Another Precipitous Realm……..#178 (80’s)

Low pressure steam boilers – the school’s heat

Gary’s school day began at 5:00 a.m. unlocking the gate to the fenced security area accommodating the school buses at the high school accessing his Suburban for the journey to the grade school.  The custodians first assignment in the winter, the firing of the two large low pressure steam boilers,  an unlocking of the building doors,  an activation of the Main St. school crossing flashing caution light and the posting of the flags.   His attention then given the vacuuming of the library, the cleansing of two male restrooms,  finishing with his upstairs rooms desk tops  and the classroom green chalk boards returned to an unused appearance followed by the dusting of all horizontal surfaces,  all to be accomplished in an hour and forty-five minutes before the 7:00 a.m. bus route embarkation.  In addition to his morning and afternoon regular suburban bus route Gary also inherited a noon route which provided for the return of the rural morning Kindergarten students to Hazelton and east of town.

Max McGee and Janet Elwood

The custodians goal was to have his eight classrooms in pristine posture at the beginning of each day when the teacher entered the room.  The other custodian, Pam Cooper,  evoking another tact, cleaning her classroom during the day, while the students participated at recess,  music or other out of classroom activities,  the teachers and students never really experiencing a primeval  classroom accomplishment.   Gary found Mrs. Elwood’s math and Mr. McGee’s science downstairs 4th and 5th grade classrooms conveniently vacated during the last period of the day enabling him to accomplish their room before the end of the school session.  The floors of his other six rooms were managed upon returning from his bus route as was the gym floor, it having been done in the morning and on an as needed basis especially during weather activity with the student utilizing the gym facility at noon and while waiting for their bus transportation. This being the  concluding task before the ending his day at 6:00 p.m. with the return of the suburban to the high school.

Superior Boiler Works Pawnee boiler

Enclosed steam radiators

Gary was journeying to Wichita directed by Glen Piper to attend a two-day steam boiler operations, maintenance and safety class, having never visualized or experience the two steam producing Goliath’s that occupied the boiler room,  his only operational knowledge was limited, coming from Ed Hermon the departed custodian.  The grade school still retaining the original Superior Boiler Works, Pawnee boiler, one of two installed when the school was built in 1936,  the second boiler was a Kewanee,   slightly smaller in capacity,  both boiler having never been fitted with automated water level controls and had to be filled manually,  but having at least one safety device, fitted with an electric sensing system that would shut the system down if no flames were detected.   The steam boilers providing the only source of heat for the entire building,  every room including the gym was accoutred with fixed radiators.  The radiators spoke up when first experiencing the steam with a clanging sound out of a movie script.  Their clamor and clanking resonating throughout the building,  caused by non-returning  condensation, when the heat from the steam was applied to a cold convector.   The two-day boiler indoctrination provided an insight to the maintenance aspects, the checking and replacement of steam traps, the large industrial return pumps,  the inspection of the boiler tubes for leakage and the cleansing of the oxidation formed on the numerous tubes and seals.   Also included was the proper monitoring of water  level and pressure, Gary realized although the boilers were a remnant from a past era it was interesting that an another precipitous realm was making his acquaintance.

32 inch swath Snapper

The daytime experience found the yard endeavor time consuming,  the only grass cutting appliance was a five horsepower Snapper mower with a 32 inch swath.  Mowing during the school day required scheduling, as there was an access restriction to certain areas dictated by the presence of students.   The grounds encompassed two city block including the little league baseball diamond which was always in a state of request for attention. The Main Street and sidewalk enhancing the length of the building each with four entrances demanded an ongoing edging application until a surprised discovery.   Tom Farney,  a farm owning family school board member suggesting the use of a commercial products sold at the Co-Op, Hi-Var XL, an effectively ground sterile,  once applied it was a preventive for grass attainment.  As a test the custodian spraying a very thin edging line of the liquid no more than an inch wide on both sides of the teachers walkway on the south side of the building.  After waiting for the results,  a lesson was learned,  the one inch application to prevent grass growth grew to an unsightly six to eight inches.

During a Friday below freezing winter’s day a main water condensate return pump located in an area enclosed at the bottom of the stairs leading to the cafeteria failed shutting down the  heating system.  Gary being informed that boiler parts were handled by Chuck Payne Plumbing,  soon discovering that Chuck was out-of-town and no one was sure when he would be back.  Gary informing Glen Piper of the situation, being told it was imperative to get it fixed as the outside temperature was going to continue well below freezing.  Gary making phone call after phone call to Wichita and Enid in search of a replacement pump but to no avail, but a company in Enid Oklahoma giving Gary the phone number of an oilfield service company in Okarche that just might be able to rebuild the old pump.  Eureka, because it was for a school and after confirming the pump numbers, the oilfield company person was willing to come in and rebuild the pump,  Gary making a Saturday afternoon trip to Okarche, able to get the system up and running Sunday, the irony coming later after Chuck Payne returned find that he had a backup pump.

The Teachers marvel of application

An antiquated backup


The most arresting situation confronting the teachers, one that could cause untold frustration,  the failure of the copy machine.  The copier,  its adherence, a marvel of application,  thousands of reproductions each week encompassed by the teaching staff in the  pursuit and publication of  academia lessons.  Gary finding some staff members mechanically inclined able to remedy minor obstructions,  others obliging their ignorance calling upon him for assistance.   The lone copier having an antiquated backup, something the custodian hadn’t experienced since his Burckhalter Elementary ascendancy in Oakland,  an ink filled,  hand cranked mimeograph machine, the throwback to past seeing limited use.  Superintendent Piper approached Gary with a solution to the copy machine down-time quandary  asking if he would be interested in working with the contracted vendor whom was finding it difficult to respond from Wichita every time a problem developed with the machine.   Gary agreeing to work with the serviceman the two meeting at the Grade School on a Saturday afternoon.   The technician  field-stripping the copier down to its component parts, Gary observing, taking notes, comprehending  their function and how to determine and resolve any problems.   The vendor satisfied with Gary’s hands on approach, his acknowledgement of the equipment’s operation and discernment to diagnose the cause of a malfunctions.  At the conclusion of their afternoon session the vendor offered and Gary accepted a monthly financial gratuity as compensation for not having to travel the 90 mile for something Gary could resolve.  Glen asking about  the Wichita vendor,  questioning if their Saturday meetings came to resolution and the results, Gary relating the event was successful and expressing confidence that he could resolve most of the grade schools copy machine problems.   Glen continued, asking if Gary would be susceptible in performing this service for all the district copiers and if so he would see that he receive a monthly stipend as compensation.   Gary was somewhat hesitant in accepting Glens offer but in this instance deciding  ” a bird in the hand wasn’t always better than two in the bush”   accepting  both the vendors and school compensation.

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