Finally, a prestige drama about millwrights

Juliette Nichols (Rebecca Ferguson) is a crime-solving millwright in Apple TV’s “Silo.” (Apple TV)

We’ve been watching “Silo” on Apple TV. This mysterious science fiction story depicts a 144-floor silo where people have been living so long that they can’t remember how they got there. It’s a good show, but what really caught my attention was the fact that the main character is a millwright.

Most folks on the Iron Range know a millwright or two. A millwright is an industrial mechanic who works on massive machines like the ones found in power plants, paper mills and mines. Millwrights fix unfathomably large equipment that costs more than most workers will earn in five lifetimes.

Has there ever been a show about a complex, dynamic, heroic character who also happened to be a millwright? I’m not aware of any. Certainly not in a sci-fi show, where millwrights tend to be from the large funny-looking alien races. You know, the ones with all kinds of extra junk on their faces.

That’s not the case in “Silo.” Here, lithe Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson portrays Juliette Nichols, a truth-seeking millwright who surprises many by becoming sheriff of the silo. We meet her diving into the guts of a massive generator with one of those Very Serious wrenches that only millwrights know how to use.

Juliette isn’t a millwright by family connection or punishment, either. As a young girl she was driven to fix things. She ditched her doctor dad to apprentice with the mechanical department that keeps the life-sustaining machinery running smoothly. She didn’t want to talk about stuff, she wanted to do stuff. Most millwrights I know feel the same way.

Seeing a millwright lead in a prestige TV show is nice, but I spotted a few inaccuracies. In one instance, we’re asked to believe that in 140 years the generator in the silo has never been completely shut down for maintenance. Juliette convinces the mayor to authorize a shutdown to fix the generator, which leads to, believe it or not, a thrilling mechanical repair sequence.

In reality, shutdowns are part of routine maintenance for large power generators. There’s no way a steam-powered machine with fans, gears and turbines could run unabated for a century and a half. But what was really unbelievable was that the shutdown sequence did not include overtime pizza. Seasoned millwrights would not endure such travails without comp food. That’s in the contract.

Furthermore, Juliette remains reluctant to allow her young apprentice to lift all the heavy metal stuff instead of her. That also rings untrue.

Juliette’s problems get a lot worse when she leaves her post at the generator to become sheriff. The complicated political dynamic “up top” is a lot different than the camaraderie of the mechanical department. That’s another reason you see business majors and engineers working as superintendents more often than millwrights. But it does happen sometimes.

When we watched this show, the Empow(Her) camp was just wrapping up at Minnesota North College in Hibbing and Eveleth. This camp provided girls aged 14-17 hands-on experience with previously male-dominated trades like mechanics, heavy equipment, construction, heating and cooling and electrical maintenance. The camp proved very popular with dozens of potential future tradeswomen. The idea of a hero millwright arising from their ranks is one of the more plausible aspects of “Silo.”

Now that we’ve seen an Apple TV show led by a millwright, I wonder what blue collar story comes next?

Personally, I’d love to see a mashup between “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Fast and the Furious” involving 240-ton haul trucks. A show called “Breaking Bulldozer” might show one young operator’s journey to being able to roll perfect sod.

Heck, I might write a treatment on a show called “Slab Rats” where three foul-mouthed sisters have to fix their late cement-mixing dad’s hastily-poured driveways and sidewalks.

The rights are available. Call my people.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, July 8, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. Gerald S says

    Love “Slab Rats.” If you want to write up a pitch for it, I know someone who works in film development (in NYC with several films on Netflix, not some fly by nighter taking local tax credits or IRRRB money with the hollow promise of “Hollywood on the Pit.”) If you wanted to, you could play with the idea that most cement finishers in the Sun Belt are some sort of immigrant, so much so that when the concrete has to be laid in Arizona or Texas the common comment is “we’re ready for the Mexicans. Maybe a family who came over from Bosnia during the nineties, or Ukrainians fleeing the recent unpleasantness. The reason that Dad needs so much help is that back in the old country he used to be a doctor, but can’t get licensed in the US.

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