The mechanical engineer designed and built coal and oil-fired power plants.
“More capacity! More steam generation! More! More! More!” was the mantra under which he performed. He brought home little brown wire-bound booklets in which his precise mechanical engineer’s writing discussed tubes and cyclones and pulverized coal and sulfur emissions.
Sometimes he packed his family in the Le Sabre, and he drove them down along the Ohio River. During one such trip he pulled into a long gravel drive and onto the parking area of one of the big, belching, slightly egg-smelling power plants.
The oldest would excitedly grab the door handle and start to scoot outside when the mother admonished, none-too-warmly,”You do exactly as your father tells you. No running around. Don’t make noise. And don’t get dirty.”
With his company hard hat on, metal flashlight clipped to his belt, and heavy cotton, green service suit buttoned up with work boots smartly tied and tucked into his boot cuffs, the engineer strode into the plant with the little girl dressed in her heavy plaid trousers and leather school shoes following closely behind.
“Hi Ed. That the newest B&W engineer?” one of the plant office managers greeted the duo.
“Hi, Glen. Yes. What in Sam Hill am I going to do with her? You don’t mind if I take her along for the inspection, do you?” he replied, rolling his eyes skyward.
“Sure. We’ll see you when you get back,” the manager replied with a half-hearted grin. He turned back to the work on his desk.
“Come on, prima donna. Stay with me.”
Up many metal staircases and around bends, he peered into nooks and crannies with his flashlight. Then back to the brown notebook where he wrote detailed findings.
“Daddy, what’s that smell? It’s like Grandma’s oven. Is that gas?” the fidgeting girl queried, her face in the air, sniffing.
“Just stay with me, OK? This won’t take much longer.”
After a few more turns around the grimy catwalks, and down some more stairs, they returned to the area where they had found the office. Only this time, they entered a room filled with dials and meters and worried looking people.
“I think you’ve got a leak. You probably need to call in your director and shut numbers 1 and 2 down. How the Sam Hill have you been running this?”
“That’s what we thought, too. We’re maintaining pressures, though. Let me see about capacity before going offline.”
The urgent conversations continued, and the girl remained standing near the door, apart and watching.
When they finally returned to the car, the front passenger window rolled down, and the girl heard as welcome, “Look how FILTHY you are! Why didn’t you watch where you were?”
The girl looked down at her hands. They were black and oily from the coal dust on the stair railings. Her clothes were dark grey and fouled from the soot.
She took the tissue that was thrust at her through the window and diligently tried to scrub it off and away. It smeared and spread, instead.
Until she later filled a sink with warm soapy water and soaked her hands, they remained stained, just like her soul.
The boiler blew up the next day, killing one and injuring two other workers.