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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

HOM: Mixing It Up

There were two mixers, a small one for the block machine and a big one for the pipe machine. These were NOT Grampa's rotating-drum tip-it-out mixers! They were different sizes but shared the same design -- a heavy steel tub placed horizontally at floor level with a steel shaft running lengthwise through it with heavy steel blades mounted on the shaft. Picture cutting a barrel in two lengthwise, then tipping half of it over on the ground and mounting a paddle wheel in it so that the blades barely clear the barrel when it rotated. Add a trap door on the bottom and a hinged cage made of rebar over it and you've got it. On the GC mixers, the paddle blades were probably six inches wide & two inches thick. The big mixer was probably between four and five feet long and around three feet wide and deep. There were four huge bins along the back (north) wall of the plant for sand and gravel. Trucks from McElroy & Wilken kept them full by backing up and along an open ramp and then dumping the mix into them from the top. (The drivers had to do a precise job of backing -- the twin tracks the ramp consisted of were JUST wide enough for the truck tires and no room for error or corrections.) The gravel/sand got to the mixers from the bins via wheelbarrow, pushed by yours truly after being filled from hoppers on the sides of the bins, and often at a run to keep up with the pipe machine. The process was to dump in the first wheelbarrow load of gravel and start the mixer, Quickly get three or four more loads of mix and dump in, then grab two 97 pound bags of cement, slice them open and pour them in, then add a gallon or two water and some soap till the mix was barely damp. (A perfect mix meant you could just squeeze a handful of it into a ball, and when rubbed on a smooth surface it would show a smooth shiny surface. It was a very dry mix.) When the mix was right, you opened the trap door and the mix went into a hoist bucket. The bucket then went up a track and tripped into a hopper on the pipe machine. When it came down, you repeated the process. When making smaller pipe, it was a fairly relaxed process. With 30+" pipe and a good pipe machine operator you had to run with the wheelbarrow and you handled two sacks of cement at a time if you wanted to keep up. The big mixer scared the crap out of me. One slip and a leg would be gone. There was a guard but it was set so that a wheelbarrow couldn't tip into the blades but there was lots of room for a foot or leg. Being cowardly, I reset the guard so that the whole mixer was covered. Since the guard was just a rebar cage it didn't get in the way -- the aggregate and cement would drop right through it -- but I wouldn't. This didn't help much at the end of the shift, though, when I had to climb down into the mixer to clean out the concrete that built up in the corners during the day. I guess I skimped a bit on that part of the job out of pure cowardice. In these OSHA-ruled times, the circuit feeding the machine would have to be turned off and the switch tagged. I guess we were dumber in those days. If I had been injured in the mixer, I couldn't have sued -- I wouldn't have had a leg to stand on. TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)