The Herald of Everett, Washington
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Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012

  • Mark and Annie Mulligan / The Herald

Voices of the mill: Mike Ingrum, 44, of Marysville

Boiler Operator, 24 years

In this series, we're telling the stories of what the Kimberly-Clark mill closure means for workers and for Everett, which has been defined by mills for more than a century.
Mike Ingrum used to run the No. 10 boiler at the Kimberly-Clark pulp and paper mill.
Now his boiler has been shut down for good, and he's spending his final work days at an eerily silent mill.
“It's hard,” he said. “It's like a bad dream to this day.”
Kimberly-Clark's mill in Everett is set to close in mid-April. The company said it plans to demolish the site and sell the land.
Hundreds of people have already lost their jobs. Everett, the City of Smokestacks, has lost its last one.
Ingrum is one of the few working until the end.
He misses the hustle and bustle and the responsibility of his old job.
He and another worker would sit in a control room filled with gauges, buttons and dials.
This wasn't any old basement boiler. The one Ingrum controlled was 10 stories tall. The boiler burned the sugars left over from the pulp-making process. The leftover acid was returned to the pulp factory, where it turned wood chips into pulp.
The plant fed the steam from his boiler and one other into a generator to make power.
It was important the boiler ran smoothly. If conditions weren't managed just so, safety mechanisms would shut it down, essentially stopping work at the mill.
After doing the job for so many years, even little cues would tell him if something wasn't quite right. Just a change in the pitch of the machinery would make him stand up and listen.
“Things could go south in a hurry if you didn't pay attention,” he said.
Like many of his coworkers, he doesn't believe workers were told the complete truth of why the mill shut down.
Running a huge boiler — that's not a job skill that just any company needs. Some of his colleagues took work at a new boiler being built in Hawaii that will turn garbage into power. He'd rather not leave the Northwest. He may have to.

The Last Smokestack: Go to the main series page

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