Brewing Up Trouble

May 1, 2012
As you're reading this, Mike Mueller may be thinking underground thoughts, crafting a new IPA beer or tickling the ivories for the pleasure of his two

As you're reading this, Mike Mueller may be thinking underground thoughts, crafting a new IPA beer or “tickling the ivories” for the pleasure of his two young daughters. In fact, there's a good chance he's done two out of three within the past 24 hours.

Mueller — pronounced “Miller” like the famous Milwaukee beer (more on that later) — is a senior project engineer with POWER Engineers in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. During his daytime workday hours, he specializes in underground transmission, or more specifically in what he calls “pushing the technology to the limits of its capabilities” by going longer distances underground or stringing subterranean cable beneath and through lakes, ship harbors and bedrock.

In his off-work hours, you're more likely to find Mueller filling a “growler” with a new home-brew or banging out a tune on the piano.

Mueller's been in underground transmission for about 10 years, starting with an internship with an electrical construction contractor in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., following engineering school.

“I went out and got down and dirty in the field with some linemen and splicers,” said Mueller, calling that “a whole new education in itself.” With that sample of field work, Mueller was drawn to “UG” [his terminology] with all its “crazy constraints and requirements.”

“We have to think outside the outside the box in order to build a line from point A to point B underground,” he stated. “You might have wetlands to protect, have to get approvals to go underground in certain areas and the subsurface can be very hard bedrock.”

Among the more memorable projects Mueller recalls was channel dredging in the Biscayne Bay just south of Miami, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needed to dig the bay deeper for larger ships. He was part of the team that helped bury transmission lines deeper in the bay. He also calls a Virginia water-crossing project “wild and crazy” in the sense that drilling concepts perfected in the oilfields were used to install cable for a span of some 7,000 ft (2,134 m) under the water, landing exactly where it needed to be on the other side.

“We get heavily involved in cable sizing and the ampacity of the lines,” Mueller noted. “Submarine cables are hot now and that will probably increase with offshore wind projects.” He claims that drilling for underground transmission may offer significant advantages over either trenching or stringing transmission overhead. “Aesthetically, the public wants everything underground, and that is good for me if those projects happen,” he said.

Mueller himself may not be as “wild and crazy” as in his youth. Married and with one-year-old and three-year-old daughters, he has forsaken playing piano in rock bands — “We played all over the Milwaukee area, the music of The Doors and Yes” — to playing for a much younger, captive crowd now.

“I've got a career and a family now,” Mueller commented. “I also travel a lot, so when I'm home, it's always nice to sit down and play some music for my girls.”

Mueller has always seen music as essentially mathematical and sees parallels between music and engineering. Deciding to pursue one or the other as a career wasn't something he took lightly.

“I almost went to music school, but my dad said, ‘You might want to consider a different career path,’” he noted. “He said, ‘Why don't you go to engineering school first? Then you would have something to fall back on if the music didn't work out.’”

Another family member helped turn Mueller on to his other passion: home-brewing.

“A year or so ago, my wife Maggie said I should pick a new hobby,” Mueller explained, “so I kind of all of a sudden jumped into the world of home-brewing.”

For Mueller, that meant reading all the beer-brewing forums he could find online, buying all the equipment he'd need and focusing on all-grain brewing, meaning he mashes his own grains to turn into home-brew. He admits to spending up to four or five hours at a time on Saturdays and Sundays brewing, bottling or studying the subject.

“You can mix and match with different hops and grains and get what sort of flavor you want,” he commented. “I bought three kegs that are old 5-gallon soda kegs and got my own little CO2 tank. I fill up my growlers [home-brew talk for half-gallon beer bottles] and take them to parties and events. It's sort of a way to use my nerdiness to come up with some cool ideas.”

Mueller home-brews in another famous beer town — St. Louis — so one might surmise that this whole beer thing may have always been in his blood. That said, he makes a clear distinction between his hometown while growing up and the city where he fills his growlers today.

“I went as long as I could without a Bud or Bud Light when we moved here,” he stated. “I'll go to the Cardinals games sometimes, but I'll always be a Brewers fan at heart!”

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