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Technology & Trade | Contractors

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I recently saw a plumber showcasing a new heating/hot water system for a friend’s custom home. After marveling at the technology available for trading these days and the training required to get the most out of it, I started thinking about how I got here…and where I came from. .

The computer age is a relatively new event in human history. Much like the automobile, it changed nations and the world in ways we are still discovering. Except that it changed in level.

theater of the heart

The Industrial Revolution was perfect for reducing manual labor and making life easier for humans in general. The digital revolution has impacted the very thought processes of the human mind. Consider that this column was written on a laptop computer. Moving electrons instead of typing on the old Smith Corona ® (which was also a result of the technological advances brought about by the Industrial Revolution) is just one of many advancements brought about by the computer age. In fact, with computing power as it is today, I could have easily spoken those words to my computer to write this column. I think the next step is for computers to read my thoughts!

The representation of graphic images has reached such prominence that computer-generated images are indistinguishable from reality. what’s true? What is computer generation? Try it out today. Virtual worlds were invented, overpopulated and destroyed in the blink of an eye. Technological advances pile up on technological advances so quickly that as soon as we think of something new, we’ve come to expect new things.

back to physical

All of the above begs the question. What is the point where the digital meets the physical? Watching a young plumber program a boiler/heater system got me thinking. The final product was a computer controlled domestic hot water and comfort controlled heating system for the home, but that was only the end product. I did. This system was complex and digitally awesome, how was it installed?

The answer, of course, is with the merchant. Nothing, at least at this particular time and place, can replace a craftsman installing a computer-controlled system. This requires not only manual labor, but the skills and training necessary to properly assemble the parts so that everything works as designed. To actually put everything together to work as advertised, regardless of what a computer can do with that technology, once the technology is in place and ready to work, you need to be properly trained and in that field. Requires a skilled human being. .

walk down memory lane

I remember just 70 years ago (68 years to be exact, but who’s counting? I was 6 at the time) when my father and grandfather wooden water main, in the ditch, on the streets of Brooklyn, New York. They were repairing water pipes made out of lead! how about old school? OSHA and EPA would have had a stroke. My grandpa had a full set of “molskins” (actual skins of moles) for wiping lead joints on 1/2″ to 4″ lead pipe. The mole skin fit his hand precisely over time, so when he needed it, all he had to do was say something like, “Give me that 3-inch skin.”

Then there was the pleasure of “cutting” cast iron pipe (a perfectly intended irony).For those who don’t know what I’m talking about; What I did was to use a sledgehammer to ‘cut’ a chisel along the circumference of the pipe (clap my hand many times). Literally snap. In some cases, the cut didn’t go as planned and the edges were jagged or cracked, making them useless. Invariably, this happened about 10 minutes before the end of the job, and the unlucky apprentice got mad or worse.

Progress…and more progress

All this cast iron cutting fun stopped when the Wheeler Company was founded in 1957. The company was based on the premise of making better mousetraps. They invented a tool called a cast iron snapper! This miracle tool allowed me to cut a length of cast iron in seconds without the use of a hammer and chisel!!

The cast iron joining of the hub and spigot was done the way it’s been done for at least a century: lead and Oakum. Soil Oakum (bitumen fiber) was provided in his 30 inch length for those readers unfamiliar with how to join his pipes. They were braided into the bell end of the joint using a yarn iron until there was enough material to pack using a packing iron. Once firmly secured, the molten lead was ladled out of a pot set on top of the LP gas cylinder.

The entire melting station, including the LP bottle and burner assembly, was called the “bomb”. Anyway, I poured molten lead into the air gap around the joint and let it cool. Woe to apprentices and plumbers who allowed water to migrate near joints where lead was poured! Reeds would explode on hitting that dampness! Sort of what happens in a turkey deep fryer. Once cool, another set of irons (inside and outside) was used to “tap” the lead and stiffen it to its final position.

Then came “No Hub” and TY Seal. Once again, disciples all over the country cheered!

Drinking water plumbing is also evolving. Lead, galvanized steel, and red brass were once the preferred materials for domestic water supplies, but copper pipes, and he plastics such as PVC/CPVC, polybutylene, and PEX were invented and brought to market. Until the 1960s, it was common in many parts of the country to thread home water pipes. Many local governments were skeptical of plastic water pipes until IAPMO certified them. Then innovation after innovation hit the market.


When it comes full circle, we see that while the digital revolution adds a lot to the technology available in trading, it is just another tool to make our jobs easier. is not a substitute for It’s clear that no matter what new digital magic is invented and brought to market, the ability to do the work remains the same. From inventing a robot or machine that can install plumbing or his HVAC system from scratch to making it work, a skilled craftsman is an integral part of the equation. What is now imperative is to train the next generation and imbue them with the same sense of our trade that seems lost or at least diluted.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, the author is a retired third-generation plumber. In 1975 in Shirley, New York he founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating and in 1980 in Phoenix he founded A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. He holds licenses in residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing and is certified in welding, clean room, polypropylene gas melting and medical. gas pipe.he can be reached at