Power Plant Safety is Job Number One — Repost

Originally posted September 14, 2012:

I found out soon after I arrived at the Coal-fired power plant in Oklahoma the first summer I worked as a summer help that Safety was Job Number One.  I was given a hard hat and safety glasses the first day I was there, and I watched a safety film on how to lift with my legs and not with my back.  I thought the hard hat made me look really cool.  Especially with the safety glasses that looked like someone wore as a scientist during the 1950s.  Dark and square.

The first safety glasses we had didn’t have side shields

I used to keep a pair with me when I went back to school.  When I was a senior at the University of Missouri, Columbia, while working at the Bakery on Broadway, I kept a pair with me at all times, along with a hat that I had stol…um…. borrowed from my dad and always forgot to return. (In fact, I still have that hat to this day).

A hat just like this.  An Inspector Clouseau hat.

That way, whenever someone suspected who I was, I would put on my glasses and hat and people would think I was Clark Kent.  Anyway…. I diverse.  I never thought about it being an Inspector Clouseau hat until one winter morning in the parking lot at the plant Louise Gates (later Louise Kalicki) called me Inspector Clouseau.

The yellow hard hat made me confident that I was part of the blue collar working class.  Hard hats have a suspension system in them that make them look like it is riding too high on your head.  You soon get used to it, but for the first couple of weeks I kept bumping into things because my hardhat made me taller than I was used to being.

See? The hardhat looks like it is floating above this man’s head

This is this because of this great suspension system that causes the hat to ride so high on someone’s head.  I learned about this not long after I arrived and Marlin McDaniel the A Foreman at the time told me to sort out of bunch of large steel chokers (or slings) in a wooden shack just inside the Maintenance shop by the door to the office elevator.

Ok. Not this big, but pretty large

While I was bending over picking up the chokers (I mean…. While I was lifting with my legs and not my back…) and hanging them on pegs I suddenly found myself laying on the ground.  At first I wasn’t sure what had happened because I hadn’t felt anything and it happened so fast.  It seemed that my legs had just buckled under me.

I soon realized that one of the large chokers that I had just hung on a peg a couple of feet above my head had fallen off and struck me square in the middle of the hard hat.  I was surprised by the force of the cable and how little I had felt.  I became a true believer in wearing my hardhat whenever I was working.  The steel rope had left a small gash across the hardhat that remained as a reminder to me of the importance of wearing my hardhat at all times.

Larry Riley used to comment to me that I didn’t need to wear it when we were in the truck driving somewhere.  Especially when I was sitting in the middle in the back seat of the crew cab and it made it hard for him to see anything through the rear view mirror other than a yellow hard hat sticking up to the top of the cab.

During my first summer at the plant (1979), I did witness how easy it was for someone to hurt their back.  I mean… really hurt their back.  I was helping to carry a very large 30 foot long section of a wooden extension ladder.  There were four of us.  Each on one corner.  I know that Tom Dean was behind me carrying one side of the back end.  I believe that Ben Hutchinson and Aubrey Cargill were on the other side of the ladder.

As we were walking through the shop, Tom stepped on the floor drain just outside of the A Foreman’s office.  The drain cover was missing and a wooden piece of plywood had been put in its place to cover the hole.

A Cast Iron Floor drain cover similar to this was missing

Large equipment had driven over the plywood and it was smashed down into the drain making a slight indention in the middle of the floor.

When Tom stepped on the piece of wood, he lost his balance, and ended up spinning himself around as he tried to remain holding onto the ladder.  By doing this, he became slightly twisted, and at once he was in terrible pain.  Back pain.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but this one event was a critical turning point in Tom Dean’s career at the power plant.  He was pretty well out the rest of the summer recuperating from the back injury.

The next summer when I returned to the plant, Tom was working in the tool room.  Obviously a step down from being a mechanic.  He was also very unhappy.  You could tell by looking at him that he had lost the proud expression that he had wore the summer before.

I don’t remember how long Tom worked at the plant after that.  I just know that it really made me sad to see someone’s life deteriorate during the snapshots that I had in my mind from the summer before to when I returned to see a man tortured not only by back pain, but by a feeling of inadequate self worth.  Hurting your back is one of the most common and most serious injuries in an industrial setting.  It is definitely a life changing event.

There were other tragedies during my time as a summer help and they didn’t necessarily have to do with something dangerous at work.  One summer there was a young man working in the warehouse and tool room.  His name was Bill Engleking (thanks Fred.  I didn’t remember his name in the original post).  The next summer I asked where he had gone, and I learned that one morning he had woke up and found that he had become completely blind.  It turned out that he had a very serious case of diabetes.  The sugar levels in his blood had reached such dangerous levels that it destroyed his optic nerves overnight.

Then there was one of the Electricians, Bill Ennis.  He would say that he was “Blind in one eye and couldn’t see out of the other one.”  He was actually blind in one eye completely, and the other eye he was color blind.  So, what he said was actually true.

It happened on occasion that people visiting the plant would be seriously hurt.  Everyone at the plant was trained in first aid, and Power Plant Men, being the way that they are, are always willing to do whatever it takes to help someone out in time of trouble.

One day during lunch, a man came to the plant to fill the unleaded gas tank on the side of the garage in front of the warehouse.  While he was reaching over the PTO (Power Take Off), His shirt sleeve caught in the spinning PTO shaft and broke his arm.

An example of a PTO shaft on a brush hog

I remember Mickey Postman explaining what happened.  His crew was eating lunch in the garage when they heard someone yelling for help.  When they ran out to see what had happened, they found the man tied up in the PTO with one bone from his arm sticking straight out in the air.  They quickly took care of him and treated him for shock as they waited for the Ambulance from Ponca City to arrive.

It is times like this that you wish would never happen, but you are glad that you had first aid training and you know what to do.  This person could easily have died from this injury if not for the quick action of Mickey Postman and the rest of his crew.  I believe other Power Plant Men that were there to help was Dale Mitchell, George Alley, Don Timmons and Preston Jenkins.  Mickey would know for sure.  I’ll leave it up to him to remind me.

I have illustrated these tragic events to demonstrate the importance of making Safety Job Number One.  The Power Plant Men didn’t have to be told by a safety video to know how important it was.  They all knew examples of tragedies such as these.

Each month the plant would have the Monthly Safety Meeting, and every Monday morning each crew would have their own safety meeting.  Safety pamphlets would be read, safety videos would be watched.  Campaigns would be waged to re-emphasize the importance of proper lifting techniques.  Everyone in the plant had to take the Defensive Driving course.

The last summer I worked as a summer help in 1982 was the first summer that everyone was required to take the Defensive Driving course.  The course was being given by Nancy Brien (I think that was her last name) and Ken Couri.  We learned a lot of defensive driving slogans like, “Is the Pass really necessary?”  “Slow down, ride to the right, ride off the road” (when an emergency vehicle is approaching), “Use the Two Second Rule” (Only, I think it was 3 seconds at that time).  “Do a Circle For Safety” etc….

My friend Tim Flowers and another summer help were carpooling during that time and we made signs with those slogans on them.  Then when we were driving home in my little Honda Civic, we would hold one of those signs up in the back window so that the Power Plant person that was following us home (Usually Dick Dale and Mike Gibbs) would wonder what it said, and would pull up closer to read the sign, and it would say, “Use the 3 second rule”, or “If you can read this, you are too close”.

That was when I began wearing my seat belt all the time.  Before that, it was not common for people to wear seat belts.  They only had the lap belt before that, and those weren’t the safest things in the world.  Especially since they would get lost inside the seat.  I attribute the Defensive Driving Course that I took while I was a summer help at the plant for my safe record as a driver.  There were a number of tips that I learned then, that I still use all the time today.

There is one advantage to wearing a hardhat that I didn’t realize until I left the power plant in 2001. It is that you never have to worry about hair loss on the top of your head.  Whenever you are outside at the plant, you always wear your hardhat and safety glasses.  When I changed jobs to become a software developer at Dell, I would find that just by walking down the street in the neighborhood in Texas, I would quickly develop a sunburn on the top of my head.

During the years of wearing a hardhat, I may have been losing my hair, but it never occurred to me.  Not until I had a sunburn on the top of my head.  I wondered at times if people would look at me funny if I showed up for work in my cubicle at Dell (when we had cubicles) wearing a yellow hardhat.  Oh, and a pair of super stylish safety glasses like those shown at the top of this post.

You know when you are young, and I’m sure this has happened to all of you at one point in your life,  you dream that you get off of the school bus at your school in the morning only to find that you are still wearing your pajamas.  — Yeah.  I thought you would remember that one.  Well.  I still have dreams of showing up at my desk job wearing a hardhat and safety glasses.  I don’t realize it until I lift my hardhat up to wipe the sweat off of my brow, then I quickly look around to see if anyone noticed as I stuff the hardhat under the desk.

2 Comment from previous post:

Jack Curtis January 22, 2014:

The safety meetings, Defensive Driving, safety glasses… it was the same way for telephone men, too. And they jumped in whenever there were problems as well. It is striking to me, to see the differences in attitudes from one generation to another…

Power Plant Grows Up in Smoke

I chalked it up to being a trouble maker when someone approached me in the electric shop one day to ask me if I would be an “Advocate of Change”.  I figured this person asked me either because he thought I couldn’t resist fighting for a cause, or because he thought he might enjoy watching me make a fool out of myself.  Either way, I accepted the challenge.

Last night I was watching TV with my son.  We decided to watch a show where “If we weren’t careful, we might learn something.”  It was a cartoon from my childhood called “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”.  The episode was called “Smoke gets in your Hair”.  The main theme was about the health hazards from smoking cigarettes.  Nothing like Educational TV on a Friday Night.  I told my son I had a Power Plant Story about that…

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids

The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma had recently made a change to the “Smoking Policy” at the power plant.  New rules went in place that restricted smoking in the office areas.  Specifically, it made any area that had a lower ceiling and was enclosed off limit to smokers.

This may seem like a normal restriction today, but this was January, 1990.  Before that, smoking in an office was not out of the ordinary.  In fact, in the A foreman’s office there was such a stink about not allowing smoking that a compromise was reached (at least for a while) where probes were mounted on the ceiling that was supposed to clean the smoke out of the air by ionizing the particles, causing them to stick to the walls and ceiling, and floor, and…. well… and you…

Smoke Ionizer

Smoke Ionizer

This became evident a few months later when the walls began turning darker and the ceiling tiles turned from white to a smoky shade of gray.

The company offered smoking cessation classes for anyone who wanted to quit smoking.  I think as a whole, our medical insurance rates went down if we took these measures.  Back then, it was common to have an ashtray in every office and on the break room tables.  It seems rather odd now to think about it after living in an “anti-smoking” culture for the past 25 years.

A few years earlier there was an electrician that had tried to make the electric shop a No Smoking area.  At that time, there were 5 electricians that smoked as well as our A foreman Bill Bennett, who often came to the electric shop for his smoke break.  Bill Bennett had made it clear then that the electric shop was going to remain a smoking area.  Just not in the office or the lab.

Times had changed by 1991.  Three smokers had retired and Diana Brien had just declared that her New Year’s resolution was that this time she was going to give up smoking for good.  She had tried that a few times before, but with the encouragement from Bill, the first time a stressful situation came around, she would start back up again.

I think my fellow electrician had seen that this was the perfect opportunity to try again to make the electric shop a “No Smoking” area.  With Dee giving up cigarettes, this left only Mike Rose as the only smoker in the electric shop.  — Well… and Bill Bennett, but technically his office was upstairs in the main office area.

Mike Rose was not just a smoker.  He was an avid smoker.  When I was watching Fat Albert, there was a father of one of the characters that was a smoker.  He coughed a lot, and at one point, went on a coughing jag.  When I saw that, I turned to my son, and I said, “That’s when Mike Rose would reach for a cigarette.”

Mike Rose.  A fair plant electrician, but a great family man!

Mike Rose

I used to marvel at how after having a coughing jag, barely able to catch his breath, the first thing Mike Rose would do while leaning against the counter was reach in his vest pocket and pull out a pack of cigarettes and quickly light up. — All that stress from coughing…

So, with Dee on the wagon, and only Mike on the verge of keeling over any moment from…. well…. it wasn’t only smoking that made Mike teeter…  I approached Bill Bennett and told him that I thought that it was time that we made the electric shop a “No Smoking” area.  Bill replied right back that it would be over his dead body before the electric shop before the electric shop would be a “No Smoking” area.

I pointed out that Dee had just decided to quit smoking and that left only Mike Rose as a smoker in the shop.  Bill said, it still wouldn’t be fair to the smokers in the shop.  I had polled the electricians, and there were at least 5 people would like the shop to be smoke-free.  So, with only one smoker, and 5 that would rather not have smoking, what was more fair?

Bill refused to give in, so I told him I would take it to Tom Gibson, our Electrical Supervisor (Bill’s boss).  Bill said, “Ok, but I’m not going to bend on this one.”  Bill was a chain smoker, and I didn’t really expect him to agree, but this was only the first step.

I had found in the past that in dealing with Tom Gibson, it is best to have some facts in your back pocket.  It didn’t do any good to just go up there and whine about something.  So, I signed up with a group called “Oklahoma Smoke-Free Coalition”.

Smoke Free Oklahoma Button

Smoke Free Oklahoma Button

I called them (this was before the World Wide Web had become popular) and asked them if they could send me some information about the problems with second-hand smoke.  I told them what I was trying to do, and they said they would send me some pamphlets about the hazards of smoking with statistics.  I was surprised a week later when I received, not only a few pamphlets but a large tube with anti-smoking posters.  I hung one up in the electric shop and would change it out each week.

One poster showed the lungs of a healthy person, then the lungs of a smoker, then the lungs of someone who had quit smoking for 10 years, to show that if you gave up smoking and lived long enough, you could clear yourself up after a while.  I had 25 posters, so, I thought I could put one up a week for 6 months.

Signing up with the Oklahoma Smoke Free Coalition was a strange step for me.  It gave me a strange feeling because I am normally a very conservative person who doesn’t believe in restricting individual rights whenever feasible.  I believe that people should have the right to smoke cigarettes, even though I don’t like it when people smoke around me.

The problem I have with smoking is that, it’s not just an individual smoking their own cigarette.  When someone smokes in a room, they are imposing their smoke on everyone else.  I believe in the individual having the right to breathe smoke free air and they shouldn’t have to leave a room just because someone else comes in there with a lit cigarette.

I understood that a lot of the people that are active in groups like “Oklahoma Smoke-Free Coalition” have a  liberal agenda to curb individual rights in a large range of areas.  So, I felt I was straddling a fence that made me uneasy.  I resolved to keep this effort focused on one thing….  making the electric shop a smoke free area.

Armed with some statistics about the hazards of breathing second hand smoke, I went to Tom Gibson’s office to make my stand… (well, to ask the question anyway).  I told Tom about the situation in the electric shop.  I explained that Mike Rose was the only “current” smoker in the shop and I listed the names of the people in the shop that would rather have a smoke free shop.

I told him that even though we had a high ceiling, which had made our shop exempt from the “Smoke Free” office policy, we still felt as if we were in an enclosed room.  The air supply for the office and lab was in the shop, and when people smoked in the shop, the smoke ended up in the office area.  I mentioned some statistics about how second hand smoke could be dangerous.  I also told him I was prepared to take this all the way to Corporate Headquarters if necessary.

To my surprise, Tom didn’t push back.  I told him that I had talked to Bill and that he refused to let the shop be smoke free.  So, Tom said that he would talk to Bill about it. — Not wanting to lose any time, I asked Tom if we could order some No Smoking signs to put on the doors in the shop.  He agreed.

Signs placed on the electric shop doors

Signs placed on the electric shop doors

I was in a hurry to get this done because I knew that any day now, Dee would be back to smoking again, and then I would lose all the leverage I had with only having one smoker in the shop.  Even Dee had said that she would support a smoke free shop if that’s what we wanted.  So, it really came down to Mike and Bill.

More than 20 years later, Oklahoma is still fighting the smoking fight.  Mary Fallin, the Governor of the State, has said that she supports cities and towns crafting their own anti-smoking laws.  Coming from a Conservative Governor, I feel like I was in good company when fighting for the shop to become smoke free.

I know a few people at the plant were upset with me for restricting their right to smoke in the electric shop.  Well, they knew I was a troublemaker when they hired me…

Now it seems like the culture in the United States has shifted so that we recognize the rights of individuals are actually impaired by someone smoking in your face.  Sometimes I can just pass a smoker walking down the side walk, and my clothes smell like cigarette smoke the rest of the day.

I think that either noses become more aware of cigarette smoke when you don’t breathe it every day, or the cigarette companies put something in the cigarette to make the smell stronger than before.  Today, I can sit in my car with my windows up, and if a car is in front or alongside me at an intersection while we are waiting for the light to change, I can smell the cigarette being smoked in another car.

It’s not just me, my son can smell it too.  We can usually smell the cigarette before we see the person smoking it.  One of us will say…. “Someone’s smoking.”  And we’ll whip our heads around looking for the car.  I guess our noses are more sensitive these days.

I know this phenomenon hasn’t reached Europe like it has in the United States.  When visiting there, it is like being back in the 1970’s here with people standing around smoking on the street corners, and in the restaurants.

On a side note… I have a story about my mom….

My mom would smoke cigarettes some times when I was growing up.  She would do that when she was on a diet.  So, on occasion, my brother and I would find a pack of cigarettes lying around.

We had purchased a small metal container of “Cigarette Loads”.

Cigarette Loads

Cigarette Loads

These are small explosives you stick down in the end of a cigarette.  When the flame reaches the load, it explodes, destroying the end of the cigarette.  So, we put a Load in one of our mom’s cigarettes and put it back in the pack of cigarettes.

Well, my mom didn’t smoke very often, so I was confused a couple of months later when my mom picked me up from High School one day and I found that I was in trouble.  My mom’s cigarette had blown up in her face and she wasn’t too happy about it.

End of that side story…. time for one more….

I have always bragged about never smoking a cigarette in my life…. but the truth is that one time I tried to smoke a cigarette… here is what happened….

I was in the 9th grade, and I had cooked the steaks for dinner on the grill in the backyard that evening…. After dinner I went for a walk in the weeds behind my house, which was one of the favorite things I enjoyed doing while growing up.

I ended up down the road from our house where a new church was being built.  I walked around the outside of the brick building looking in the windows that were all open as the glass hadn’t been installed yet….

While looking through one window, I noticed a pack of cigarettes left by a construction hand laying on the window sill.  I picked it up and there was one cigarette still in the package.  I realized I had a book of matches in my pocket that I had used to light the charcoal grill that evening… No one was around, and no one could see me because there were no houses around behind the church where I was standing, so I thought…. “I’ll smoke this one cigarette just to see what it’s like.”

So, I put the cigarette in my mouth, and lit the match.  At that very moment, out of nowhere, it began to rain.  The rain immediately soaked the cigarette and put out the match.  I threw them both on the ground as if they had burned my hand and walked quickly away from the church knowing full well what had just happened.  The rain stopped just as suddenly as it began.  I said out loud, “I received your message God.  I’m not going to try that again!”  I only needed that kick in pants once.

Prolonged Power Plant Pause Before the Panic — Repost

Originally posted September 6, 2013:

Today when I attend meetings while on the job at Dell and the discussion is about something new, and the manager is looking for input from the team, I usually sit there quiety while the others share their thoughts.  This is not my usual behavior as I am usually quick to respond with a quip or something sarcastic.

Later, after everyone else has given their two cents, then if asked, I will wade in with both feet.  This hasn’t always been the course of action I would have taken.  Actually, I used to be pretty hot-headed.  I was usually the first person to respond when someone asked a question.  I already had my mind made up about just about everything.

My wife began noticing a change in my behavior a few years after we were married.  She would ask me a simple question, like, “Would you like a piece of gum.”  I would suddenly go into a momentary comatose state where I would stare off into space and think about it.  She would say something like, “The answer doesn’t need a lot of thought.  It is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

After careful analysis, I finally figured out what happened.  The transformation began the day I entered the electric shop at the coal-fired power plant as an electrician.  I described that first day in the post “New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop“.  In that post I described my first job as an electrician when I went to the coalyard with my foreman Charles Foster to fix a room heater that wasn’t working.

The first time I used my new tools, Charles told me to remove a screw from a fuse block so that we could lift a wire in order to replace the fuse block.

A small fuse block like this.

A small fuse block like this.

When I was removing the wire (with one hand, as Charles had warned me that an electrician never uses two hands to do this), the screwdriver slipped and shorted out on the mounting screw which caused a brief flash.  In the millisecond that the flash occurred, it cut a notch in the tip of my new Stanley screwdriver.

A Stanley screwdriver used by electgricians because of the rubber on the handle

A Stanley screwdriver used by electricians because of the rubber on the handle

This was the beginning of my 18 year career of various minor electrocutions and small explosions.  We did things to minimize the chances of shorting out your screwdriver when working on a hot circuit (that means a circuit that has the electricity still turned on).  One thing we would do is wrap rubber tape up the metal shank so that if it leaned against something metal with it while the tip was touching something hot, it wouldn’t short out the circuit.

Inevitably, something would happen every now and then and something was going to explode.  So you just had to be prepared for that.  This is where the “Prolonged Pause” comes in.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do.  Let me give you a “For Instance”.  One time when we had an overhaul on Unit 1 (we had 2 units at our Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma), Richard Moravek was visiting from the Power Plant in Muskogee, Oklahoma.  I have written about him in the Post “Lap o’ Luxury at the Muskogee Power Plant“.  Each morning at Muskogee, he and Jay Harris would sing the song, “Nestle’s makes the very best Chocolate”, with Richard whistling as he sang like the Nestle’s rabbit.

The Nestle's Rabbit

The Nestle’s Rabbit

On one particular day, Richard and I were sent to perform a “quick and dirty” elevator inspection on the Unit 1 elevator.  It received a lot of wear and tear during overhaul with everyone riding up and down from the 9th floor where you could reach the upper echelons of the boiler.  If things didn’t work perfectly every time, then the work would be slowed, and schedules wouldn’t be met.

During our elevator inspection we decided that we needed to change out some lights on the push buttons, because…. well… because some of them were burned out.  Which caused them to not light up when they were supposed to, causing some Power Plant workers to become confused because they would forget which button they had pushed when they entered the elevator, thus, allowing them to forget which floor they were supposed to get off.

Anyway, Richard had taken the screws out of the push button panel and had swung the door on the panel open so that the wiring inside was all exposed.  He reached in to pulled out one of the push button assemblies so that he could remove the bulb (oh… electricians call bulbs, Lamps… I mentioned that in the post “Place On Light Duty at the Power Plant“, if you recall).

I had reached down into my tool bucket and pulled out a box of special elevator lamps….. Actually, I think it was a standard 6S6 lamp, but it looked like a bulb to me:

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb

Richard had put his hand out to receive the bulb I had in my hand, so I handed it to him.  At that point, a funny thing happened.  You see, my other hand was on the elevator scissor gate.

An Elevator Scissor Gate

An Elevator Scissor Gate

As I placed the lamp into Richard’s hand, he suddenly twitched and sort of jumped at the same time.  When he did, he pushed into me and he began doing a jig.  My legs were twitching and I was sort of doing a jig myself, or maybe a jog.

It became apparent right away what had happened.  While Richard’s one hand was in the elevator push button panel taking out the bulb, he had come in contact with the electric circuit.  This was fine as long as he wasn’t grounded.  That is, he wasn’t touching anything else metal, like the front of the panel.

Being a good electrician, Richard had kept his other hand at his side like Charles Foster had taught me my first day as an electrician.  That is, until he raised that hand for me to give him a lamp.  When my fingers touched his palm, and my other hand was holding the elevator gate, we suddenly made a circuit to ground.  From Richard, to me, to the gate, to the ground, and back to the the main power generator through various grounds and circuits and transformers….

About the time that I realized what was happening, we had separated from each other, and were no longer dancing.  It cracked us up and we stood there laughing about it for a minute because both of us had just been dancing in the elevator.

As I explained in the post about being on light duty that I mentioned above, when you went to work on the stack lights, you carried metal prod with you that you used to ground the large capacitors before you worked on the circuit.  When you did this, there would be a bright flash and a loud explosion.

If a noise or a flash like that made you jump, you may end up going over the handrail and falling 500 feet to the ground.  So, you learned that in the event of a flash, your first reaction is to freeze.  Then assess the situation, and then if necessary, Panic.

Many years later (like 16), I became very aware of how well trained we were when something like this happened when I was once again working with Charles Foster in a junction box on the 11 landing of Unit 1 on the west side.  We were standing side-by-side and we were working on something hot.

Suddenly there was a bright flash and a loud boom as something shorted out.  By that time in our history, we had learned all about wearing fire resistant clothing, so that even though what we were wearing wasn’t fire proof, it also wasn’t going to melt to our skin.

What amazed me about this moment was that we both stood there still for a moment before we panicked.  There was about a one second pause where we both restrained ourselves from jumping back.  I chalked this up to our years of being around explosive situations.  Jumping back as the first reaction can often lead to other injuries.

I took this resistance to panic with me into other situations.  Before 1994 when OSHA added a bunch of new laws protecting people in confined spaces, I was crawling inside the main generator bus that goes out to the main power transformer.  No hole watch.  No one watching me outside that could grab me and pull me out if something went wrong.

A Main Power Transformer

A Main Power Transformer.  The bus piping are those three pipes going into the building at the top in the back

I had squeezed myself into one of these pipes to clean the insulators that held the bus in place in the middle of the pipe.  This meant that I was crammed into the pipe under the bus bar that ran through the middle of the pipe.

I had made it to the insulator that I needed to clean and wiped it down with the rag I had taken with me.  Then I decided I couldn’t go forward anymore to look at any more of the insulators because it was too tight of a fit.  So, I started to back myself out.

As I went to push myself back I suddenly realized that I was stuck.  It was easy moving forward because I was using the soles of my sneakers to push on the pipe, but as soon as I wanted to go back, there didn’t seem to be anyway to maneuver my body in a way that would back myself out.  This was one of a few times when I began to feel the panicky feeling of claustrophobia.

I had seen claustrophobia in others and I knew that when you are gripped with it, you can hurt yourself, or even Bob Lillibridge if he happened to be grabbing your legs at the time (see the post:  Bob Lillibridge Meets the Power Plant Ghost for an explanation.

Here it came… I felt myself swelling up tight in the pipe as the panic was gripping me.  I knew I had to do something quickly or it wasn’t going to be pretty…. Well, either way… nothing about this was pretty.  So, I forced myself to calm down.  I told myself to breathe out, and slowly back in.

Then I decided to use the palms of my hands that were stretched out straight in front of me to push against the pipe to move me back.  With that effort, I could see (in the darkness) that I had moved myself back about 1/2 inch.  I thought.  “Ok, 1/2 inch is something.  If I did that 100 more times, that would be more than 4 feet.  200 times and I would be out of this pipe.”

Realizing I could move myself at least a little bit allowed me to calm down and quell the panic.  I did nothing but concentrate on pushing with my palms 1/2 inch at a time and eventually, I did climb out of that pipe (What you expected me to say I was still in there?).

I don’t know how many times over the years I have woken up in the middle of the night and swung my feet over the side of the bed and taken a few large breaths because I had been dreaming about being in that pipe again.  I will discuss the top of claustrophobia in a later post, but this example fit the top of training yourself not to panic so I thought I would use it here.

If you ever end up talking to someone that doesn’t quite look at you when they look like they are trying to look at you, then you may think that they are a welder.  There are some welders that seem to look at you from the corner of their eye.  I suppose it was because the middle of their vision has been burned out because they have looked at the welding arc too many times without their visor down.

Similarly, if you ever encounter someone that momentarily goes into a comatose state for a few moments when you ask them a simple question, you may now think that maybe this person was a Power Plant Electrician that has learned to have a Prolonged Pause before they Panic… or.. well, respond to your question.  If they aren’t, then they probably were just trying to ignore you.

Why Stanley Elmore and Other Power Plant Questions — Repost

Originally posted September 7, 2012:

Why Stanley Elmore?  I suppose that was on the mind of a few Power Plant Men when the foreman for the new Automotive Garage and Yard crew was chosen in 1980.  What did Stanley have that the rest of the Power Plant Men lacked?  Why did Stanley accept such a position in a power plant out in the middle of nowhere in the plains of Oklahoma?  I have some thoughts about these questions and others that I will share with the rest of the Power Plant Kingdom.

When I returned to the Power Plant for my second summer as a summer help in 1980, I found that the Automotive Garage had been finished and a new crew had been assigned to work from this shop.  Doug House, Jim Heflin, Larry Riley and Ken Conrad were there to welcome me.  I had only known Larry from the year before and when he saw that I was returning, he actually said he was glad to see me.  It was usually hard to tell what Larry was thinking because he kept face even when he was chuckling under his breath.  So, I never really knew what he thought about me until he told the others that he was glad that I would be working there this summer.

Then the new foreman walked in.  He was a medium height stocky man that had obviously come from another plant and was well seasoned in the ways of Power Plant etiquette.  This required him to act as if I had just walked into a snake pit and my summer was going to be a living Hell working under him.   Of course I accepted this well, knowing that this merely meant that he had a lot for us to do during the summer and I should enjoy myself.

There was another summer help there, David Foster.  He had been hired because he had experience driving a Tractor, and he would spend a lot of the time that summer mowing grass.  That is, until he wrecked a new brush hog while going perpendicular across a ditch at too high rate of speed.

brushhog

Almost Like this without the safety guards and just about as new

(Boy, I’m getting a lot of mileage out of that one picture of a Brush Hog).  At that point, he started working on watering the grass, as I did (and you can read about that in the post “When a Power Plant Man Speaks, It Pays to Listen”).

A short time after I had been there I realized that there was another resident of the garage.  It was Don Pierce that came from Construction to operate the P&H Crane used by the Plant.  Here is a Picture of the same kind of P&H Crane that Don Pierce operated for at least two of the summers that I was working out of the Garage.

A P&H Crane, just like the one at the plant

Don Pierce was a tall person with a moustache and tinted glasses.  He was chewing something often that he spit into a cup or a Coke can, that made a squeaky squirty sound each time he spit.  He always looked like to me like he wore the same size jeans that he wore when he graduated from High School, even though the rest of him had filled out some.  Making him look like his upper body had been squeezed some out of his jeans.  Like Hank Hil in King of the Hill:

Don had too tight jeans like this only his belt buckle was much bigger

It didn’t take long to figure out that Stanley Elmore loved to play jokes on people.  He would get the biggest laugh from causing someone a moment of confusion.  He would shake his head and laugh and say, “oooooohhh weeee” (or something similar).  I always had a bigger kick out of watching Stanley’s reaction to someone encountering his joke than I did from the joke itself.  As you may have learned from an earlier post “Power Plant Painting Lessons with Aubrey Cargill“, that I was the target of at least some of his jokes.  It would make me laugh to know what Stanley was playing a joke on me.

Actually, anytime during my time at the plant it made me laugh to find that someone was playing a joke on me.  I remember while I was a janitor that one day while I was cleaning out the bathroom in the Electric Shop, I would first Sweep out the bathroom and then mop it.  Each time I turned around to pick up something that was sitting just outside the door of the bathroom, I found that something had moved.   Like the mop bucket had moved down to the door by the lab.  Everyone in the shop was just doing their normal job.  But when I walked out of the bathroom to find the handle missing from the push broom and Andy Tubbs and Ben Davis sitting at the break table acting like nothing was wrong, I had to walk back into the bathroom in order to keep them from seeing how hard I was laughing.  For some reason that was the funniest joke I encountered.  To turn around in one moment and have the broom handle gone and the broom itself just sitting on the floor with no handle and the obvious culprit Andy Tubbs trying his best to keep a straight face and act like he wasn’t noticing anything.  I still laugh when I think about it 30 years later.

Stanley’s jokes were of that caliber.  When Don Pierce drove to work one day on his new Harley Davidson Motorcycle,  Stanley just couldn’t resist.  He started out by asking him if he noticed that it leaked oil.  Don said it better not, because he just bought it brand new.  Stanley answered by saying that Harley Davidsons always leaked oil.

A Harley Davidson similar to the one Don Pierce had

So, while Don was out operating the P&H Crane, Stanley took a small cup of oil and poured a little oil spot under his motorcycle, just as a reminder to Don that all Harleys in 1980 leaked oil.  Then Stanley watched and waited for Don to stroll by his motorcycle in the parking lot during lunch to see what his reaction would be.  Of course, Don had been an Electric Company Construction worker long enough to spot a snow job when he saw a grease spot.  But it did make him smile to know that Stanley had gone through the trouble of putting an oil spot under his motorcycle.  —  That’s one way to know that someone really cares about you.  They are willing to take the time out of their busy day to play a little power plant joke on you.

I was able to work one-on-one with Don Pierce for about a week that summer when we had to go to the laydown yard by the main gate and organize all the spare cable, rebar, piping, et cetera into neat rows and in some kind of order like from largest to smallest.  In order to put the large reels of cable into neat rows, we would line up two rows of very large telephone poles close to each other, and then place the reels on the poles to keep them off of the ground so they would last longer, and not sink into the ground when it rained.

To give you an idea. Some of the wooden reels were taller than me

Don was operating the crane and I was doing my best to use the newly learned hand signals to direct him where to go and what to do.  There was a hand signal for everything, and I was afraid that if I stopped to itch my nose, Don would cut the engine and leave for lunch.

I had been studying this chart during break before we went to the laydown yard

We were picking up wooden telephone poles and carefully placing them in a line, and I was standing there guiding the poles into place as they were lowered to the ground.  At one point, I had signaled Don to lower the pole all the way to the ground and as I turned to undo the chokers from under the poles, I realized that the pole had been placed right on top of my feet, and I couldn’t move.  It was at times like that when I was glad that I was wearing Steel Toed Boots.  —  A must when you are working in a power plant.

Steel Toed Boots

So, finding myself stuck, I straightened myself up and signaled to Don that I wanted him to raise the pole up.  He looked a little confused as if he thought I had given him the wrong signal (again…).  But when I didn’t change my signal, he succumbed and raised the pole off the ground.  At that point, I took one step backward and with the straightest face I could muster, I signaled for Don to lower the pole back to the ground.  I saw the smile go across Don’s face when he finally realized that I had been held captive by the pole, and I smiled back because at that point, I couldn’t look serious, and what would be the point anyway.

During the first summer that Stanley was my foreman, I carpooled with him and 5 others.  We would all pile into Stanley’s station wagon and head home at the end of the day.  I would be dropped off at the corner of Washington and Lakeview Dr. in Stillwater and would walk the rest of the way home, about a mile down the road and across a field to my parent’s house.  We each paid Stanley $5.00 each week for the ride, and we didn’t have to worry about the gas and the driving.  It was left up to Stanley.

So, why Stanley?  That was the question I was going to answer when I started this post.  Well.  I think I have a good reason.  All during the summer, Stanley was studying different types of weed killers that could be used around the lake without causing harm to the lake itself.  He was very conscious about keeping the lake pristine and free from poisonous chemicals.  He finally found a weed killer that was approved by the department of Agriculture at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater to be used around lakes.  By Stanley’s conscientious view of the Power Plant Property, I could see that he was a good choice for being over the yard crew.  We did spend many hours driving down the roadways spraying the newly mowed and chopped weeds with weed killer with the knowledge that we weren’t causing more harm than good.

But that wasn’t the only reason.  I think Stanley was put over the garage crew because he took such great care with his own vehicles.  I had the opportunity to see the engine in the station wagon that ferried us to work and home each day, and when I first saw it, I was astounded.  The entire engine was cleaned and polished and even waxed!

Shiny like this engine is shiny

Even though the engine had over 100,000 miles on it, it looked brand new.  Stanley said that he keeps his engine spotless so that at the first sign of any kind of leak, he takes the steps necessary to fix it before it becomes a real problem.

I remember one Monday morning while we were on the way to work, and the Power Plant Men in the car, which included John Blake and another inspector, were talking about what they did over the weekend.  Stanley said that he spent all day Saturday cleaning his car.  I knew what he meant.  That included waxing his engine.

I had the opportunity to go to Stanley’s house one day to drop something off or pick something up, I don’t remember, but what I do remember is that when I arrived at his humble abode, the front yard, as small and normal as the rest of the neighborhood, was so well groomed.  It looked like someone had taken a scissors and carefully clipped all of the blades of grass just the right height.  The various rocks and bird bath, and other yard ornaments were placed so perfectly that it had transformed this normal little yard into a complete work of art.

A yard not near as perfect as Stanley’s

So, why was Stanley chosen to be the foreman over the yard crew and the Automotive garage?  I believe it was because he had demonstrated by the way he took care of his own property that those in the Electric Company who knew that, knew that he was a man that would take care of their property equally as well.  So, I salute Stanley for being a great foreman to work for, and never letting the work seem dull.  He treated everyone in the shop with respect (except maybe in the middle of a joke).  I wish I had a picture to show you, because I was unable to think of any actor or historical figure that reminds me of him.  There just isn’t anyone else quite like Stanley.

Comments from the original Post:

Monty Hansen:

Powerplant jokes are the greatest! I remember one time I was going on vacation (as a Control Room Operator) and my assistant was filling in for me for the first time (let’s call him “Dave”) well, anyway the Shift Supervisor asked me if I felt Dave was up to the task (Dave is an excellant operator). I told the Supervisor I had faith in Dave, but he should keep a close eye on him, so the whole time I was on vacation, the Supervisor hovered over Dave’s shoulder like a buzzing mosquito! And to add icing to the cake, on Dave’s performance appraisal the Supervisor wrote “Dave is a competent operator…but needs a little too much personal supervision!!

This is the kind of fun powerplant men have with each other, no one is closer than a CO and his assistant, and Dave was, and always will be a great friend. We’ve been to each others weddings & helped each other through divorces. He’s a Control Room Operator of his own crew now, but we still get a kick out of laughing over the good times we had working together.

Fred:

A book could/should be written on all the classic power plant jokes over the years. Some of the oldest I’ve heard from the Osage and Belle Isle vintage power plant men.

Jack Curtis:

Something that comes through these stories: There existed in those days a very different attitude toward both one’s work and one’s coworkers, at least in industrial settings. I found it in both aircraft manufacturing and the telephone business.

It doesn’t seem to exist today or at least, isn’t obvious and I think that represents an unfortunate loss to our society…

Ron:

Steel toed boots are a great safety idea around a power plant. One of the employee benefits I enjoyed while working at the WFEC Hugo power plant was a new pair of steel toed boots every year. I’ve still got a pair of them. I wore them last May while clearing tornado debris in Moore, OK. And I gave a pair to my grandson. He wears them everywhere (even to church!).

Thanks for these memories, Kevin. They’re great!

Power Plant Impossibilities or Processionary Caterpillars

I can remember four occasions while working at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma when I was told that something was impossible when I was already doing it.  I mentioned tow of those times in the posts “Toby O’Brien and doing the Impossible” and “Printing Impossible Fast News Post“.  One day in May, 1992, I was asked to go to Oklahoma City to take some training.  There was a new kind of network that I was going to be responsible to create at our plant.  During the training, I learned a little about how to hook up the RS-232 connectors to the Dumb Terminals I was installing throughout the plant.  During the training, I also learned a lot about what was impossible.

RS-232 Training Certificate

RS-232 Training Certificate – notice that this is signed by our plant manager Ron Kilman and even the Manager of Power Plant Operations Jim Gist

I mentioned installing all the dumb terminals in an earlier post “Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals“.  I won’t go into the details about running the cables throughout the plant because I already covered that in the earlier post.  What I would rather talk about is the narrow understanding at the time about the possibilities of networking instead of the impossibilities that I was learning by everyone that tried to teach me the laws of physics through common sense.

After I was done installing the terminals in the most obvious places, some people came and asked me if there was a way to install computer ports in some unlikely places.  Some were sort of “out-of-the-way”.  For instance, Phil Harden asked if I could install a network jack in the middle of the Bowl Mill area so that the Instrument and Controls team could wheel their portable Compaq computer out there and run diagnostics on the equipment while connected to the network.

 

A Compaq Portable Computer -- and early version of a Laptop

A Compaq Portable Computer — and early version of a Laptop

I also installed a jack in the environmental controls shack out by Unit 1 smoke stack for Tony Mena.  Of course, I installed on in the Precipitator Control Room since that’s where I worked a lot, and a computer hooked to the network came in handy more than once.  I was always eager to run network cable and hookup computers.  It was one of my favorite past times.

One time early in 1993, the A Foreman’s office was going to be renovated.  It was going to take about a month or more for the construction, so all the foremen needed somewhere to stay when the office was going to be out of commission.  Tom Gibson asked me one day how many computers and printers I could hook up in the conference room.  I told him as many as he wanted.  For one thing, it was only just down the hall from the Telephone room where the X.25 modems connected to the microwave transmitter on the top of Unit 1 Boiler.

Since this was going to be temporary, I didn’t want to mount a lot of network jacks all over the conference room… well, maybe a few….  The rest, I just strung down the wall from the ceiling.  I think all together we had 8 computers and a printer installed in that room.

During this time, we had a new clerk come to the plant.  This was a rare occasion because it was rare that anyone ever left the plant.  Jana Allenbaugh (later Jana Green) was our new clerk.  She arrived on the first day when I had setup all the computers and everyone was moving out of the foremen’s office upstairs for their temporary stay.

I was just hooking up the printer, so I sent a long drawn out warning letter to the printer so that when I hooked it up in the Telephone room, it would start printing it out.  I had done this before with Charles Patton… only, I don’t think Charles ever read what printed out….  See the post “Dick Dale and the Power Plant Printer Romance“.  This time I printed out a warning to Jana from the printer itself.  it told her that as a new employee, she probably needed to know not to trust anyone who wears a yellow hard hat.  They were not to be trusted.  Because they treated printers with disrespect.  Hardly noticing them, and only talking to them when their paper gets stuck.  It went on from there, but that was about the gist of it.

Anyway.  Up to this point, I haven’t pointed out the areas of impossibilities that I was performing against all advice from those who knew better.

You see in 1992, when I had attended the training course in Oklahoma City to teach me all about the finer aspects of hooking up RS-232 connectors, I was told that this technology had it’s limitations.  The most important being the distance from the modem you can install a printer without having some sort of other switch to boost the signal.

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter used to connect to the RS-232 cable

I was installing network cable that at the time was called “Cat 1″.  That was about the lowest grade wire you could use for data.  Actually, it wasn’t even considered fit for data, just voice.  Well.  I was using it…. all the documentation said that when using Cat1, you had to be within 50 feet from the switch.  Well, in a plant where the control room was a good 100 yards from the telephone room, by the time you went up and down through ceiling, conduits, cable trays and wall, by the time the cable made it to the control room, it was at least 500 feet.

When running cable out to the shack by the smokestack I was able to use Cat 2 cable.  This allowed a network cable to be around 500 feet long.  When I ran this cable, it turned out to be longer than 1500 feet long.  At least three times longer than the possible amount to run a network cable using this type of cable…. yet, I ran it, and Tony used it.

I know that if someone had asked Russell downtown at the Corporate Headquarters IT department, he would have said that this was as impossible as printing out the Fast News article on an IBM printer that I had printed out downtown.  The truth was that there was a little data integrity lost by running a cable farther than possible by the laws of physics, but the system could easily handle the bad packets by resending them.  The user never noticed that the connection was a little slower.  No one ever complained that they couldn’t connect to the network.

A year after I had taken the initial training in hooking up network equipment, we learned all about the Quality process and how to think outside the box.  See, “Power Plant Men have a Chance to Show Their Quality“.  Between my father telling me that there is no word “Can’t” and Bob Kennedy saying that “I have a tool for that”, I had come to the conclusion that just about anything that needs to be done can be done.  We just have to figure out how.

After we had taken the classes to learn about the quality process, one day I went to Ron Kilman’s office and I gave him a piece of paper.  On it was a story about Processionary Caterpillars.  I was significant, I thought, because it demonstrates what happens when people refuse to thing “outside the box”.  The story goes like this:

Processionary Caterpillars feed upon pine needles.  They move through the trees in a long procession, one leading and the others following – each with his eyes half closed and his head snugly fitted against the rear extremity of his predecessor.

Jean-Henri Fabre, the great French naturalist, after patiently experimenting with a group of the caterpillars, finally enticed them to the rim of a large flower pot.  He succeeded in getting the first one connected up with the last one, thus forming a complete circle, which started moving around in a a procession, with neither a beginning nor end.

The naturalist expected that after a while they would catch on to the joke, get tired of their useless march and start off in some new direction.  But not so….

Through sheer force of habit, the living, creeping circle kept moving around the rim of the pot – around and around, keeping the same relentless pace for seven days and seven nights – and would doubtless have continued longer had it not bee for sheer exhaustion and ultimate starvation.

Incidentally, an ample supply of food was close at hand and plainly visible, but it was outside the range of the circle so they continued along the beaten path.

They were following instinct – habit – custom – tradition – precedent – past experience – standard practice – or whatever you may choose to call it, but they were following it blindly.

They mistook activity for accomplishment.  They meant well – but went no place.

Processionary Caterpillars travelling in a circle

Processionary Caterpillars travelling in a circle

This post may seem like I am doing some bragging about my ability to think outside the box.  My personality may be more apt to brag about my accomplishments than to recognize that everything I do and know is a gift from God.   But in this case there is more to it than that.  You see, even though my grandfather who was a sharecropper who worked his entire life farming land that didn’t belong to him, he was able to invent equipment to make his life easier.  He could look at something in a catalog and build it…. I didn’t inherit this gene.  I  had to learn this way of thinking.

I used to get in arguments all the time at the power plant because I believed that I could do things that were equivalent to walking on water.  It drove the engineers mad… Actually, they were mad all right, but just at me… .not in their minds….  Why was I so sure?  I had been trained by the best.

If you have been reading my blog for the past two and a half years, you will know what I’m talking about….  I was trained by the best to think outside the box.  To Power Plant Men, the Quality process was not a way to find out how to come up with quality ideas…. it was just a way to demonstrate what they already knew in a way where the Engineers and management could understand the benefit.

Here are some of the Power Plant Men that taught me the most about thinking outside the box:

Larry Riley, who taught me that you really can play music by the way you operate a backhoe.

Ken Conrad, who taught me that no matter how complicated a task, by breaking it down into simple steps, it is as simple as “Sweet Pea”.

Jim Heflin, who taught me that when all else fails, shake your head and say to yourself… “Well…. there it is…. let’s try that again a different way….”

Andy Tubbs who taught me that if you think you’re so smart that you don’t need to learn anymore, then it’s time you take out the blueprints and study it some more.

Floyd Coburn taught me that when it really looks hopeless, then prayer is always the best option.

Ed Shiever taught me that when you are extremely kind to your fellow man, when things begin to fail you, everyone will come to your aid.

Earl Frazier taught me that your memories will keep you loving those important to you long past the time when those people are lovable.

Kent Cowley taught me that you can still be a gentleman even when you are a boiler rat.

Mike Crisp taught me to look to the heavens in order to really understand the metal being shaped into a part by a lathe.

Bill Thomas taught me that loyalty to your fellow Power Plant Men comes from within your own heart, and not the actions of others.

Timothy Crain taught me that everything you do is for your family, no matter what situation they may find themselves.

Dale Mitchell taught me that personal integrity allows you to open your heart to even the most difficult people.

Juliene Alley taught me that one person can be everyone’s Mother when they are pure in heart.

Jerry Dalel taught me that the more complicated the puzzle, the more humor will unravel it.

Bob Rowe taught me that simplicity makes more sense than trying to make things complicated.

I have listed a few (and only a few) of the Power Plant Men that as an accumulation, taught me to think outside the small box that I was in when I initially arrived at the Power Plant in 1979 when I first arrived as a Power Plant Summer Help until 2001 when I left to begin a new career as an IT professional (ouch… what a run-on sentence).  This allowed me to think outside the box.  I never would have made it to that position if it hadn’t been for the wonderful men and women who led me by the hand… sometimes kicking and screaming to the lid of the box so that I could peer outside and imagine other possibilities.

Power Plant Cajun and the Hatchet Man — Repost

Originally Posted August 30, 2013:

During the 18 years I worked as an electrician at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, we often had contractors working from our shop.  I have mentioned that from the moment that I first entered the electric shop the first day I was an electrician, one of the first two people I met was a contract electrician.  (See the post: “New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop“).

Gene Roget (pronounced, “Row Jay” with a soft J) was originally from Louisiana.

A Cajun I found on Google Images that slightly resembles Gene Roget

A Cajun I found on Google Images (this is actually the actor Shia Lebeouf) that slightly resembles Gene Roget

Gene had spent the first 10 to 12 years of his adult life as a construction electrician.  Charles Foster told him to be my mentor.  At first Gene was shocked to find out that instead of hiring him to be a Plant Electrician along with his best buddy, Arthur Hammond, they had hired a young kid who didn’t know squat about being a real Power Plant Electrician.  Yeah…. that was me.

I felt sorry for Gene because he obviously was the better candidate.  The only saving grace for my mind was the knowledge that I was hired through the internal job program and that if they hadn’t taken me into the electric shop, they were going to be stuck with Charles Peavler.  Charles was… well… he was somewhat older, but, well….. he couldn’t get around the fact that no matter what he did, he was always still Charles Peavler.

The day I entered the electric shop, I was 23 years and about 3 weeks old.  Charles Peavler was 43.  However, Charles might remind you of someone more around the age of 65.  Not because he looked quite that old.  He looked more like, well… um….. I guess he did look like he was about 65.  I couldn’t tell if it was just the way he walked or stood, or the way his lip curled around the wad of skoal between his front lower lip and gums.

Just a pinch between your cheek and gums.... Never tried it myself.

Just a pinch between your cheek and gums…. Never tried it myself.

I know… I’m being a little hard on Charles.  I just like to tease him.  I could be worse.  I could tell you that his first name was really Amos.  But I wouldn’t stoop that low.  That would be like saying that Andy Tubb’s first name is really Carl, only worse, so I won’t go there.  Actually, Peavler looks more like an Amos than a Charles. (Oh.  That paragraph was about Amos and Andy!).

Anyway, by hiring me instead of Charles Peavler off of the labor crew I figured that even though I was dumb as dirt as far as being an electrician, I was more apt to learn new things than Charles.  So in the long run I was probably the better candidate.  Gene Roget wouldn’t have been able to be hired even if they hadn’t chosen me.

There were two openings for electrician when I was hired.  Arthur Hammond (Art) was able to be hired by the electric shop was because they convinced the higher-ups that they needed someone with a background in electronics and there weren’t any internal candidates that fit that bill.  So Charles Foster, the foreman, made the case that they needed an experienced electrician with electronics background and they needed someone dumb as dirt, but able to learn something more than just how to lace up their steel-toed boot. — That was where I came in.

I figured that Gene Roget would hold a grudge against me for taking the job that he wanted.  This is where the true quality of a person may peer through.  When you are involved in making someone upset, even though it wasn’t your decision to make, the way a person reacts to you will tell you a lot about that person’s character.

When Charles Foster told Gene Roget to be my mentor and show me the ropes to being an electrician I suspected that I was being setup for failure.  “Ok…” I thought, “I’ll watch what he does instead of what he tells me…”  I’ll also watch my back to make sure I don’t end up being electrocuted or knocked off of a ledge or some other accident that would create a new opening in the electric shop.

As it turned out Gene Roget was a man of great quality.  Not once in the year and a half that I worked with him did I ever have the feeling that Gene wasn’t doing his best to teach me the skills of being the best electrician I could be.  It also turned out that Gene was not only eager to teach me, but he was a highly skilled electrician.  So, I felt like I was being taught by one of the best.

Gene Roget (I always liked calling him Gene Roget instead of just Gene… I’m not sure why, but I suppose I can blame it on Gene Day.  I never could just call him Gene.  And Gene Day and Gene Roget rhymed), carpooled with Art Hammond (I always liked calling Art, Arthur, but I’ll call him Art in this post just to make it shorter… except that I just used all these words explaining it that now it’s longer).

Gene and Art were like best buddies.  I carpooled with them a couple of times when I had to catch a ride because I had to stay late and my carpooling ride had to leave (that would have been Rich Litzer, Yvonne Taylor and Bill Rivers).  During the drive home, I came to learn that Art and Gene had worked with each other on construction jobs for quite a while and their families were close in some ways.

I also learned that there was another activity that they did together that was not all together kosher (I don’t mean in a Jewish way).  They asked me on the way into Stillwater one day if I wanted to take a “hit” on the small rolled cigarette they were taking turns taking tokes from.  I had spent 4 years prior to this time in college in a dorm where smoking marijuana was more common than cigarettes and the idea didn’t phase me.

I declined, because I had no desire to go down that route.  I told them that I wished that they didn’t do that while I was in the car because then my clothes would smell like I had been living in the dorm again, where your clothes were going to smell like that just going from your room to the elevator… At least it was that way my second year in college.

I’m only talking about this now because it was 29 years ago, and by now if Gene Roget wanted to set his grandchildren on his knee and tell them about the times he was a younger construction electrician, he can mention that he had a shady past at one point, but now he’s just a kind old man.  So, I’m going to go on with a story that up to now I have only shared with Arthur Hammond.

One day I went into the main switchgear to find some parts in the parts cage behind the electric shop.  When I went back there, an operator Dan Landes was in the switchgear with another operator.  They were looking for something by the ladders, so I walked over to see if I could help.  Maybe they needed the key to unlock the ladders, I thought.

I don’t remember what they wanted, but I do remember that when I walked up to them I immediately smelled the aroma of marijuana being smoked somewhere.  We had just recently lost an electrician in our shop when the snitch tricked him into trading some marijuana for a supposedly stolen knife set (see the post “Power Plant Snitch“).

I asked Dan if he smelled that smell.  It was pretty strong.  I told him that was marijuana, and I could tell him what type it was.  You see, even though I had never smoked the stuff, the drug dealer for the entire dorm used to share the bathroom with our room, and three nights each week he held parties in his room.  He had high quality stuff and low.  There was a definite difference in the smell.  So, I would ask my roommate Mark Sarmento about it and he explained it to me.

So, I told Dan that someone had just been smoking marijuana somewhere right there.  It would have definitely been a dumb thing to do.  Eventually Dan and the other operator (I can’t remember who) left the switchgear to continue on their with their switching.  So I returned to the rack where the ladders were.

As I stood there alone I realized that the aroma was pouring down from on top of the battery rooms.  So I yelled out, “Hey!  You better stop that right now!  Don’t you know that the smoke is coming right down here in the switchgear?!?!  Put that out and come on down from there!”  I stood there for a few minutes and then I walked back into the electric shop.

I laid my parts on the workbench where I was repairing something, and then I walked back over to where I look through the window in the door into the main switchgear.  I finally saw someone climb down one of the ladders from the top of the battery rooms.  So, I confronted him.

Yep.  It was Gene Roget.  I had been working with him for a year and a half at this time and I considered him a very good friend.  I told him, “Gene!  How could you do that?  You know if they catch you they will fire you right away.  No questions asked!”  He said he was sorry, he didn’t think about the smell coming down into the switchgear and he would make sure it never happened again.  I told him that he was lucky that I had found him and not Dan Landes.  Dan’s nickname was Deputy Dan.  He was a deputy in Perry, Oklahoma.

Well.  as it turned out a few weeks later, Gene Roget was let go.  I hadn’t told a soul about our encounter, but I wondered if he thought I had.  Later I found out that he was let go so suddenly because he had confronted Leroy Godfrey about how Craig Jones had been fired because he had done something wrong.  He didn’t know all the details about the snitch, but he did know that they said he was part of a (non-existent) Drug and Theft Ring.

No one tells Leroy Godfrey how to do his job, and in this case, Leroy had nothing to do with it.  As a matter of fact, Leroy’s best buddy Jim Stevenson had been unjustly fingered by the snitch just because he was Leroy’s friend.  So, Leroy had Gene Roget fired.  I barely had time to say goodbye to Gene as he was led out the door to the parking lot and escorted out the gate by the highway patrolman who doubled as a security guard.

One time a year later, when I was carpooling with Art Hammond once again, I talked to Arthur about that day in the switchgear.  I knew he was best friends with Gene Roget.  So I told him about that instance.  He told me that Gene had told him the whole story on the way home that day.  Gene had just about had a heart attack when I had yelled up there for him to come down.  He had swore to Arthur that he was never going to be that stupid again.

I made it clear to Arthur that I hadn’t told a soul about that day.  And up until now, I still hadn’t.  That was when Art explained to me the real reason that Gene had been fired.  That made total sense.  I knew how Leroy Godfrey was.  He was an “old school” Power Plant Supervisor.

This is where the short story of the Hatchet Man comes up.  He was another contract electrician.  I think he was hired to help Jim Stevenson and Bill Ennis with the freeze protection.  They were preparing for the coming winter and they needed a little extra help.  I call this guy the “Hatchet Man” not because he was a hatchet man for the “Tong”, but because the only tool he used was a hatchet.

A Detective holding aTong War Hatchet

A Detective holding a Tong War Hatchet

He didn’t have a tool bucket.  He just used this one tool.  A Hatchet.  As it turned out, he was missing two fingers on one hand and three fingers on the other hand.  Hmmm… what came first?  I wondered… the hatchet or the lost fingers?  It seemed comical that a person missing half of all his fingers used only a hatchet as his only tool as an electrician.  — how would he screw in a screw?  Electricians had to work with screws all the time.  Maybe he had a pocket knife for that.

I figured he probably lost his fingers working in the oil fields, since a lot of people lost fingers doing that.  This guy definitely didn’t look much like a rodeo rider, which was the other group of people that would lose fingers.

One day, while sitting in the electrical lab during break time or lunch the subject of an upcoming job opening in the shop came up.  The Hatchet Man made the mistake of saying that since he was handicapped, they had to give him the job.  All he had to do was apply.  They couldn’t turn him down.  His missing fingers was his ticket.

Well.  It didn’t take long before word of this conversation made its way up to the one ear that Leroy Godfrey used to hear.  The other one was out of commission.  As I mentioned before.  No one told Leroy what to do.  He was supreme leader of the electric shop domain.  By the end of the day, the Hatchet Man was given the Ax.

Ted Riddle was hired instead.  Now you know the rest of the story.

Power Plant Adventures with Jim Heflin — Repost

Originally posted August 31, 2012:

I have often mentioned Jim Heflin in many of my posts. One might think from the attitude that Jim had toward me in a few of those posts that we didn’t get along. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jim and I were best of friends during the time that we worked together and when we carpooled together back and forth from Ponca City to the Power Plant Kingdom in the midst of North Central Oklahoma.

I have mentioned before that Jim gave me the impression of a friendly hound that was happy to see you.

The Splittin’ Image of Jim Heflin

That’s him all right, except he had a happier expression. I also mentioned that the first time I talked to his wife Brenda on the phone I made the mistake of calling her “Brenda Bulldog” because of a character that my wife and I used as a point of contention between us. As I mentioned before, I should have chosen something more becoming since there was a slight resemblance of Brenda Sue and a Bulldog….

Brenda had red hair and this expression

Besides that Faux Pas, Jim and I remained friends.

Jim was fun to be around because you could joke around with him, and you could tell that he was happy to be there. You could also tell that Jim was a very kind person. He didn’t like to see animals hurt, and felt bad when he knew he had accidentally mowed over even a field mouse with the Brush Hog. He was the kind of person you could put in a carnival in a tent and have people pay 50 cents to go see a happy lovable person, and people would come out feeling like they received their money’s worth.

Unlike most posts where I start out talking about a person, I usually end up telling you that they have died. I don’t think that Jim has died. I believe that Jim Heflin is still alive and well and living in Moore, Oklahoma with Brenda to this day. I was just remembering all the fun times that I had with Jim and thought I would share some with you to give you a flavor of the man.

So, here is a moment that I often think about when I think about Jim. He was driving to work one morning and I was in the front seat next to him. He kept looking at his side window and lifting up his nose at the window like he was sniffing it. It reminded me of a hound dog in a car that was trying to tell you that they wanted the window rolled down so they could stick their head out. He would do that for a few seconds, then he would look back at the road and pay attention to his driving. A little while later he would be back to sniffing the window with his nose pointing up to the top of the window.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked him, “Jim… what’s up? Why do you keep sniffing at that window?” He looked at me like he had forgotten I was in the car and just realized that I had been watching him. “Oh!” he said, “I’m trying to sneeze.” Thoughts flashed through my mind like, “Maybe he’s allergic to windows…” or “I hope that Jim hasn’t lost his mind, or I’m going to have to find another ride back to town in the evening…” or “Yeah, that’s right. Why didn’t I think of that?” Finally the thought came to my mind to ask him how that was going to help him sneeze, so I said, “Huh?”

That was when I learned something that I suppose I should have known by then, but no one ever told me… Jim was pointing his face at the rising sun, and the sunlight was helping him sneeze. That’s right. Some people have this uncanny “allergy” or “gift” or “talent” that causes them to sneeze when they look up at the sun. Especially, I figured, if they sniff a lot like a dog sniffing a window. I do remember that Jim gave it up, and we made it to the plant without a single sneeze.

Now unfortunately, whenever I hear a sneeze, I look around to see if the sun is shining on their face, just so that I can catch someone having a “Sun Sneeze”. Years later, my wife confirmed that, yes, some people sneeze when looking at the sun. I may have even been doing that before and didn’t realize it. I have even become some what of a pseudo expert on the subject and can now tell my son when he sneezes as he steps out into the sunlight that, “Yes… It is a known fact that some people sneeze because of the sunlight shining on their face.” You just don’t know when moments of life-changing education is going to come along and raise your IQ. Like that morning riding alongside Jim Heflin on the way to work that morning.

Another time I often think about when thinking about Jim Heflin was in 1982 when we were dropped off below the dam when the floodgates had been open so the lake level could be lowered in order for EPA, or whatever department could inspect our dam and dikes. Eventually, after the lake had been full for 3 years, it had to be inspected, and repaired where it was deemed necessary. Because a large amount of water was being released, the Electric Company wanted to make sure that we weren’t accidentally flooding anyone’s land beyond the foot of the dam down to the Arkansas River. So Jim Heflin and I were commissioned for that job.

We were dropped off at the foot of the dam and we were to follow the creek as it wound through the countryside down to the river. Instead of just heading straight toward the river, it ended up turning south for a while, and winding back and forth a bit, and what would have been about 1/2 mile to the river seemed like more than 2 or 3 miles. Anyway, we didn’t find the creek running over it’s banks, and everything was fine. We didn’t have any great adventures where we were chased by wild animals, or we saw Bambi or anything like that. We just spent a couple of hours walking through fields and trees and brush, and we talked. We had a great time talking about nothing in particular.

I’m afraid that this was shortly after I had learned how to ramble from Ramblin’ Ann, so I was doing most of the talking (You can read more about that in the post about Ed Shiever Trapped in a Confined Space with a Disciple of Ramblin’ Ann). But anyway, I had a great time with Jim just walking out in the woods talking about whatever came up.

I have found that there are times in life where I am sharing an experience with someone when I realize all of the sudden that I truly care for this person and I would do anything to help them if they needed it. I tend to imagine all sorts of scenarios when I’m in a situation and I remember that I was thinking about what I would do if a wild animal were to come charging through the woods toward us, and my main concern was how I could protect Jim. Jim was the kind of guy that looked like he needed protecting. I even looked around and found a good sized walking stick just in case the need should arise.

When we returned to the road where we had been dropped off, we still had about 1/2 hour before anyone was going to come pick us up and it started to rain really hard. At that spot there was a little hut that I would call a “monitoring hut”. It was the same kind of hut that was at the River Pump station that had the temperature recorder that was used to monitor the temperature of the Arkansas river (see the post, Power Plant Men Taking the Temperature Down by the River). So, we stood in the little hut until the rain stopped.

You may remember that it was Jim Heflin that had gotten the Backhoe stuck in the mud down at the park when Larry Riley came and showed us his magic. Also, it was Jim Heflin that informed me that David Hankins had died a few months before, while I was away at school. I spent days chopping weeds along roadways while Jim Heflin was mowing the fields all around me. It was Jim Heflin that first flushed out the Bobcat at the Otoe-Missouria Indian Reservation as I was watching from the back of the truck.

If I were to sum up the three summers as a summer help working in the Garage, I would call them my “Adventures with Jim Heflin”. It was Jim that I worked with most of the time. We cleaned the park twice each week. Mowed grass. changed oil in the trucks. Washed trucks in the special truck washing bay behind the garage. Picked up rocks from the fields so the mowers could mow without tearing up the equipment. Changed flat tires.

Throughout all of this I was keenly aware that as nice a guy that Jim was, he wasn’t a True Power Plant Man. Like Sonny Karcher, he longed for a simple life. Power Plant Men rarely have a simple life. It is filled with one crazy adventure after the other. When you drive through the gate, you have no idea what you might be doing that day. Like Sonny, Jim would have loved to have mowed grass clear across the country until the day he died.

So, I wasn’t too surprised when Jim and I were driving home one evening and Jim told me that he was going to leave the plant. He tried to explain it to me by coming up with various reasons why he was unhappy with his job; which was no longer in the garage. He didn’t really have to convince me. I knew. The Power Plant Life was not for Jim. He was sad about it, but at the same time I could tell he had already made up his mind.

After Jim left, I never saw him again. I never ran into him in town or heard from him. I had heard that he had moved to Oklahoma City, and I believe now that he lives in Moore, Oklahoma as I mentioned before. I have another friend from my childhood that lives in Moore, Oklahoma that may have an occasion to read this blog. His name is Dr. Bryan Treacy. So, I would just like to say to Bryan, that if you are walking down the street in Moore someday and you see a couple coming out of a Sirloin Stockade, or Wendy’s and one of them looks like a bloodhound and the other sort of like a bulldog, just walk up to them and tell them that Kevin Breazile says Hello. And then just before you go, say, “Oh, and Otto says that Brenda bulldog sure has a cute wiggle.” — Now I’m really going to get it… and not from Brenda….

Power Plant Men Summoned by Department of Labor

When a death or a near death occurs at a workplace due to an accident, OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Administration) will investigate what happened.  There are two reasons for this.  If they find that the company has been negligent in following the safety regulations set down in CFR 1910, then they are fined (if the negligence is sever enough).  OSHA also investigates the accident to see if changes are needed to regulations in order to protect employees due to new unsafe workplace conditions that are not currently covered under CFR 1910.  Because of the tragedy that happened at our plant that I outlined in the post:  “Tragedy Occurs During Power Plant Safety Committee” and after I had met with the OSHA man to give him my deposition as discussed in the post last week:  “The OSHA Man Cometh“, the plant manager, the assistant plant manager, and I were summoned to the Department of Labor building in Oklahoma City at 10 o’clock on Monday April 18, 1994.

On a side note:

The Department of Labor office in Oklahoma City is just a couple of blocks from the Murrah Federal Building that was bombed exactly one year and one day after our visit on April 19, 1995.  Not that there was any connection.

Murrah Building before the bombing in 1995

Murrah Building before the bombing in 1995

I mentioned this because I went to the Murrah building later that day after the meeting with OSHA to meet my brother for lunch.  He was working there in the Marine Recruiting office at the time.  I think he was a Major then.  He changed jobs in June 1994 and moved to Washington D.C. I think.  His replacement was killed in the bombing.  Here he is Greg today as a full Colonel:

 

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

End of Side Note:

I was asked by Ron Kilman our plant manager to show up at 9:00 am on Monday in the building south of our main corporate headquarters where we rented office space to meet with the guys from our own Safety Department because they were required to attend the OSHA meeting with us.  The Department of Labor building was just across the parking lot and across the street from this building, so we planned to walk from there.

I drove myself because Ron said he had other meetings to attend in Oklahoma City after this meeting was over and he wouldn’t be driving back to the plant.  That was why I arranged to have lunch with my brother.

When we met with the Corporate Safety Department they told us how we should act during the meeting with OSHA.  They didn’t tell us to do anything wrong, like withhold information.  They just told us to answer all the questions as truthfully as we could.  Don’t offer any information that isn’t directly asked by OSHA.  Don’t argue with them if you disagree.  —  From what I understood from the conversation, we were supposed to be polite, truthful and don’t waste their time going down a rat hole with specifics.  I was told that I shouldn’t have to say anything and I should be quiet unless I was asked a specific question.   The Safety department would answer all the questions and make any statements that need to be made.  I was assured by them that I had nothing to be worried about.  I only needed to tell the truth if asked anything.

If you know my personality, I always want to throw in my 2 cents, even when I know it is wasted on the audience.  But I took this seriously.  We were going to be fined by OSHA for 10 different violations relating to the accident that occurred at the plant.  I was there because I was directly in charge of the work that was being done when the accident occurred.  It was my deposition that was used to determine about half of the violations.

After we had been briefed on how we should behave during the meeting, as a group we walked from the corporate building over to the Department Of Labor building.  One of the safety guys was carrying a few binders.  I think one was the company’s Policies and Procedures book (We called it the GP&P).

One of two General Policies and Procedures Binders

One of two General Policies and Procedures Binders

Upon entering the building we went to the 3rd floor where we were asked to wait in a room until OSHA was ready for the meeting.  The room had a long table down the middle.  As usual, I picked a seat about halfway down on one side.  I remember Ron Kilman sitting across from me and about 2 seats down.

Ron Kilman

Ron Kilman

We waited and we waited….. 10:00 came and went, and no one came.  We quietly discussed whether this was to make us more nervous by keeping us waiting.  Then someone came to the door and apologized.  They said that Robert B. Reich, the U.S. Secretary of Labor was in the office that day and that had thrown off everyone’s schedule.

 

Robet B. Reich as he looked in 1994

Robet B. Reich as he looked in 1994

This was quite a coincidence, and we wondered if Robert B. Reich (it seems like you need to put the B in his name in order to say it right) would be attending our meeting.  That would sort of throw a whole new importance of me keeping my mouth shut to make sure I wasn’t putting my foot in it.

It seemed as if Mr. Reich had shown up unexpectedly.  Or at least on short notice.  Almost as if it was a surprise visit to check up on the place.  He didn’t end up coming to our meeting.

Around 10:30 four or five OSHA lawyers (I assume they were lawyers, they talked like they were), came in the room along with the Jack that had interviewed me a few weeks earlier.  They apologized again for being late due to the arrival of their “supreme” boss.  They sort of sat at one end of the room and the people from our company was more on the other end.  Jack, the OSHA man, sat next to me in the middle.

I was saying a mantra to myself…. “Don’t say anything… just keep quiet and listen…. don’t say anything… just keep quiet and listen.

The meeting began by the Lady at the end of the table reading off the violations to us.  I don’t remember all 10.   I remember the most important violations.  They mainly centered around the new Confined Space section of 1910.  It was 1910.146 that dealt with confined spaces and it had gone into affect April 1, 1993, almost one year before the accident happened.  Generally, OSHA gives companies about a year to comply to the new regulations, which kind of put us right on the edge since the accident at our plant had occurred on March 3, 1994.

Because of this, some of the violations were quickly removed.  That lowered the number down to 6 violations right away.  That was good.  No one from our company had said a word yet, and already the OSHA lawyers seemed to be on our side.  Then they read off a violation that said that our company had not implemented the required Confined Space Program as outlined in CFR 1910.146.

This was when our Safety Department leader, Jack Cox. said that we would like to contest that violation, because here is the company policy manual that shows that we implemented the Confined Space Program before the end of the year.

One of the OSHA lawyers responded by saying that we had not fully implemented it because we had not trained the employees how to follow the policy.  When he made that statement, Ron Kilman contested it.  He had a stack of papers that showed that each of the employees at the plant had taken the training.  Not only that, but the person that was hurt was not a company employee, they were an outside vendor who was hired by the company to vacuum out the hoppers.

The OSHA man said that just because they took the course did not mean that they were properly trained.  Ron asked how do you know they weren’t properly trained.  The OSHA man replied, “Because they didn’t follow all the rules.  If they had, no one would have been hurt.” —  What do you say to that?  You can tell we weren’t properly trained because someone was hurt?  I suppose that the OSHA rules were written in such a way that if you followed them to the letter, no matter what kind of mechanical failure happens, no one will be hurt.  I could see the frustration on Ron’s face.

I was a little amused by Ron’s statement though because Jack Cox had told us to just let them answer all the questions and the first seemingly absurd thing the OSHA man had said, Ron had addressed. —  I smiled and said to myself….  “Don’t say anything…  just keep quiet and listen…”

One of the violations was that we didn’t have a Confined Space Rescue Team.  That was true, we didn’t.  There was something in the regulations that said, if a rescue team could arrive in a reasonable time from somewhere else, we didn’t have to have our own rescue team…. Well, we lived 20 miles from the nearest fire station equipped with a Confined Space Rescue team.  So, there was that….  That was a legitimate violation.

The next violation was that we didn’t have a rescue plan for every confined space in the plant and each confined space was not clearly marked with a Confined Space sign.  This was a legitimate violation.

The next violation was that we hadn’t coordinated efforts between different work groups working in confined spaces together.  This was clearly stated in the regulations…. — Oh oh.  that was me…  I think I was mid-mantra when I heard that one.  I had just said to myself…  “…anything….just keep….” when I heard this violation.  I stopped muttering to myself and immediately forgot that I was supposed to keep quiet.

I said, “But wait a minute.  We did coordinate between the three groups that were working in the confined spaces.  I was coordinating that.  I had posted a sheet on a beam in the middle of the hopper area where the accident occurred where the Brown and Root contractors, and the vacuum truck contractors knew what hoppers were still full and which were safe to enter.  I kept the sheet updated each day and so did the vacuum truck workers.  They indicated when they had finished vacuuming out a hopper, and I would inspect it from above.  When I deemed it safe, the Brown and Root contractors could enter the space. The accident occurred because one of the vacuum truck workers entered the confined space while still cleaning it out and before I had inspected it to make sure it was safe.”

Jack (the OSHA man that had interviewed me turned and said, “Oh.  I didn’t know that.  Do you still have that piece of paper?”  —  Incredibly, I did.  About a week after all the vacuuming had finished and all the hoppers were safe, I was walking through the hopper area under the precipitator when I found the paper with the duct tape still on it laying on the grating.  Without realizing the importance, I picked it up and brought it back to the janitor closet behind the electric shop that we now used as a “Precipitator Fly Ash Cleanup Room”.  I had laid it on a shelf there.  The lawyers said, “Send us the original sheet and we will drop this violation.

Well, that worked out good.  I had stepped out of line by opening my mouth before I had been asked a question, but everything worked out all right.

The final verdict was that we had four violations.  We had to re-train our employees on Confined Spaces.  We had to create a Confined Space Rescue Team.  We had to put the correct signs on all of the confined spaces and we had to develop rescue plans for all of the confined spaces on the plant grounds.  If we did that by August 1, 1994, the four remaining violations which amounted to a $40,000 fine would all be dropped.  So, we had our work cut out for us.  This not only impacted our plant, but all the Power Plants.  The meeting was adjourned.

I already told you what I did after the meeting (I went and ate lunch with my brother).  But I haven’t mentioned yet why Robert B. Reich had made a surprise visit to the Department of Labor building in Oklahoma City on April 18.

As it turned out, that morning, Labor Secretary Reich had come to Oklahoma City to hand deliver a $7.5 million fine to Dayton Tire Company.  This was due to an accident that had resulted in a man, Bob L. Jullian, being crushed by a piece of machinery in the tire plant. He died a week and a half later at the age of 53.

Robert B. Reich had become so angry when he had studied the case on Friday that he wanted to hand deliver the citation himself the following Monday.   That is how we ended up in the building at the same time on Monday, April 18, 1994.  We resolved our dispute with OSHA on a congenial note and the citations were dropped on August 1.  Dayton, however, was still fighting the conviction 18 years later, eventually paying around a $2 million penalty.

Now you know the rest of the story.  Well, almost.  Like I said, we had a lot of work to do in the next three and a half months.

Power Plant Men Show Their True Colors — Repost

Originally posted August 23, 2013:

If you happened to stop some Saturday evening at the old gas station just north of the Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma back in the late 70’s around supper time, you might run into a group of grubby men that looked like they had fallen into a coal bin.  They might look like they had been swimming in a batch of coal dust and sweat.  Dark hair greasy with the grime of the day.  If you took a closer look and observed their handkerchief after it had been used, you would have seen the black slime soaking through.  The pores in their skin darkened by the black dust they had been wading through.

If you had run across a gang of shabbily dressed grubby men like this, then you would have just witnessed a group of Power Plant Men seeking a cool one on their way home after a full day of coal clean-up.  Be assured, they drove with their windows down in the 100 degree heat.  It helped dry the sweat that had soaked them from the top of their head to their soles of their feet.  You may feel a little intimidated by this bunch of seemingly hoodlums carrying six packs of Coors out of the store that looked like nothing more than a shack.

You might think that the snickers that you hear below their breath is because they are laughing at you.  You might think that it would be safer to stay in your car with the doors locked and the windows rolled up until this gang of rovers left, even though the circumference of their upper arms indicated to you that it wouldn’t take much effort for one of these brutes to shatter your windshield if they had a mind to.

If per-say you happened to make the mistake of saying something neutral to them, such as “good evening”, you would be surprised by their reply.  One might grin real big and spit off to one side (maybe in the reverse order…. spit first and then grin).  Another might scratch the top of his head and lift his hat… (oh.  That’s backward too) while at the same time looking over your vehicle to see what kind of tires are on it, or what kind of upholstery it has.  Another might act as if they can’t hear you and just ignore your “good evening”.

This would have been a real possibility back during the summer of 1979 or 1980 at this one particular power plant.  You may have even noticed a light blue Volkswagen Sirocco with a young guy sitting in the back seat waiting for a couple of lugs to return with their six packs under their arms for the trip back to Stillwater where they had left 12 hours earlier.  That young guy in the back of the car…. that would have been me.  Observing the parade of worn Power Plant Men on their way home after a day of coal cleanup.  I wrote about days like this in a post called: “Spending Long Weekends with Power Plant Men Shoveling Coal“.

Yeah.  Just like this

Yeah. Just like this.  This is a copy of a picture that can be purchased at http://depositphotos.com/2691212/stock-photo-Dirty-hands.html

I met many of the Power Plant Men those first few summers when I worked as a Summer Help at the plant.  I didn’t really get to know them until I had worked as a full time employee for many years.   I wasn’t like this group of Power Plant Men that seemed like a bunch of misfits that somehow stumbled into performing great feats almost as if it was by accident.  At first I figured that most of them were just really lucky.  Later I learned that these lumps of coal were really diamonds in disguise.

Today, looking back I realize that each of the True Power Plant Men were some of the wisest, kindest, and most caring people I would ever know.  I guess I ran across this the first summer as a summer help when people would offer to do things for me for no reason other than they could.  When this would happen I would be suspicious at first that either a joke was being played on me, or someone was going to want to use this as leverage for something later.

This thought was short-lived, as all I had to do was look in their eyes to see their sincerity.  I had grown up looking into the eyes of deceit.  I could tell when I was being snookered.  It didn’t take long to find that the True Power Plant Men really did care for my well-being, even when my well-being seemed to being doing just fine.

I suppose i could go down a list of times where power plant men did something nice for me.  I probably would just be describing a regular day at work with this bunch of grubby guys in tee shirts and jeans and work boots.  This post would become long and monotonous pretty fast.  So, let me just focus on one example that illustrates what I’m talking about.

The following story follows a regular theme when it came to Power Plant Men heroism.  I will preface it with a short side story…

Back during the late 70’s and early 80’s there were a few medical miracles that had surfaced that were said to cure cancer.  One example of this was Vitamin B-17.  It is found in fruit seeds. People found that when taken in regular doses, cancer can be prevented and even cured.  Of course, the person seeking this cure can’t wait until they are on their deathbed when they try to find a sudden cure that is going to pull them out of the jaws of death.

What makes B-17 probably the most easily accessible cure for cancer is how fast the Cancer industry, that is, the Pharmaceutical and the AMA quickly tried to ban anything with enough vitamin B-17 in it from the market.  They didn’t call it Vitamin B-17.  They called it “Laetrile”.  If there had been nothing to it, then they would have treated it like every other snake oil remedy that came around.  They would have ignored it.

People in the United States that wanted to be treated with Vitamin B-17 for their cancer had to go to Mexico.  They were happy to treat you down there.  Raw apricot seeds were banned from the stores because they are a good source for this vitamin.  Well.  They couldn’t really ban apple seeds.  I think people knew many years ago that eating an apple each day would keep the doctor away.  As a child long before the word “Laetrile” had hit the news wire, I remember some people that would eat the entire apple, only leaving the stem.  They insisted that the best stuff was in the apple seeds.  Maybe Johnny Appleseed was on a mission from God when he went across the country planting apple orchards.

The argument was that Laetrile (Vitamin B17) contained Cyanide and that it could possibly be released and become toxic in the body.  — This is the same argument that those in favor of using Laetrile were making.  They believe that the cyanide is released by toxins emitted by cancer cells, and in this way, the cyanide actually targets the cancer cells.  By the way, the chemical symbol for Cyanide is:  CN.

CN is Cyanide.  You can see it in the middle of the chemical diagram.  Only this isn't Laetrile (vitamin B17).  This is the chemical structure of Vitamin B12.

CN is Cyanide. You can see it in the middle of the chemical diagram. Only this isn’t Laetrile (vitamin B17). This is the chemical structure of Vitamin B12.

Anyway.  This was also before there was anything like the Internet (because…. Al Gore hadn’t invented it yet).  So, in order to hear the alternate viewpoint than the governments, you had to read newspapers that were “on the fring”.  Anyway, during that time around 1980 after the Laetrile ban, people were growing suspicious of the cancer doctors and whether they really cared to cure their patients or just grab their money while they were on their way down.  The argument was that one person in California had died from apparently being poisoned by cyanide after taking Laetrile.  Never mind that he was on his deathbed already from cancer and had only weeks to live.

Today is a different story, where there are a lot of homeopathic methods for fighting cancer.  Laetrile is still banned I think, but who is going to ban the apple seed?  — Oh.  I guess they pick them before they have seeds these days, and where they used to press the entire apple to make apple cider, they may core them now first…. I’m sure it is because it makes the cider taste better…. Don’t you think?  Or is it the added sugar…. maybe.

End of the Side Story Almost…

Toward the end of my first summer as a summer help in 1979 I worked for two weeks with Aubrey Cargill and Ben Hutchinson clearing out driftwood from the miles of dikes that had been built on the man-made lake to route the water around the lake from the discharge to the intake so it had time to cool.  I wrote about this in the post “Power Plant Painting Lessons with Aubrey Cargill“.  Ben and Aubrey were best friends.  They never told me that, it was just like they were two peas in a pod.  Where one went, the other was always right by their side.

Well.  10 years after we had been tossing driftwood up the dikes into the dump truck, Aubrey had early retired from plant life, leaving his best buddy to fend for himself.  Ben had become a foreman.  I never heard a complaint about Ben as a foreman, but then, I wasn’t listening, so if someone had told me something negative, I’m sure it would have went in one ear and out the other and something inside me would have marked that person on my list of “Not True Power Plant Men”.

So, why this side story of cancer cures?  Well.  Around the summer of 1989 Ben Hutchinson began his fight with cancer.  He took all the regular cures for cancer…. like “chemo-therapy”.  — Oh.  Now that is safe…. yeah.  No one would ever feel poisoned by that…

Anyway.  After trying all the regular cures, Ben was told that there was nothing left for him to do but to lay down and die.  He was given so many months to live and sent home.

At this time there was a doctor in Athens Greece named Dr. Alivazatos that was reported to be curing cancer patients at a rate of 60%.  He would say that the 40% that die come to him too late to be cured.  Otherwise he would be able to cure them all.  He had some special treatment that he was willing to share with the world, but he wanted to do it in a way where it was assured that he would receive credit for it.  Not understanding the medical system in the United States, he said that he was waiting to be invited to the United States by the Medical community where he would tell them all how to do what he was doing.

Dr. Alivazatos, Athens Greece

Dr. Alivazatos, Athens Greece

When the Cancer doctors had drained Ben’s funds and sent him home to die, that was when the True Power Plant Men showed their true colors.  They had heard about this doctor performing miracle cancer cures in Athens Greece and they were determined that Ben was not going to go down without a fight.

During the winter, while an overhaul was going on at our plant, barbecues were setup to raise money.  Donations were taken.  Requests went out to the other plants for help.

I don’t recall the exact amount that was raised.  But I believe it was well over $30,000.00.  Ben was sent to Athens for treatment.   He was sent to Dr. Alivarazatos.  Ben arrived too late.  After his month of treatments there, he was sent home in March 1990, somewhat better than he had left, but still his cancer was too far gone by the time he had made it to the doctor’s doorstep, and by June, Ben succumbed to the cancer and died on the 13th of June.

– A personal note.  June 13 is the feast day for St. Anthony.  He is my patron saint and has been a personal friend of mine since my childhood.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

I like to picture St. Anthony there with Ben when he died, taking his hand and leading him up to the pearly gates where St. Peter was standing… Without looking up, St. Anthony says…. “A True Power Plant Man…”  St. Peter nods and passes him through without checking the roster.  Once inside, an angel hands Ben his clean white robe.  Ben puts it on, and by the time he pulls it over his head and straightens it out, it is all stained with black coal dust.  The angel looks a little confused and St. Anthony, standing beside him in his brown robe with the bald spot on the top of his head says, “Power Plant Man….”  The angel nods in understanding….. — end of personal note.

The Power Plant Men didn’t sit around and complain that they threw away good money to send Ben to Greece.  They knew the odds were thin when they sent him.  It didn’t matter to them.  True Power Plant Men cherish Life.  They live from day-to-day taking risks in a dangerous situation, yet they are safe, not for themselves, but for their family and friends.  One extra day of life for Ben was well worth it.

This example of Ben was not the exception, it was the norm.  Whenever a Power Plant Man was in need, there were 100 Power Plant Men there to help them.  Never hesitating.  I would say that they love each other as if they were all part of the same family.  Actually, I have no doubt about it.

Oh.  A side note.  Dr. Alivazatos was (and some would say conveniently) killed in a hit and run accident in 1991.  No one to date has been able to duplicate his treatment and many believe that he was a fraud, though he had been tried and found not guilty.

“Take a Note Jan” said the Supervisor of Power Production — Repost

 

Originally Posted August 24, 2012:

I remember the first time Martin Louthan, the supervisor over all the power plants, came to the Power Plant to meet with the Power Plant Men a couple of months before Unit 1 came on line in 1979. I don’t know what he expected when he arrived, but I don’t think he expected the greeting he received when the meeting began and he asked us what we all wanted to talk about.

There were about 200 Power plant Men all crowded into the break room. Some sitting and a lot standing, as there was no leaning room against the walls. Martin Louthan began the meeting by saying that he wanted to come and meet with all the Power plant men every 6 months without the management in the room so that we could all speak freely. I don’t think that Martin actually thought the Power Plant Men would actually take him up on it. But they did.

Martin Louthan was from the Old School of Power Plant Men. He was what I would call a “Power Broker” Man. You can definitely tell that he had worked his way up through the ranks of Power Plant Politics and was very comfortable in his position as ruler of all the power plants. Martin had started as a Power Plant engineer and had spent time working at almost all of the power plants that had been built up to that time, including the Osage Plant that I had talked about in an earlier blog about the Power Plant Pioneers (Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Peace).

Once again I must remind the reader that the Power Plant Manager at the time, Eldon Waugh enjoyed ruling over his power plant kingdom and any time he could find a way to wield his power, he would. He had created many miscellaneous rules at the plant to demonstrate this authority. Most of which were designed to be a nuisance to the average employee under his domain.

When Martin Louthan asked the crowded room if anyone had anything to say while the plant manager and their own foremen were out of the room, the Power Plant Men took the opportunity to let loose a barrage of grievances against the Power Plant Manager and his assistant.

The main topic was the rule that no one could fish on plant grounds. The Power Plant Men had been told that Oklahoma City had made a rule that no one could fish in the lake from the plant grounds. This included the discharge where the warm water went into the lake from the condenser, which was not far from the engineer’s shack parking lot where everyone had to park at the time. Martin acted surprised. He said he hadn’t heard of a rule like that.

Not being able to fish on plant grounds meant a long walk (about a mile) across an often muddy field

Sitting next to Martin Louthan was his secretary Janice Baker (Brady). Martin would say, “I’ll look into it. Take A note Jan! I’ll let you know what I find out.” Jan would write something down on her notepad. Then complaint after complaint kept coming, and Martin kept saying “Take a note Jan.” I remember Jan’s expression throughout the meeting. I couldn’t tell if it was one of wonder or a look of someone that was having writer’s cramp.

A notepad like this

A Power Plant notepad Jan may have been using

After a few more visits from Martin, “Take a note Jan” became a phrase at the plant for something that needed to be looked into, but we knew we would never hear about again. It wasn’t long before Martin’s 6 month meetings turned into yearly meetings, and then eventually, he stopped having meetings with the Power Plant Men all together.

The nail in the coffin of Martin Louthan’s meetings happened when I was on Labor Crew. Martin had his yearly meeting some time in the middle of the summer of 1983. I was on the labor crew that summer.

One of the main complaints that year was that the assistant plant manager and the plant manager were constantly lying to us about one thing and then another. Martin asked the Power Plant Men for an example. Well. No one could come up with one on the spot. It was something you knew when you heard it, but if you didn’t write them down, then the next day you were too busy keeping the plant operational to remember the troubles of the day before.

Martin Louthan told the Power Plant Men that if they didn’t have any examples, then he would not be able to take any action. So, Jan didn’t have to take a note about that.

The Labor Crew bore the brunt of the next rule that came down from up above, and we were told that it had come from Oklahoma City (which is where Corporate Headquarters is located). A lot of people on labor crew had been there for a long time. Some had been there for about 2 years and were looking for an opportunity to move into maintenance or become an operator.

The economy had slowed down during those years as we were still recovering from the high unemployment and the downturn in the oil market in Oklahoma. Reaganomics hadn’t kicked in full steam yet, so those people who would have migrated onto other jobs were staying put.

Finally it was announced that a new crew was going to be started at the plant. It would be the Testing crew. An excellent opportunity for some of the people to finally leave the labor crew where they seemed to be held captive during those years.

Unfortunately for most, it was soon made known that the new positions required that the person have a college degree. It didn’t matter in what, as long as they had one. That left Jim Kanelakos and I as the only two power plant men-in-training that were eligible. I had a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology, and Jim had a Masters of Arts in Psychology.

Together we would stand out in the front of the Labor Crew building analyzing the other Power Plant Men using all of our education to help us determine the motivation for each person. Jim might say, “Do you ever notice how Charles Peavler will go off to do coal cleanup and then you don’t see him until lunch when he comes back completely clean, and nothing seems to have been cleaned?” And I would respond by saying, “Yes, I wonder how he manages to keep so clean when he’s obviously doing twice the work, both cleaning up the reclaim and messing it all back up again. What drives a man to be so… um… Productive?” Jim might respond by saying something like, “It is probably because he hates his father and this is his way of seeking revenge on him for all the times he made him clean his bedroom after his brother had messed it up.”

No. We really didn’t say that, but I’m sure we thought about it often enough.

Then came the clincher… It seems that when Eldon Waugh learned that requiring a college degree didn’t automatically disqualify all of the labor crew hands, a new rule came down. “No one already employed by the Electric Company could be considered for the job.” This had come down from Oklahoma City.

To compound the issue, a new program had been put in place just that summer called the Employee Assistance Program which included a new job announcement process that allowed everyone access across the company to apply for job opening anywhere in the company.

Now, this seemed like an obvious example of what Martin Louthan had been looking for. A perfect example of the Power plant men being lied to by the Plant Manager. Our A foreman Marlin McDaniel asked Jim Kanelakos and I to apply for the jobs. He wanted to have actual proof that the applications would not be considered even though we met the minimum qualifications. We applied, and our applications were turned down. We went through the proper procedures and up the chain of command and asked the Supervisor of Maintenance Ken Scott to have a meeting with us to discuss the situation.

Ken listened to our grievance, and said that he would go talk to the assistant plant manager to find out what he could about the reason why we couldn’t be considered for the new testing jobs. He came back with the answer from Bill Moler, the assistant plant manager, that we could not be considered for the testing jobs because they were new positions, and no one that currently worked for the Electric Company could be considered for the jobs. This had come down from Oklahoma City.

The labor crew as a group said that they wanted to have a meeting with Martin Louthan to talk about this. Ken came back and said that the next time that Martin Louthan was at the plant, he would meet with the labor crew.

Finally one day, at 4:00 we were told that Martin Louthan was at the plant and that he would be willing to meet with us. The end of our day was at 4:30. We went up to the conference room and sat down with Martin to discuss the issue. Ken Scott sat in the meeting as an advocate stating exactly what he had been told, and what had happened.

As 4:40 rolled around, I was aware that I had three people in the car waiting for me to drive them home, and I reluctantly had to leave the meeting right after Martin Louthan told us that he had never heard of such a rule that if you worked for the company you couldn’t be considered for a job. He asked to have Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh brought into the meeting.

The rest, I had to hear the next day because I missed the rest of the meeting. When Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh came into the meeting, Martin Louthan asked Eldon Waugh why he didn’t consider anyone at the plant for the new testing jobs, Eldon replied by saying, “We did consider people at the plant.” Then Bill Moler replied, “No we didn’t.” Martin asked, “Well why not?” (Maybe with a little more flowery language than I am using). Bill Moler said, “Because you told us not to.” Martin then said, “No I didn’t!” Bill Moler responded by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Then it must have been a misunderstanding.”

That was it. The meeting was over. The misunderstanding was cleared up, but by that time the new testing crew had already been hired, and it was all water under the bridge. The Labor Crew men were still stuck digging ditches and doing coal cleanup. Martin Louthan didn’t have anymore meetings with just the Power Plant Men without the management in the room after that.

Every now and then I wonder what Jan was really writing in her notebook whenever Martin said, “Take a Note Jan.” I do know that after the first meeting, we were allowed to fish at the discharge, but only if we wore our hardhats. Our families and friends however could not. Then after much back-and-forth with Oklahoma City it was decided that not only did we not need to wear our hardhat while fishing at the discharge, but we could even bring our family and friends with us as well.

Martin Louthan retired with the other Power Broker men in the 1987-88 downsizing. The next June during the summer of 1988, Jan Brady became known as Janice Louthan, as she had married Martin Louthan. Martin’s first wife had died in 1981. Martin lived 23 years after he retired from the Electric Company where he had worked for 40 years. He died in his home on November 29, 2010. Janice was most likely right there by his side. In my mind with her notepad handy, ready and willing to her the words, “Take a note Jan” just one more time.

Take a look at Martin Louthan and tell me this guy doesn’t mean business…

Martin Louthan

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