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Q&A: Career Advice From A Steam-Engine Mechanic


Popular Science: You were trained in industrial archaeology. How did that lead to this job?

Stathi Pappas: Just like archaeologists who study the Mayan world or the classical world, an industrial archaeologist studies the industrial world. I was writing my dissertation on society and steam locomotives when I had one of those aha moments. I thought, Wouldn’t it be interesting if I could actually live in the past? So I got a job at another tourist railroad; then I helped build the boiler for the Sierra No. 3, which is the engine that’s in Back to the Future, Part III; then I got hired here.

PS: What’s a typical day for you? 

SP: I might be machining large parts of a steam locomotive, like a drive wheel on our 1892 lathe, or welding in a firebox sheet, or doing hot riveting like Rosie the Riveter from back in the 1940s. We do a lot of that, because steam locomotives don’t last if you don’t do that kind of work on them. Every couple of days, our crew has to do something so they don’t totally fall apart. 

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