worked for the Mechanical Engineering
and we lent ourselves out to an industrial concern
making coal gas near Fort Snelling. Coal gas is made by
letting coal partially burn to carbon monoxide and then
using the carbon monoxide as a fuel. It was a pretty big
plant. Coal gassification was big in the mid '80's, but
in the end went nowhere. We students took samples of
the coal that was burned and did instrument readings and
such. Once a week I worked overnight. Bob Boots ran
the overnight crew, and the boys drank a bit. The first
night they surprised me and gave me a beer. I drank it
with them. But I didn't drink with them anymore. That
was okay, I guess they figured I wouldn't turn them in
since I had a drink too.
There was a program on at six in the morning in those days
called "Morning Workout" or something to that effect. My
God, it was pure porn. Pretty, sexy young women bending
and posing wearing skimpy attire. Trust me on this one -
this was a great great program! The boys had a little TV
in the control room. Each midnight shift I worked, at six a.m. the
four of us would gather to watch our half hour show.
That morning at five minutes to six Bob wasn't
around. So I took the microphone and announced over the
plant loudspeaker, "Bob Boots report
to the control room for Morning Workout". The crew laughed
as Bob returned. At seven I walked down below the control
room past the Cyclone to go outside to gather readings. As
I passed, yellow-brown smoke burped from the Cyclone. I
assumed it was Bob getting even for the loudspeaker announcement.
But when I opened
the door ten minutes later, the whole four story building was
full of this yellow-brown gas. To make things worse, a
sparking wire hung off the bottom of the Cyclone motor.
I ran back outside, ran down two flights of stairs, ran around
to the other side of the building and ran up to the control
room. Bob Boots' eyes were wide open. "What's going on!", he
wanted to know. I didn't know - I told him about the sparking
wire. Bob hit the evacuation alarm.
He stayed, the other guys and I left.
I ran to the U.S. Bureau of Mines building and called the fire
department. Maybe that was stupid. I thought the Coal Gas
Building was going to explode. Why I thought the Fire Dept.
could help I guess I can't explain. Giant fans? Anyway, they
entered a perfectly clear building. No yellow-brown smoke.
They left. Bob Boots kind of covered up for me, but I tried to make
it clear that it was me who decided to call the fire department.
Anyway, Bob Boots' company paid for the fire run, and he
didn't seem to be mad at me. What happened to all that gas?
Bob said the sparking motor started a fireball that
started in the lower first floor corner of the building and whooshed
up to the fourth floor! The
pressure created by the fireball was such that the explosion vents
handled it. One
student co-worker told me I panicked. Maybe I did. I soon quit that