THE LOCO CONTROLLER
During the early 1980’s artisans, especially electrical artisans were in short supply in the mining industry. Artisans with electronic and HT experience were usually a sought after object. I started working on ******** Gold Mine in 1982. At that time the shafts, 2, were still in the sinking process. Before long I was allocated the Winding engines as a section. this meant testing and repairing breakdowns and all other work relating to that. The Hoisting equipment was tested on a weekly and monthly basis. All safety aspects of the winders were tested regularly by the inspector of mines. These guys could get really snotty if they got out of bed at the wrong end.. ******** mine was shallow in comparison to other mines. After the sinking operation was completed the winders were used as a transport platform while the boilermakers and contractors installed the steel guiding equipment. This guides the cages when in operation so that they do not hang freely in the shaft. When that was completed the shaft was ready for production but only after the winders was modified to transport workers and material.
My work philosophy was: Get on with your labour then 90% of your problems are solved.
Martin was a character in his own right:- His educational level was standard 4.
One day I asked him if he wanted to earn extra money by working on weekends in my garden. He was all for it and rocks up there at the crack of dawn. His job was to load garden soil from the heap outside the gate and spread it on the lawn. It was hot and backbreaking work. Later I served him breakfast on a tray and I felt embarrassed by his attitude: He could never accept a white person had actually served him. Later in the afternoon when much of the work was completed he and I sat back on bricks against the wall enjoying a beer. Every black guy that walked past was given a bit of lip to the effect he must carry on and not stop. I asked Martin what is his case and he replied that he is afraid one of those “loafers” will take his job. A few cars drove slowly past.
Racism on the gold mines was rife: In fact that was spread over the entire mining industry. The beer drinking story did not stop there. An engineer went to the trouble to visit me at the workshop and reprimand me that my behaviour was not becoming of the expectations of the mine. I reminded him it was during my private time and nothing to do with the mine. He reminded me that I had already been punished for my breach of behaviour relating to my transfer to the workshop.
My job in the workshop entailed the stripping , overhaul, reconstruction and commissioning underground loco controllers. These things hardly ran 2 shifts before they broke down. They were then sent to the workshop for repairs: It was a never ending cycle. If I could not complete the repairs on time the controllers were outsourced for repairs externally. Each controller had a number. Whenever a controller came into the workshops it was tested by me and the failures and faults found were entered in a history of that unit. Later I discovered according to the histories 95% of the controllers came in with similar faults, mostly component failure.
Briefly the loco was driven by massive batteries and the voltage was 110v DC. The controller was an electronic unit operating by a thyristor control plus two directional contactors (relays). When the relays opened under load they spat a huge DC spark and a bang. All was driven by a smallish electronic card. The electronic cards, thyristors and directional diodes were found to be the major faults. The loco and its batteries weighed about 6 tonne and the equipment was always under stress when braking. The sparking relays did not have a suppression circuit and the high voltage spike produced caused damage to the electronics.
I started to examine the parts that were damaged and found that most were underrated. And hence were just not capable to do the work required of it.
Catalogues were checked and it was found, as I suspected, that the equipment was underrated. I drew up a list of the correct rated items plus additional capacity and handed in to the foreman to order. The guy never understood what it was all about and ordered the equipment anyway.
Later the normal suppliers demanded an explanation as to why they had not received the order. All hell was loose. I asked the foreman to contact the company and request the manager and his rep come see us on the mine
In the interim I had built a small card with 2 capacitors and 2 resistors and installed it into a controller in the workshop. The Idea is the capacitors hold the relay coils energised for a few milliseconds so the high voltage can dissipate before the contacts open. It worked like a bomb. This was demonstrated in the workshop. I discussed the
Issue with the electrical engineer and was told the card, though a good idea was not part of the standard equipment. Later, after the suppliers had stopped swearing and cursing they were told that had the components been of the correct capacity the mine would have saved millions and why had they not picked it up earlier? All knew that they were running a scam and only that company was benefiting by it on the repairs to the controllers. In one case I received a controller from underground with a blown fuse. The fuse was rated at 2 amps costing about R1-50. The controller was sent, inadvertently, to the company for repairs. It was returned a week later with the price tag at R950-00. The fuse was replaced and the interior cleaned up.
I was refused access to any specifications of their equipment by this company: Why?
. Some months earlier problems were evident with the electronic card. A drawing was requested and duly supplied by the agents. From an electronic view something did just not add up. A pencilled drawing was made directly off the card and compared to the official drawing. It was found that the official drawing had components missing and had those components been removed from the card the circuit would just not work. The engraved serial and part number on the card was the same as that on the drawing. The controller was supplied by ****** and the electronic card from the UK.
The following paragraphs are not designed to attack any persons but to indicate the level of competence accepted on some mines.
PEET was a Hollander but referred to himself as Nededlandisch
While living in the Netherlands he was trained as a policeman but in fact actually a neighbourhood watchman. He and his spouse came to South Africa for a “better life”
He also worked in an engineering machine shop doing odd jobs and as a general cleaner. He assisted the electrician when required to do so. PEET started work at an engineering company but his employment was terminated due to his lack of training and electrical experience. He ended up with me in the workshops and later sent to the training centre to work with the apprentices. He was mad about free hand drawing and that sort of thing. I asked him if he could redraw the pencilled electronic circuit for me and correctly insert the correct component symbols;. About 3 days later he produced the drawing on an A1 sheet. It was stupendous. He was using the drawing office as his base and those people were highly satisfied with his work. He had no basic training of any sorts yet produced a masterpiece. He was not suited to work in an engineering environment. It was this drawing which was produced to the agents of the loco-controller. PEET was transferred to a sister mine. As a learner/junior tracer.
The question which bothered me was that Peet was found incompetent by an outside company yet was moved directly to a mine where a higher competency is required such as in mine winders and compressors etc.