October 7, 2004
Lake Seminole-- Many people search for the perfect job, but rarely find one. Statistics show a person can expect to have seven careers these days, not just seven jobs.
A man who works at Lake Seminole beat the odds, admitting he has the perfect job.
When most people hear the word "lock," they think of a padlock, but in this part of the state people, think of a lock that acts like an elevator for boats.
It takes a lot of ladder climbing to get to the perfect job, and Robbie Black doesn't mind walking to work, climbing 21 steps. He looks forward to staying close to nature.
"The view. The breeze. The water," says Robbie, a lock operator with the US Army Corps of Engineers, Jim Woodruff Lock. He operates a water elevator for boats, called a lock. "Lift ranges from 27 to 33 feet."
From the Apalachicola River to the lake or vice-versa, whatever direction you want to go, he'll gladly open and close huge doors for you. "Like going into a cave," says Louis Glisson who needed a lift from the river to the lake.
The gates close and water gently fills the lock. "It's kind of creepy. First time being in here," says Louis, as he looks at a huge ruler that measures the water's depth. Slowly and surely, the water level increases and he walks on the boat's deck to see what's going on. A look upward at the water gauge tells him how far he has moved.
Robbie controls the gates and valves that add ten million gallons of water to the lock and the water quickly moves on its own. Gravity fills and drains it. No water pumps needed. "To fill the chamber or drain the chamber, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes," says Robbie.
A ride that doesn't cost anything. From kayaks to barges, the lock water floats all boats the same. They try to get as many boats as possible in the lock at one time.
And, at one time they had as many as 40 boats in there. That was during the summer, their busy time. After Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, Robbie helps a boat a day, on average.
The lock was built 50 years ago and it sounds as if it grunts and moans of old age, but Robbie knows better. He helps maintain it. "Excellent shape," says Robbie who operates the lock along with Shelton Packer.
Robbie does more than pull levers. He is an accountant; making notes about each boat he helped get from here to there in case someone needs to know if the boat has passed through the lock. "Ninety-seven recreational boats went through this lock last month," says Robbie speaking of August.
Robbie finds his job as a lock operator the best of both worlds. "Work outside around water and go home to my family," says Robbie, a pleasant change from tugboat captains who work 28 days straight, come home for seven days, and gone for another 28 days.
"I plan to retire here," says Robbie as he takes those 21 steps down to leave work, finding a career that floats his professional boat.
The lock changed its operating hours from 7:00AM to 4:00PM daily.
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