Plumbing: the all-American profession

Joe the Plumber, move over. Steve the Plumber’s here in town, and he’s just as much a red-blooded, middle class American as the blue collar hero who was spotlighted during the presidential debates. This plumber – Steve St. Hilaire – does have his plumbing license, unlike poster boy Joe Wurzelbacher, who turned out to be a Ohio tradesman without the proper credentials.

But we digress. Because this column isn’t about politics but plumbing, and how it’s a decent way to make a living for those who know their way around a few wrenches, are willing to do back-breaking work, and can work with their hands. No less than Albert Einstein supposedly quipped, “If I had to live my life over again, I’d be a plumber.” After all, in every large metropolis or tiny enclave, when you drink a glass of pure sparkling water, you can thank people like Joe and Steve, the plumbers.

Employment of plumbers is expected to grow as construction-related spending, spurred by the Economic Stimulus Bill, brings new infrastructure projects and building remodeling. “There will always be a need for plumbers,” says St. Hilaire, owner of Arlington Plumbing, which serves the central Boston area. “Pipes clog, drains need cleaning, toilets need to be installed.”


St. Hilaire is a licensed master plumber, which means that he has completed 100 hours of plumbing education, passed an exam, and has worked at least three years as an apprentice.

“Plumbing is one of the harder jobs that you can have, at least physically,” says St. Hilaire, who, like many plumbers, has developed various aches and pains in his back, wrist, shoulders, and knees, from hauling boilers, bathtubs, and cast iron pipes that can weigh up to 300-500 pounds.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that you’ve had to dislodge out of a pipe or toilet?
There’s been perfume bottles, hairbrushes, aerosol caps, toilet dispensers, toothbrushes – just about anything in the bathroom that you can flush down the toilet by mistake. And children like to watch stuff go down the toilet. I’ve also retrieved racquetballs. And a lot of plumbers will accidently drop their own cell phone down the toilet while trying to work on it. You can lose a lot of cell phones that way.
Q: Can your work get kind of messy?
You bet. One of the worst was a recent job, where raw sewerage was backing up into a lady’s washing machine. It can get kind of ugly.
Q: What’s in that big white box truck that you drive around?
I carry a lot of stock, which includes copper and plastic fittings, as well as faucets and traps. I also have different types of drills, such as a right-angle and pistol drill; various wrenches; sledge hammer, pry bar, and much more.
Q: What are some perks of the job that people may not think of?
Well, a plumbing job helped me get a date with the woman who is now my wife. Her two bathtubs were backed up, and I had to clean her drain. So you never know who you’ll meet!


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