The Pittsburg Tank shop stays busy year-round fabricating storage vessels that can hold anything you can imagine. “I’ve been here 32 years and I thought you could only build so many tanks. It seems like every year we build more and more and more,” said Plant Manager Pancho Payne.
Pancho tells his 32 shop workers to give their best effort and to take pride in their work. They take that to heart, and it shows in the quality of work produced. “Anything that comes out of this shop is going to be high quality and built exceptionally well,” he said. “I’ve got probably some of the best welders around, especially my Tig guys.”
Workers don’t head straight to their stations every morning but instead gather for 10 minutes to do calisthenics. They usually start off with stretches or lunges and always end with jumping jacks. This morning ritual gives Pancho a chance to “read my people.” It helps him judge if someone might have had a bad night or seem preoccupied with something. It’s also a teambuilder. “I was in the Marine Corps,” said Pancho. “I believe strongly in motivation and camaraderie.”
Friends of his who were familiar with Pittsburg got him an interview with the company. Pancho began as a “grinder boy laborer.” He went to night school to learn how to weld and later to learn how to run the shop’s first CNC plasma cutting table. “I kept learning and moving my way up to where I am now.”
Pancho’s responsibilities as plant manager extend from inside the shop door to outside the shop gate. Making sure the steel is coming in, laid out right, cut correctly, and fabricated are all part of his purview. So is making sure the right people are in place and that employees are cross trained how to work at different stations so there’s coverage if someone is on vacation or out sick. Delegating is also part of his responsibilities. Two of the people whom he delegates tasks to most often are JR Parkest and Kevin Haire.
Shop foreman Kevin “JR” Parkest has worked at Pittsburg for nearly 20 years. He serves as Pancho’s right hand. A Slaughters native, the Webster County High graduate worked in carpentry with his uncle before arriving at Pittsburg after a recommendation from former foreman Jeremy Stone. He worked first at the cutting table before moving into the maintenance department for a while. JR returned to the shop to become a fitter/welder before moving into his current position as floor foreman.
JR said he likes that he doesn’t have a set routine and gets to do something different every day and help different people. “We’re like a family, as far as the shop guys,” he said. “We’re tight out there.”
Shipping and receiving foreman Kevin Haire has worked at Pittsburg for 19 years. The Henderson County High graduate worked on the family farm for about 15 years before he decided he would like to work at a job with insurance. Pittsburg, where many of his extended family members worked and continue to work, seemed like a good fit.
He started in the bolted division in Cairo, moved to the shop, then to the parts room in the ground division, and then back to the shop. He said he’s done everything but weld. You don’t have to be a welder to succeed in the shop. “As long as you do your job and dedicate yourself to your job while you’re here and care a little bit” you can succeed, he said.
His current job allows him to be outside in the shipping area. Kevin is in charge of all things shipping and receiving and all that entails – like making sure the right products are available to ship, counting inventory, making orders and making sure field crews have everything they need. One of the things that Kevin is most proud of is the Don Johnston memorial bridge that was dedicated at Audubon Park. Kevin was one of the people out there nearly every day helping build and erect the bridge.
The shop has an excellent safety record, Pancho said. While “one accident is too many” the shop experienced no accidents in 2019 and only two in 2018. The shop has preemptive measures in place to help them maintain the safety of their workers. “Anybody has got the right to stop work anytime they see something unsafe and make sure it’s corrected,” Pancho said.
The shop wholeheartedly embraces the safety culture promoted at Pittsburg. Safety meetings are held every morning, usually with a specific topic discussed. New hires are 90-day apprentices, shadowing more experienced workers for three months and wearing a different color hardhat to let others know to keep an eye out for them.
Technology has also spurred great changes at Pittsburg Tank. When Pancho started at the old shop on Fifth Street, everything was laid out by hand and done by paper and torch. Now they have computer-aided drafting. Technology has allowed Pittsburg to move with the times. “We stayed state-of-the-art,” he said. “We’re not trying to do everything caveman style.”