All of April and the first part of May was consumed by work at the annual shutdown at the Consumer's Co-operative Refinery in Regina, Saskatchewan. As mentioned in the March update we did some sight-seeing around Regina before the shutdown started.
During the ten and twelve hour days of the shutdown there was not much time beyond work-eat-sleep-repeat. On the mandatory two days off in the middle we took in several movies and drove up to Lumsden. We can now say we hiked the Trans-Canada Trail. Well, maybe half a mile of it along the dike in Lumsden but that's just details, we can say we hiked it.
Hopefully by the time this page is finished we can also include an account and pictures of a hot-air balloon ride over Edmonton.
It was interesting to be back working "hands-on" in my first trade again after an interruption of over twenty years, broken only by a twelve day stint at a shutdown last August. Sure, I've kept up with the technology and did some programming several years beyond pulling wrenches, but the immediate nature of the work and the results is different. It is always very satisfying to see the immediate visible results of installing instruments. In management and supervision one tends to end up on a longer time frame with feedback for your positive actions coming maybe years later. The negative actions, of course, can provide instant feedback from those affected. Sometimes that's because you messed up and didn't consider the negative consequences on others. Other times it is a conscious decision no amount of "selling" is going to make people happy with. The only hope is that they will get over it and the long term gain trumps the short term histrionics. Even in those cases, however, there is usually significant time between the choice and any reaffirming results. Bending tubing is much better in that respect. You can tell right away you messed up and change it to something you can be proud to put your name on and that you wouldn't mind working on if you had to in the future. In addition to installation work there was the chance to work along side several tradesmen and get to know them and their strengths and be reminded of working in a plant and in a union environment.
The high compliance culture seemed to be a bit of an anachronism initially, but upon reflection it is a good match to the demands of the process in terms of safety and risk management. The culture might not be a fit for all personalities, but it seems to be working well. The long-term people say that a number of years ago process interuptions were common and that they are now relatively infrequent. Maintenance must be providing the reliability that is its job to do. It is always easy to confuse motion with action and want to see people scurrying busily about but the results are more important and the results seem to speak for themselves here. Over the years I have known tradesmen that were always busy, but they were busy digging a hole for themselves by not taking the time to do things right and preventing a call back or repeat failure. I have known others that looked bone lazy and were accomplishing much more with the minimal effort required. Then, of course, there were also the just plain bone lazy who accomplished nothing. It can take a discerning eye to tell the difference and a skilled supervisor to determine people's strong points and engage them and direct them accordingly - the ever present challenge of treating people the same yet differently according to their needs.
In our own little world sometimes things seemed to go slowly, but those times were not on the critical path of the shutdown and really didn't affect anything. From an uninformed bystander's perspective the critical path major mechanical work at the height of the shutdown went really well. It is always amazing to me to see so many people working in a chaotic environment with the necessary work getting done on time and a difficult schedule being maintained. Towards the end when instrumentation started becoming critical path the guys really pulled together and worked hard, both efficiently and effectively.
In addition to the disciplines of the trade being relearned, I was reminded of the traction of work and how it tends to pull you through life. We quickly fell into a routine of get up, dress, eat and drive to work. Other than a few days when she went back to Meadow Lake for grandkids' birthdays and dental appointments, Juanita stayed in Regina. She worked at the food bank a few days and then settled into helping at the MCC Thrift Store.
One evening we went to the Majestics Car Club annual Regina Car Show and spent a happy hour and a half looking at all the cars from classic to recent and new. Sure brought back memories of cars driven and drooled over. The pictures above are just a grab sample of the 99 I took.
The last week of the shutdown we were grief stricken to hear of the loss of two staff members and the injury of several others in a highway accident near the Way of the Cross base camp in Aldama, Mexico. This happened just days before a pastors' conference was to begin and it was an emotional time for us to be so far away and ineffectual when our hearts were with those people we had worked with and come to love. The first instinct was to drop everything and head south to help. Rational thought prevailed when we considered that we would do little to replace the skills lost or out of commission and provide just more interruptions as we hugged, wept and grieved with the remaining staff members and would be no help at all. Updates from the director of Way of the Cross tell how God used this tragedy for His Glory as only He is capable of doing. Check out their web site for a memorial in the near future.
After the shutdown we headed to Saskatoon and visited with friends overnight then headed to Edmonton for a scheduled hot-air balloon ride that our daughters gave us last year and we were unable to schedule in the fall. We were looking forward to the experience. Matter of fact, we still are - a week and a half later. We have learned that balloon rides get cancelled for too little wind, too much wind, rain, and for the ground being too wet from the rain the day before. Hoping that the fourth booking this year is the charm we are scheduled again for May 29th. Our daughter, this morning, said that next time they will just get us a puppy as it would be less trouble in the long run. If we didn't want to go on the ride we wouldn't keep re-booking it and making the trip. I've enjoyed the visits with her and her husband and the downtime from working without having to look out the window at the work I should be doing on the property.