How I Got My Start in Welding

As many know, much of the millennial generation is paying little mind to careers in the skilled trade arena. Growing up in a middle class, white collar setting, I was no exception. Since I am one of these millennials who originally had no intentions of learning a skilled trade, I wish to share my story with you of how I got into welding. Perhaps it will help show young people that you don’t need to be born into a vocation, and that it is possible to branch out from your white collar upbringings if you wish to do so.

Career street sign

As I mentioned, I was born into a white collar family. My father was a CPA/small business owner and my mother was a pharmacist. Needless to say neither of them had “struck an arc” in their life. It was not an ideal upbringing to learn a skilled trade. It was more or less expected of my siblings and me to graduate high school and attend college, and in the end, we all did. However, during my 8th grade year I realized that I had an increasing fondness of money. I took it upon myself to get a job for the summer and after school. I applied to a greenhouse, not knowing the type of work I would be doing. Luckily for me, I was hired into the maintenance department at the greenhouse. It was there I got my first taste of the trades, and of welding.
A spark of lightThroughout high school I worked there, becoming more and more proficient in my role. Although I learned how to weld and to perform other skills (and made far more money than my friends flipping burgers or mowing lawns), I still intended to go to college for psychology; thus, I never attended a technical school during my teenage years. However, when it came time, the school I chose to attend for psychological studies would not allow me entrance until the spring semester due to my grade point average. I was somewhat of a slacker academically in high school.

Due to my delayed admittance to my school of choice, I had to find another school to attend in the fall while I waited to start my study of psychology in the spring. My mom, knowing how much I enjoyed welding at my job, found a four year program at her alma mater for Welding Engineering Technology. I decided I would do it for a semester and then go to the school I originally intended for psychology. My first semester of welding sparked my interest in the field. I held welding jobs throughout college to help pay for my expenses, and now I am a welding engineer involved with pipeline construction. I am far from being the next Sigmund Freud, but am extremely happy with the way events unfolded.
If you are a young person who is considering learning a skilled trade or have wondered what it would be like to do so, I advise you to pursue it. There are many ways to go about learning a skill, and, as I have illustrated in this article, you do not have to be brought up around a skill to become proficient in it. So feel free to branch out and learn, it could have a lasting impact on your life.

Ever wonder how to build skills for railroad jobs?

Railroad doule track

Like most industries, the railroad industry requires some very unique skills.  Unlike most industries, the railroads industry provides you the training you will need to be successful at your job.  Where an electrician can get training through school programs and apprenticeship programs, a railroader is mostly trained through the company that hires them.  This includes rules training on Federal Railroad Administration requirements and technical training to perform their specific craft.  This fact makes applying for a railroad position a little bit different than most jobs.

When you apply to be an automotive tech, chances are you have experience in the automotive industry.  If you are applying for an electrical position, the same thing applies, but in the railroad industry, many times the people that are hired for skilled craft positions do not have any railroad experience. If you have never worked on a railroad, don’t fret. You still have a good shot at getting hired as long as you’ve built skills for railroad jobs in other ways.

Prerequisite skills for railroad jobs

There are a few things that all companies will require, regardless of the job type.  You will need at least a high school education or equivalent.  You will have to be able to pass a strength test, drug test, physical and eye screening.  If you are color blind, you can not work in any position that will require you to read signals. Technology may change this in the future, but for now, the transportation, signal and track department will all require a color blindness test as part of your hiring physical.  If you are applying for a craft that will require a CDL, or if your seniority will allow you to hold a job with a CDL, you must be at least 21 years of age.  Otherwise the age limit is 18, with a year of work experience.

Work Ethic

This is the number one thing railroads look for when hiring new employees.  They look for consistent job history, military training and any extra training that you have picked up along the way to show that you are someone who wants to work.  If you have taken extra classes, volunteered for a local organization or volunteered for an extra assignment at work, make sure those things make it to your resume.

Safe Work Record

Railroads are  dangerous; there is really no way around it.  On June 28, 2016 4 people went to work for BNSF,  only 1 came home.  One engineer was able to jump from the train before the two engines collided in a head on collision in Panhandle, TX.  February 21, 2016 a track worker for Norfolk and Southern went to work, he was killed when he was hit by a train while working on the track.  Those are only 2 of the fatalities suffered by the railroad industry so far this year.

Make sure you highlight your safety record on your resume.  This means talking about your driving record, your injury record, and anything that you have done to create a safer work place in the past.  Railroads want to know you are contentious about your safety and the safety of those around you.

Outdoor Work Experience

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but railroads are not usually indoors. Railroads prefer people who are used to working outdoors in all weather.  The running joke on the railroad is that it is always 72 and sunny on the tracks, because no matter what the weather, you are going to be out in it.  If you have done farm work, worked on an oil platform, done road work, anything that shows you are willing to work outside in all weather conditions is a plus.

Cumberland Yard Snowy engine

It’s always 72 and sunny on the railroad!

On Call Work Experience

Railroads operate 24/7, 365 days a year.  Trains run on Christmas, they run on New Years, they run at 2 am on a Saturday.  If you have past experience in a position that required you to work on call at all hours of the day and night, the railroad looks at that as a positive.  Not all skilled trade positions will have to work on call on a consistent basis, but most do.  In the event of a major disaster, even those that don’t usually work on call may get called out.

The Learned Skills

Experience in other industries comes in handy depending on the path you take to the industry. Welders, heavy equipment operators, electricians, and telecommunications workers will all have a leg up with this type of experience.

Railroad Track Work

Railroad track workers are responsible for fixing and maintaining track conditions and rail.  Any previous welding or cutting experience is considered an asset in a track worker.  The railroad will provide additional training that is specific to the railroad industry, but previous experience will make the process smoother for you and the railroad you are hired onto.

Track workers are also responsible for the track beds under the rail so previous experience with heavy equipment is also a plus.  Track workers may be required to run dozers, back hoes or track hoes.  Any previous experience with this type of equipment will give you a leg up on the competition.

Railroad Track Workers Grinding Rail at Night


Railroad Signal Work

The signal department is responsible for installing and maintaining the train control system and all crossing equipment.  The equipment itself is very specialized and engineered specifically for railroad applications, but the theories behind it are not.  Knowledge of basic electrical theories like Ohm’s law or series and parallel circuits will help you understand how to install and maintain the equipment.

If you are interested in working on the construction side of signal work, a Class A CDL with air brake endorsement is required.  The railroad will help you get one if you are qualified in all other aspects, but having one going in will help.  Previous experience with cranes and backhoes is also a big plus

The Communications Department

The communications department is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the train control system.  In addition to the train control system, the communications department is responsible for the installation and maintenance of radios, printers and end of train devices.  To work in the communications department an FCC license or military equivalent is required.  Previous experience with fiber and CAT cable are also a plus.  To find more information about obtaining an FCC universal license, visit the FCC website.

Working for a railroad is a great career choice and previous experience isn’t required.  A few key skills for railroad jobs and a great work ethic will give you a great shot at getting hired on your railroad of choice.

10 Top Construction Apps for the Jobsite

Technology’s visible on every job site in America today and has been steadily advancing for some time now.  Clever tablet, laptop, and phone applications can help a technician, foreman or project manager with the more mundane tasks they face when working in the field.

Saving time for yourself or the boss during your workday reflects positively on your work habits and ability to utilize your time wisely.  If you’re in an industry where competition for work is fierce, then validating your intellect by making everyday tasks a bit easier demonstrates good work habits.  There’s certainly no shortage of work-related applications to choose from, but which ones are useful?  Which applications can make even the most technologically challenged technicians work smarter?  Here are ten applications for construction professionals that caught our eye.

Voltage Drop Calculator

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Southwire Voltage Drop Calculator gets 4 of 5 stars and is commonly used on both iPhone and Android platforms.  This application helps determine the correct wire and size to use for an electrical circuit.  It also calculates the voltage drop of a particular run.

Pitch Gauge

Pitch Gauge is a productivity application that helps users calculate the area and slope of any roof.  Pitch Gauge has also been featured in magazines like Professional Builder Magazine and commended for its usefulness.

Lowe’s Home Improvement

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Everything Lowe’s, all the time.  Make sure they have your material in stock before leaving the job site.  Lowe’s also offers their entire product catalog for those of you wanting to compare cost on a certain item.

Concrete & Ag Calculator

The name says it all! This useful app from Chaney Enterprises is geared towards the concrete and agricultural industries and helps in calculating amounts to order all the while reducing waste.

Google Sheets

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One of the most intuitive spreadsheet apps allowing users to communicate together in real-time.  Google Sheets lets users create and edit any spreadsheet on multiple devices and progress is automatically saved as you and your colleagues work together.

Handyman Calculator

This nifty app offers an array of calculators for different projects all in one.  Handyman Calculator offers each user time tracking tools and to-do list options as well.  If you have a project, this application can help with its litany of uses aimed at managing project costs.


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Fieldwire offers construction management tools that help keep the lines of communication open between technicians, foreman, and project managers.  Communication is vital in the field and this application helps in keeping people connected.

Drywall Calculator

Drywall Pro is another great app made by iQuick Tools.  Drywall Pro can help estimate the cost of a particular project by recording cost, profit and material use.

AutoCAD 360

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AutoCAD 360 allows users to share construction prints and drawings on their mobile devices quickly and easily.  This smart application has tools for drawing and drafting and lets users edit, create and share AutoCAD between one another.

Cam Scanner

Cam Scanner scans any document and turns it into a clear, useable image/PDF from your mobile device. This app can be used for emailing and faxing information, like sending in timesheets or documents, that need a signature and passed on quickly.

Be on the lookout for more top construction apps

Finding new work related applications for your phone or tablet that help you with your job feels beneficial and rewarding.  Everyone from the installers to the boss at his desk is looking to save time and money during the day, and with tech increasingly becoming common at the jobsite, new apps are bound to continue flowing.

Next time you’re on break, take a look around your app store. There are numerous construction geared applications available that can make your day run more smoothly.

The right tool for the job depends on you… and if you can use it as a hammer

Hammres 2


“The right tool for the job.” It’s a saying that my father used quite a bit.

It’s a saying, “the right tool for the job,” that’s so popular it’s been co-opted by other, non-trade industries, but I never fully appreciated it until recently.

From experience, I’ve learned it basically means “If you have the correct tool for the job, you probably won’t ruin things, and you’ll curse much less.” For my decades of putting tools to the test, it all comes down to one thing… can I use it as a hammer?

Of course, by that I mean, “Which tool will be the highest quality, most durable and the best bang for my buck?” But also, I’m probably going to use it as a hammer eventually, either because of frustration, rage or pure necessity. There are so many places to find yourself the perfect pipe wrench, drill press, or miter saw for whatever job you’re tackling, that it’s mind-boggling to think about. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 categories to help you decide not what tool is best, but what tool is best for you.

Homeowner tools

Congratulations, you just bought a house! You’ll need tools for up-keep, and repairs. Just go Craftsman, hit up Sears, or find a nice K-mart special-30 piece tool set. That’s all you really need. No need to spend a Corvette’s worth in tools for light-bulb fixtures and table leg repairs. Done.

DIY / hobbyist / garage-r tools

You’re a serious DIYer. You need a quality tool for the job but you don’t need the best tool on the market. I’ve worked on my car since I Corey's Dad-Tool Box purchased it at 14 using whatever tools my dad had. They usually weren’t the best quality, but I still use some of them to this day. Go Craftsman for hand tools or better. Their wrenches, pliers and hammers are perfect for everyone from the weekend track racer to the most Ron Swanson of us all. The higher initial price is out-weighed by the lifetime use of the tool. Just check for the warranty so you can replace it if necessary.

Full-time trade and craftsman tools

If you make a living off your tools, you’re going to want something that will pay for itself over the years. You need power, precision, and durability. The hands down consensus is that if you want the best tool that’ll last a lifetime, you want Snap-on.  If your company is paying, or if you can afford it, Snap-on is the best bang for your buck for any dedicated, daily wrench jockey. They have consistently beat any challenger for best in the business. If that isn’t a possibility, brands like SK, GearWrench, Matco Tools and Mac Tools offer replacements with warranties that are just as good with only a minor sacrifice in strength and durability.

Still not sure which tool is right for you? Start simple and build up from there. You may find that, most of the time, you need the basics but for a few specific jobs, it’s worth investing in the right tools. Like my dad always said, “The right tool… “

Machine Tool Suppliers part II: McMaster-Carr and Grainger

Machine Tool Supplier Metal lathe chucks

In our last article on machine tool suppliers, we spent a bit of time outlining MSC Industrial Supply and Enco.  Of course these are not the only two games in town so today we  cover two other major players in the industrial supply world: McMaster-Carr and Grainger. 


Machine Tool Supplier McMaster-Carr Logo

Having been around since 1901, McMaster-Carr knows a thing or two about Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) supplies, as well as being a general machine tool supplier.  McMaster-Carr is strictly a mail order house and does not have walk-in retail stores.  What they do have though is a 3,800 page catalog and over 550,000 products backed up by a strategic warehouse network that will get a product to you within 1 to 2 working days from the time of order. McMaster-Carr does not offer a large choice of similar items and does not often mention name brands in their catalog. In many cases, you’ll have to call or email to obtain a manufacturer’s name.  For an example, take twist drills.  McMaster-Carr lists them by size, style, and coating, but sells only one offering in each category.  I personally do not know their strategy for name brand selection, but I’ve found their choices to be of good quality.

Machine Tool Supplier McMaster-Carr Warehouse

As for the catalog itself, good luck getting your hands on a copy unless you are a large volume customer of theirs.  They print it in very limited numbers, which lends to a market for old catalogs on auction sites like eBay (where a new in the box current copy can fetch upwards of $100). Older catalogs are collectors items, too, and often sell for several times that amount.

Not to worry, though.  All items in their print catalog can be found online with a streamlined layout that is easy to use.

Grainger Industrial Supply

Machine Tool Supplier Grainger Logo

Grainger not only stocks 450,000 items available for mail order but also has over 350 branch locations where you can simply stop in to purchase your goods.  They are primarily an MRO industrial supplier, but they also stock and sell general machine shop items like cutting tools, raw materials, abrasives, and measuring tools. Grainger’s extensive customer service sets it apart from other machine tool suppliers.  

Say it’s 7:00PM on a Sunday night.  You have an order to fill that is due at 9:00AM on Monday morning, and you’ve just fried the motor on your lathe.  Grainger will actually open up a branch for you with just a telephone call — nights, weekends, or any time that they’re closed.  They may charge a $50 service fee, but few companies offer this service at any price, and when needed, that service can be of tremendous value.  During a disaster such as hurricane or tornado, Grainger will also open its doors and keep them open, allowing emergency responders as well as the general public access to generators, heaters, first aid supplies, and other emergency gear.

Local Grainger Outlet Machine Tool Supplier

Grainger  offers other miscellaneous services including auto-reorders, inventory management, and a locator service for goods not stocked or sold by themselves.  That’s right — they will go to a competitor to find what you need!

Next up, going local

That covers four of the larger machine tool suppliers, but of course there are several more out there, both large and small.  In the final article in the series, we will look at the ins and outs of doing business with local, private firms where you can purchase metals, plastics and other materials for the machine shop.


How to Pay for Trade School


Finding out how to pay for trade school is not much different from a traditional university.  People that have a great work ethic, can understand traditional work methods and methods using new computerized technology are in great demand. This means a lot of funding is being funneled into the trades from both public and private sources and finding money for trade school is possible.

Finding the Right Trade School

What school is right for you?  There are a lot of different schools out there that vary in cost and quality of education.  If you compare a welding program at your local community college to a welding program at a national chain school you might find a difference of over $20,000 dollars, but cost is not the only factor you should consider when choosing your trade school.

  • Talk to industry professionals.  People that are currently working in the industry of your choice will have seen the products of different educational programs and can give you insight on what programs are best.  They can also tell you where they got their start and what is required to get started in the industry.
  • Talk to trade associations.  Every trade has a trade association, welding has the American Welding Society, electrical contractors have the National Electrical Contractors Association, etc.  Trade associations can give you insight into educational programs and hook you up with industry professionals that can help guide you.
  • Google it.  Look for things like graduation rates, ratings and reviews.

This is your education, be sure to do your due diligence in researching the right school for you.

Talk to Your Financial Aid Counselor

Your first step in determining how to pay for trade school is to talk to the financial aid counselor at your school of choice. The financial aid counselor will help you fill out your Free Application For Student Aide (FAFSA) forms and explain all the costs associated with attending school.   There are also many private endowments that come from former graduates, and the counselor at your school will know all about these opportunities. They will help you figure out what you are eligible for and how to apply.

Filling out a FAFSA form will make you eligible for all federal grant programs as well as federal loan programs.  Along with federal grants, each state has at least one program to provide grants to students from their states.  The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators is a great resource, just click on your state to find out what is available.

Scholarships For Trade Schools

Brand Scholarships

Scholarships for trade schools are more abundant than most people think.  Big name companies in this country have a problem, lots of jobs and no one qualified to fill them.  In response to this problem, many brands have started giving out scholarships.  The best thing about these scholarships is they give you an immediate leg up in the industry.  Brands like Grainger, Catterpillar and Honeywell all give out millions of dollars in scholarship money each year.  If you are awarded one of their scholarships, the brand is more likely to hire you in the future.  Some companies like Ford, John Deere and CSX  prefer to give scholarship money through national high school organizations like the FFA.  The point is, big brands in your industry are interested in helping you get the skills you need to be successful in your industry.

If there is a brand you are interested in working for, a quick google search will tell you if they are giving out scholarship money and how to apply for them.  K&N air filters, Fluke meter company, Toyota, Lincoln Electric, all have some type of scholarship program available.  I think you will have a harder time finding a large company that doesn’t give out scholarship money than one that does.

Private Scholarships

Private Scholarships can come from any private or non profit organization, and guess what, there are a lot of those to. 

  • Build Your Future is a non profit organization that helps people get their start in the construction trades.  They have scholarships, and they are a great resource for finding out about career options in any of the construction trades.
  • Mike Rowe’s Work Ethic scholarship gave out over $800,000 to trade school students last year, and they would love to top that for next year.
  • Trade associations like the American Welding Society, The Collision Repair Education Foundation and The National Concrete Masonry Assocation  all give scholarships to students interested in learning their trade.
  • National high school organizations like FFA and 4-H award scholarships to their members at the local and national level.  Many times these scholarships are sponsored by a large company and this can give you a leg up if you are interested in working for that company. If you are a member of any high school organization, be sure to check with your leaders about scholarship opportunities.

Scholarship opportunities are out there.  Talk to trade associations, Google your favorite company or talk to people in your trade.  A little research can go a long way to finding the money you need to go to school, and giving you better employment opportunities once you are out.

 Automotive diaganosis

Apprenticeships and Work Study programs.

An apprenticeship is a great way to hands on experience, get experience towards your licencing requirements and make a little money at the same time.  Apprenticeship programs are usually offered by the union associated with your trade.  The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers offers apprenticeship programs to people interested in working in the electrical industry.  The United Association Union  of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and Service Techs was one of the first to offer an apprenticeship program and they have done a great job working with company management to create a successful program.

Most large companies have some type of continuing education plan for it’s employees.  It may be a traditional work study program that allows you extra time off to complete your studies while partnering you with people in the types of jobs you are interested in, or it may be an offer to cover a certain amount of tuition each year.  Either way, you are earning money and continuing your education.

Student Loans

After completing the FAFSA application, you will receive a “Financial Award” letter, but it is likely that this award will include some student loans.  Student loans must be paid back, and are usually not subject to things like bankruptcy.  Remember that a loan is a product that is being sold to you, it is not free money.  You will have to pay interest on the money you borrow and there are different stipulations on each loan regarding repayment, interest and hardship.  Make sure you fully understand the loan process and the loan that you are accepting before you sign anything.

Trade School is Possible

Trade school is a possibility for anyone who is interested in attending.  Talk to the financial aide counselor of the school you are interested in attending. They will walk you through the FAFSA application and help you apply for any school sponsored scholarships that are you are eligible for.  Talk to trade associations, Google your favorite company and check with the union associated with your trade.    If you still find yourself short of cash, student loans may be available to you or you may qualify for an apprenticeship or work study program.

Today this country has a big skilled trades gap.  Companies need skilled workers and they are willing to help people interested in working for them acquire those skills.

Five tips for construction heat safety on the jobsite


During the summer months, one issue that most ironworkers have to face is the heat and construction heat safety. Many of the jobs that ironworkers do take place outside in direct sunlight. These outdoor work areas can quickly heat up and become danger zones for workers. Staying safe while working outdoors is very important for the health of the workers. Today we are going to take a look at several heat safety tips while working in extreme heat.

Wear the right clothing

While you are out tying rods, things can heat up quickly. Although most mornings are normally cool, the heat of the day can quickly take its toll. A great way to beat the heat is by wearing loose and lightweight clothing that allows your skin to breathe. This will allow you to sweat which will help reduce overall body temperature.  Also, don’t forget to wear gloves when handling metal that has been exposed to the sun in order to prevent burns.

Stay hydrated

Working with heavy steel rods in the blistering sun will make you work up a sweat. Staying hydrated is very essential and it will prevent you from having a heat stroke. While drinking water is a great way to hydrate yourself under normal conditions, as an iron worker, you will be losing electrolytes quickly. So try to drink something that contains electrolytes to replenish what you have lost. Sports drinks are a great option to accomplish this goal.

Get acclimated

When possible, ease into the heat of the day. Try to put off strenuous jobs such as lifting heavy rod bundles until your body has gotten used to being exposed to heat.

Take a break

Make sure to take frequent breaks and get out of the heat if you are feeling sick. Listen to your body because it will warn you if you are pushing yourself too hard. Even if you are not schedule for a break, let your foreman know that you are not feeling well and you need a break. It’s better to be safe than sorry when dealing with extreme heat.

Watch for the warning signs

Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency that can cost you your life. Preventing heat stroke is the only way to ensure your safety while working outdoors in extreme heat. Some of the warning signs you need to be on the lookout for are nausea, dizziness, flushing of the skin, rapid heat beat, and shortness of breath.

Remember Extreme Heat Can Kill

Now that you have learned more about the dangers of extreme heat, you should always follow these helpful tips in order to stay safe. Remember to wear breathable clothing that will allow your body dissipate heat. Drink plenty of fluids that will hydrate you and help replace your electrolytes. Get your body acclimated to the heat before doing serious activities and take a break whenever you need one. Finally, always be on the lookout for heat stroke warning signs so that you can do your job properly while staying safe at the same time.


Helical Screw Pile Technology for Contractors

Deep earth solutions for contractors

Adapting to advances in technology can sometimes be a drag. Learning new software, purchasing new tools, updating procedures due to regulation; sometimes it’s a hassle. For contractors though, there are some products and advancements simply too good to ignore, and one of those today is helical screw pile systems.

Although screw pile systems have been around since the 1800’s, installation methods have become much easier. Advancements now allow for helical screw piles to be used for a variety of applications, both large and small.

To be brief, helical piles are steel shafts with helix shaped bearing plates. They are generally used for deep earth foundation applications, providing structural support as either piers or as tension anchors. There are numerous types of plates, shapes, sizes and designs available, each made for specific applications depending on the integrity of the soil and the weight or tension the helical pile is meant to support.

Uses for helical screw pile systems

One popular use for helical piles is as piers under porches, decks or small additions. Traditionally, holes are dug by hand or with excavators and concrete is mixed and poured into a tube. Afterwards there is still a cleanup involved, not to mention the curing and drying process of the concrete. This all equals a lot of man hours, perhaps a couple days, especially if there are 10+ piers to install. Now imagine finishing all this by lunch and construction above beginning immediately. With no waiting for concrete to dry or inspectors to ensure your holes are a minimum of 4’ deep, helical piles are an incredible time saver. Not to mention less labor intensive. Your back muscles will thank you, or at least your crews will.

Helical screw pile post installed under a porch.

Helical screw pile post installed under a porch.

In addition to saving contractors time, the steel shaft pier will also be a blessing for the property owner. Take a look at some concrete piers and you will notice some have heaved, many have settled and others are simply crumbling away. These are now problems of the past, as helical piles are installed at depths based on soil conditions. When installed correctly, there is little chance the shafts will ever settle or heave. This means one less repair to consider in the future. Another plus; helical piles can be installed year-round whether there is frost or soggy, wet soil. Again, crews will be grateful.

Helical screw pile attached to wood post

Helical screw piles easily attach to pressure treated posts, both 4×4 and 6×6

Contractors also use helical screw pile systems for docks and walkways in marinas, on lake shores, or for bridges in parks and golf courses. Green thumbs will love it too, as little or no earth is displaced and there is minimal impact on the environment.

Stabilizing foundations

As mentioned, there are several applications for helical screw pile systems, the pier/post being just one of them. More heavy duty push piers (not always with a helical plate affixed to them) can be used for stabilizing, or even raising, settled buildings. Push piers save property owners from having to completely replace failing foundations due to settling. Likewise, for new construction, helical piers can be installed under slabs or footings to ensure homes or buildings will never settle. This can be especially important in places known for having problematic soils, such as in areas over old landfills or near high water tables.

Push pier under foundation footing

Push pier under foundation footing

It’s worth noting special equipment is needed to install helical screw pile systems. Bobcat’s or Kubota’s of various sizes can be used, fixed with unique driver heads available for purchase from the manufacturer of the steel shafts. For contractors to get outfitted for installing piers with a machine, trailer and fixture, starting costs will range from $35,000 – $50,000. When choosing a machine, keep in mind how much force may be needed to drive in the screw piles, and also maneuverability on job sites. Depending on how many piers a contractor installs, they can expect to gain the monetary benefits of their investment within a year or two. As mentioned though, the benefits of saving time will be felt immediately.

For the push pier systems, a maneuverable hydraulic pump set up is used for applications. No real heavy machinery is required, and sometimes installations will take place from within the basement rather than from the exterior. Though not required, engineers will sometimes be involved with these systems, which will effect overall costs for property owners. However, when it comes to saving an investment such as a home or property, it is almost always worth the costs.

Bobcat attachment for helical pile installation

Bobcat attachment for helical pile installation

So for contractors who may be weary of trying new things in the field, just know that while you’re mixing your 16th bag of concrete, another contractor using helical piles has already begun installing their floor joists. Sometimes, change is good.

Launching a career as a telecommunications technician


What is a Telecommunications Technician?

Many have heard of the telecommunications industry, but what does a telecommunications technician do for a living?  A telecommunications technician can wear many different hats.  This type of person works on construction sites pulling cable for data drops, mounts cameras, and installs access control for card readers.  Others in this field work from cellular phone towers or route and terminate fiber optics cabling.  Some may work for local phone, internet, and cable television providers, showing up at your home for installations throughout the day.

Telecommunications technician training

Training opportunities in the telecommunications industry are widely available for those who know where to look.  Both union and nonunion electrical contractors offer a combination of excellent on-the-job training and instructional classroom education for new employees looking for a career in the trades.  Apprenticeships through local area contractors typically range from three to five years depending on the diversity of training before earning the journeyman title.  Technicians who have success working in the field will eventually find themselves in supervisory and management positions, thus providing numerous chances to further their career.

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Find a local contractor

There’s a multitude of places to look for employment within the telecommunications industry.  A person doesn’t have to have years of experience to land a job in this field.  The first place a job seeker can visit is their local electrical contractor.  These contractors are in the business of building homes, offices, and high-rises for their clients and are often looking for entry level help.  An easy way of locating these contractors is by calling your union hall, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and asking for a list of electrical contractors in your area.

Network to learn more

You can also talk with other professionals working within the telecommunications industry via online forums, social media websites and live chat rooms.  Often there’s no better advice about where to find a job in a particular industry than the advice given from a journeyman technician.  Getting to know people currently working in the career you’re pursuing will always be of value to you.  Also, there’s a wealth of information standing behind a Google query.  Be curious and look around online. You will be surprised what you can find.

The telecommunications industry is an excellent field for trade workers who value the ever-changing landscapes of computers and technology.

What is a Railroad Signalman?

Signal work on a switch at dawn

If you have never heard of this position don’t be alarmed, a railroad signalman is a very specialized jack of all trades. It didn’t start out this way, but as modern technology has changed everything else, it has also changed the role of the signalman.

A Little Railroad History

In the early part of the railroad, a signalman would use lanterns to signal trains and give them information about the track ahead.  They would sit in a tower, lean out the window and hold the lantern at a particular angle to let the train know how close the train in front of him was, or if there were any known problems with the track ahead.  If he was at a station where a train could switch from one rail to another, it was also the signalman’s job to route the train properly using long handles inside of his tower to throw the switch.

The DC Track Circuit

The invention of the DC track circuit was the beginning of big changes for the signalman.  Where previously the signalman was the one giving out information about the condition of the rails and other train traffic, the DC track circuit could do that automatically.

A DC track circuit is simply a battery at one end and a relay at the other with the tracks being used as a conductor.  When a train goes over the circuit, the electricity will pass through the train wheels instead of going down the track to the relay.  The relay drops and along with it, the position of the signal arm.  With this change the signalman went from being an active participant in controlling train traffic, to someone who maintained track circuits and electrical systems.

Old style railroad signal

As the train goes across the circuit, this old style arm falls to the down position , it will stay in this position until the train clears the block.


The Modern Signalman

As technology has advanced, so has the signalman.  Today’s signalman is split into two categories, the signal maintainer and the construction signalman.    All signalman for Class 1 railroads are members of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalman,  this is also true of most smaller railroads and contractors that do signal work.   Your union seniority will determine what positions you can hold, but if you stand for it, you can hold either the signal maintainer or the construction signalman position so it is best to be prepared to handle either job.


The Signal Maintainer

The signal maintainer maintains the signal system by performing required Federal Railroad Administration tests on all signals, switches and road crossings in his territory.  In addition to the tests he must perform, he is also on call 24/7  to fix any problem that occurs on his territory.  The maintainer is a troubleshooter, he must understand basic relay logic, electrical theory and circuit design.  He has to be able to show up to a location, read the prints, determine  the problem and then repair the problem.


signalman switch junction box wiring

An example of a switch junction box that was wired by a signalman

The Construction Signalman

A construction signalman is someone who builds or does major repair to the signal system on a railroad.  A construction signalman works on a gang of 5 or 6  people.  The gang will travel to their assigned location and stay in a hotel for the duration of their work period, usually 8 days on  and 6 days off or 4 days on and 3 days off.  On a construction gang you are given material and a set of plans and must do everything from operating a backhoe to dig in cable to wiring in and testing the new equipment to get it in service and working correctly before it gets handed over to the maintenance department.

signalman sets crossing platform

A CSX signal construction crew sets a flood platform to sit a crossing house on top of.


The Future of the Signalman

As long as there are railroad tracks, there will be signalman, but the evolution will continue.  Currently there is a mandate from the Federal government to install positive train control by 2018.   Positive train control is a system that will automatically stop a train before it can go past a stop signal, thus preventing head on and rear end train collisions.  Construction signalman are currently working hard to install all wayside assets and some portions of railroads are already up and running using this system.

From a guy hanging his arm out the window to a completely integrated system of controlling train traffic, the signalman has always been and will always be, an integral part of the railroad.