all the wires back onto the new steel post or beam.

For the purpose of this job, they could not use anyone who didn’t or couldn’t listen to instructions.  It was a long, slow job.

Some of the conductors were copper pipes and rods.  As we were changing the structure, we would clean all the copper with muriatic acid.  That function was one I did not understand, as I had learned that copper oxide was a better conductor of electricity than clean copper.  But they sure looked nice, shining brightly in the sun.

No electricians died or were harmed during the course of that job.  The plant was in operation continually.  It seemed to me it would have been more cost effective to have prebuilt the structure, then shut off the power, take the existing structure out, put in the new one, re-attach the wiring to its supports, and then turn the electricity back on.

But then a layman is never aware of all the reasons and is rarely consulted.  “Ours not to reason why, ours just to do and die.”