Today Mike starts the show outside of Pittsburgh, PA, a city known for its steel. He tells us that you can't have steel without iron, iron without coke and coke without coal. He is at Shenango Inc. to learn more about coke. Coke is carbonized coal. It is used in steel manufacturing because it burns hotter and longer than plain coal.
Mike is looking for brakerman Tim inside of the factory. He goes down a dark tunnel about two stories underground to find him. There's a hammermill above Tim that crushes the coal. Tim also crushes coal and has been doing this job for thirty years. He needs to keep his area clean and does so at the end of every shift. Mike is given a rake to scrape the coal dust off the table and onto the floor. He has to be careful to not get his arm taken off from the moving parts. He then shovels the coal off the floor onto the conveyor belt.
The conveyor takes the coal to the mixer building. Mike heads there next. He meets Bob who is a mixer man. His job is to mix four coals together and send them on up to the coal bunker. From here the coal is sent to the coke oven bins on another conveyor. Bob also needs to clean the coal dust off his table. Basically the only diffence between breaker and mixer is the breaker man is dealing with unmixed coal.
After more shoveling, Mike wants to go up into the coal bunker. However, he doesn't get to go because it is too dangerous due to the heat and moving parts in tight spaces. The coal bunker is twelve stories high and towers above a row of coke ovens called a battery. Coal is dropped from the bunker into bins on a large machine which feeds mixed coal into the ovens.
Jeff is the top utility or lid man. They are by the larry car which drops the coal into the ovens. The battery they are on has 62 ovens. The ovens have lids that look like manhole covers. The coal will be dropped into these holes. The larry car, driven by Sam, picks up the metal lid with a magnet, moves back and drops the lid. It then positions a chute which drops twenty tons of coal into the hot oven below. Sam then replaces the lid.
It is now Jeff's turn to work. Mike taps the lid with a long pole. Then they apply a ladle of lid sealer which is made up of clay. They pour the clay around the edge of the lid to make a temporary seal. This keeps the smoke from coming out which is full of carbon monoxide and other things no one wants to breathe.
Each of the coke ovens is thirteen feet high and fourteen feet deep. After eighteen hours of baking in the ovens, the coal becomes coke. A giant pusher machine is used to push the coke out of the ovens. The doors on both sides of the oven are removed so the coke can be pushed into a special railroad car.
We meet Eli, who runs the coke pusher. The ram on the pusher literally rams the coke from one end of the oven and pushes out to the other side. Twenty tons of coal go in and seventeen tons of coke come out. The coke then goes into a hot car. The hot car goes down the track where 5000 gallons of water is dumped on it. This cools the coke down which keeps it from turning into ash.
The coke is then brought to the wharf. We meet Chris who is the wharf man. He pulls the gate back and allows the coke to be dropped onto a belt where it will go onto a shaker which separated the coke by Then the coke will be loaded onto a train car called the Coke Express where it will be headed to a steel yard.
Next Mike is at the oyster shucking house at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, WA. We meet Suki who gets the oysters out of the shells. She's been doing this job for eighteen years. Suki shows Mike very slowly how to get the oyster out. She slips a knife into an opening and by twisting the knife and banging it on a table she gets the shell to open up. The oysters are huge.
Mike gives it a try, but can't figure out which end of the oyster to insert the knife. He plops an oyster onto a camera lens and field producer, Dave Barsky sucks the oyster right off. Suki does thousands of oysters a day. It is piecework and they are paid by the pound, getting fifty cents per pound. He eventually gets the hang of it.
Finally, Mike visits Phoenix Decorating Company in Pasadena, CA where for the past fifty years they have been building floats for the Tournament of Roses parade. Mike hates parades. He explains that ten years ago, he was living in New York City and trying to drive home for the Thanksgiving holiday. He became trapped in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. He was stuck for hours between two floats as his car slowly ran out of gas.
Mike plays around with the floats until he meets Shawn who is the production manager at Phoenix Decorating. They make 20-25 floats per year. The last parade was a month ago and it rained hard during that parade. The floats from that parade are now in the warehouse soaked with water. The fruit and other vegetation used to decorate these floats has been rotting since then. It is Mike's job today to tear apart these old smelly rotten floats.
The rules state that every float in the parade has to be covered with organic material. At first they look and smell nice. However, after months sitting in the warehouse, the material is nasty and smells terrible.
There is an engine inside each float. Mike goes inside a float and meets Jay who is in the driver's seat. The driver basically sits inside the engine with all the engine parts and controls around him. He can't see where he's going. Every float has a spotter in a cramped space who looks through a little hole covered with a piece of steel mesh. That person tells the driver to stop, turn or slow down. The top speed of a float is 5mph through a parade although they could probably get up to 30-40mph.
Mike then gets to tear apart the floats. He starts to work on removing a gazelle from the float. The gazelle is made of steel in the shape of the body. From the legs up, the gazelle is made of pipe so they need to cut it off at the legs. The steel ends can be very sharp once they've been cut with a bolt cutter. Mike cuts the pipe and they remove the gazelle. Then they need to remove the skin from the steel which is glued on pretty tight.
It takes a year to make a float, but only a day to tear it down into pieces. Someone first comes in and pulls out the electrical wires and hydraulic hoses before people start tearing into the floats. This year they used twenty million flowers and sixteen tons of organic goods to decorate twenty-two floats. There is mold everywhere on these floats.
Three million roses were used in this year's parade. They need to take off the individual vials that kept the roses alive. Mike has to break the dead rose off, pop the top off the vial, dump the nasty water into one bucket and throw the vial into another bucket.
There is a substance called flex foam that they use to shape things like rock formations. It's like rubber concrete. When Mike hits the flex foam with a pick, it just bounces right off. There are gnats, fruit flies, mold and maggots everywhere. Mike even confuses old rotten green oranges with limes. As he pulls up the rotten oranges, the mold is kicking up a lot of nasty particles that Mike is sure will kill him. The smell is so bad that he comes close to vomiting.
Mike goes inside a pirate ship float. It is a complex mess of wires, generators, hydraulics, CO2 cylinders along with a Chevy V8 engine. This float is pretty complicated with all the firing cannons and moving parts. We meet Mike who shows the operations for the CO2 and hydraulics. The person in this area controls the CO2 blasting out of the cannons and allow the cannons to move around. This is a completely separate area from the driver.
Next they have to sweep up the debris they've torn off the floats. They can't use a regular push broom because the stuff is so heavy that a broom handle will break. They use a tool that looks like a big iron squeegee to sweep up the hunks of metal and steel. The only thing of value on an old float is the steel skeleton. Once the vegetation is stripped off, they go in with torches to cut off the metal. They are cut into four foot lenghts, thrown into a dumpster and sold to a scrap metal yard.