Tunnel Rat

by

The Walrus King

Chapter 48: Subragators and Throttlecogs

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The Engineer scowled as he looked at a sheet of parchment. "I don't like his answer on this one either!"
He tossed the sheets filled with diagrams of pipes and turbines over to his main assistant, Throttlecog.
Like the Engineer, he was entirely encased in metal. His body looked like polished steel and his beard was the dark metallic color of Deep Steel.

Throttlecog looked up from the test paper that he was examining. "What now? You didn't like his answer on the tension-support problem either, but he was right."

"He didn't get the answer that he was supposed to get! The problem states 'The tertiary cable on a tension bridge support has broken, how would you re-arrange the cables to keep the bridge from falling down?' " He said he'd repair the cable and put it back in place. That's cheating He was supposed to move the other six cables to compensate for the missing tertiary!"

Throttlecog chuckled. The chief was big on theory, but didn't like to get his hands dirty with the more mundane tasks. "Well, I say he was correct. What engineer worth his salt goes out to fix a tension bridge and doesn't have tools on him to splice cables? And who wants to have to move six cables when you can just fix the one? Now tell me what's wrong with the one you've got?"

The Engineer put the parchment on the table. "Look at this! He manage to get the repair to the pump correct. But see here? He wants the three-inch pipe connecting water tank to the pump replaced with three-point-five-inch pipe. And, he wants to have three-inch connectors on each end. Why would you do that? Connectors should match the size of the pipe."

Leaning back in his chair a bit, Throttlecog looked at the odd addition to the pump system.

"Oh, see here? He has the math worked out on the bottom. It has to do with friction on the walls of the pipe. That pipe is the point you most need a continuous flow with no disruption. Friction on the sides decreases flow rate and can cause swirling in the pipe. Making the pipe a bit bigger reduces that and keeps the flow steady."

"Dammit, hand that here. That would explain why we only get a 97% efficiency out of that system". The Engineer was scribbling furiously on a slate. After a few minutes he looked up. "He's right. HE'S RIGHT!!" The metal-clad dwarf began pacing back and forth. "By the Maker's Holy Hammer! I so don't want to let some no-beard from Uptop into the guild, but I can't fault his theory work. Let's go take a look at his practical problem. What did you assign him?"

"I figured you wanted a tough one for that. I told him to fix the old copper ore subragator system. Hasn't worked in years."

"Smart thinking. Let him break his brain on that old thing. Useless without the ore to process anyway. We can grudgingly let him in on a trial basis so we can toss him down the bore hole."

                    =*=

The lower brethren in the cavern were confused. A half dozen of them were watching the outsider as he scrambled around the machinery and examined the rusting hulk. They knew this machine was long broken, but he just kept prodding it. His excitement was contagious. The senior brothers didn't let them tinker with things anymore, they broke too much. But three times the outsider had asked for their help in removing parts and he sent them looking for tools or bits of wire or gears. Their need to work on the machines over-rode their dislike for outsiders, humans, and people that weren't in the guild. Despite Milo being all three, they still were excited to be at work.

Milo turned and looked at them. "Too much of this is broken and decayed. How longs since it's worked?" Most of the once-dwarves shrugged. D-Wrench was one of the few that could still talk. "Uh...lots of years? At least fourcubedminuseven. Never going to work, just like the others. "

Milo looked up at D-Wrench’s statement. "There are other broken machines that are just scrap?"

The lower brothers nodded. Of course, there were. So many broken.

Milo smiled. "Then no one will miss them. Get your tools. We're going scavenging." The lower brothers raced to comply.

                  =*=

The Engineer and Throttlecog heard the noise from several rooms away. Yells, screams, and the hammering of metal were echoing down the hallway from the copper works. They increased their pace. It sounded like a battle was going on.

Upon entering the cavern, they were quite surprised to see four large machines that had been relocated to this cavern being rapidly dismantled by the lower brethren. Something had got them riled up. In the center of the room was a growing collection of spare parts. Two of them were sorting out the bits torn from the machines into neat piles of plates, cogs, cable, bolts and other useful things. More brethren were scrubbing pieces clean with files or hammering plates flat on anvils. It was a madhouse, but an industrious one. Several were screaming at each other excitedly as they worked, eyes manic and hands flying as they did their jobs.

At the far end, the copper subragator was belching smoke, it's old gears slowly grinding. Milo was racing around from the boilers to the hammer system to the subragator and then to the smelter. Adjustments were made and repairs seemed to be ongoing by several of the brethren. There must have been three dozen people working on things all told.

"By my hammer. He's really got them moving." The Engineer looked at the way the lower brethren were working and wished it could always be this way. They got a bit worse each decade.

"The machines or his workforce?" Throttlecog was also happy to see the activity. It had been too quiet lately.

"I'd say both." The Engineer pointed to the end of the machines Milo had up and running. "Look at that! Is he feeding waste fluid into a firebox? Why the hell would he do that."

"Well, maybe you should go ask him."

The Engineer just nodded and started walking over to Milo.

Waste fluid was a byproduct of the process used to make Deep Steel. The Deep Iron ore was crushed to remove rock and impurities. Then, instead of smelting, the separated ore was put into a huge vat with hundreds of gallons of concentrated liquid Phlogiston and turpentine. After it burbled for a month, the waste fluid was poured off and stored in huge tanks. It was useful at times as a lubricant, but they had a few hundred thousand gallons too much of the stuff. The cleaned Deep Iron nuggets were then thrown into a modified Franklin Smelter to begin the process of making Dark Steel.

Waste fuel burned hot, but it didn't burn clean, putting out great gouts of black smoke that soon covered everything with a fine grit. No one had ever tried to use waste fluid as fuel. Until now.

Throttlecog was watching two of the brethren change out wire mesh filters on the smokestack of the fire box. The new filter went in, pushing the old one out. Two more brethren were brushing the heavy black dust from the filter into a barrel to clean them. The smoke coming off the firebox was a lot cleaner than he'd expected.

One of Milo’s helpers was mumbling over and over: “Mustn’t throw out the filter dust. Mustn’t throw out the filter dust.”

“Why not throw out the filter dust?” Throttlecog was curious. This set off the lower brethren all around the boiler.

“Mustn’t Throw Out The Filter Dust!!! Recycle! Reclaim! 7% ore. Milo says so.” They repeated this several more times. Throttlecog saluted them. “Sounds good, carry-on brothers. I’d like a report on the reclamation project please.”

The steam boiler was providing power to the hammer system that was busy crushing copper ore. The Engineer grabbed a lump from another bag and licked it. "Deep Copper, or I'm a three toed halfling..."

Turning to Milo he yelled loudly, "Where in tarnation did you find this much Deep Copper ore? Who was hiding it?"

The copper nuggets, freed from rock and dust, were being dumped into the subragator. There, the metal was subjected to an acid wash to break it down and further remove impurities. The copper dust then got dumped to the smelter and molten copper was poured into ingots. One of the brethren wearing thick gloves on what passed for arms was picking up and stacking the ingots as they cooled.

Milo hopped down from the machine. He yelled commands at several of his enthusiastic helpers and received one answer of "You got it boss" and several thumbs up. "I brought it along with me. I have a small ability that lets me store ore in a sub-spatial storage area. I had 27 cubic feet of ore and wanted to test out the system. Am I out of time? I really could use a few more hours to re-align the process and improve efficiency. The boiler may need some patching too, it's going to explode soon."

Throttlecog and Milo watched as the Engineer poked around the machines, peering at the inner workings and even talking to the lower brethren who were still verbal. After a few tense minutes he walked back to Milo. "Take your time. I'm not going to hurry an Engineer when he has a project to get right. Come see me in a few days when it's finished." He patted Milo awkwardly on the shoulder. "Good work though, keep it up."

Turning to Throttlecog he said "Maybe see if we can scare up one of the old hardhats and coveralls for Journeyman Engineer Milo from Uptop. If he's doing the job, he should look the part."








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The Walrus King

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