Warning: Details provided in this case may be NSFW.
By Charles R. Picek, Contributing Writer
Back in the 1940s, I began my Chemical Engineering career as a Junior Engineer at a Texas oil refinery. My first day on the job, I was given a clipboard and was told to go check the levels on all the tanks in the storage lot (there were 30 or so). The lot was large enough that I could only make the rounds twice a day. I would note the tank number, the time, and the level that I read off of the metal flag that ran up and down the side of the tank. All the way up was empty and all the way down was full, as the flag was connected by a pulley and cable to a float in the tank that counterbalanced it.
Reading the tanks was hot, dirty work, but what did I know, being fresh out of college??? It so happened that at this time the refinery was having difficulties in hiring “sample boys” to take samples and readings throughout the refinery. Management decided to experiment and try hiring females. This was quite a breakthrough in that girls were not normally allowed in the plant (remember, this was the 1940s). They were in the lab but never in the plant. Well, it worked out beautifully. The girls were quite efficient and took accurate samples and were very prompt on their rounds.
At least initially….
After a few months, we discovered an interesting trend: The inventory was not checking out. That is why they sent me out to check. While all of the other tank levels fluctuated up and down, one tank remained full. Suspecting something was wrong, I looked up the blueprints for the plant and traced the pipes back to valves and such that I could positively identify out in the plant. The only identification I could find on that circuit was “Special.” I asked some of the chief operators what this “Special” thing was all about, but got mixed responses. I would ask one operator, he would say he didn’t know, and then he would send me to another operator, and so on. Just the kind of treatment you would expect a Junior Engineer to get.
I even was able to query some of the folks in the Process Group, but I received similar, confusing responses. One day, at the peak of my frustration with this “problem,” I decided to go out to the tank and have a look for myself. I climbed up the long, winding stairway on the outside of the tank, opened the inspection hatch and took a look inside.
Much to my astonishment, I saw beds, lights, etc., on the floor of the tank, which could be accessed by climbing down a narrow ladder from the top rim of the tank. I had discovered that some of the sample (?) girls had set up a brothel in this tank.
My conclusion is that someone had apparently CORRECTLY labeled THIS oil refinery product as “Special.”
Charles R. Picek, PE (retired), graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a BE in Chemical Engineering. His 50+ year career includes involvement in the Petrochemical, Fertilizer, Pharmaceutical and Environmental industries. He holds several recent patents on filters and processes for his groundbreaking work in Water Purification and in situ Serum Sterilization. He has also served as Vice President of Engineering AMF, Cuno Division, Sales Development for the Pall Corporation, and President of the consulting group of CRP Associates. He is currently enjoying retirement in Florida, including his first loves: Boating and Fishing.”His story was told to and ghost written by his nephew Dwight Bues, Systems Engineer.