Mike Fishbeck has a strong sense of adventure and a willingness to learn. That combination turned out to be a magic recipe for his career. In this blog, he explains the seemingly unorthodox path he took to be a Lead Belt Technician for ContiTech, an area of Continental’s rubber group.
I was an executive chef.
I went to culinary school in Rhode Island, then got my business management degree to keep an upper hand in the business. I got a job for Loews Resorts as an executive chef. I’d go from South Florida to Santa Cruz to La Jolla to Arizona. All seasonal. I’d be in Tucson during the winter months.
And then Gillette, Wyoming, came into the picture.
My younger brother lives here. I decided to get out of the restaurant industry, so I put in 100 applications at all sorts of places around here. I really didn’t know anything. I heard about Continental from my landlord at the time. His best friend, Robert, was working here. He kind of explained the business to me – the company manufactured conveyor belts and the role involved servicing these belts. Browse similar jobs here.
I thought it was something inside of a grocery store, know what I mean?
I had no idea the large-scale business it is and how large the company is. I really wasn’t freaking out until they hired me. I walked into the shop and thought, wow, this is way beyond me. But I got my hands into it for a couple weeks and I started loving it. I still get to use a knife like a chef – we have to cut these belts by hand all the time. It’s still intimidating at times. There are belts out here that are seven miles long. Twenty feet of it weighs just as much as a car.
They hired me because I was honest in the interview… and probably because I’m a big guy.
I came completely forward during the interview process and told them I didn’t have any idea what this was, but that I can learn. I grew up on a farm, so we did a lot of our own construction and plumbing and electric. We built barns. They took a really big chance on me – and they told me that, but knew I had the skills and could learn the trade.
Our clients up here are all mines.
Gillette is full of coal. We do a lot of work in South Dakota, too. Gold mines there. Arizona is copper mines. Rock quarries. Coal is the most basic and easiest, because it’s such a soft rock. It doesn’t take a large, too-abrasive belt to move the material. But if you go to Arizona or South Dakota, you’re dropping giant boulders on these belts. You go from a 30 to 42-inch wide belt up to 84 to 100 inches.
The belt helps the material go from inside the bedrock to production. A lot of it gets stored in silos that gets fed to trains that goes to power plants, so these conveyor belts are the first step in the supply chain. The belt eliminates the need for overhead. You don’t have to have giant trucks out there and employees to drive them. It’s a more cost-effective way to move product.
The harsh temperatures up here in the winter, require the belts to be serviced more frequently. What we do is called splicing. We expose the carcass. There are fabric belts and steel cable belts and if there’s a break, you have to shorten the belt or put a new piece of belt into it. You expose it, then throw raw rubber into it, take a vulcanizer and giant clamps and cook the belt to 297 degrees to melt it.
Which works for me, because I’m familiar with “low and slow” – one of my specialties was smoked BBQ.
I went around the U.S. and did a lot of stuff as a chef. I have a lot of recipes. But I was never independent. There was no sense of ownership or real pride, even though I tried. But out here, when you’re doing this, you’re looking at multimillion-dollar belts that fire up and work after you’re done working on them. It’s a huge sense of accomplishment. I went from knowing absolutely nothing to being a lead technician out here and it really drives me.
It’s not necessarily that I went from nothing, because I had a career, but this is a lifelong career. You get the largest sense of accomplishment. People don’t leave here. People in this industry are here for 10, 15 or 20 years. Even longer.
I wasn’t able to have a house. I’m married now. I have a house, have kids, have vehicles. It’s not all about the money, but you’ll be financially secure. The sense of pride and adventure is just life-changing. Every other person who’s taken a chance on this can attest.