Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A Short Chapter in my Life

Face it life is one big exploration from the time we are born to when we pass away. There is always something new to see or experience. This story is about a time when I spend a few weeks working over in Tallahassee at a place called the Magnet Labs. At the time I was working for Oxford Instruments and part of my job was to go and install the equipment we built. My involvement with this particular magnet started when I helped to rebuild the system after a failure. I might add it almost crippled me because two end plates weighing nearly quarter of a ton fell over and crushed my foot. I only got away with it because an eye bolt stopped them going further but I still had a broken bone in my foot and three weeks off work. I when I came back the job was waiting for me to finish off.
Anyway they system was rebuilt, commissioned and passed ok to ship and muggings ended up flying out to do the work. I landed in Tallahassee about 10 at night and rather that find my way in the dark went to the hotel by Taxi and picked the hire car up in the morning.

Next day I picked the car up and drove to find the labs which took me through some rather suspect areas but I found it and drove round and spotted the box the system was in standing outside with a tarp over the top. Nice touch I thought covering the top from the elements. I think it was Sunday so I went back to the hotel and found something to do
for the day.

 Monday morning I went along and introduced myself and was taken though the lab to where the system was going to be installed. This entailed removing the  end of the building which did not seem to take the  riggers lead by Bart very long

Moon was on the  crane with Soup Cambell acting as rigger

Moon and Bart

This guy's name is Brother-in-law
Soup is stood in the opening

While this went off I drove off back to the airport to pick up a colleague Nick Dent who was going to help me.
The box with the system was inched through the opening and that is where it all went pear shaped. I was called over and shown what they had found when the tarp was removed.

Someone had dropped a container on the top damaging the box and contents, the docks had put the trap over the top to hide the damage. needless to say as soon as the ladder was up I was in the box inspecting the damage. As soon as I saw the bent necks I knew  the whole thing would need a rebuild, my mind was calculating if it could be done here or had to go back.

 Photo's were taken and phone calls made to the UK explaining what had happened. Back then there was no digital cameras so I shot of to get them developed get them scanned and emailed to Oxford.

 I was told to go and book a conference call and after finding a place which facilitated this Nick and myself went off to talk to the guys in the UK. They asked could it be rebuilt there and how long could it take. I had remembered the Professor who had ordered the system had ordered a second and the parts were in the UK I had my shopping list ready and told them it could be done in the States as there was a place in the labs it could be done. I left the guys at Oxford to negotiate the area and I set about getting it ready to be moved. Once done I said my goodbyes and got a flight home.
Back at Oxford Instruments it was down to locating the parts and assembling them making new sections up and getting my shopping list sorted out. But not before I was sent off to Hong Kong on getting back. It nearly killed me with the time changes.
That finished it was sorting things out for sending back to Florida

The next stage when I got back to the labs would involved cutting the system up and taking it apart to replace parts then re-assembling it again. The external shell the OVC (Outer Vacuum Case) had to be replaced as one piece as it could not be repaired as did one of the aluminium shields inside. Once all the parts had been located and made it was all packed up and send of back to the US. I followed on with colleague called Andy who was a welder. Together we had the task of making it look like it had done when it left the factory.
We found on arrival the system had been moved to another part of the building which had access to a crane this was needed to lift the various sections apart. Lucky this did go well as most of it involved cutting the damaged parts to allow us to lift off the external shell and shields inside. All this took a couple of days as we had to go carefully so not to get any metal partials inside and cause a problem with the magnet, we also had to take care not to damage the wiring as well.

The stripped down system in the area where we were working on it.
The repaired  part of the system after welding the new parts on.

We were staying in a hotel out of town so travelled back and forth every day by car meals were taken at what ever restaurant we liked the look of that was reasonable. The best bit though was jumping in the swimming pool after work for a swim. So the weekend was something we were looking forward to and by then we had stripped the cryostat down to the helium can which was the part in the middle so we cold repair the damaged part (above right) once done it was just a matter of putting it back together.

 Andy checking the welds on the left and on the right lowering the OVC back in place

 Andy doing the final welds on the cryostat.

Over the weekend we went for a drive to St Johns Island, only a short journey by American standards but more  a long one for what we were used to. We found this out when Bart asked us to come to a lunchtime barbeque at a school they were working at, Only a few miles down the road he said, turned out to be an hour away. Mind you I could not complain about the Southern Hospitality, the food was great.
We worked Saturday morning and Sunday went off to the coast. Had a great time watching crabs and birds scurrying round the beach and walking along the sand. I took my shirt off which was a bad thing because when we went back to the hotel I said my back was burning. Was it ever even the pool made no difference and when I had the conference call with Oxford and mentioned what happened I could sense  a few chuckles but an hour later I had a call from the Oxford service manager up in Boston who told me to get off to the hospital quick. I did and found out my back was badly burned with blisters all over it. I got some ointment to rub on and left a 100 or so dollars lighter. To this day I still get ribbed by Andy who had to rub the stuff on my back.
This did not stop the progress as we rebuilt the croyostat and by the weekend had it all together. That was it for Andy who took a flight back to the UK and Monday Nick Dent who was a US service egineer came town to help with the reinstallation.

 Moving the system back to the place it was to be commissioned.

The system was carefully taken back round the building and placed in the hall then the external iron shielding for the magnetic field was built up round the outside. The once in place the end wall was built up. By the weekend we were nearing being ready to pump the vacuum in the system. It was also Barts birthday so we were invited to a cowboy stile party at his place or should I say ranch because that is what it looked like to me. I was even introduced to "Moonshine" which I thought was like the Irish equivalent Poitin. The food was great and so was the clay pidgin shooting which I turned out to be a dab hand at.

Nick and myself waiting to be served at the barbecue 

Yep that's me shooting at some poor little clays

Still all was not play and Monday  it was back to getting the system ready for cool down and another engineer turning up for Oxford to commission the system. Once it was happy it was Vacuum tight and starting to cool I took my leave back to Oxford and await the results.

The two photos above show the system being assembled in the  magnet hall where it was to be tested

Unfortunately though the magnet did work it did not reach the required specs and though negotiations took place the customer called enough and rather that send it back to the UK the magnet was scrapped. The last I heard and saw was the thing in a skip. I felt all the work I and many other guys had put into what we did was for nothing and it had cost the company a lot of money.  Oxford went into a decline around that time taking some heavy losses on the one off Magnet systems like the one I had worked on and people were made redundant. The place was stream lined and I ended up working on testing the large 900 NMR magnets .
 I left eventually and went to work at Rutherford Laboratory on the Diamond Project. Oxford Instruments did manage to turn things around and dropped the large magnets concentrating on the more profitable side of things, they are now doing very well in the market place and though I don't miss working there I miss the guys I worked with who made the place what it is.

This is the last photo I have of the system before it was finished with Soup de rigging it. I hope you have enjoyed my story.

Dedicated to Ivan who along with his mate Buzz help build it in the first place. 
Ivan died in September 2016 RIP