Practically all of the work that we did, on the various Air Bases, was under the control of the Army Corps of Engineers. We did, on occasion, work directly for the Air Force, but those jobs were rare.
Now believe me, I do not want it to appear that I mean any disrespect for the Corps. They had many good Engineers, Inspectors and Officers. It was, and I am sure still is, their Standards, their Specifications and their antiquated methods that keep them from getting a lot more work done for a lot less of the taxpayer’s money.
I could cite many cases where efforts have been made, by contractors, to get approval for a change that would result in a savings, and produce the same, or a better, end result. However, in most cases, any change not originating within the Corps, could not be considered until after the original contract was completed. Many times, after all of the work was done and the Pay Estimate was approved, a contract would be let to do the very thing that the Contractor had wanted to do when the work was in progress. This was not only a waste of material, it was a waste of the labor that was required to install and remove the unwanted material.
Some of their material and equipment standards were so outdated that the specified items were no longer on the market, or in some cases, no longer used for the intended application. In such a case, a contractor could become entangled with submissions and re-submissions of data and samples, trying to get approval to use material that Power Companies had been using for years. There have been times when the old, obsolete, material was still available, that we would use it rather than go through the hassle of trying to get something approved that was better or less costly.
I guess that the Corps is no different than any other of our Government Institutions, everyone wants to be a big wheel, but no one wants to get caught making a firm commitment on anything.
As I said before, the Corps had a lot of good Engineers and Inspectors, and they had a few Dim Bulbs also. We had one on an Air Base, in Michigan, that caused me a lot of extra work and cost the Government a lot of money. We had installed a new 169,000 volt Substation Transformer, I don’t remember its size in KVA, but it was all that our thirty ton Low Boy Trailer could scale. After having been accepted and in service for a short period of time, someone decided that the secondary voltage, (12,500), was too high so the Inspector took it upon himself to lower the Tap Changer, in the above transformer. This operation, in itself, is a very simple procedure, if done correctly. The first requirement being someone that knows what they are doing. It is not done with the transformer under load, and that is what that nut tried to do.
No one was injured, but the explosion completely destroyed the Tap Changer, ruptured the Transformer tank, and I will bet that the Inspector’s laundry bill was higher than usual, that week. He was very lucky that he and anyone else that might have been standing close by, were not killed. The entire Base was without power until we could get a crew up there to remove the damaged unit and re-install the one that had been replaced. We loaded the damaged Transformer onto our Low Boy Trailer and took it to the manufacturer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for repairs. That was when the fight started. Who was going to pay the bill? The Corps contended that the equipment was within the one year warranty, and we contended that improper procedures were used in its operation. It was ticklish, because if the Corps admitted responsibility, it would be saying that their Inspector was incompetent which, in reality, he was. We stuck to our position and, after many months of discussion, we prevailed and were paid, on a cost plus basis, for all of our expenditures.
Bear in mind, that even though a contractor is paid cost-plus for all labor, equipment, materials, and overhead, that poor dude, like me, that has to drive all night to get to a site where some idiot has been playing with something that his kids would know enough to leave alone, gets nothing but a head ache and a night of lost sleep.
I never did hear what happened to the Inspector, and I never tried to find out, but I didn’t see him again, after it was explained to the Corps Headquarters, in Detroit, that large Substation Transformer Tap Changers are not designed to be adjusted, under load and never, under any circumstances, by people who do not know what they are doing.