February 20, Lucas Comeaux, general manager of control systems celebrated 23 years with the automation group. The strong work ethic that got him where
he is today started on a farm when he was just 13-years old. Lucas and his brother spent long days pushing a small aluminum boat through flooded rice
fields checking crawfish traps for $2.50 an hour, which was nice spending cash for a boy with no bills. Here is Lucas' story of how he got to where
he is today...
How did you end up working on the farm?
My dad knew the farmer and thankfully wanted me to get some work experience. My 11-year-old is already bugging me for a job, so we will see what happens there.
What were your responsibilities on the farm?
I ran crawfish traps all day by pushing a small aluminum boat through flooded rice fields. No motorized help, so dragging the crawfish-filled boat across the levies was a bit challenging. My brother and I would arrive early in the morning to chop up frozen fish used for bait. Late afternoon we would transfer the sacks of crawfish into large walk-in coolers. During the rice season, we would walk through the fields all day, spread out in a line, pulling “red rice.” Of course painting the farmer’s house, working on combines, and whatever else popped up was all part of the fun.
My brother and I were both under the legal driving age, but were allowed to use an old farm truck. We lived several miles away and we would use little gravel roads to avoid getting on the main highway. Plus, it was a lot easier to fishtail the old truck in the loose gravel. The pay was around $2.50 an hour, which was nice spending cash at 13 years-old with no bills. My main hobby was dirt bike racing, so most of it went toward that.
How did you end up working as a carpenter’s helper?
When my parents moved from the outskirts of Crowley to Carencro, they decided to build instead of buy. My dad sub-contracted everything out including the carpentry work. My brother and I were put to work as the helpers.
What were your responsibilities as a carpenter’s helper?
I would cut the lumber when he’d holler down measurements, haul it around to where it was needed, bring tools/nails to where they were needed, hand up the plywood, help install the roofing felt paper, organize the material each day, general cleanup, etc. One safety moment I remember is when he pulled back the nail gun safety guard to shoot at a nearby squirrel... of course all while working at heights with no harness.
How did you end up working at API?
Once the house was complete, it was time to find new work close to home. My dad knew one of the original owners of API, Zach Dominique, so that helped get my foot in the door.
Who hired you?
The general manager at the time was Rene Dominique. It was a very short “interview,” I signed up, and Rene handed me off to the shop foreman and former Marine, Paul Benoit. Paul ran a tight ship, so that helped set the tone.
How did you progress through the company?
I was 15 years-old and started out emptying trashcans, cutting the grass, and sweeping the floors at $5/hr. On the weekends, I would occasionally work at the owners’ houses and the general manager’s house cutting grass, doing landscape work, carpentry work, etc. Back at the shop, I would cut the fitting nuts off used tubing with a band saw, disassemble old panels and clean the stainless enclosures. I would also spend many hours straight just removing old Teflon tape from used fittings. This work took place in the back warehouse area that we still call the “dungeon.” From there, I progressed into rebuilding then testing the pneumatic relays, pilots, indicators, valves, etc. and I that were to be used in the refurb panels.
One night at home, my dad showed me the basics of bending tubing, which was his background a few decades prior. Soon afterward, I was in the climate-controlled panel shop bugging the techs with questions, helping with simple jumper lines, and installing nametags. I learned how to bend group tubing in the panels, how to build complete panels on my own, how they worked, and finally how to function test with the customers. Once I learned AutoCAD at school, I was able to help in the office with drafting work. That eventually led to designing panels using SAFE charts, bidding jobs, writing proposal letters and managing others. In-between school semesters I would go offshore and to various fab yards to install/troubleshoot systems.
During school classes, I would catch myself sketching up logic circuits in my notebook instead of paying attention. While still completing my last semester at UL, I was put on salary and tagged as the project manager for one of our largest manufacturing jobs to-date. Somewhere around this time, a few classmates and I designed/built a wellhead control system for our senior project. We squeezed it into the UL Bourgeois Hall elevator for a big presentation on the top floor. I eventually sold it to a customer after some slight modifications. The profit margin was nice because of the free labor and we all got a good grade, so it was a win-win.
Soon after I graduated, the owners formed an engineering group within API. I moved into this group working for Paul Stutes as a project engineer and successfully completed several sizable projects. Right when I started taking PLC programming courses, a few managers left to start up a new company. I was then put in an overall operations manager type roll for our Carencro base and helped with sales/business development. Several years later, in July 2014, Danos acquired API.
What is one of your favorite past positions within automation?
The panel builder position was one of my favorites because there is an art to it, especially in large panels with big groups of tubing. Fitting up properly, stacking groups, keeping everything level/plumb, keeping the components accessible…all while connecting the correct points takes some focus. The same goes for large electrical panels. I certainly appreciate what our current panel builders do!
Do you have a favorite story from your career?
I actually met my wife, Jenny, while she was working at API. When I was building panels, she was working in the accounting group. One day, I decided to put a note on her time card. She turned me down at first, but eventually agreed to go on a date. Now we are happily married with four children. I guess perseverance pays off.
Looking back, I was lucky to be taught by many great mentors and had a lot of fun with some interesting characters. I will always be grateful. I am happy to still be learning new things often, appreciate the emphasis on employee development, and hope to retire from Danos!