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.

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

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“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… “

The Best Welding Power Sources – a tale of two brands

If you are a professional welder, you know that you have many different choices when it comes to your equipment.  There are a plethora of brands for a variety of areas of the trade.   From Tweco welding guns to Black Stallion gloves, the choices are seemingly limitless.  While welding torches and gloves are important, arguably the most important piece of equipment is the welding power source.  For serious welders in the United States, there are really only two brands to talk about.

Miller Electric

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The first of these, but not necessarily foremost, is Miller Electric Manufacturing Company based out of Appleton, Wisconsin.  Now owned by Illinois Tool Works, Miller has been making welding equipment for over three quarters of a century now.  They have a variety of solutions for your welding needs.  They have gas metal arc welding (GMAW) and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) solutions for the hobbyist, such as the Millermatic and the Diversion.  They also have solutions for heavy manufacturing such as the Syncrowave and the Continuum.  For the construction industry the have the XMT.  They also developed the Auto-Axcess for robotic applications.  Miller Electric has been making welding power sources for a long time now, and their quality products under the operation of a skilled welder will most definitely produce satisfactory results.

Lincoln Electric

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For those welders who aren’t so fond of the color  blue, there is another manufacturer to meet your needs: The Lincoln Electric Company.  Lincoln Electric began before the twentieth century, but they didn’t start creating welding machines until around the time the Model T was released.  The rest is history.  From then on out they have made and continue to make some of the most popular welding power sources in the world.   They, like Miller Electric, offer a wide range of welding power sources to meet industry needs.  Power MIGs and Invertecs for the garage welder.   Power Waves for large manufacturing operations.   Flextecs for when a variety of welding processes are needed out of one power source.  If you need to weld it, chances are Lincoln Electric power sources can help you get it done.
Truthfully, I have barely scratched the surface of the equipment offerings these Miller Electric and Lincoln Electric offer.  Visiting their websites or talking to a sales representative at your local welding supply store is the best way to determine how your welding equipment needs can be satisfied by these two companies.  As previously mentioned, there are many different welding equipment manufacturers out there, but if you go with a Lincoln or a Miller, you can bet you will get your money’s worth.

How To Become a Certified Welding Inspector

The American Welding Society (AWS) has many different types of certifications for welding professionals.  While all AWS certifications carry the organizations endorsement, the Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) certification is arguably their most popular and desired credential.  I recently received my CWI certification, and I would like to use my experience in attaining this certification to layout in a simple manner what it takes to become a Certified Welding Inspector.  The three main components to becoming an AWS CWI are satisfying the prerequisites, studying for the exam, and passing the exam.AWS Logo

Prerequisites

As with most credentials in life, there are several prerequisites that need to be satisfied before you can obtain your CWI.  The first worth noting is the required combination of work experience and education.  There are several different combinations that meet the demands of the American Welding Society.  You must also be able to pass a vision acuity test.

Studying for the Exam

The amount of studying that I recommend for the CWI exam really varies from person to person.  Coming from a 4 year formal college education in welding engineering technology, my studying was pretty relaxed.  However, if you have a limited knowledge of welding, particularly welding symbols, weld examination, and weld qualification, you may want to put in more effort.  For self-study, there are a variety of books that the AWS recommends.

If you aren’t feeling so sure of yourself, the AWS also provides a seminar the week before you take your exam.  This covers all parts of the exam and includes all of the study materials you need.  This seminar week is quite popular, and I hear it substantially improves the test taker’s chances of passing.  Be aware, though, that it comes with a hefty price tag.

The CWI Exam

I have heard of some pretty high fail rates for this exam.  I won’t pretend that I know the exact numbers, but I will say that roughly half of the people I took the exam with were there to retake a section.  There are three sections, all multiple choice, and you are allowed two hours for each one.  They are:

  • Part A: Fundamentals Examination
  • Part B: Practical Examination
  • Part C: Code Book Examination

AWS D1.1

Overall, with breaks, I was at the exam site for just about 10 hours.  You do not take the test in any set order.  You could, for instance, start with Part C.  Once the exam is finished, you walk out without knowing your results.  My results were back to me in a little less than two weeks time. 
If you receive a 72% or above for each section, congratulations! You passed!  If received an average of 72% or above, but received below a 72% on an individual section, you have to retake that section.  If you averaged below a 72%, you have to take the exam again.

The AWS provides a variety of testing sites and times to take your CWI exam, so get studying!  Good luck!

Product Review: Fibre Metal Pipeliner

troy pipeliner

I obtained 2 Fibre-Metal ‘Pipeliners’ around February. Initially I had planned on reviewing one with Sellstrom’s Lift Front Adapter and one unmodified at the same time, but the modified version is awaiting a paint job. So, for now we have the stock version, and a Jackson Huntsman to compare it to.

Time to get down to the nitty gritty. This is the first pipeliner I have used having previously used a Jackson Huntsman and several other versions of the Huntsman line. Immediately the weight difference between the two is very noticeable, the pipeliner is significantly lighter. They both have different versions of the plastic nuts that are tightened to adjust the tension on the head gear that keep the hood up, both are less than ideal.

For head gear, the Jackson uses a ratchet type which adjusts snugly and stays fitted. The Fibre Metal Pipeliner comes with your standard head gear (strap over the middle of the head and around the forehead), but uses a thick rubber belt that is pulled from both ends to adjust tension on the back of the head. I don’t know how else to say it so I’ll be blunt, IT SUCKS! It might stay put for a minute or two, but as soon as you flip your hood down it’s back loose. There is a remedy though that has been around for years and keeps the hood secure while adding comfort, and that is using a piece of surgical tubing in place of the rubber belt. It is laced though the retainers just as the belt it’s replacing and secured on both ends using electrical tape. This keeps the head gear snug while keeping your head comfortable.

The light weight of pipeliner allows the user to wear it for multiple hours without suffering neck fatigue. After using the Huntsman, I would sometimes forget I had it on my head, especially once I installed the surgical tubing. The size of the shell provides excellent protection from sparks from nearly every angle except behind you. This comes at a price though as the length of the hood limits your ability to look down at your work because it hits you in the chest. This is easily remedied though by removing a 3/4″ or so strip of material from the bottom, thus further reducing the weight.

The lens retaining system is pretty standard, you insert your lenses, a plastic spacer, then install the plastic retainer. It works great and allows for use of thicker clear (glass) lenses or ‘cheater’ lenses without modification.

As for durability, there is a reason this hood has been around for so long and is widely used in the field (and in the shop), it’s damn near bulletproof. Although I’ve only been using mine for a brief period of time, it has been dropped, had stuff dropped on it and with the exception of some nicks and burns on the white paint, it is essentially still brand new. I have worked with welders that have had theirs for numerous years, on numerous jobs, in numerous conditions, and aside from the appearance they still work just as well as they did on day one.

So, is it worth the $50 price tag? Absolutely, the Fibre-Metal Pipeliner hood is a sound investment whether you are a hobbyist or rig welder.

I will be reviewing the modified flip front version in the coming weeks so, stay tuned.

Review: Phillips-Safety’s Super Magenta Drop in Welding Lens

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Everyone wants to weld with or at least try the unicorn of welding lenses, the AO Weld Cool and as most of you know they stopped making them a while ago causing them to fetch often outrageous prices, as high as $500 (good ol’ supply and demand). This has left welders with very few options, some get lucky and score one for a decent price from someone who doesn’t know what they have (or in my buddy’s case finds a stack of them still new in the package tucked away in the corner of his shop), and some give up their first born for one. Many companies have claimed to replicate the “Cool Blue,” but we all know it’s BS, that is until now. Phillips-Safety has developed a line of drop in filters that turn your standard lens into the closest thing to a Cool Blue that I’ve come across and at a fraction of the cost ($79.99 for the 4.25″ x 2″ and $169.00 for the 5.25″ x 4.5″).

I received the first prototype “Super Magenta Drop In Welding Lens” from Phillips back when I ordered a couple of their gold lenses (shades 9 and 10). It came enclosed in bubble wrap and had tacky brown paper on both sides protecting it from scratches. The filter, as the name implies is magenta in color and approximately 1/8″ thick. I unwrapped my gold filters, stacked the Super Magenta on top them and looked into the lights in my house (it was night time otherwise I would have used the Sun) and the light appeared almost white, far from the traditional green tint.

When welding with the filter in place, the blue is very apparent. It’s a darker blue than the AO provides not darker overall, but a darker shade of blue. I consider the AO to provide a light blue, the Super Magenta provides a pure blue. I paired several lenses with it (Phillips gold, Comfort gold, Anchor Gold, and Omni gold) and found I liked it best when used with a Comfort gold shade 9. I found this combination, when TIG welding with amperage’s over 120amps was not dark enough for me as I experienced some post welding flare once I raised my hood. Paired with the Comfort lens your field of view is pretty amazing compared to your standard passive lens, you can see not only your work but everything around you in a vibrant blue hue. Imagine wearing a pair of sunglasses with blue lenses and that’s what it looks like under the hood once you light up. The clarity of whatever lens you choose to pair it with is not affected at all, virtually everything remains the same except for the color spectrum, specifically the puddle and arc itself. The arc becomes white with all lens combinations and the puddle color varies from light orange, light yellow, gold, and white depending on the passive lens you combine it with.

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I put a in a lot of time under the hood with this filter and the only downside (if you can call it that) that I found is the filter slightly darkens the shade of the lens in front of it, not to a darker shade, but it’s noticeable if you’re looking for it. Aside from that, I don’t have one single complaint about it. As a matter of fact I was sent two additional lenses and filters to try and have yet to use them because I like this one so much.

At the time of me writing this, I have no reason to not recommend this filter to everyone and don’t see me coming across one anytime in the future. I have let others use my hood and everyone that has wanted to know where they could buy one immediately (but they weren’t available for purchase at the time). Well, today I have good news and that is they are currently available for purchase through Phillips-Safety’s website.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be reviewing both their AlloWeld and Super Blue Drop in Welding Lenses so, stay tuned.

 

Going to trade school, 10 years after high school

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When I got my notice in  April of 2013 that a layoff was coming, I began looking in to trade school. I contacted Fox Valley Technical College (Wisconsin) to see what I needed to enroll in the fall 2013 semester. My plan was to attend their Welding Production program.

The first thing my wife and I did was budget our money so that we were able to pay our bills on time. After some number crunching we were happy to find we’d be able to pay our bills with one income and as it turns out, we even had enough to splurge twice a month to enjoy ourselves. It took almost a month before I was able to collect unemployment (and as of January 2014 my benefits have been exhausted).

I was officially laid off on a Friday in June of 2013. The following Monday I had an appointment with Workforce Development to discuss a dislocated worker voucher to help me with my schooling. Multiple appointments later I was awarded $1,000 per semester to help with schooling.

Following the layoff I attended the new student orientation. It was there I received all the pertinent info I necessary to start school in August (The tech school staff were a pleasure assisting me with making sure I was able to start in the fall).

I completed my first semester in December with a B average. I never would have pictured myself going back to school, especially after being out for near 10 years. I’ve worked 9 years in manufacturing, four of those years at Oshkosh Corporation in Oshkosh, WI and the other years at Quad graphics in Lomira.

During my first semester I used multiple processes (GMAW, SMAW, PAW, and OFW) on a variety of metals including carbon steel, stainless, and aluminum. I also learned print reading and AutoCAD. Currently I am learning GTAW, FCAW, & Robotic Welding processes and learning to program Fanuc, ABB, Panasonic, and OTC Daihen machines. If you asked me how I’m doing in school at the moment, I’d have to answer with, Awesome!

With my second semester nearing completion, I’ve began searching for a job in my chosen trade. Many places I have applied want (require) 3-5 years of welding experience, some wouldn’t even give me an opportunity to interview. I attended multiple job fairs and got a few leads, but the jobs had been filled. I’m currently still trying to find a part-time job while still in welding school, but it’s very difficult to do because my classes are from 11am-5pm or 12pm-4pm. Most places are full with part-time help or will only hire me full-time once I complete my schooling. My refusal to go to a temp agency hasn’t been very helpful either.

Beaten, but not broken, I decided to test my luck again at another job fair, last Saturday. After 3.5 hours, I’m happy to report, I was offered a direct hire job! They weren’t sure on details but would contact me in the days to come.

Tuesday I received a call asking if I’m still interested in the job, my obvious reply was, “yes.” They informed me a managers meeting would be held to discuss where they needed welders, but would let me know soon. Later that day I received a call to see if I wanted to take a 2nd shift (1:30pm-9:30pm), Welder II (mostly programming robots) position, I was really excited and agreed to it immediately. From here I was given the information required to take my drug screen & background check and given my tentative start date, May 19th (I graduate on the 18th with a technical diploma).

My instructor said the company is a good one and the starting pay is around the average for someone with a technical diploma. He also reminded me that the school will always be there for me should I decided a few months or years down the road that I want to brush up on my skills for a weld test or if an employer asks for it.

Thanks to wife for supporting my decision to go back to school, it was a few tough months.

 

 

Photo courtesy: parkerwelds

Know Your Trade, Know Your Wages

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Anyone who works in the trades knows that the one of the most important, and valuable, skills to have is to be knowledgeable about your field. Not only should you be experienced, but you should also be able to use that experience to perform your job to the best of your ability. Being knowledgeable about your trade doesn’t just include knowing how to perform certain functions, you should also have an understanding of wage trends in your specific field. Government websites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics aggregate data on wages from all over the country and even divide the information into separate fields, locations, and occupations. You can use sites like this to compare your wages to other trades or even to other locations. We looked at the wage trends of some of our most popular user’s trades. We want to be giving the best product possible to users, and the only way to do that is to familiarize ourselves with all facets of the trades. For example, did you know that Plumbers and Pipefitters (steamfitters) have one of the highest mean annual wages of any blue-collar occupation? On average, they make around $54,000 around the nation, but pipefitters out in Alaska can make $72,000 a year!

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Electricians come after them with an average annual wage of $53,000, earning the most in California, New York, and Illinois respectively. Sheet Metal Mechanics, Wind Turbine Technicians, Elevator Technicians, and HVAC Technicians on average earn around $52,000 a year and as the need for skilled tradesmen continues to grow in our country, these wages will only increase. The Baby Boomer generation that for years has dominated the world of the trades is beginning to retire, and new workers are needed to take their place. Vocational education is taught in our schools with much less frequency and because of it there are less workers with the skills needed to fill up those jobs. It’s never been a better time for a career in the trades, especially with WorkHands by your side.

 

Photos courtesy of: Jun Wang, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

3 Core Roles in The Welding Industry

pipeliners brother inlaw

Within the general public and even, at times, in the welding industry, there’s a lack of understanding about what a welder does. A common misperception is that anyone who works with metals is a welder, but this is inaccurate.

The welding industry encompasses a broad spectrum of positions and skills, but typically includes a helper or apprentice, a welder, and the fitter or fabricator. Depending on the product of each particular industry or business, each of these positions will be encouraged to develop a specific set of skills and standards of quality to be effective for their role.

Here’s what each role encompasses:

Helper – A welder’s helper prepares material and brings fitted parts to be welded. With supervision, a helper may do grinding and weld preparation; they’ll typically be supervised by a fabricator or welder. This is usually the least technically skilled position, but helpers are learning to weld by being in a welding environment and directly observing fabricators and journeyman welders.

Welder – The job of the welder is to verify drawings and/or instructions from a supervisor on which standards or process are applicable, determine settings on equipment, identify the metal or metals being joined and essentially manipulates a molten puddle of metal to join metal, typically on a molecular level. This is the position that will generally have the most variation both in technical skill level and in salary. For instance, fast-paced manufacturing of a single product of no specific standard or minimum in-house quality control, welding the same items throughout the day with no changes required will be considered low-skill welding. Pressurized vessels, aircraft manufacturing, gas/petroleum industry, or certain types of structural welding will require a welder to be keenly aware of specific standards and parameters of quality, maintain documentation, have very accurate eye-hand coordination, at times weld in awkward positions, and to be aware of surrounding safety issues. These are considered highly skilled workers with pay to match their abilities.

Fitter / fabricator - A fitter/fabricator typically has good welding skills combined with the ability to interpret drawings and blueprints, familiarity with tolerance standards for particular fabricated items and is very proficient with welding symbols. A fitter/fabricator often has machining skills, too. They’ll generally be responsible for correct lay-out, checking that parts are formed or cut to correct dimensions. They often work in conjunction with a helper and welder to assemble a particular item and hold it together by tack welding and bracing, then pass the item onto the welder for welding.

My experience in the past few years has been that more companies are preferring that the fitter/fabricator will also take on the job of final welding. Though each of us in the welding industry may not be a “welder” or have the same level of skill, we should all be aware that we each play an important role in the process of fabricating an item, providing a workforce for our industry and providing income for our families.

 

Photo courtesy of: JFKielyConstructionCo