I met Frank not long after I arrived in South Carolina. Frank, a crusty character originally from South Carolina, worked at this new electronics plant when it was a textile plant. Frank’s job as utility supervisor involved keeping things like hot water hot, walls painted, and pumps pumping. With little regard for decorum, Frank subscribed to the school of ‘whatever it takes to get it done’. This included, but was not limited to, jumper wires across a breaker box, and replacing gaskets with whatever was close enough.
Now Frank worked for the revamped textile plant and faced restrictions and rules. And female engineers.
The first time Frank and I were introduced, he told me straight up, “I don’t like engineers and I especially don’t like female engineers.” Nice to meet you too. My project engineering job required me to interface with Frank constantly. It seems like the projects often tapped into the water source or required replacing a pump impeller to increase flow or pressure. I simply had to get along with him.
Previous to this job, I worked at a the construction site where I eventually became friends with the tobacco farmers in North Carolina who also worked on that project. I think I developed somewhat of a ‘swagger’ when it came to schmoozing men uncomfortable with working with women. I decided to work on Frank
The best tactic I’ve found to work with people who seem to be intimidated about engineers, female or otherwise, is to let them know you don’t know everything. Craftsmen bring a talent all their own and not taking the time to learn how they do their craft is missing a golden opportunity. I began to ask Frank about the systems he had responsibility for.
Soon he melted and determined female engineers weren’t so bad. When I say he ‘melted’ I mean he became intent on including me as one of the guys. Why do men always think we want to be one of them?
For Frank, this meant a baptism of sorts. He told me that the initiation, a rite of passage which had many prior victims, involved getting dunked by a bucket of water. A five-gallon bucket of water. When I would be least expecting it. I lived in fear for a while.
Frank’s utility room was located in a section of the plant that was not frequented by many people. Unless the pumps went down, or a breaker tripped, the room was vacant. Frank and a helper or two were the usual occupants. It was also waterproof. Motors were specified to be water resistant and electrical panels were sealed.
During shutdowns, when the plant ceases operations for a short period of time, there were usually a few projects to be installed that would normally require an interruption of normal production. One Fourth of July weekend, I had a project to install an ozonation system. The use of ozone to clean water used for processing was new and expected to increase the quality of the silicon wafers we produced.
I did the one thing that Frank had been waiting for: I was alone in the utility room doing a final check of the ozone system. My guard was down. I became aware of a disturbance and heard some muffled voices. I turned to see Frank with a stern, determined look on his face, swinging a five-gallon bucket full of water. I spun, turning my back to Frank and realized I had nowhere to run.
My back was soaked; drenched, actually.
The once muffled voices now burst out into laughter and the rest of the construction crew quickly entered to get a look at this wet engineer. Frank made good on his threat.
I was now officially ‘one of the guys’.