Joined Local 1007 Niagara Construction Millwrights in spring of 1981 . First assignment as a Union Member was one of 2 Stick Men on a new installation of 2 side-by-side Beloit Twin-Wire Cantilevered Bel-Baie System paper machines . These machines were new technology designed for high speed and high quality which required precise alignments using Wild N3 precision levels and Leica T2 theodolites . An excellent training ground as every single roll required setting , checking and then re-checking until the engineers and the customers were completely satisfied .
Of course being a stick man is the only way to start in the optical alignment aspect of the trade and luckily for me this project was an incredible opportunity to learn and eventually begin to really understand many of the nuances and the concentration required in order to obtain 100% accuracies on every single shot time after time .
Several years later the time will come to be dispatched as an 'Instrument Man' and it's only the quality of training we've had and the confidence which an intense instructional period provides that can allow one to complete ANY assignment with success & satisfaction .
Feast or Famine
Old saying in the Industrial Construction Trades , "feast or famine" . During one particular lean year an opportunity to work for a local engineering firm that also had an office in Montreal presented itsef . This firm designed and installed specialized underground equipments for the oil & gas industry and also designed and manufactured various electronic equipments which were modern miniaturizations of bulky , inefficient legacy tools .
Was an excellent opportunity and right away I was stretching myself into product design and development , learning new office skills and using my industrial training for installation projects I was initially hired for .
It was then in 1984 that I was introduced to what was to become one of my passions , the personal computer . Spent many an evening reading software manuals and creating test programs using Lotus 1-2-3 as an office tool to help with multiple inventories , eventually becoming entirely responsible for quantity , value and reordering schedule of a myriad of expensive electronics .
Most interesting to me was Lotus's built-in programming language to automate repetitive tasks , eventually developing spreadsheets that would crunch the values/quantity on hundreds of electronic items . This evolved into handling the 'millions-of-data-points' survey data gathered by the engineers and technicians in the pipeline field , making intensive number crunching & graphing much quicker and less labour intensive . Later devised a method for automatically printing intricate survey data plus the customer information info together using the very expensive office plotter , which was a big hit with our customers !
Eventually purchased Microsoft Excel 1.0 and much more importantly , an Apple Macintosh-PLUS computer for home . What an amazing combination , much more advanced than Lotus on the PC (DOS vs Macintosh's super-slick GUI) . Spent many evenings and weekends learning Excel's macro programming language and visual presentation (graphing) tools .
Field reports were required when a customer such as Suncor (Sunoco) requested a formal presentation . MS Excel's incredible graphing abilities allowed us to create easy to look at , hard-copy binders feauturing full-colour (fold-out) 3D graphics (instead of a simple black & white typewritten report) that were revolutionary in that particular industry and truly ground breaking for the time period . Cutting edge hardware , met , cutting edge software . It is a beautiful thing ...
Back to the Trade
That was a very rewarding job and I thoroughly enjoyed each new challenge that came our way . Traveling back and forth from Montreal once or twice a month was a great change of pace also . We had a great staff and times were very good . However , the time came to decide whether to give up my apprenticeship and stay, or to go back to the Local and 'get my ticket' . It was a very difficult decision of course . Finally submitted my 30 days notice and returned to the trade in '86 in an effort to finally get my Millwright 'Ticket'. It was busy again in the area's indusrial construction and making more money , but much more importantly, getting the hours I still needed to complete the M/W AP program was what swayed that difficult decision to leave that incredible workspace .
Worked all over Ontario for many years on pulp & paper machines , automobile line tear-out & tool change installations , where optical alignment skills , welding tickets and previous experience as a boom truck operator and rigger in Alberta in the late 70's came in very handy . Steel mills , thermal electric , hydro electric , chemical & petro chemical processing , food processing , it all quickly became elementary as experience grew .
Strong Interest in Computer Graphics
That first Macintosh purchased in 1985 was much faster than early versions of Windows and the built in Apple software was exceptional . Around 1988 or so a Commodore computer dealership had an open house to show off a new Amiga line of PC's . Amazing multimedia computer and I purchased one eventually in 1991 and began to study the many included graphics programs with great curiosity .
Several years later I was back on the Windows PC platform due to the incredibly powerful Dual CPU workstation motherboards available . These were essential for running any computer animation program . That Dual-250Mhz Pentium-Pro motherboard was 10 times faster than my 40 MHz Amiga ! Windows NT 4.0 was a very stable and quick environment to work in also .
Graphics and computer animation was a kind of love-hate hobby . It was a steep learning curve and mastering these incredibly complex softwares would take years & years . Raytracing 3D scenes required days just to obtain a low quality preview . Then tweaking , adjusting and re-tweaking until the very final render-pass , which would sometimes take a entire week to finish 30 seconds of high quality video (900 frames) .
Soon I was building my own computers from the ground up . Buying components from all over Toronto where the lower prices and high end components were readily available . Back home I would assemble them that evening , sometimes working deep into the night in an effort to get all components fully functional ! Always purchasing cutting edge CPU's (combined with large CPU coolers) that were easily overclockable by 30-50% in order to wring out ever bit of horse-power for faster raytracing rendering ability . Typically a new workstation build would mean a 300% CPU power increase .
So , eventually web page creation was another skill that would have to be learned just to post a modest collection of works to the Internet . Greater HTML programming skills would be needed to create web pages and then even more complex understandings would be necessary as the Internet expanded exponentially in both size and capabilities .
That's the way this journey has been and not just for myself but for many , many of us , this small family of multi-skilled Construction Tradesmen . One new skill learned after another , one new learning curve after another , the process is sometimes fun and sometimes hard going but the need and the desire to learn and to also create and make a better life has , and always will be , a major component for those of us that decide to choose a more rewarding , less secure way of life .