Dirty Jobs Campfire Chats with Charlie Miller – Dusty Jobs Podcast – S3 E2

Mar 23, 2022

Charlie Miller meets us for another Campfire Chat. This time Charlie talks about his years in the industry and some of the nasty dirty jobs he has had quote on and measure. Some of those jobs goes back to his days of living in Cincinnati and visiting meat packing plants or going to a waste treatment plant. Check out this podcast to hear more about these dirty jobs.





Intro: Welcome to the Dusty Jobs Podcast from Imperial Systems. Industry knowledge to make your job easier and safer.

Donovan: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Dusty Jobs Podcast. Today we have a very special edition with Charlie Miller. Charlie has been a long time employee of Imperial Systems, and used to write for our newsletter, the Dusty Jobs Newsletter, with an article called ‘Good Luck With That’. Charlie’s article reflects on his time in the industry with fun stories. Now we’re going to move that into the podcast realm. Charlie is now going to be doing Campfire Chats. We hope you enjoy these stories from Charlie Miller. Thanks for joining us.



Hi everyone, welcome back to Camp Imperial.

Pull your camp chair up next to the fire,  grab a hot dog to roast, and sit a spell for another campfire chat.

Anyone a Mike Rowe fan? He had a TV show called Dirty Jobs. On each episode he would take us to some of the nastiest jobs you can imagine . 

Who begins life saying the want to be a garbage collector or city sewage worker when they grow up? These are nasty jobs, and somebody had to do them. But sometimes these undesirable jobs can be very profitable. Let’s face it , dust collection is all about cleaning up in dirty places and over the years I have visited some nasty places.

I spent a large part of my career in Cincinnati, Ohio. Many people don’t know this but at one time in the early years Cincinnati was known as “Porkopolis”. One of Cincinnati’s earliest enterprises was a meat packing center. The Pig Farmers would drive their hogs right through the center of town to the stock yards. Legend has it that Cincinnati is where the phrase “When Pigs Fly” originated. Truth is the folks in Cincinnati are proud of their Porkopolis heritage and play tribute to the Flying Pigs that helped to make them a major metropolis area. If you look hard enough, you can find tributes to flying pigs everywhere in Cincinnati. (Watch out, there goes one now! They’re cute little fellows but you got to be careful about their droppings)

The stock yards are still there, and meat packing is still one of the major businesses in Cincinnati. I once had to visit one. They wanted a stainless-steel hood and exhaust system installed over a large meat fryer. The fryer was in a room that had about 50 gutted hogs hanging from overhead conveyor hooks. The pigs were split open but still had their head and feet. I had to maneuver around these dead pigs to get my measurements done. Not only a nasty job but creepy as well. I’m glad they gave me the white coat and hat to wear. I couldn’t wait to get out of that room. I did get the order though. My customer asked me to come back on Wednesday. I asked why and he told me Wednesday  was slaughter day. I declined the offer.  

Speaking of meat packers have you ever wondered how they make skinless wieners. I was called into another meat packer who made them. The wieners start out as a bunch or finely ground up pinkish-gray mystery meat to which is added a bunch of nitrates and preservatives. (EUW! Throw away hotdog)  This pinkish meat mush is then injected into a continuous sleeve that is twisted every 4 of 5 inches to form the wiener. This continuous string of wieners then goes through a cooker that solidifies the wiener into the form we see in the store. After exiting the cooker, the sleeve is slit longitudinally allowing the wieners to separate and fall out sending them to packaging, while the slit sleeve, still dripping with juices from the cooking process, is sent to waste. 

That was why I was there. The wet sleeve went through a chopper and then sent outside to a cyclone receiver over a compactor. The cyclone was wearing out and had to be replaced. Since there was no information on the cyclone, I once again had to field measure it. It was the middle of July  and the discarded sleeve material that was already collected in the compactor had turned rancid in the summer heat. It also attracted a bunch if bees that were swarming around the cyclone I had to measure. It just goes to show that our food suppliers can have nasty jobs too.

Have you ever wondered where all the roadkill animals you see along the highways go to? After they are picked up by the highway department, many of them are sent to a rendering plant, commonly known as the glue factory. While glue is one of the byproducts from rendered animals, many other common products  begin with organically rendered materials including : pet foods, lubricants, soap, shampoo, paint, elastomers and even explosives. Did you know gelatin deserts are made from rendered animal bones?  While rendered organics are recycled into many useful products, visiting one of these facilities is not a pleasant experience. Along with dead animals, many other organics materials are rendered including rancid cooking grease collected from restaurants that are thrown into a big vat for processing. The odor is horrendous. One visit is enough to ask for a pay raise . 

Coming in a close second to rendering plants are chicken processing plants.  Have you ever driven by one in the summer? It makes you think twice about dining at the colonel’s house.

Another place with similar attributes is the good old Metropolitan Sewage Plant. This is the place where all the toilets flush to. Can you imagine what it is like to do work there?  The MSD was one of my regular clients and I affectionately referred to them as “The Turd Grinder”. One memorable job I was involved with was to make and install stainless steel drip pans under the miles of overhead process pipes running throughout the sewage plant. Understandably the sewage workers did not want any of that stuff leaking on them should a pipe joint spring a leak. It was a nasty place to visit but I’ve been told some funny tales from the workers. You would be surprised at some of the things people flush down their toilets. And the people who work here have seen it all.

Chemical plants have their own nasty characteristics to cope with. A large petrochemical plant along the banks of the Ohio River has miles of large stainless-steel duct that runs throughout its various production buildings. This duct system is about 20 feet above ground level so traffic can drive beneath, and it is used to transfers waste to a centralized filter. They call it their “Sewer in the Sky”.  Periodically sections of the duct would corrode from the materials being conveyed  and need to be replaced. This usually required specialized clothing and respirator masks to be worn when replacing the duct. In mid-summer working from elevated man lifts in the hot protective gear is not much fun.  

Another chemical company I did some work for made Acetysalicylic  Acid, which is better known as Aspirin. They had one multi-story building with a large enclosure in the  center where the acid was condensed into a usable form. Over time condensed residue would build up and solidify on the inside of the enclosure wall panels causing them  to deform. The ductwork would also clog with the same material which required both the panels and duct to be periodic replaced. Every few years I would go into that building to field measure the panels and duct that needed replaced. Aspirin is a beneficial pain and fever reducer. But in the condensation process a fume is generated which caused my eyes to water and burn within minutes. I would often need to leave the area just to clear my eyes of tears. It amazed me that people could work in that building every day. 

Chemical companies are not the only places that will cause your eyes to water. Going into some food processing plants will cause the same problem. I once visited a spice plant that was making hot sauce. They had a 1500-gallon vat where they cooked the hot peppers and other ingredients to make the sauce. The top of the vat was covered with a canopy hood and ducted to a roof mounted exhaust fan that disbursed the cooking fume up into the atmosphere. They called me because they needed a replacement exhaust fan and had no idea what volume or horsepower they needed. To determine this, I had to visit the plant to examine the fan. The stairway up to the roof was in the same room that housed the cooking vat. By the time I reached the top of the stairs, tears were streaming from my eyes. After inspecting the fan name plate, I was able to determine the volume and horsepower requirements for the replacement. The fan was badly corroded, and I assumed it to be very old, but I could tell it had a stainless-steel housing. I told them I could get them a stainless-steel replacement fan but they told me I needed to supply something better than stainless steel. The fan I was replacing was less than two years old. That was some serious hot sauce!

I had a similar experience at a mustard company where horse radish sauce was one of their products. In the horse radish room several workers sorted the roots by hand and  fed them into a washing process. From there they were fed into a machine that finely grated the root to be made into the sauce. Tubs of ground horse radish was stacked in carts around the room awaiting the next stage of production. My eyes watered immediately upon entering the room. Except for a single wall mounted panel fan this room had no ventilation at all. Little wonder the workers were crying for one.     

Perhaps the dirtiest places I’ve visited are coal generation power plant. These plants are full of conveyor belts shuffling coal from one transfer tower to another and creating a coal dust nightmare. Even with a well-designed dust collection system it is all but impossible not to come out of a transfer tower without having black coal duct on your clothes. I once visited a power plant with a co-worker to see what we would need to do to install a dust collector on the top of a coal transfer tower. We knew we would need a large crane to set the equipment. The tower was nearly 80 feet tall. There was a rigging company nearby, so we decided to stop in after we left the power plant to see if they could help. Before we left, we used the compressed air hose provided to blow the coal dust off our clothes. Satisfied with our cleaning efforts we drove over to the rigging company. We entered the building and crossed the lobby to the receptionist desk. She  greeted us  coldly and told us no one was currently in the office who could help us. We wondered what we did to offend her.  When we turned to leave, we saw two tracks of black footprints across the lobby carpet leading right up to where we stood. Who puts light beige carpet in the lobby of a building anyway? 

I’m rarely required to visit nasty places anymore but it you think I miss it, well good luck with that!  

Thanks for visiting and come back again soon for another campfire chat.


Donovan: Thanks for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed this time listening to Charlie’s stories. If you’re interested in hearing more of them, you can go read Charlie’s article ‘Good Luck With That’ on our website. If you’re interested in more podcasts or more information, you can follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and most other social media platforms. Thanks for listening. Stay healthy, and stay safe.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the Dusty Jobs Podcast. Breathe better, work safer.