The essence of learning
Bob Campbell, Maintenance Planner, Ports of Auckland Ltd, reminisces on a long career.
As a child, I played with building blocks of different colours and sizes. There was no such thing as Lego at that stage but wooden building blocks allowed my imagination to create structures which would eventually collapse only to be rebuilt in a different form. Christmas was a great time. I recall being lucky enough to receive a small Scalextric electric racing car set. These sets were not very reliable but the return on the investment was that I grew to understand how my cars worked and how to fix them. It was at that point when I began to understand basic principles of electricity and magnetism. I repaired those cars many times. The small commutater inside the cars would sometimes smoke but I understood what was happening and I knew where to find spare parts.
I saved my pennies and replaced components where necessary. From small beginnings I grew to be very interested in the abilities of electrical components. As a young apprentice, I soon learned from our electricians and our radio tech, at the then Auckland Harbour Board, that electronics was going to become an amazing extension of my interests. So I have been fortunate to enjoy the company of many engineers be they mechanical, electrical, radio or civil during my time at the Auckland Harbour Board as well as their many different machines that we used to know intimately. The word “intimately” may be a strange way to refer to an old familiar machine which required constant attention to look after but people, both male and female, have always talked to their machines, sometimes indelicately but the people who man these machines have always had their mechanical preferences be it the current “G” crane or the future” L” crane. That was the norm then and it is still the case. The sentiment is probably similar to mindlessly encouraging an old Vauxhall to retain the compression to reach the top of the hill. There are many tales within this industry, there are many characters and there are many stories that could come from everyone.
The industry is larger than life. Camaraderie flourishes. In a crisis situation people naturally band together.
If someone is in trouble, we all help out. We forget small splits and get on with it. It’s the New Zealand way but it probably exists in most countries.
While wearing the role of maintenance planner I can also reflect on some interesting events which would not be condoned today.
The loss of power to the bulk of down town Auckland in 1998 was a particularly difficult challenge for our electricians and also our fitters. The problem developed over days until the last HV cable tripped. The situation in which we found ourselves turned out to be the best example of all hands on deck that I can recall.
As electricians, we worked enormous hours to prevent millions of dollars of cargo from perishing. The generator companies were our saviours. Generators were hurried into the various sections of the port and we learnt how to carefully bring them on line to feed our refrigerated containers. We also learnt how to use dummy loads and we learnt how to handle people who didn’t help.
I suppose we felt like an army which was rising to a challenge.
Shortly, after managing to get all our refrigerated containers on power, I had quite an argument with an official from what was then the AEPB (Auckland Electric Power Board)
He had arrived at the port to commandeer one of our generators so their AEPB celebration up town could still go ahead. After all we had gone through; I couldn’t believe what he was saying. As the Electrical supervisor for ports of Auckland at the time, I assured him that if he did remove the generator it would be on the news while export produce spoiled.
Thankfully, he eventually comprehended his imprudence.
Working with big raw and energised items of machinery is something that I will always appreciate but treating them with respect should be the first introduction.
I vividly remember racing from the Fergusson Terminal area down to Princes Wharf with the aim of connecting another generator to a substation. Unfortunately, this was a situation of hurrying but not thinking.
In my way was a very poorly designed steel panel which required removal before my colleague Ross and I could gain access to the switchboard bus bars. This switchboard was U shaped. There was barely enough room for two of us to work normally but once inside that U section we started to remove a panel. While doing so the panel slipped down a fraction and made contact with the three phase bus bars. The human intuition of fight or flight must have worked well that evening. I suffered some singed hair while exercising what I assume was a backward roll. Ross was trapped inside but was relatively unscathed. We learned a lot that night. Things could have been very different.
Since then I have been lucky enough to learn and work with a very competent team in the engineering section of Ports of Auckland. We still experience a range of challenges that come with the job every week and every day. We also enjoy a very good relationship with our specialised contractors. Health and safety issues are never absent from whatever we do. That aspect is the norm these days.
“The loss of power to the bulk of down town Auckland in 1998 was a particularly difficult challenge for our electricians and also our fitters. The problem developed over days until the last HV cable tripped. The situation in which we found ourselves turned out to be the best example of all hands on deck that I can recall.”