Firestone Warehouse at Mayland Heights

When I was finished, the Crossfield job I was sent to another workplace to help a journeyman test a sprinkler system that had been installed in a cinderblock warehouse that had been built in the Mayland Industrial Park above Barlow Trail which was service by the CPR. It was a new warehouse with a recycled roof, which was taken off of a Scott National produce warehouse that had been located downtown. And the whole sprinkler system from that building was being recycled too. Originally the plan was to leave the sprinkler system branches with the roof sections, but when they lifted the first action off of the roof of the old warehouse it fell breaking all the sprinkler pipes. So all the branch lines were taken out of the roof sections and stored at Trotter and Morton’s yard for a couple years till the new warehouse was finished and the roof reinstalled. When we arrived at the new warehouse in the roof was in place, and all the branch lines were tied in to the sprinkler main, and our job was to do a hydrostatic test and fix any leaks, it sounded simple enough and we figured we would be done in a week. To do the test we had to pressurize the system to 225 pounds, city water pressure was about 60 pounds, well; we turned on the water from the city line. And I tell you, it looked like we had rainstorm inside the building there was 628 sprinkler heads and every one was leaking, plus many other fittings. Storing these branch lines in the yard for two years didn’t help the situation, sprinkler fittings are made cast-iron, and crack easily under the punishment they received left in the outdoors for that period of time.

The warehouse was empty, and it had a 1-ton truck with scaffolding mounted on its flatbed, so it was quite easy to drive around and change all a sprinkler heads, we did this and tried our test again. We got up to 80 pounds, and the leaks started showing at the fittings. So we drove the truck around and started changing out all of the fittings that were leaking, this took more time than the sprinkler heads, which you could do with a crescent wrench and Teflon tape to seal them. The branch lines, started out with 2 inch pipe, and went down to 1/2-inch if my memory serves me correct. So we would start from the smallest diameter and worked back to where the branch tied into the sprinkler main dozens of fittings we would change out and try our test again. 95 pounds pressure, and more leaks we had been on this job over 3 weeks now and had a long, long way to go. On some of the bigger pipe that was 5 inches in diameter we had to use a compound leverage wrench that was called the “Super Six” it was a 60 inch pipe wrench that had two hinges with holes near its head, and a chain vice that was wrapped around the fitting and had a pivot that the hole in the wrench head was attached to, this gave you a lot of extra leverage to tighten pipe in to these big fittings. The warehouse was being built for the Firestone Tire Company plant to store tires in, and that’s what they started to do. Our truck was taken away and tires were stored on the floor 10 feet high. This made the job, a real challenge we had to use a stepladder to get on top of the stacks of tires, and lay planks across them and use extension ladders to climb up to the leaks with our pipe wrenches and replace fittings. We persevered and got the pressure up to 180 pounds, then I was taken off the job and sent back to A.R. Wrights this was in June 1968. I was sent to work on a small steel business that was being built in Manchester District when this was done I was laid-off. That was always the problem in the construction trades its either feast or famine, I had learned a lot of useful skills that would help me out later in life, and had saved enough to tide me over for a while. It was July, and I figured it was time to have a holiday.

Rigid Super Six Compound Leverage Pipe Wrench

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When our work at Palliser Square was finished, I went to work with a journeyman and one other apprentice. We were to install a new heating system and the Bank of Commerce at Crossfield, Alberta, a small rural community 25 miles north of Calgary. We drove out every day in a pickup truck from the shop. The Bank building was a two story red brick structure on the corner of Railway Street. The bank already had a hot water heating system, with old cast-iron radiators, and an old low-pressure gas-fired boiler in the basement. We were to install a new boiler and baseboard radiant heaters on the first two floors, but before we did this the old system had to be disconnected and removed. The cast-iron radiators were heavy, but we managed to drag them down the back stairs from the second floor, and out the back door from the main level. The old boiler in the basement was another challenge, as it had been assembled in sections many years ago, and weighed about 800 pounds. The solution to this was to use sledgehammers and break the boiler up into small manageable pieces, seeing that it was all going to the scrap yard. After we had finished stripping out the old system, we started installing the new boiler and copper piping up to the two floors, where radiant baseboard heaters were installed. They were links of copper pipe about 1 inch in diameter, with aluminum fins, 5 inch square, spaced out about 1/4″ along the length of pipe, and were covered with a metal shrouding with louvers to let out heat. We also installed zone valves and several thermostats around the building, so heat could be regulated to the users preference in the different offices. I remember we used to go for our coffee breaks and a small Chinese restaurant called the PDQ we didn’t know what that stood for, but figured it must be the service that was Pretty Damn Quick. Ha Ha Ha. Well, this job was a nice change of scenery, it was springtime, and the weather was nice that spring of 1968.

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When we finished the job at the pipe plant I went and work on a couple of small jobs on new buildings that were being constructed near our shop on MacLeod Trail. One was across the trail, and was called the Oriental Gardens a fancy new restaurant that had a little wooden bridge that crossed over water in a pond full of fish at its entrance. We were working outside and had a ditch, excavated around the building, where we installed weeping tile. Now weeping tile is made from clay and comes in 18-inch lengths with a bore diameter of 6 inches. The tiles were butted up against each other on a slight incline in the ditch towards the storm sewer. Their purpose was to drain water away from a building that would otherwise be susceptible to flooding without it. The next job I remembered working on was a Volkswagen dealership called Pados a block north of our shop. This involved installing soil pipe, and copper piping for the washrooms, and drains for the shop floor. After this I went and worked with one of the rural plumbers who looked after farmers wells and plumbing. Work was getting a little slow at Wright’s so I ended up working in the shop here, I restocked bins with pipe fittings that were returned from jobsites, when the work was finished. One other job I had was whenever a plumber changed a hot water heater. I would go there with a pickup truck, and the two of us would haul out the old hot water heater, and when I had a truckload, I would take them to the city dump. I remember one apartment building where the hot water heater was installed in a pit, it was a big hot water heater, and we had to put ropes underneath it and hoist it straight up out of the pit it took four of us to do this job. One other job I remember was going downtown to the Main Branch of the Bank of Montréal they had a pneumatic delivery system for sending messages and data around the bank Wright’s had the contract for maintaining the system and a journeyman was sent over with an apprentice to do this work. I was once sent over to a restaurant called the Gasthaus, It had a grease trap in its kitchen, and this was a cubic steel box a yard in dimension. All the drains from the kitchens sinks went through this box, and any grease from the dishwashing one end up in it. My job was to unfasten the top of this box and clean out all the accumulated grease that had filled it. This was a pretty gross job, I had to break up this block of fat with a steel pole and shovel out all this rancid grease, that didn’t smell very good. It was jobs like this that made me think that pipefitting would be a better trade than plumbing. At this time, a company called Trotter and Morton was doing most of the work projects in the city of Calgary. So most of the apprentices, including me, who worked in shops that had no work were sent over to work for them.

Trotter and Morton had their shop on Forge Road, and they had just finished pouring the Husky Tower in downtown Calgary on 9th Ave and Center St. where the old CPR station used to be. A four-story Parkade was to be built behind the structure, and I was sent to this work site on the corner of 10th Ave and 1st St West. The first job we had to do was reroute the steam and water lines from the boiler room on 10th Ave to a tunnel that connected to the CPR’s Palliser Hotel on 9th Ave. The boilers in the powerhouse on 10th Ave were very old, the oldest I had ever seen, they were to be taken out of service and a modern Cleaver Brooks packaged boiler was to be installed on the second floor of the Parkade to replace them. The old powerhouse supplied steam heat for the hotel and a laundry that was on 10th Ave. The steam line was 8-inch pipe that was welded together and ran through a ditch dug on 10th Ave, and the 5-inch waterline was to follow the same route to tie them into the tunnel that ran into the Palliser Hotel. The laundry was obsolete and was being torn down. The first job I had was to take lengths of old 5 inch water pipe and cut them off clean with a set of pipe cutters, and ream out any burrs on the inside diameter. We then had to cut a groove into the pipe about 1 inch from the end to be used with a Victaulic Coupling to join the lengths of pipe together. The Victaulic Coupling was a two piece casting that would fit into the grooves on each end of the pipes when two nuts and bolts were tightened to join the two castings together. In the middle of this was a rubber gasket that would seal the two ends of pipe to prevent it from leaking. To cut these grooves, we had a large mechanical groover that was run with a power motor and a drive shaft. The teeth on the groover were about half an inch wide, and we cut the groove about 1/8 of an inch deep. The Parkade itself was being built over the CPR’s four Depot tracks. It was winter, and in order to pour cement the forms were all shrouded in plastic sheeting, and gas heaters were installed to keep the forms heated. My job was to run gas line to the heaters and light them, there was a three-inch gas line set up temporarily on cross bars made of two by sixes that ran the length of the Parkade. There were gas cock’s at 30 foot intervals where I would run the gas from, I would run a 1 inch gas line straight up 40 feet to the shrouding where the cement was to be poured next. I would climb up a ladder to the forms made of 2 by 10′s with the plastic shrouding stapled on underneath here I would put a reducing tee fitting on the 1 inch gas line, reducing it to 3/4″, and run 3/4″ gas pipe along the 2 x 10′s to where the gas heaters were in position. I would then run the 3/4″ gas pipe up to the heater and would then use a reducing elbow to run 1/2″ gas pipe and shut off cock into the heater, which I would then light and test my work for leaks. This would be done with a sense of smell and matches, if there was a bad leak you would smell it otherwise I would light a match and run it around each joint I had made, if there was a leak a small blue flame would appear I would then have to shut off the gas and change fittings or pipe, where necessary. To join these fittings, together I would apply pipe dope (a mixture of powdered lead in linseed oil) to the threads with a brush, and the fittings and pipe were joined together and tightened using to pipe wrenches one to hold the fitting, and the other to tighten the pipe into the fitting. Yes, it was quite an experience to crawl around on this 2 x 10′s looking down to the ground through the plastic, and suddenly a train would run underneath heading west to the mountains, or going east to the yard at Alyth. Another ritual, we observed daily was the arrival and departure of passenger trains that still carried mail, the city of Calgary’s post office was located on the corner of 9th West of the CPR’s Palliser Hotel at the back of the post office was a spur for spotting cars of mail, and daily a postman would drive his tractor and a baggage cart with mail from a ramp on the platform behind the post office down the platform in the Depot to where the passenger trains would arrive. Here he would wait till the incoming train had stopped and he would be in position besides the baggage car, that also carried the mail, here he would exchange his out going mail with the incoming mail for Calgary and would proceed back to the post office with the new mail for sorting.

Photo of Palliser Square Parade looking West from 1St St. E.  Note steam rising from package boiler on the left-hand side of roof.

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Alberta Phoenix Pipe and Tube

In the last posting I talked about the cast-iron soil pipe plant located north of Ogden Shops, here I’ve attached a picture of a pipe plant located south of Ogden Shops. When I first came to Ogden. It was called The Big Inch pipe plant, and sat idle for a lack of business; I think the largest pipe they made was around 12 inch. The long steel roof building you see on the left was the entire plant. Its name was changed to Alberta, Phoenix, Pipe and Tube and in 1968. The steel roof building on the right was added, along with equipment to do sub arc welding with this equipment in the mill could now manufacture 36-inch pipe. Wright’s sent me to this jobsite in the winter, and it was a great place to work being all enclosed from the elements outside, and being only a short walk from where I lived. There was lots of work, running airlines for the carriages that would move the rolled pipe to the welding machines that were located on the north end of this new structure. There is a washroom for the employees that was built inside this large structure, and I remember running copper pipe to a hot water heater that was located on the roof of the structure. On the left-hand side of this aerial view you can see some houses in Ogden, and in between the houses and the plant is the CPR’s mainline to Medicine Hat. This picture was taken in the 1980s, when the plant was bought out by Prudential Pipe & Steel so all you can see in the yard to the left and to the right of the plant is small diameter pipe and steel that they now manufacture. To the north of this picture out of view is a rendering plant that used really stink in the summer when I worked at Ogden Shops, and there was a liquid air plant that manufactured nitrogen, oxygen, helium, and other rare gases. The only other business located in the huge acreage behind Ogden Shops was a Riding Academy.

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Talking about soil pipe, there is a plant in Calgary that manufactures it. It was called Anthes Imperial pipe plant, and was located north of the Ogden Shops yard. Its name now is Canron. In this picture, you can see on the left side supports for the crane they have there. The CPR has a spur that runs up between the crane supports, and gondolas full of scrap cast iron were spotted there. The crane has a magnet that would pick up the scrap iron and stockpile it till needed. The scrap iron was then fed into a furnace and melted; it would then be poured into molds for cast-iron soil pipe and fittings. At the time I started at the Ogden Shops. They were paying $5 an hour to work here good money but dirty work, and it was a dead end job with no future.

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July
06

Rigid Cast-Iron Soil Pipe Cutter

The first job I worked on for A.R. Wright Plumbing and Heating was a two-story 16 suite apartment building that was to be built at 19th St and 35 Ave. SW. The location was an empty lot, and we had to rough in the cast iron soil pipe for the toilets and sink drains. It was really cold that November and the ground was so frozen that we had difficulty digging trenches for the soil pipe, so we brought in a jackhammer to break up the frozen earth. We followed the guidelines from the blueprints provided us by Wright’s mechanical draftsman, and laid out and measured the 4 inch hubed cast-iron soil pipe for each of the eight apartment suites on the ground floor. The cast-iron soil pipe came in eight foot lengths, and to cut it into smaller lengths we had a special tool called a soil pipe cutter made by Rigid Tools, who supplies many of the tools used in plumbing, pipefitting, and gas fitting trades. The soil pipe cutter had a 3-foot handle and a chain with circular cutting wheels, it was looped around the soil pipe and pulled tight, then the chain end was fastened to the handle by two pins then engaged in a slot in the handle. By pumping the handle, up-and-down the chain would tighten and the cutting wheels would dig into the surface of the soil pipe until enough pressure was exerted to cause the soil pipe to break off evenly where the cutting wheels scored the pipe. There was a main trunk line running down the middle where the apartments hallway would be to the outside, where it tied in to the city’s sewer main. There was eight inlets four on each side of the main trunk that went in to the individual suites, at the end of these branches would be elbows and Y fittings to service the toilets and sink drains from the bathroom and kitchen. There would be cast-iron elbows that were joined together to form a 90° turn upwards for the toilet, and another one that ran up to the second floor, and to the roof for the purpose of venting the system. To fasten two lengths of soil pipe together the 4 inch end of the pipe or elbow was pushed into the base of the hub, then oakum a fibrous material made of hemp was packed in all-around the hub with a yarning iron, a tool that looks like a spatula with an offset handle that could pack the oakum tightly into the hub with the help of a ball pein hammer. Enough oakum was packed in the joint till there was about one half an inch room left at the top of the hub. We used a propane fueled stove to melt lead in a cast-iron pail, the lead came in 25 pound ingots that were poured in four 5 pound circular portions that were joined together, and a 5 pound oval handle to carry the lead with. With a hammer and a cold chisel the 5-pound pieces were cut into segments that were placed in the cast-iron melting pot to melt. A cast-iron ladle was then used to pour the molten lead into the hub of the joints to make them rigid. Horizontal joints were easy to pour, but any joint vertical or at an angle required a running rope to do the job. A running rope was a length of rope made with asbestos above 20 inches long with a metal cap on each end to keep it from fraying, it also had a spring-loaded clamp on a short length of chain attached to one end of the rope. The rope was wrapped around the top of the hub, and the two ends were clamped together, this left a small triangular shaped opening to pour the molten lead into. The rope was taken off and then the joint was caulked with two special irons for this purpose, the inside caulking was like at an offset chisel with a curved blunt end that was pushed against the soil pipe on the inside of the joint, and a hammer was used to pack the lead down into the joint, another caulking iron in the outside one was used to caulk the joint at the inside of the hub. The lead did not seal the joint; it was the oakum that expanded when it was a contract with water from the sewage.

We spent a good three weeks finishing the ground-floor rough in of the plumbing. It had to be inspected by the City of Calgary’s plumbing inspector, and approved before they could pour the concrete floor over it. The plumbing inspector lived in the Altadore district is name was Harry Ager; I had worked with his brother Vic Ager, who was the senior tinsmith at Ogden shops. Harry was a very conscientious inspector, and nothing got by him, he took a look at the plumbing rough in we had finished and laughed, he said it would all have to be redone, because there were no backwater valves. A backwater valve prevents flooding of the apartments on the ground floor if the city sewer backs up, and there was a good chance of this happening as 35th Ave was a low point in the geography of the district. If you think yarning, pouring and caulking oakum and lead soil pipe joints is a lot of work, try disassembling one. To do this you have a small narrow chisel you use to pick the lead out of the joint. This was an expensive mistake made by the mechanical draftsman at Wright’s and delayed the job at least two weeks.

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July
06

During the layoff I was hanging around with a friend Keith Graham who was a pipefitter apprentice at the CPR with two years in, he wanted to get an apprenticeship the outside. we went to inquire at some plumbing shops the first one we visited was A.R. Wright Plumbing and Heating an old established Calgary firm. I sat out in the front office while Keith went into Mr. Art Wright’s office for his interview he came out pleased with the results they going to give him one year for his two years at the CPR. Mr. Wringht saw me sitting there and asked Keith if I was looking for a job. He said if I wanted a job I was hired so this is how I started my career as a plumber gasfitter pipefitter apprentice.

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