So back when I wrote my wildly successful “Life as an Electrical Engineer” post, I mentioned that I sometimes make site visits, but most of the time they’re pretty uninteresting. Well, I recently was given the assignment of making a site visit at the Fort Knox Gold Mine, which is located about 30 minutes outside of Fairbanks, to acquire some missing data and information we needed for an arc flash analysis project. And even though that might sound boring, it was kind of a cool new experience for me. Last year, when I was still really new to my job, I got to go to Chevak, Alaska with my boss for a site visit, but this particular site visit was just me and a representative from our direct client, Dimond Electric. So enjoy this time-stamped account of my first ever solo site visit outside of Anchorage.
Tuesday, September 14th
5:00 AM – It’s an earlier than usual wake up call for me as my flight leaves at 7:00 AM for Fairbanks. I rustle up some breakfast, grab my gear, and drive myself to the airport. I paid to park longterm at the airport for the first time (I’m just racking up the new experiences) and then make my way to check-in. I check myself in, and am reminded that I’ll be getting some Alaska Airlines frequent flier miles for my trouble on this trip. Yes! I made my way through the extremely short security checkpoint line, and then I had the short wait at the gate until it was time to board.
6:20 AM – I board the not quite full plane, and take my seat. Thankfully the person in the middle seat didn’t show, and I had the window seat, so I was able to spread my legs out a bit more and relax and try to make up some of the sleep I missed out on that morning.
7:00 AM – We take off, and not until about 10 minutes before landing did I finally fall completely asleep. The flight was so short, that when we finally did land, I wasn’t expecting it at all, and I thought it was major turbulence as it jarred me from my sleep.
8:00 AM – Upon our arrival, the electrician I was with went and picked up his company’s truck, and then we stocked up on some lunch and supplies before we headed out to the mine. We made the drive out to Fort Knox, and when we got there, I had to change into my fire resistant shirt and pants. I also had to watch a safety video, which was required by the mine. When all of that preparation was done, it was finally time to get to work.
9:30 AM – Fort Knox Mine is a humongous complex that contains many large buildings, and open areas that are being dug out with explosives, and then the remaining large rocks are transported to various sized “rock tumblers” to be broken down smaller and smaller to extract the fine gold dust that is hidden in the mountains.
So to control and power all of these different motors that do all the work, the circuits all come back to basically giant panelboards called motor control centers (MCCs). So since our company is doing analysis of these MCCs to make them safer for the mine personnel, we needed to find the missing information from the mine data we already had from Dimond Electric, so the full analysis could be completed. So, slowly but surely, I went around with the electrician I was with confirming at each MCC the data I was looking for. It got a bit tedious, but I got to see a lot of cool parts of the mine, and it was a bit more adventurous than your average day at the office.
12:30 PM – Lunch time! I had a chicken parmesan panini, which was cold, but delicious, and a fruit cup. I was just excited to eat something other than my usual two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and I didn’t even have to pay for it. I finished off my Gatorade, and then it was time to get back to work.
1:00 PM – Back to work, and even more MCCs to examine.
We were pretty successful in finding what we needed, but there was one panel and transformer that we couldn’t find where it came from, so we attempted to follow its conduit back to its MCC up in the ceiling in the cable trays. But unfortunately that wasn’t really feasible.
3:30 PM – We needed just a bit more data on the incoming power and standby generators for the entire mine, so we went up to the line yard. It was kind of scary because we were dealing with 138,000 volts coming in on the power lines. I was instructed by the electrician to keep my hands down at my sides so I wouldn’t become a lightning rod momentarily.
5:00 PM – After returning the safety gear we borrowed from the safety office and scrounging up the drawings we were missing, it was time to wrap it up and call it a day. We made our way out of the mine and down to a little town called Fox, which is only about 10 miles outside of Fairbanks. We had dinner with another guy from Dimond Electric there at a restaurant called the Turtle Club. When I heard that’s where we were going, I couldn’t help but think of this. I had a nice 16 ounce cut of prime rib, and it was fantastic. Gotta love meals on the client’s dime.
7:00 PM – After dinner, I got dropped off at the University of Alaska campus to hang out with my old high school friend Aaron Gens, who plays hockey for the UAF Nanooks. He showed me around campus a little bit, and then we just hung out at his place, where I split a two game series of NHL ’10 against him. I was pretty proud of my performance, considering I haven’t played since the NHL ’07 days, and he’s the hockey guy, and I’m a basketball guy.
10:30 PM – Aaron and his girlfriend gave me a ride back to Dimond Electric’s shop in Fairbanks, where they had a few rooms furnished with beds for when their workers had to stay overnight. I got in, took a shower, and hit the hay after surfing the web for a little bit. I was tired from the long day.
Wednesday, September 15th
??? AM – I woke up feeling horrible. I was tossing and turning and couldn’t fall back asleep. The room felt so stuffy. I finally felt nauseous enough to get up and wander into the bathroom, where I eventually puked up my entire dinner from 11 hours earlier. I saw a lot of big chunks of meat and fat that weren’t very digested in the toilet, and so I figured I must have gotten some kind of food poisoning from the steak. At least now I felt great, and I was able to fall right back to sleep.
7:00 AM – I got the knock on the door from the other guys, and so I quickly got dressed so we could go get some breakfast. I was definitely feeling better than earlier, but I decided my stomach was still queasy enough to go with a lighter breakfast of french toast and hashbrowns rather than some sort of greasy eggs, sausage, and bacon combination.
8:15 AM – I got changed into my safety gear once again, and packed up all of my stuff. We were going to visit another site that was actually for another job, but my boss asked me to get that done also while I was up in Fairbanks. While I waited for the time to leave, I surfed the web on my laptop to kill time.
9:00 AM – We hit the road for the job site, and the electrician had a couple of other errands to run on the way. But since this was an FAA job, we ended up making our way over to their offices before we could go to the site, since we needed their permission to get on site. After all of that build up, the woman we were looking for that would approve our site visit, wasn’t around, so it wasn’t going to get done that day. I was originally set to fly back to Anchorage at 3:30, but now we were going to try and get an earlier flight back.
10:30 AM – After grabbing our stuff back at the shop, we drove over to the airport to get a new flight. It was taken care of quickly, and I checked in, went through security, and settled in at the gate with David Halberstam’s “The Breaks of the Game”. I read the book up until boarding, and then, after a few delays, we departed for Anchorage at about 1:00 PM.
So my trip to Fairbanks may not have been the most exciting anyone’s ever had, but it sure was nice to get out of the office for a couple of days and see the other side of what we do at my firm. I also am grateful for getting to connect with an old friend and getting to eat a couple nice free meals. Being an electrical engineer continues to be a nice way to make a living for me.