Before the first moon landing, before personal computers, wireless phones or the Internet, before disco came and went—and came and went again—Stanley “Pete” Bolt was a diligent Radford University employee.
Since 1965, Bolt has worked in the Department of Facilities Management as a boiler operator. He is one of the first employees on campus every morning, arriving at the boiler house on Main Street at 5:30 a.m. to start the daylight shift.
“I’m the oldest one in the department—might even be the oldest one at the college,” quipped Bolt, now 66. “It feels pretty good.”
Bolt can’t recall how or when he got the nickname “Pete,” only that it’s been with him since he was a little boy and, like his tenure at Radford, has stuck with him.
Last April, President Kyle recognized Bolt for more than 45 years of dedicated service and commitment to Radford University.
“I’ve always liked it here,” Bolt said. Through the decades he has had other employment opportunities in the field, but he always knew where he belonged. “I have a lot of time invested here already,” he said with a smile. “There really is a bunch of good people around here.”
Boiler Plant Superintendent Mike Morrison has worked with Bolt for 11 years and said it’s hard to envision the operation without him. “He’s the cornerstone,” Morrison said. “He’s the rock we all lean on.”
From ongoing maintenance and cleaning to keeping the surroundings in tip-top shape, there is no component of the boiler house or its equipment that Bolt doesn’t know. And when it comes to painting in the past four decades, Bolt is hard pressed to recall just how many times he has painted and repainted the boiler house and its equipment. “They used to call me ‘Pete the Painter,’” he said.
Bolt has deep roots in Southwest Virginia. His family owned a farm in Floyd County before moving to Christiansburg in the early 1900s. Before his Radford employment, Bolt worked for five years at a local overalls factory, starting when he was just 16 years old.
“I just needed a job, really,” Bolt said of his young entry into the workforce. Wanting something more challenging, Bolt inquired about possibilities at nearby Radford College, where fate stepped in.
“When I had first come over here to the boiler house, one of the guys was retiring,” Bolt said. “I asked the boss here at the time, Jim Hatchett, if I could take his place, and that’s how I got in here.”
The campus and surrounding community today barely resemble what they were then. “It wasn’t half the size that it is now,” Bolt said. “My first job here was shoveling coal.”
Always mechanically inclined, Bolt was drawn to the boiler house, where he could apply his interest in and knack for working with equipment and seeing all the parts come together. He has been an eyewitness to how time and technological evolution can change job duties and responsibilities.
“Back then everything was mechanical, but now so much stuff is computerized—that’s been such a big turnaround,” he said, pointing to the mid-1990s as the first time he really noticed the magnitude of the shift. Yet the goal is the same, he said: “The main thing is keeping an eye on things and keeping that steam up the hill.”
Still going strong in his 60s, Bolt enjoys spending time in his home garden but has no interest yet in retiring. The next generation of boiler house operators will have to wait their turn. His co-workers say they don’t expect “Pete” to hang it up any time soon.
“He’s a heck of a worker,” said Bud Beland, a boiler operator. A veteran himself with more than 33 years of experience in the field, Beland said he never stops being in awe of Bolt’s long career and endless stamina.
Never one to draw attention to himself, Bolt dismisses the attention his longevity has brought, saying he appreciates and values all of the Radford experiences he has had and continues to have.