Tales of a Tall Power Plant A Foreman — Repost

Originally posted October 19, 2013:
Everybody seemed to like Bill Bennett.  We didn’t like him because he possessed a profound knowledge in the field of electricity.  No.  We like him because he was a good person.  Bill was a tall very thin black man that sort of reminded you of Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill had a gruff cigarette voice as he was a chain smoker.  Often he would say his first words to me when he came into the Electric Shop office for lunch each day in the same manner that Aunt Ester would say something to Fred Sanford.  His lower jaw would jut out and he would shake his head with a look of total disgust… like this:

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

With this expression, Bill would often look at me and say, “You Scamp!”  Dragging it out for the full effect.  Nothing would bring a smile to my face faster than having Bill berate me by insulting my integrity as a person.  He would also add on additional phrases like, “…You disgust me!”  Or… “….you scum!”  — I felt like Gomer Pyle by that point with a big grin on my face.

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

I just wish everyone could work for such a great guy at least once in their life.

I’m not saying that we didn’t have our disagreements throughout the years that he was our A Foreman at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  I recognized that Bill had his way of viewing the world, and I had mine.  And even though my way was always the right one, I realized he had a right to his view even when it was wrong.

At those times what could you do?  Probably the same thing I would do.  Fall on the ground kicking and screaming and then try to make your face turn blue by holding your breath. — That never seemed to change his mind though.  Probably because I liked breathing too much and would find that it didn’t take long before I would develop an overwhelming urge to take another breath.

Anyway.  After spending well over a thousand lunch times with Bill Bennett, just when I began to think that I had heard every story about Bill Bennett’s life that was imaginable, he would come up with another one.

I could tell you some stories about Bill where he was at the lowest point in his life.  When he was an alcoholic at the point where he normally would have been fired from the electric company. Then someone gave him another chance for no other reason than because he understood human nature and cared about his fellow man.

You see.  There are a number of people in the electric company throughout the years where they were at the low point in their lives.  Sometimes people were there to give them a lift up from the gutter where they had fallen.  At other times, they were cast aside mercilessly and forgotten because the company was priority.  A useless and hypocritical attitude, I always thought, because what is electricity used for except to help mankind.

When Bill Bennett had reached this point in his life.  Someone was there to help him out of the gutter.  They brushed him off (the dust I mean).  Gave him some self dignity and “let it go”.  Bill went on to become a good and compassionate person.  I’m sure that those people in his life that helped him back then were the major force in reshaping his outlook on life.  He was always fighting for the underdog.  Once I understood that.  I stopped my kicking and screaming, and picked myself up off of the floor.

So, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite stories about Bill.

When Bill was young, he lived in Oklahoma City, southeast of the capitol a couple of miles in the poor section of town.  I could picture this story real well when he was telling it because my soon-to-be wife was living in this same area as she was attending Nursing School at the Oklahoma University Medical School.

Bill recounted this story:  One day when he came home from school his dad gave him a little pet possum.

Baby Possum

Baby Possum

Bill was overwhelmed with happiness.  This was like his one and only true friend.  He took the possum with him wherever he went.  After so many years I don’t remember what name Bill had given the possum, but it was something like “Fred”, so I’ll just call him Fred for the rest of the story.

Bill taught Fred tricks, and he would run up his arm and perch on his shoulder.  Bill would walk around the neighborhood proud to have his pet possum Fred sitting on his shoulder.  The two became inseparable.

When the summer was over, in the morning when Bill went to school he would have to leave Fred at home.  He had a certain sound that he would make to call his possum.  So, when he would walk in the door after returning home from school he would call Fred, and he would come out from under the sofa, or the bed, or wherever he had decided to hide for the day.  Fred was pretty much a grown possum by this time.

a grown possum

a grown possum

One day Bill came home from school.  He didn’t remember whether he had called Fred or not when he came home, but if he had, Fred didn’t answer.  This wouldn’t have concerned Bill much since Fred may have just been playing Possum as Possums are apt to do from time-to-time.  Anyway.  Bill didn’t see Fred when he came home.

When it came time for dinner Bill sat down and his mom served him a nice hot bowl of stew.  As dinner progressed, at one point the subject of the stew came up.  Maybe one of Bill’s brothers and sisters said, “Hey mom.  This is sure some good tasting stew!  What is it?”  That was the point in Bill’s life when he decided to become a chain smoker and an alcoholic…. well… not all at once… This was just the point that led him down that path.

You see.  As Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies would say, “Go eat your Possum Stew Jethro”.  Here is Granny running for Possum Queen:

Granny running for Possum Queen

Granny running for Possum Queen

That’s right.  Bill Bennett’s mom had cooked his pet possum Fred for dinner.  When he heard this he was stunned.  He didn’t have the same expression that Jethro had when Granny called him to the dinner table, that’s for sure.

Jethro's expression when he is waiting to eat

Jethro’s expression when he is waiting to eat

When he asked his parents how they could do that to his pet possum, his father replied, “Why did you think I gave that possum to you?”  That was when the grim reality of life hit Bill right between the eyes.  Sick to his stomach he left the dinner table.  From that day onward, Bill never again ate possum stew.

This might seem like a humorous or cute story to some.  To Bill, it changed his entire outlook on life.  As I mentioned.  He later became an alcoholic.  Which even later, with the help of his wife and others, he overcame.  Though it was gradual, if you trace his life back, I believe that the downward spiral began at this one crucial point in his life.  With the intentional loss of the life of someone he loved.

When Bill would call me a scamp…. I sometimes felt that down inside he was still crying for Fred, and was talking to his father instead of me.  I could see a hint of sorrow even in his humor.  He knew he could take out his hidden frustration in our presence because Bill always knew that friends like Charles Foster and I would always be there smiling back at him.

Ok.  That was one of the more serious stories of Bill’s life, but one that I often think about when I think about Bill.  Let me tell you a more humorous story:

Bill Bennett worked for an electronics store at one point in his life before he found his true calling as a “Power Plant Man”.  Part of this job included making house calls to work on the security system in homes.

The employees would use the company van to go on house calls.  It had the necessary equipment to install and repair the security systems.  It also had one curious item sitting on the dashboard.  A garage door opener.

The garage door opener was a point of amusement for the employees as they would drive through a neighborhood on the way to someone’s house they would click the opener as they drove along looking around to see if it would open anyone’s door.  No one knew where the opener had come from, but they thought that just by chance it might randomly open a garage door here or there.

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

So, here is Bill’s story:

One day he was on his way to do a job in a high-end neighborhood.  As he was slowly making his way down the neighborhood street to his destination, he was clicking the garage door opener to see if it would open any doors.  When all of a sudden he saw a few houses up ahead that a garage door was opening.

For a brief moment Bill was excited that he had found a garage door that opened.  Then he realized that the garage door that was opening was the house where he was making the service call.  “Oh No!”  He quickly began clicking the garage door opener to try to close the garage door, but it wouldn’t close.

Bill sat in the van for a while desperately clicking the garage door opener praying that it would work to close the garage door, but it never did.  finally he decided he would act as if he didn’t know anything about how the garage door opened and climbed out of the van.

He walked over to the garage and peered in, sheepishly saying, “Hello?”  He was conscious that he was a lone lower class black man in a predominantly rich white neighborhood walking into someone’s garage in broad daylight.  He took a few steps into the garage when the garage door began to close!

In order to make it out of the garage, Bill would have had to dodge under the closing door, so he just froze in place and awaited his fate.

A few moments later, the door to the house opened and a little old lady entered.  Bill tried to explain that he didn’t know how the garage door had opened and that he only entered the garage to see if someone was there.  She said she had seen his van coming down the street, and had opened the garage door from inside the house.

So, the garage door opener in the van hadn’t opened the door after all.  It was just a major coincidence that Bill happened to be driving down the street clicking a garage door opener when an elderly lady (like Granny) had seen his van and opened her garage door only to have Bill think that he had opened the door.  Or was it a coincidence?

Sometimes I feel that when a coincidence of this statistical improbability occurs that there is often an extraordinary intervention from above telling you something.  I’m sure that this little scare taught Bill something and helped him progress on to the view of life that he had when I met him years later.

I have another very coincidental story about a true Power Plant engineer that was a major turning point in this person’s life that I will share in a couple of years from now.  When you read that story it will be very clear that there is someone definitely looking out for poor souls like us.

Comments from original post:

  1. Ron   October 21, 2013

    Great stories, Kevin. Keep ‘em coming!
    I had not heard these stories about Bill. I enjoyed working with him. Do you know where he is now?

    1. Plant Electrician October 22, 2013

      Ron,
      Rumor has it that Bill cut a deal with St. Peter where he can still step out the gate for cigarette breaks.

  2. Fred   October 22, 2013

    Bill Bennett was a keeper for sure. When we played softball he would play first base and he would almost do the splits stretching to catch the ball. Quite a feat considering he has several years older than most of us playing. I enjoyed talking to him off the job the most. He was real personable. I miss him and think of him fairly often.

Power Plant Lady of the Labor Crew — Repost

Originally Posted on October 19, 2012:

In the Power Plant posts, I generally tend to focus on the Power Plant Men that taught their Power Plant culture to me while I was fortunate enough to grace the boilers and conveyors of the Coal-fired Power Plant out in the north central plains of Oklahoma. Every once in a while during this journey there were True Power Plant Ladies that came along that took their place right alongside the Power Plant Men, and generally held their own when it came to the amount of work, their tenacity, and even for some, their ability to hit a spittoon from 6 feet. — Ok. I made up the part about hitting a spittoon. Everyone just used the floor drains for spittoons in the early days before they became responsible for cleaning them out themselves, after the summer help found more grass to mow. — The choice spitting material was…. Sunflower seed shells.

In the first few years, there was Leta Cates who worked out of the welding shop (I believe… Well, she hung around there a lot), and later became a clerk. Then there was Opal Brien who was in the maintenance shop and worked in the garage one year when I was a summer help. Of course, there was Darlene Mitchell who worked in the warehouse with Dick Dale, Mike Gibbs and Bud Schoonover. There was also Diana Lucas (later Diana Brien), who was one of the Electric Shop A team super heroes. Later came Julienne Alley that became the “Mom” of the welding shop. Some more came and went…. Especially the person that we referred to as “Mom” while I was on labor crew. Doretta Funkhouser.

I have mentioned before that the evil plant manager Eldon Waugh enjoyed manipulating his minion’s (oh… I mean employee’s) personal lives as much as he could get away with without stirring up trouble downtown. So, one of the rules he had put in place was that no one on the janitor crew could be considered for another position at the plant until they had first moved to the labor crew.

There even came a ruling later in 1983 (from Eldon and/or Bill Moler) that if it was your turn to go to Labor Crew, and you were not able to, or didn’t for some reason more than once, then you would lose your job altogether. That remained the case until Darrell Low was able to quickly move from janitor to Operator after Eldon had lost his control over the people on labor crew that he wanted to keep there, making the rule obsolete (I’m sure we had been told the rule had come from Corporate headquarters anyway).

Once on the labor crew, it was very rare that anyone left this crew to go to another position in the plant. They usually had to leave the company altogether, or find a job at another plant in order to escape. This was especially true after the summer of 1982 when the oil boom went bust in Oklahoma making jobs harder to find, and less people left the plant to go somewhere else to work.

So, when I finally made it to the labor crew, many of the team had been there for a very long time. Others I had worked with before because we were janitors together. This included Ronnie Banks and Jim Kanelakos. Other members of the labor crew were Ron Luckey, Chuck Moreland, Fred Crocker, Bob Lillibridge, Tom Kelly, Bill Cook, Charles Peavler and Doretta Funkhouser. Larry Riley was our foreman.

While on labor crew I was able to learn how to operate a backhoe. Though I never learned the backhoe magic of Larry Riley, I was able to scoop up bottom ash and dump it into the back of Power Plant Men’s pickup trucks that needed it to fill in the parts of their driveways that had washed out at home. The very first time I operated a backhoe, I noticed right away that the brakes didn’t operate very well. You really had to play with it in order to get backhoe to not roll forward.

Backhoe

Here is a picture of a Backhoe

That was ok, because I was just loading bottom ash from a pile into a dump truck and I could just bump the backhoe right up against the dump truck and empty the scoop into the bed. That was working real good until while I was waiting for the dump truck to return after bringing the bottom ash to the place where it was dumping the ash, Jim Harrison pulled up in a shiny new Dodge Pickup. I mean…. it was brand new! He backed up by me and signalled to me from inside his truck. I was waiting there with a scoop full of bottom ash (which is a gravelly looking substance) for the dump truck to return.

My first thought was oh boy…. I shouldn’t do this…. I can hardly stop this thing and I know I will probably run right into the side of Jim’s new truck and he’s going to have a fit. So, I did the only thing I could do. I proceeded to drive around to the side of Jim’s truck to pour the load of ash into the bed of his truck. Now… either it was Jim’s guardian angel, or it was mine (protecting me from the bodily harm Jim may have inflicted on me out of stress had I put a big dent in the side of his new truck) that stopped the backhoe just at the right spot, I’ll never know for sure. But something did. The backhoe for once stopped right where I would have liked it to stop and I dumped the ash in the truck filling it to the brim. I waved to Jim, and he drove away.

Later when I went back to the Coal Yard Maintenance building (where the Labor Crew called home) I saw Jim in the office, so I went to talk to him. I smiled and said, “I hope I didn’t make you nervous dumping that ash in your truck.” Jim said “No.” It didn’t bother him one bit. He said he knew I could handle it. So I told him that was the first time I had ever operated a backhoe and the brakes don’t work too well, and I wasn’t even sure if I could keep the backhoe from running into the side of his truck. I remember Jim’s reaction. He said, “Ok, now I’m nervous.” Having done my share of passing the nervous energy over to Jim, I went next door to the break room to enjoy my lunch.

You would think that with Doretta being the only woman on the crew, she would have had it much easier than the rest of us. She was about a 29 year old lady that had a daughter at home. I know because she used to wear a shirt that had her daughter’s face on it. She was working to make a living like most everyone else on the labor crew. Doretta worked right alongside the rest of us when it came to Coal Cleanup, washing down the conveyor system using high pressure water hoses.

She worked right alongside me while we tied the rebar for the concrete floor of the new sandblast building that was going to be built behind the water treatment building. She worked with me in the sump pit between the precipitator and the smoke stacks with the Honey Wagon Sewer company that was helping us suck out the crud from the bottom of the pit. (This was before we had bought our own Honey Wagon). They call it a “Honey Wagon”, because, well… it is used to suck out things like Outhouses. You know how much that smells like Honey….. right? Um… ok.

We finally bought a Honey Wagon like this

Most surprising to me, Doretta worked cleaning boiler tubes in the boiler when the unit was offline and we needed to shake tubes to knock out the ash, or even use crosscut saw blades welded end on end to cut through the ash packed in the boiler economizer section.

I’m talking about these two man crosscut saws. Welded end-on-end

This lady was a survivor. That is how she struck me.

Most of the time Doretta worked with a smile on her face. In fact, she had a smile embedded on her face from years of smiling. Even though (as I found out in the course of my time on the Labor Crew), Doretta had a very rough period of her life, she hadn’t let it beat her down, and she was happy to be working on the labor crew, doing what most people would think was a thankless job.

It is true that when something needed to be typed, (Desktop computers were not available yet), Doretta would do the typing for Larry. She would also cut our hair. Being paid our modest salary (mine was $5.75 per hour at the time), we couldn’t afford to go to the barber every other week to have our hair trimmed, so Doretta would set up shop and one-by-one, we would go sit in the chair and she would cut our hair. Just like a mom would do.

I figured that if we were calling Doretta “Mom”, it only made sense that we would call Larry “Dad”. Larry’s reaction to my calling him “Dad” was more like Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker that he was Luke’s father. “Nooooooo!!!!” Except I was the little Darth Vader telling Larry I was his son…

The little Darth Vader from the Volkwagen commercial

Larry disowned me for a while as I have mentioned in an earlier post called “Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley“. He finally came around to admitting it when I continued calling him Dad. But he explained that he dropped me on my head when I was a baby and that was why I was so strange. So, Larry was our Labor Crew Dad, and Doretta was our Labor Crew mom.

It came to no surprise later when Doretta Funkhouser left the plant to become Doretta Riley. It seemed natural to me that my Labor Crew Mom and Dad would be married. I don’t know if that resolved the issue of my illegitimate Power Plant birth. I don’t remember anyone referring to me as a bastard after that. at least not in relation to my questionable origin, and at least not directly to my face. Though I do know of a few people during the years that would have thought that would have been an appropriate title for me.

I remember on one occasion when we were hauling scaffolding up onto the boiler to prepare for an outage, and I was working with Doretta using the large wench on 8 1/2 (I think), when Doretta came back from checking something at the bottom of the boiler. She said something to me then that puzzled me for a while. I didn’t understand it at first, but later came to know why she said what she did.

This is the type of Wench Hoist we were operating, only ours was powered by high pressure air. Not electricity

She said that it made her mad that people were trying to get me fired, when I’m a decent person, while there are people who shouldn’t be allowed to stay. She was referring to the wrath of Waugh after we had embarassed him in front of Martin Louthan when we had confronted them about not being allowed to be considered for the Testing jobs, (See the post “Take A Note Jan” said the Manager of Power Production“). Eldon was trying to dig up dirt on anyone that had caused his embarassment and had targetted me as one person to fire.

What had happened when Doretta had gone down to the foot of the boiler was that one or more of the “Pseudo” Power Plant Men-in-training had made an insulting reference to the past hardships that Doretta experienced in her life. I wasn’t aware of this until Eldon and Bill Moler questioned me about it a few weeks later when I was called to the office to see if I knew anything about the incident.

When they told me what had been said I became visibly upset to the point that I could hardly respond. Not because I didn’t want to answer their questions (which I didn’t, because I knew they were on their witch hunt which included me as well), but because when I learned that a couple of people on our crew had gravely insulted someone that I deeply cared about, I was both angry and upset. It was upsetting that someone would insult a struggling mother who was doing what she could to take care of her children only to be berated by others that worked closely with me.

After Doretta left the plant to marry Larry, I only saw her at a few Christmas Parties after that. She still had the same smile. I hope that she was able to find peace in her life, and that her family is doing well today. And that’s the story of my Labor Crew Mom and Dad.

Comments from the original post:

  1. Spent a little time on the picket line with the Navajo Local, District 65, in the Navajo Nation – when they were out on strike in 1987. Forget the lass’s name; but, the leader of the Local was a young Navajo woman, married with a couple of kids at home, who operated the biggest dragline at the Peabody Mine.

    Helluva skill.

  2. Gotta say, this is one of the more unusual blog posts I’ve seen in a while: different subject, funny, and well-written, too.

    Not my normal fare, but you’ve got a new follower… :)

  3. Your evocative stories return me to my years as a riveter… your subjects were the kind of people who built this country’s industry, I think. And I still think you have a book here…

Back to Plain Ol’ Power Plant Back Pain

Does anyone know where the phrase, “Step on a Crack, Break Your Mother’s Back” came from?  I’m sure there is a story behind that one.  Maybe even a lot of different origins.  I can distinctly remember a day in the Power Plant when a Power Plant Man stepped on a crack and broke his own back.

I remember looking out of the seventh floor window of my friends dorm room when I was a freshman in college about 6 months before the Power Plant Man broke his back watching students returning from classes.  I was watching closely to see if any of them were purposely missing the cracks as they walked down the sidewalk toward the entrance.  Out of about 20 people two of them purposely stepped over every crack in the sidewalk.

In the post “Power Plant Safety is Job Number One” I told the story of how while four of us were carrying a very long extension ladder through the maintenance shop at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma one summer morning in 1979 when Tom Dean stepped on a crack (well, it was a cracked piece of plywood that had been placed over a floor drain because the floor grate was missing), and when as he stepped on it, he lost his balance enough to twist himself around.  By the time he stopped twirling, he was in immense pain as he had destroyed any chance for comfort for the next 6 months.

A Cast Iron Floor drain cover similar to this

A Cast Iron Floor drain cover was missing from the drain

So, I could understand the dangers of stepping on cracks even when they appear to be insignificant.  What that has to do with my mom I’m not sure.  However, one day when my sister was walking with my mom on the campus of Oklahoma State University, my sister may have stepped on a crack at that time, as well as my mom, which sent her plummeting the five foot to the ground resulting in a broken hip.

This makes me wonder that since the times have changed, it may be time to change the saying to something else.  Maybe something like “Smoke some crack, break your parent’s piggy bank” would be more appropriate for these times.  Oh well, I’ve never been much of a poet.

Anyway, back to the subject of back pain.

The number one favorite topic during Safety Meetings at the Power Plant was Back Safety.  We were told (and rightly so) that accidents where the back is injured cost the company and the employee more than any other injury.  Once you really hurt your back, you can expect to have back pain the rest of your life.  It only takes one time.  — Times may have changed since 1979, so that now you can have some excellent back surgeries to help correct your back injuries.  Even with these, you will never be completely free from back  pain.

In the Power Plant Post, “When Power Plant Competition Turns Terribly Safe” I told a story about how our team came up with hundreds of safety slogans in an attempt to win the coveted Power Plant Safety Award Pizza at the end of the year.  A Pizza that continued to allude us for 2 and a half years.  During our meetings to invent the most catchy safety slogans, Andy Tubbs (or was it Ben Davis) came up with a slogan that said, “Lift with your legs, not your back.  Or you may hear a lumbar crack”.  — See.  I wish I could come up with doozies like that!  This takes the idea of a crack and a back and turns it around, if you think about it.  Now instead of a crack hurting your back, its about a strain on your back creating a crack.  — I know… probably just a coincidence….

Lumbars don't really crack.  The discs indicated in blue become damaged

Lumbars don’t really crack. The discs indicated in blue become damaged

One morning Sonny Kendrick, our electric specialist at the time, while sitting in the electric lab during break, let out a whopper of a sneeze.  When he did, he suddenly knew what it felt like to experience tremendous back pain.  One sneeze and he was out of commission for many weeks.

Sonny as he is today

Sonny Kendrick as he is today or… yesterday…

One day, when Charles Foster, my very close friend, and electric foreman, were talking about back pain, I realized that a good portion of Power Plant Men suffered with back pain.  — At the risk of sounding like Randy Dailey teaching our Safety Class, I’m going to repeat myself, “You only have to hurt your back one time to have a lifetime of back pain.”

The company would focus a lot of their safety training around the importance of proper lifting techniques in order to prevent back accidents (not to be confused with backing accidents which is when you back out of a parking space — which is also a common accident — though usually less severe  — unless you happen to be a Ford Truck).  We would learn how to lift with our legs and not with our back.

You see, it wasn’t just that one sneeze that caused Sonny’s plunge into Back Pain Hell, and it wasn’t just stepping on the cracked plywood floor drain cover that broke Tom’s back (I know “Broke Back” is a misnomer since the back isn’t exactly broke).  The problem is more systemic than that.  This is just the final result of maybe years of neglecting your back through various unsafe activities.

The two important points I remember from watching the safety videos during our monthly safety meetings was that when you slouch while sitting, you put a needless strain on your lower back.  So, by sitting with good posture, you help prevent a future of pain.   The second point I remember is that you need to keep your stomach muscles strong.  Strong stomach muscles take the weight off of your back when you’re just doing your regular job.

The big problem that finally causes the disc in your lumbar region of your spine to break after neglecting it through these other means is to lift a heavy object by bending over to pick it up instead of lifting the load with your legs.  So, the phrase that we always heard was “Lift with your Legs.  Not your Back”.  You do this by bending your knees instead of just your hips.

Ok.  I know you are all thinking the same thing I am thinking (right?  Yeah.  You are).  Bending both your knees and hips saves your back.  Isn’t there another word for when you bend your knees and hips at the same time?  — Yeah.  Yet, I don’t remember hearing it during any of our Safety Videos.  — Oh.  It was implied, they just never came out and said it….  What they really mean to say is, “Squat”.  Yeah.  “Squat”.  When you bend your knees and hips, isn’t that “Squatting?”

Times have changed…. I mean….. Doesn’t everyone today have a “Squatty Potty”?

The Squatty Potty Logo

The Squatty Potty Logo

Don’t we all have “I ‘heart’ 2 Squat” tee-shirts?

See how happy you can be to Squat?

See how happy you can be to Squat?

To learn more, you can watch this video:

This doesn’t just work with the Squatty Potty to help you drop your loads, it also works when lifting heavy loads.  So, remember the next time you are going to bend over to pick something up…. Squat instead.

Other lifting tips include keeping the load close to your body and not holding your breath but tightening your stomach muscles, and don’t lift something too bulky by yourself.  Don’t twist your body when picking something up, face the load directly.  A weightlifter once told me that when you lift, feel the weight on the heel of your feet, not on the balls of your feet.

Randy Dailey, the Safety Guru of our Power Plant, and an expert machinist invented a pen that you could put in your pocket protector in your shirt pocket that would alert you by beeping if you leaned over too far.  It was an ingenious device to remind you to lift with your legs instead of your back.

In one of the safety videos we watched about back safety, there was a short stalky scientist that explained the dynamics of lifting and how easy it was to put a tremendous strain on your back by leaning over and picking something up.  He said that “People choose the more simple way to pick something up.  Not the easiest way.”

Doesn’t that sound like the same thing?  Isn’t the simplest way the easiest way?  Well.  You would think so, but it isn’t always the case.  This Doctor of Back-ology went on to explain his statement.  He explained that the simplest way to pick up an object on the floor is to bend at the hip.  It is one movement.  Bend at the hip.  — However…. The easiest way to pick up the object is to bend both your knees and your hips to pick up the object.  Since you keep your back straight and you lift with your leg muscles that are the most powerful muscles in your body.  He avoided using the word, “Squat”, but that’s what he meant.

In order to reduce back injuries at the plant, the company made back belts available at the plant.

A Back Support Belt

A Back Support Belt

Note that this picture not only shows a Power Plant Man wearing a Back Support Belt, but he also is wearing the right kind of Tee-Shirt.  It has a vest pocket where you can put a Pocket Protector for your little screwdriver and your Back Alert Pen created by Randy Dailey.

Our Pocket Protectors were freebies given to us by vendors so they would have advertisements on them like these

Our Pocket Protectors were freebies given to us by vendors so they would have advertisements on them like these

The use of back belts was new around the late 1980’s.  Even though we had them available through the tool room when we wanted them, few people wore them.  The warehouse team wore them a lot.   I suppose that is because they were lifting and moving things all day long.

In the warehouse Bob Ringwall, Darlene Mitchell and Dick Dale used to have back belts on when I would visit the warehouse to pick up a part, or to visit my friends.  I don’t remember if Bud Schoonover would wear a back belt.  How’s this for a slogan…. “Be a Safety Black Belt…. When Lifting, wear your Back Belt.”   I know.  I should stop when I’m ahead, only I’m so far behind now I may never catch up.

There was a  question about whether wearing a back belt was really a good idea.  It  was thought that people might tend to substitute using their stomach muscles while lifting with the back belt, resulting in weaker stomach muscles.  So we were cautioned not to go around wearing back belts all day long.  Only when we were going to be doing a job where we had to do a lot of lifting.  I suppose now, after years of research, there is a lot more data to tell us one way or the other.  I haven’t heard what the latest jury has said on this subject.

Even  though I titled this post “…Plain Ol’ Power Plant Back Pain”, there is nothing plain about back pain.  I just thought it sounded like a catchy title.

I was lucky enough that during the 20 years I spent working at the Power Plant, I never really hurt my back.  To this day, I have been able to avoid living with perpetual pain in my back.  — I have been accused of causing pain in other people’s necks. Also, I don’t think the many times that people told me I was a pain in their back side, they were referring to the Lumbar region.  I think they meant an area just below the tailbone.  I hope that by bringing to their attention the benefits of the Squatty Potty that I have been able to relieve (or prevent) a little of that lower lumbar pain.

Now when someone says, “You don’t know Squat”, you can correct them!

When Power Plant Durability and Automation Goes Too Far — Repost

Everyone expects when they enter an elevator and push a button for the 3rd floor that when the doors open they will find themselves on the third floor. It doesn’t occur to most people what actually has to happen behind the scenes for the elevator to go through the motions of carrying someone up three stories. In most cases you want an automated system that requires as little interaction as possible.

I have found while working in the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma that some systems are better off with a little less than perfect automation. We might think about that as we move into a new era of automated cars, robot soldiers and automatic government shutdowns. Let me give you a for instance.

The coal trains that brought the coal from Wyoming all the way down to the plant would enter a building called “The Dumper.” Even though this sounds like a less savory place to park your locomotive, it wasn’t called a Dumper because it was a dump. It was called a Dumper because it “Dumped.” Here is a picture of a dumper:

A rotary dumper much like the one that was at our Power Plant

A rotary dumper much like the one that was at our Power Plant

The coal train would pull into this room one car at a time. I talked about the dumper in an earlier post entitled “Lifecycle of a Power Plant Lump of coal“. As each car is pulled into this building by a large clamp called the “Positioner” (How is that for a name? It is amazing how when finding names for this particular equipment they decided to go with the “practical” words. The Positioner positions the coal cars precisely in the right position so that after the car clamps come down on the car, it can be rotated upside down “Dumping” the coal into the hoppers below. No fancy names like other parts of the power Plant like the “Tripper Gallery” or the “Generator Bathtub” here.

A typical coal train has 110 cars full of coal when it enters the dumper. In the picture of the dumper above if you look in the upper left corner you will see some windows. This is the Dumper Control Room. This is where someone sits as each car pulls through the dumper and dumps the coal.

Not long after the plant was up and running the entire operation of the dumper was automated. That meant that once put into motion, the dumper and the controls would begin dumping cars and continue operating automatically until the last car was through the dumper.

Let me try to remember the sequence. I know I’ll leave something out because there are a number of steps and it has been a while since I have been so fortunate as to work on the dumper during a malfunction… But here goes…

I remember that the first coal car on the train had to positioned without the positioner because… well….. the car directly in front of the first car is, of course, the locomotive. Usually a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Engine.

A picture from Shutterstock of a locomotive pulling a coal train

A picture from Shutterstock of a locomotive pulling a coal train

Before I explain the process, let me show you a picture of the Positioner. This the machine that pulls the train forward:

The piece of equipment with the large wheels is the positioner  It can pull a coal train full of coal forward to precisely the proper position

The piece of equipment with the large wheels is the positioner It can pull a coal train full of coal forward to precisely the proper position

The automation begins after the first or second car is dumped. I’ll start with the second car just finishing the process as it rolls back up right after dumping the coal… The car clamps go up.

  • The rear holding arm (that holds the car in place from the entrance side of the dumper) lifts up out of the way.
  • The Positioner begins pulling the entire train forward.
  • Electric eyes on both end of the dumper detect when the next car has entered the dumper.
  • The Positioner adjusts the position of the coal car to the exact position (within an inch or two) by backing up and pulling forward a couple of times.
  • The Holding arm on the back end comes down on the couplings between the two train cars one back from the car that is going to be dumped.
  • The four car clamps come down on the train car at the same time that the dumper begins rotating.
  • The Positioner clamp lifts off of the train car couplings.
  • Water Sprayers come on that are attached to the top of the dumper so that it wets the coal in order to act as a dust suppression.
  • The Positioner travels back to the car clamp between the car that was just emptied before and the car in front of it.
  • As the train car rotates to the desired angle. (I think it’s about 145 degrees), it begins slowing down.
  • When the car has been rotated as far as desired it comes to a stop.
  • The Dumper pauses for a few seconds as all the coal is dumped from the coal car.
  • The Positioner moves back and forth until it is in just the right position for the positioner arm to lower onto the couplings between the cars.
  • The Sprayers turn off.
  • The Dumper begins returning to an upright position.
  • The Positioner arm lowers down onto the clamps between the coal cars.
  • Once the car is upright the dumper stops rotating.
  • The 4 car clamps go up.
  • The Holding arm goes up. And the process is repeated.

This is a beautiful process when it works correctly. Before I tell you about the times it doesn’t work correctly, let me tell you about how this process was a little…uh… too automated…

So. The way this worked originally, was that once the automated process was put into operation after the second car had been dumped, all the dumper control room operator had to do was sit there and look out the window at the coal cars being dumped. They may have had some paperwork they were supposed to be doing, like writing down the car numbers as they pulled through the dumper. It seems that paperwork was pretty important back then.

Each car would pull through the dumper… The coal would be dumped. The next car would be pulled in… etc.

Well. Trains come from Wyoming at any time of the day. Train operators were paid pretty well, and the locomotive engineers would come and sit in the control room while the train was being dumped. Often (more often than not it seemed) the trains would pull into the dumper in the middle of the night. Coalyard operators were on duty 24 by 7.

So, imagine this…. Imagine Walt Oswalt… a feisty sandy haired Irishman at the dumper controls around 3 in the morning watching 110 cars pull through the dumper. Dumping coal…. One after the other. I think the time it took to go from dumping one car to the next was about 2 1/2 minutes. So it took about 3 1/2 hours to dump one train (I may be way off on the time… Maybe one of the operators would like to leave a comment below with the exact time).

This meant that the dumper operator had to sit there and watch the coal cars being slowly pulled through the dumper for about 3 hours. Often in the middle of the night.

For anyone who is older than 25 years, you will remember that the last car on a train was called a Caboose. The locomotive engineers called it a “Weight Car”. This made me think that it was heavy. I don’t know. It didn’t look all that heavy to me… You decide for yourself:

A Caboose

A Caboose

Back in those days, there was a caboose on the back of every train. A person used to sit in there while the train was going down the tracks. I think it was in case the back part of the train accidentally became disconnected from the front of the train, someone would be back there to notice. That’s my guess. Anyway. Later on, a sensor was placed on the last car instead of a caboose. That’s why you don’t see them today. Or maybe it was because of something that happened one night…

You see… it isn’t easy for Walt Oswalt (I don’t mean to imply that it was Walt that was there that night.. well… it sounds like I’m implying that doesn’t it…. I use Walt when telling this story because he wouldn’t mind. I really don’t remember who it was) to keep his eyes open and attentive for 3 straight hours. Anyway… One night while the coal cars were going through the dumper automatically being dumped one by one… there was a point when the sprayers stopped spraying and the 4 car clamps rose, and there there was a moment of pause, if someone had been there to listen very carefully, they might have heard a faint snoring sound coming from the dumper control room.

That is all fine and dandy until the final car rolled into the dumper. You see… One night…. while all the creatures were sleeping (not even a mouse)… the car clamps came down on the caboose. Normally the car clamps had to be raised to a higher position to keep them from tearing the top section off of the caboose.

If it had been Walt… He woke when he heard the crunching sound of the top of the caboose just in time to see the caboose as it swung upside down. He was a little too late hitting the emergency stop button. The caboose rolled over. Paused for a moment as the person manning the caboose came to a rest on the ceiling inside… then rolled back upright all dripping wet from the sprayer that had meant to keep down the dust.

As the car clamps came up… a man darted out the back of the caboose. He ran out of the dumper…. knelt down… kissed the ground… and decided from that moment on that he was going to start going back to church every Sunday. Ok. I exaggerate a little. He really limped out of the dumper.

Needless to say. A decision had to be made. It was decided that there can be too much automation at times. The relay logic was adjusted so that at the critical point where the dumper decides to dump a coal car, it had to pause and wait until the control room operator toggled the “Dump” switch on the control panel. This meant that the operator had to actively decide to dump each car.

As a software programmer…. I would have come up with another solution… such as a caboose detector…. But given the power that was being exerted when each car was being dumped it was probably a good idea that you guaranteed that the dumper control room operator actually had his eyeballs pointed toward the car being dumped instead of rolled back in his head.

I leave you with that thought as I go to another story. I will wait until another time to talk about all the times I was called out at night when the dumper had failed to function.

This is a short story of durability…

I walked in the electric shop one day as an electrician trainee in 1984 to find that Andy Tubbs had taken an old drill and hooked it up to the 480 volt power source that we used to test motors. Ok. This was an odd site. We had a three phase switch on the wall with a fairly large cable attached with three large clips so we could hook them up to motors that we had overhauled to test the amperage that they pulled to make sure they were within the specified amount according to their nameplate.

I hesitated a moment, but I couldn’t resist…. I had to ask, “Andy…. Why have you hooked up that old drill to 480? (it was a 120 volt drill). He replied matter-of-factly (Factly? Can I really say that in public?), “I am going to burn up this old drill from the Osage Plant (See “Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Rest” for more information about Osage Plant) so that I can turn it in for a new one.

Ok. I figured there must be a policy somewhere that said that if you turned in a burned up tool they would give you a new one. I knew that Bud Schoonover down at the toolroom was always particular about how he passed out new tools (I have experienced the same thing at my new job when trying to obtain a new security cable for my laptop).

Anyway. Andy turned the 480 volts on and powered up the drill. The drill began whining as it whirled wildly. Andy stood there holding up the drill as it ran in turbo mode for about five minutes. The drill performed like a champ.

Old Power Drill

Old Power Drill

After showing no signs of burning itself up running on 480 volts instead of 120 volts, Andy let off of the trigger and set it back on the workbench. He said, “This is one tough drill! I think I’ll keep it.” Sure. It looked like something from the 1950’s (and it probably was). But, as Andy said, it was one tough drill. On that day, because of the extra Durability of that old Pioneer Power Plant Drill, Andy was robbed of a new variable speed, reversible drill that he was so craving.

new variable speed reversible drill

new variable speed reversible drill

Comments from original  post:

 

Ron   October 12, 2013:

Great stories!
Coal trains today have engines at the rear of the train. I hope we never try to dump one of them!

devin  October 12, 2013:

It takes about 7 hrs to dump 150 car train

Bruce Kime   October 12, 2013:

Wasn’t Walt but a certain marine we won’t mention. They dumped the last car & forgot to put the car clamps in the up maximum position. They give the go ahead for the train to pull the caboose through! Instant convertible caboose! Now there are break away clamps on the north side. And there are locomotives on the rear of the train because the trains are made up of 150 cars .

 

NEO   October 12, 2013:

Like you, I can think of several ways to automate the process without dumping the caboose but I think the operator pushing the button may be the best. Automation can get out of hand.

Jack Curtis  November 3, 2013:

An engineer used to remind us: “A machine always does what you tell it to…whethr you want it to, or not.”
IF the union or the lawyers require a duty operator on an automated process, I’m all for giving him a button to push and attaching some responsibility. All automation designs are approved by Murphy…Wow! Thanks for the update Bruce!

Wax On Wax Off and Other Power Plant Janitorial Secrets — Repost

Orignally Posted on October 12, 2012:

Two years before the movie Karate Kid came out at the movies in 1984, I had learned the secret of “Wax On, Wax Off”. One that made a significant difference to my Power Plant Janitorial Powers!

The Student Learns from the Master…. “Wax On… Wax Off”

My Janitorial Master was Pat Braden. He is the same age as my father. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Pat Braden reminded me of a rounder version of Red Skelton:

This Picture of Red Skelton reminds me of Pat Braden

Pat was one of the kindest people you would ever meet. He was the head janitor when I became a janitor at the Coal-Fired Power Plant. I had worked with him off and on during the 4 summers when I had worked as a summer help. So I was glad to actually be on his crew as one of the team.

When we had a big waxing job to do, we would schedule a weekend to come in and do it. That way we could wax an entire area without interruption. We could strip off the old wax with the stripping chemicals, then neutralize it, then add the sealer, and finally end up with waxing the floors with the best wax we could buy. As I mentioned in the post “How Many Power Plant Men Can You Put in a 1982 Honda Civic”, we used Johnson Wax’s best wax: Showplace.

The Best Floor Wax money can buy!

We had been “certified” by Johnson and Johnson to wax floors properly. This included the proper buffing techniques once the wax had been applied and had properly dried. A properly waxed and buffed floor is shiny but not a slippery floor.

Floor buffer, used to strip the wax off and buff the wax once it has been applied

We decided to spend one weekend waxing the Engineering shack. It was a tin building like a Metal Butler Building that the inspectors from Corporate Headquarters would use when they had projects at the plant. In 1982, that was pretty well all of the time, as John Blake and Gene Titus were permanent residents of the Engineers Shack.

A simple metal building sort of like this. Only it was green.

The floor in this building had a regular tile floor like you would see in an office building in the 1960’s. Just the plain square tiles. It looked like it had never been waxed before, and was probably built on the plant grounds long before the power plant existed. The floor had been worn out by the traffic over the years. This was one building that I was expected to keep swept and mopped as part of my daily janitorial responsibilities.

Our Janitor crew consisted of Pat Braden, Doris Voss, James Kanelakos, Ronnie Banks and Curtis Love (and myself of course). We had decided a couple of days before that for lunch we would eat baked onions. “Ok”, I thought. I knew we didn’t get paid much as janitors and we had to be frugal, but I didn’t really think that we were so bad off that we had to resort to eating onions for lunch. But since no one really asked me for my vote (which would have been to bring in some pizza from Ponca City), we were having baked onions for lunch.

We spent the morning removing all the furniture from the building, and then stripping the floor (even though it looked like it had never been waxed before). Then we mopped it a couple of times. By that time it was lunch time, and we headed up to the plant break room where Doris was just finishing up baking our um…. er….. onions. Yeah.. Baked Onions….

It turned out that these were Purple Onions. The ends had been cut off of them and butter and salt and pepper had been put on each end as they were wrapped up in tinfoil like a baked potato, and then baked in the oven just as if they were a baked potato.

oh yum… a purple onion…

Well. I was never one to complain about food, and I was determined not to show my lack of enthusiasm at the thought of eating an onion for lunch, so I sat down and put on my eager hungry expression as I waited for our feast. — Well. The joke was on me. As I began to eat the baked onion, I realized right away that it didn’t taste like any onion I had ever eaten. It was kind of sweet and…. well…. it was rather tasty! Power Plant Culture never ceases to amaze me.

Anyway, after I had eaten my share of onions, we were ready to go back to work waxing the engineers shack. We spent the rest of the day doing that and when we had decided that the wax had dried enough, we carefully brought the furniture back in and put everything back in order.

So, why am I boring you with all this detail about waxing the floor in a metal building that doesn’t even exist today? Well. I have told you now about the “Wax On” part. Now comes the “Wax Off” part. The second part of my training to becoming a Jedi Janitor (hmm… snuck in a Star Wars reference I see).

Here is what happened the next Monday when I wheeled the buffing machine out of the janitor closet in the Engineer’s shack. Gene Titus (who always reminded me of Jerry Reed):

Jerry Reed

and John Blake, both were very pleased with their new shiny floor. They looked like they were anxious to show it off to someone… anyone that would come by. I was about to really impress them (I thought) with my fine buffing skills that was really going to make their floor shine. So, they watched closely as I attached the red buffing pad on the bottom of the buffer:

The black buffing pad is for stripping the wax. The red one is for normal heavy buffing and the white one is for polishing

I began at the far end of the room from the doors and began buffing…. The first thing I noticed was that the buffer was literally removing the wax from the floor. Yep. It was taking it right off. Wax On…. Wax Off…..

Normally John Blake was a likable sensible person. But when he saw me removing the wax from the floor he had a very concerned expression, and well, I perceived that a sort of extreme hatred was rising up in his demeanor…. I was glad that John was a quiet mild-mannered sort of person, otherwise, I think he would have walloped me one for ruining the floor that he was so proud of minutes before.

I began thinking to myself what I should do. After all. The floor really did need buffing, and buffing it was removing the wax. So as the buffer moved back and forth erasing the shine and bringing back the dull tiles, I thought as hard as I could muster my brain what I should do next….

I figured I would go ahead and buff the entire main room, as if I knew exactly what I was doing, not looking concerned. I don’t know if the confidence that I exhibited while removing the wax relaxed John just enough so that he could leave the building and continue his job, or if he actually stormed out in distress hoping to drown his sorrows in his morning cup of coffee…

When I finished the room with the red pad… I did what I would have done if the wax had buffed up correctly and had actually still existed on the floor…. I put the white pad on the buffer. I thought in my mind that the floor was probably so infiltrated with dust that we hadn’t done a proper job (if it was even possible) to clean the floor before applying the wax on Saturday.

So I thought I would try something that they hadn’t taught us in waxing class… I took a spray bottle and filled it with wax. Then I started in the same corner where I had begun removing the pride and glory of John Blake’s newly waxed dreams. I sprayed some wax and buffed it into the floor. As I guided the buffer back and forth with one hand, I sprayed the floor with the other. To my surprise, not only did it start to leave a shiny polished floor, but it left a polish that was much more clear than before. One that was almost like a mirror.

A plain spray bottle like this

As I buffed the room from one end to the next, the entire room became brighter as the lights from the ceiling reflected from the hard polished wax. I was nearly finished with the room when John walked back in. He was immediately stunned by the brightly polished floor.

I could see his uncharacteristic desire to kill me melt away and his pleasure with his new Shangri La abode become immediately evident. John Blake from that moment on viewed me with the respect that most Power Plant janitors normally deserve.

I was so impressed with how well the floor looked when I was done, that I went to the Brown and Root building next door and did the same thing there.

I began to wonder what other uses I could make out of this discovery… Spraying wax on the floor and buffing it right in. It finally occurred to me that the floor cleaning machine that I used to clean the Turbine room floor might benefit by adding some wax to the mixture. It had the same type of red buffer pads on it.

We had a Clarke Floor scrubber similar to this one

So, after I had scrubbed the Turbine Generator floor using the regular detergent. I cleaned out the scrubber and put just water in there and about 1/2 gallon of wax. Then I went to try out my experiment. Sure enough…. The bright red Turbine Room floor began to glow. The bright lights overhead were clearly reflected off the floor. This was very successful.

This is a picture of the red turbine room floor, only not with the nice wax job. After I had waxed it, you could see the light bulbs in the floor

So, my next test was to sweep off the turbine-Generators themselves with a red dust mop. Then spray watered down Johnson Wax directly on the dust mop and mop away on the turbine generators:

Like this only with a mop handle

The Turbine Generators took on the same polished shine.

I distinctly remember one Power Plant Operator that gave me a very nice complement one day for keeping the T-G floor so nicely polished. His name was Michael Hurst. He was a True Power Plant Operator.

Michael Hurst is the second Brave Power Plant Operator on the right

As a lowly janitor in a plant of heroes, I found that I was treated with the same respect as everyone else. I would never forget that complement from him because I could see his earnest sincerity.

A few years ago on December 19, 2008 Michael Hurst died in Oklahoma City. What was said about Michael after his death was this: “He had a great sense of humor and a big heart… Many have been blessed with his generosity and his genuine love for people.” I can include myself in this statement. I know that everyone shown in the picture above from Joe Gallahar (on the left) to Doris Voss (in the middle) to Pat Quiring (on the right) would agree with that testament about Michael.

There was another sentence after this one that stands on it’s own. One that is a sign of a True Power Plant Man. It was also said of Michael Hurst: “Above all else, the most important thing to him was his family.” Though I don’t have a picture of Michael’s immediately family. I believe that I have included a picture above of at least some of his extended family.

Comment from previous post:

  1. Ron  October 16, 2013:

    Thanks, Kevin.
    Did you know that (years ago) John Blake’s dad was Manager of Power Production (Generation Dept. in those days)? I remember Martin Louthan and other “old” Power Plant Men speak of “Mr. Blake” with respect.

    1. Plant Electrician  October 16, 2o13:

      I didn’t know that. I do know that everyone seemed to treat John with respect. Which he deserved in his own right. We carpooled together my second summer as a summer help with Stanley Elmore.

Hubbard Here! Hubbard There! Power Plant Hubbard Everywhere!

I’m not exactly sure why, but after having written 144 Power Plant Stories about the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have yet to really tell you about one of the most important Power Plant Men during my 20 year stay at the Power Plant Palace.  I have mentioned many times that he was my carpooling buddy.  I have called him my Power Plant Brother.  I have explained many of his characteristics in other posts, but I have never really formally introduced you to the only person that would answer the Walkie Talkie radio and the gray phone with “Hubbard Here!”

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

There are a couple of reasons why I have waited until now I suppose.  One of the reasons is that I have two very terrific stories about Scott and I that I will be telling next year, as they took place after the 1994 downsizing, which I will be covering next year.  The other reason is that I wasn’t sure exactly how to tell you that at one point in my extraordinary career at the Power Plant Palace, I really didn’t have the warm-and-fuzzies for Scott Hubbard at all.  In fact, the thought of Scott Hubbard to me early in my career as an electrician was rather a sour one.

Let me explain….  I wrote a post August, 2012 that explained that while I was on the labor crew the Power Plant started up a new crew called “Testing”  (See the post:  “Take a Note Jan” said the Supervisor of Power Plant Production).  A rule (from somewhere…. we were told Corporate Headquarters) had been made that you had to have a college degree in order to even apply for the job.  Two of us on Labor Crew had college degrees, and our A foremen asked us to apply for the jobs.  When we did, we were told that there was a new rule.  No one that already worked for the Electric Company could be considered for the new jobs.  The above post explains this and what followed, so I won’t go into anymore detail about that.

When the team was formed, new employees were seen following around their new foreman, Keith Hodges (who is currently the Plant Manager of the same plant).

Keith Hodges 8 years before becoming foreman of the testing team with his new son, Keith Junior

Keith Hodges 8 years before becoming foreman of the testing team with his new son, Keith Junior

Ok.  While I’m on the subject of family pictures of the 1983 testing team’s new foreman, here is a more recent picture:

Keith Hodges 30 years after becoming foreman of the testing team with his new granddaughter Addison.  Time flies!

Keith Hodges 30 years after becoming foreman of the testing team with his granddaughter Addison. Time flies! Quality of Power Plant employee pictures improve!

When we were on the labor crew and we would be driving down to the plant from our coal yard home to go do coal cleanup in the conveyor system, we would watch a group of about 10 people following Keith like quail following the mother hen around the yard learning all about their new home at the Power Plant.  — I’ll have to admit that we were jealous.  We knew all about the plant already, but we thought we had been judged, “Not Good Enough” to be on the testing team.

One of those guys on the new testing team was Scott Hubbard.  Along with him were other long time Power Plant men like, Greg Davidson, Tony Mena, Richard Allen, Doug Black and Rich Litzer.  Those old testers reading this post will have to remind me of others.

I joined the electric shop in 1983 a few months after the testing team had been formed, and I really would have rather been an electrician than on the testing team anyway, it was just the principle of the thing that had upset us, so I was still carrying that feeling around with me.  So much so, that when the first downsizing in the company’s history hit us in 1988, and we learned that Scott Hubbard was going to come to the Electric Shop during the reorganization to fill Arthur Hammond’s place, who had taken the incentive package to leave (See the post “Power Plant Arguments with Arthur Hammond“), my first reaction was “Oh No!”

Diane Brien, my coworker (otherwise known as “my bucket buddy”) had told me that she had heard that Scott Hubbard was going to join our team to take Art’s place.  When I looked disappointed, she asked me what was the problem.  After thinking about it for a moment, I said, “I don’t know.  There’s just something that bugs me about Scott Hubbard”.  — I knew what it was.  I had just been angry about the whole thing that happened 5 years earlier, and I was still carrying that feeling around with me.  I guess I hadn’t realized it until then.  I also thought at the time that no one could really replace my dear friend Arthur Hammond who had abandoned the illustrious Power Plant Life to go try something else.

Anyway, Scott Hubbard came to our crew in 1988 and right away he was working with Ben Davis, so I didn’t see to much of him for a while as they were working a lot at a new Co-Gen plant at the Conoco (Continental) oil refinery in Ponca City.  So, my bucket buddy, Dee and I carried on as if nothing had changed.  That was until about 9 months later…. When I moved from Ponca City to Stillwater.

I had been living in Ponca City since a few months after I had been married until the spring of 1989.  Then we moved to Stillwater.  I had to move us on a Friday night out of the little run down house we were living in on 2nd Street in Ponca City to a much better house on 6th Avenue in Stillwater.

 

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

The little house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

I felt like the Jeffersons when I moved from a Street to an Avenue!

 

House we rented in Stilleater

House we rented in Stillwater

I  am mentioning the Friday night on May 5, 1989 because that was the day that I moved all our possessions out of the little junky house in Ponca City to Stillwater.  My wife was out of town visiting her sister in Saint Louis, and I was not able to move all of our belongings in my 1982 Honda Civic, as the glove compartment was too small for the mattress:

A 1982 Honda Civic

A 1982 Honda Civic

I figured I was going to rent a U-Haul truck, load it up with all our possessions and drive the 45 miles to Stillwater.  My only problem was figuring out how I was going to transport my car.  While trying to figure it out, Terry Blevins and Dick Dale offered to not only help me with that, but they would help me move everything.  Terry had an open trailer that he brought over and Dick Dale loaded his SUV with the rest of the stuff.  With the one trailer, the SUV and my 1982 Honda Civic, all our possessions were able to be moved in one trip. — I didn’t own a lot of furniture.  It consisted of one sofa, one 27 inch TV, One Kitchen Table a bed and a washer and dryer and boxes full of a bunch of junk like clothes, odds and ends and papers.  — Oh.  And I had a computer.

Once I was safely moved to Stillwater that night by my two friends, (who, had to drive back to Ponca City around 2:00 am after working all that day), my wife and I began our second three years of marriage on living in a house on the busiest street in the bustling town of Stillwater, 6th Avenue.  Otherwise known as Hwy 51.  The best part of this move was that we lived across the street from a Braum’s.  They make the best Ice Cream and Hamburgers in the state of Oklahoma!

Braum's is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger.  It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

Braum’s is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger. It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

I keep mentioning that I’m mentioning this because of this reason or that, but it all boils down to how Scott Hubbard and I really became very good friends.  You see…. Scott lived just south of Stillwater, and so, he had a pretty good drive to work each day.  Now that I lived in Stillwater, and we were on the same crew in the electric shop, it only made sense that we should start carpooling with each other.  So, we did.

Throughout the years that we carpooled, we also carpooled with Toby O’Brien and Fred Turner.  I have talked some about Toby in previous posts, but I don’t believe I’m mentioned Fred very often.  He worked in the Instrument and Controls department, and is an avid hunter just like Scott.  Scott and Fred had been friends long before I entered the scene and they would spend a lot of time talking about their preparations for the hunting season, then once the hunting season began, I would hear play-by-play accounts about sitting in dear stands waiting quietly, and listening to the sounds of approaching deer.  I would hear about shots being fired, targets missed, prey successfully bagged, dressed and butchered.  I would even be given samples of Deer Jerky.

I myself was not a hunter, but I think I could write a rudimentary “Hunter’s Survival Guide” just by absorbing all that knowledge on the way to work in the morning and again on the way home.

The think I liked most about Scott Hubbard was that he really enjoyed life.  There are those people that go around finding things to grumble about all the time, and then there are people like Scott Hubbard.  He generally found the good in just about anything that we encountered.  It rubbed off on the rest of the crew and it made us all better in the long run.  I don’t think anyone could work around Scott Hubbard for very long and remain a cynical old coot no matter how hard they tried.

Scott Hubbard and I eventually started working together more and more until we were like two peas in a pod.  Especially during outages and call outs in the middle of the night.  I think the operators were so used to seeing us working together so much that in the middle of the night when they needed to call out one of us, they just automatically called us both out.  So, we would meet at our usual carpooling spot and head out to the plant.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I have two very good stories about Scott and I.  One of those has to do with a time when we were called out in the middle of the night to perform a special task.  I won’t describe it now, so, I’ll tell a short story about one Saturday when we were called out on a Saturday to be on standby to do some switching in the Substation.

I believe one of the units was being brought back online, and Scott and I were at the plant waiting for the boiler and the Turbine to come up to speed.  Things were progressing slower than anticipated, so we had to wait around for a while.  This was about the time that the Soviet Union fell in 1991.  We had been following this closely as new things were being learned each day about how life in Russia really was.  I had a copy of a the Wall Street Journal with me and as we sat in a pickup truck slowly driving around the wildlife preserve known as “The Power Plant”, I read an article about Life in the former Soviet Union.

The article was telling a story about how the U.S. had sent a bunch of food aid to Russia to help them out with their transition from slavery to freedom.  The United States  had sent Can Goods to Russia not realizing that they had yet to invent the can opener.  What a paradigm shift.  Thinking about how backward the “Other Superpower” was made life at our “Super” power plant seem a lot sweeter.  We even had military vets who still carried around their can openers on their key chains.  I think they called them “P 38’s”

 

P-38 Can Opener

GI issued P-38 Can Opener

The conditions in Russia at the time reminded me of the beginning sentence of the classic novel “A Tale of Two Cities”,     “Call me Ismael”….. Oh wait.  That’s “Moby Dick”.  No.  I meant to say,  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times!”  —  It’s funny how you remember certain moments in Power Plant history just like it was yesterday, and other memories are much more foggy.  For instance, I don’t even remember the time when we… um….  oh well…..

The first thing that comes to the mind of any of the Power Plant Men at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Centeral Oklahoma when you mention Scott Hubbards name, is how Scott answers the radio when he is paged.  He always replied with a cheerful “Hubbard Here!”  After doing this for so long, that just about became his nickname.  “Hubbard Here!”  The latest picture I have of Scott Hubbard was during Alan Kramer’s retirement party at the plant a few years ago.  I’m sure you can spot him.  He’s the one with the “Hubbard Here smile!

Scott Hubbard it the second on the right next to a very bald Jimmie Moore

Scott Hubbard it the second on the right next to a very bald Jimmie Moore

I will leave you with the official Power Plant Picture.  Here is a picture of Scott Hubbard in a rare moment of looking serious:

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Eating Power Plant Pickles, Peppers and Ice Cream — Repost

Pickles and Ice Cream usually makes one think of things other than Coal-Fired Power Plants, but when I think of Pickles, peppers or Ice Cream, my first thoughts are of the Electric Power Plant where I used to work.  The place where I spent 20 years of my life in North Central Oklahoma.  I suppose I have Charles Foster to thank for that.

I wrote about Charles earlier this year in the post “Personal Power Plant Hero – Charles Foster“.  In that post I explained about how Charles and I would sit in the electric shop office at lunch time talking about movies that we had seen.  We would take turns telling each other about the movies in such great detail that when it came time for me to actually watch “Mrs. Doubtfire” for the first time, I felt as if I had seen it before as Charles had explained every scene to me in technicolor.

Robin Williams playing Mrs. Doubtfire

Robin Williams playing Mrs. Doubtfire

The other thing that we would do during lunch, of course, was eat lunch.  Being that naturally boring person that I am, I would usually bring the same ham sandwich to work each day.  Day-in and day-out, I would eat a ham sandwich, and an apple, or some other kind of fruit depending on the time of year.

If it hadn’t been for Charles I never would have experienced the finer side of Power Plant Lunch Time.  Charles was an avid gardener.  He had a very large garden between his house and the road where he lived out in the country.

People from Pawnee, Oklahoma would judge the world economic situation just by taking a ride out in the country to take a look at how Charles’ garden was coming along.  Between Charles Foster and the Farmer’s Almanac, there was little guesswork left.

I was the beneficiary of this little piece of the Garden of Eden amid the arid Oklahoma prairie.  Though I never came to take it for granted, every day when I opened my lunch box to retrieve my ham sandwich with American Cheese and a bit of Miracle Whip to keep the bread from sliding off, I would be given an extra treat from one of the kindest people I know.  Charles would hand me something special from his garden.

Cherry Tomatoes were a common, but always special treat.

A perfect Cherry Tomato by Shelley Hourston at dogsbestfriend.wordpress.com

A perfect Cherry Tomato by Shelley Hourston at dogsbestfriend.wordpress.com

I include this perfect photo of a cherry tomato by Shelley Hourston because this is the kind of cuisine I was subjected to on a regular basis.  I almost suspect that Shelley stopped by Charles’ garden to find this tomato.  It makes the question about whether the cherry tomato is a fruit or a vegetable a moot point.  The real answer is that it is a feast.

Growing up as a boy in Columbia, Missouri during the 1970’s I was spoiled when it came to Dill Pickles.  The best Dill pickles that money could buy could be found in Central Missouri.  I don’t remember the brand.  They may not even exist today.  I remember the ingredients on the jar very clearly.  Cucumbers, Vinegar, Salt, Dill.

Today it is hard to find a jar of Dill Pickles that actually has dill in them.  I think that you shouldn’t be able to label a jar of pickles as Dill Pickles unless they are pickled with dill.

Vlassic Pickles:  Ingredients:  Cucumber(s), Water, Vinegar Distilled, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Polysorbate 80, Flavor(s) Natural, Yellow 5

Vlassic Pickles: Ingredients: Cucumber(s), Water, Vinegar Distilled, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Polysorbate 80, Flavor(s) Natural, Yellow 5

Where’s the Dill?

Where's the beef commercial... but what is she really looking at?  A pickle!  She's really thinking... Where's the Dill

Wendy’s “Where’s the beef” commercial… but what is she really looking at? A pickle! She’s really thinking… Where’s the Dill

Why am I so picky?  Well.  Because besides this one company in Missouri that had only the 4 main ingredients, the only other place I found a true American Dill Pickle was in the Power Plant electric shop office in North Central Oklahoma during lunch.  Not only did Charles make his pickles from the cucumbers he grew in his garden, but he pickled them with the fresh dill that he also grew in his garden.

Dill

Special Power Plant Pickle Dill

I realize I have digressed.  I will climb down off of the pickle barrel now and continue with the important part of this story… um… ok… I mean.. I’ll continue talking about food.  One summer Charles let me come over to his house and pick cucumbers and pickle them right there in his kitchen.  We scrubbed them clean, put them in the jars with some dill sprigs.  Brought the vinegar just to a boil and then poured it in the jars, and sealed them shut.  — Best pickles ever.  Four ingredients.

Besides being granted the best pickles and tomatoes around each day for lunch, when the right season came around Charles would bring peppers.  I don’t mean the large bell peppers.  I mean the thin hot peppers.  Like this:

Hot pepper

A Serrano Pepper

At times Charles would bring in some very small peppers where I would take one little nibble of the pepper then a couple of bites of ham sandwich just to go with it.  I became so used to eating hot peppers that at home I would buy a large jar of whole jalapeno peppers just to eat like pickles.   Since I’m really going to town showing pictures tonight I tried to find a large jar of whole  jalapenos, but I couldn’t find one.  My mouth started watering while I was searching for  jalapeno on Google Images.

While I am on the subject of peppers, I will mention that many years later, when I was “sequestered” with Ray Eberle for three years working on SAP (this is another story for a later time), he introduced me to the wonderful taste of Habanero sauce on my ham sandwich.  Yeah…

habanero peppers

habanero peppers

Like Charles Foster, Ray would bring in a bottle of Habanero sauce every day and let me soak my ham sandwich with it.  After that, I stopped buying jars of  jalapenos and started using Habanero salsa for my chips at home.

On an even farther note…. one day when I was working on some homework for a course I was taking at the University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, my daughter, Elizabeth took one of the tortilla chips from my plate and dipped it in the Habanero salsa bowl I had sitting in front of me.  Without looking up, I said, “I wouldn’t do that.”  Not sure what I meant, she put the chip in her mouth.

Habanero Salsa

Habanero Salsa

After the brief moment of complete unbelief that her mouth from the jaw down had just disintegrated, she started making strange sounds as she ran to the kitchen to try to find some relief.  I told her not to drink any water, that only makes it worse.  I told her that the only way to fix this situation is to keep eating chips.  You see…. drinking water just washes all that hot stuff into every crevice in your mouth and throat.  Eating chips absorbs the heat and carries it to safety.

When I was young at one point in my life, an ice cream truck used to come through the neighborhood selling ice cream and candy.  It seemed like one of those fun times when you are a child that just seems to go away when you are older.  Today there is an ice cream truck that goes through our neighborhood and when I watch the children that live next door all run outside to catch it, it brings back those memories.

Today's Ice cream truck.... well... Ice cream Van...

Today’s Ice cream truck…. well… Ice cream Van…

So, imagine my surprise when an ice cream truck for adults showed up at the plant one day.  I didn’t even know they existed.  Charles had to explain it to me.  We were walking by the break room in the office area and this man was handing boxes to the janitor, who was stashing them in a freezer.  Charles asked me how much money I had on me, as we quickly headed for the office elevator.

On the way down Charles explained that we had just seen the Swan Man!  The Swan man?  I asked him what that meant.  He explained that the Swan man traveled around the countryside delivering all kinds of food to people so that they didn’t have to go to the grocery store.  Ok…..  I thought.  Sounds reasonable…  When we reached the ground floor, we walked out of the building and there parked at the end of the sidewalk was this truck:

Schwan Truck

Schwan Truck

Wow!  An Ice cream truck for adults!!!  We stood around for a few minutes and when the man returned to his truck Charles and I gave him some money and we bought two boxes of Ice Cream sandwiches!  Who would have thought that you could stand in the middle of the parking lot at a Power Plant in the middle of nowhere, 20 miles from the nearest city of any size, and buy ice cream from an Ice Cream Truck?  I certainly never thought that would happen until it did.

Years later, when I was driving through the countryside on the way to my house outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma I spied a Schwan man driving his truck down the country road.  I drove up behind him and started honking at him.  My daughter, who was about 9 at the time, asked me what I was doing.  I told her that she would see….  My son sitting in the back seat asked if we were going to get in trouble.  I assured him that we weren’t.

After about a mile of me honking and blinking my lights at him, the Schwan man pulled over.  I walked over to him.  Looked at him rather seriously as he climbed out of the truck and said, “Do you have a box of Ice cream sandwiches for sale?”  At that point, he put his brass knuckles back in his pocket, and re-holstered his pistol.  Looked back at me with a straight face.  Paused, Thought for a moment.  Then said, “Sure!”  He opened one of those side doors.  Pulled out a box.

I handed him some money.  Then returned to my car and drove home.  On the way home I explained to Elizabeth about the Schwan man and about how he travels around the countryside bringing food to people.  So, of course he wouldn’t mind selling me a box of Ice Cream sandwiches.

Power Plant Ice Cream Sandwich

Power Plant Ice Cream Sandwich

Anyway, back at the plant.  After Charles and I figured out the Schwan Man’s schedule, we knew what day he was going to show up, so we made sure to have enough cash in our pockets to get a couple of boxes so that we could keep them in the freezer in the electric shop.  It seemed like we had to eat them rather fast because our freezer wouldn’t keep them frozen hard and after a while they would get pretty soft.  That was our story anyway.  We didn’t want them to melt. Now. Would we?

So, thanks to Charles Foster we were able to eat like Kings in our Power Plant Palace.  When Sonny Karcher, years ago used to say the phrase from a country song, “I’m just an old chunk of coal, but I’m going to be a diamond some day,” (a song by John Anderson) he was right in more ways than one.  We would stagger back to the electric shop after working on a coal conveyor on the long belt, all covered with coal dust.  Go in the bathroom and wash up… plop ourselves down on the chair in the office.  Open our lunch boxes… and have a feast fit for a king!

I’ll leave you with the words from one of Sonny’s favorite songs the first summer I worked as a summer help back in 1979:

Hey I’m just an old chunk of coal but I’m gonna be a diamond some day
I’m gonna grow and glow till I’m so blue pure perfect
I’m gonna put a smile on everybody’s face
I’m gonna kneel and pray every day last I should become vain along the way
I’m just an old chunk of coal now Lord but I’m gonna be a diamond some day

I’m gonna learn the best way to walk gonna search and find a better way to talk
I’m gonna spit and polish my old rough edged self till I get rid of every single flaw
I’m gonna be the world’s best friend gonna go round shaking everybody’s hand
I’m gonna be the cotton pickin’ rage of the age I’m gonna be a diamond some day

Now I’m just an old chunk of coal…

Here’s Johnny Cash singing the song:

Comment from original post:

Tim Foster October 8, 2013:

Ah yes I remember that day when you came to the house to make pickles. It seemed cool that someone found Dad’s pickles so enjoyable that he wanted to come and learn how to make them. Unfortunately they have stopped making pickles but we have found some store bought ones that taste just like them. I will ask my mother every now and then if she sent Vlassic her recipe so that she would not have to smell the vinegar any longer. I wish I had inherited Dad’s green thumb but I have not as yet. My location just is not as good as his either. We are praying that this summer people will know that he is feeling better just by taking a drive out west of town to once again look upon the patch of land that has become a landmark.

Power Plant Men Fighting Fires for Fun — Repost

Originally Posted October 5, 2012:

The Coal Fired Power Plant where I worked first as a summer help, then as a janitor, a labor crew hand and finally as an Electrician is located about 20 miles north of Stillwater, Oklahoma.  It just so happened that Oklahoma State University in Stillwater has one of the leading Fire Protection and Safety schools in the country.  They offer Fire Service Training for companies who need to train their employees how to fight fires.  As a summer help I was fortunate enough to take the onsite training that they provided at the power plant about every other summer to train the employees how to put out difficult fires.

It does sound like a good idea considering that there was all this coal laying around that had the habit of spontaneously igniting into smouldering embers that could easily lead to a large raging ball of flames.  In fact, the Coal Yard heavy equipment operators had to driver their large dirt movers over and over the coal on the coal pile to pack it down because if it was exposed to too much air, it would develop hot spots that would turn into smouldering piles of coal that were nearly impossible to put out.

Dirt Mover full of coal

I have seen a spot smouldering on the coal pile where a water wagon would drench it with water over and over.  That only seemed to keep it from spreading as fast.  The only way to deal with it was to drag the burning coal off of the pile and let it burn itself out.

You would think that the OSU Fire Training Service would do a good job of teaching the employees the proper use of the fire extinguishers.  the plant was loaded with Fire Extinguishers, and they did.  As a summer help and labor crew hand, we would have to do a monthly inspection of all the plant extinguishers to check their pressures an initial the inspection sticker showing that we had been by to check it.  This was a practice that would later change to once each quarter when the Power Plant Men were strung out too thin and the labor crew no longer existed.  Even later, the operators inspected them as they made their rounds, since they walked by them during their shifts anyway.

The plant had more than just the regular chemical fire extinguishers, it had the larger roll-around type in a few places as well:

More than what is needed in your average kitchen

The Fire Training Service trained us to use this as well.  Actually, they motivated us to go out and buy fire extinguishers to put in our own homes.  Which came in handy for me one year when an air condition repairman was using a blow torch in my house to cut out the cooling coils but forgot to take out the filter first.

The moment I saw him light up his torch, I pulled out the extinguisher from under the sink and set it on the counter.  As I watched him, he suddenly started jerking back and forth.  I figured something was up, so I pulled the pin, and when he was finally able to pull the burning filter out of the air duct, I was ready to blast it with the extinguisher.  So, I gratefully thank the electric company for properly training us to use the handy dandy fire extinguishers that you might use around the house.

The size fire extinguisher you would find in your home

The size fire extinguisher you would find in your home

One important thing that you learn about the little extinguishers in your house is that they don’t really go very far before they run out of chemicals.  So, you have to get the job done quickly while the fire is still small and manageable.

When I first heard that we were going to be trained to fight fires the second summer I was at the plant as a summer help, I was pretty excited.  Wow… Great!!!  Fight Fires!  That sounds fun.  A day of watching safety videos and playing with fire extinguishers.  I didn’t realize at the time that there was a reason why OSU Fire Training Service was the best fire training school in the radius of about 1,000 miles.

Sure.  We watched the training videos.  We learned all about proper fire extinguisher care and maintenance.  We heard stories about how small fires turned into raging infernos that burned companies right out of business.  One thing I remember is that some large percentage of companies that have a major fire are never able to recover to the point that they go completely out of business.

If you need the exact percentage, I suggest you call up the OSU School of Fire Protection and Safety.  They probably have the latest statistic printed on their school lunch napkins, because these guys eat, drink and sleep fire safety.

Then, after they had impressed us with their Fire Safety Prowess, they said, “Let’s take about a 15 minute break, and we will meet outside just north of the water treatment plant where we will resume your lessons.  Oh, and bring your rubber boots and maybe a rain suit.”  Rain Suit?  What?  It’s about 100 degrees outside.  I wouldn’t mind getting a little wet I thought to myself. — The simpleminded summer help that I was at the time.

I would describe in detail to you how they had this obstacle course of staircases and pipes and other metal structures all sitting in a big tray.  It’s enough to say that it was quite a tangled mess of a contraption.

“Interesting.” I thought… Are we going to climb the staircase  and shoot the fire from up above with our handy dandy fire extinguishers which were lined up in a row off to one side?  Climbing over pipes to fight a fire under the stairs maybe…  Do we get to use the big roll around fire extinguisher that was there too?  This looks like it might be fun.

That was when the fun began.  One of the trainers turned a valve, and then I realized that there was a fairly large tank there also that was hooked up to the pipes that wound around the mocked up structure of a stairway and other obstacles in the large tray.  As he turned the valve, what looked like diesel or kerosene some petroleum product  came spraying out of various holes in the piping spraying everything in the tray drenching it with fuel.

This other guy had a long rod that he had lit like a large lighter only it was giant size, and after the fuel had been spraying out for a while, he lowered the flame down into the tray that now was beginning to fill up with some kind of oily substance.  He lit it and the flames quickly spread over all the structure.  He had us go in groups of 4 people with fire extinguishers to try to put out the fire.  As their extinguishers ran out of fuel, others waiting behind would take their place trying to put out the fire.

We would chase the fire around the structure trying to put it out, but it wasn’t as easy as you would think.  If you didn’t completely suffocate it by hitting it from many different directions and in a pattern from one end to the other just right, the fire would dodge around the spray from the extinguishers to be right back where you started.  By the time we had used up all the extinguishers, we may have put the fire out about 3 times.

Rubber boots… I kept thinking…. my feet are getting hot…  You couldn’t hardly get close enough to the fire to use your fire extinguisher without getting your eyebrows singed.  I was always known for having long eyelashes, and I thought I could hear them sizzle as they brushed against my safety glasses.

That’s when they pulled the fire hose out of the fire box that was there next to the fire hydrant.  All over the plant grounds there were these red boxes.  They are lined up alongside the long conveyor belt from the coal yard to the plant (about 1/2 mile).  They were lined up along around the two silver painted million gallon number 2 Diesel tanks.  They were just about everywhere you looked (come to think of it).

I remember Summer Goebel when she was a new plant engineer one time asked me when she had first arrived, “What are all those red boxes out there?” (she was pointing out the window of the Engineer’s office).  I told her they each contained fire hose and a valve wrench to open up the fire hydrant.  I neglected to add that they also provided great shade for all the Jack and Jill rabbits that inhabited the plant grounds, which doubled as a wild life preserve.

An outdoor Power Plant fire hose cabinet and Metallic Rabbit shade tree

So, we were going to use the fire hose!  That sounded like more fun.  That is until the one guy said to the other guy (more using hand and face signals — like putting his thumb up and winking) “open ‘er up”  — so, he was using “slang” hand and face signals…

That’s when the real training began.  First of all, we all backed up because as the flames grew on their structure, the heat literally talked directly to your legs and magically told them…. “back up, or else…”  so, now that we were standing a good 50 feet away from the fire, we lined up in a row on the fire hose.

4 of us.  Four hefty Brawny Power Plant men… (well, 3 hefty brawny  power plant men, and one scrawny little runt of a summer help who actually thought he could be measured alongside them),  Isn’t that a bit much for this one 4 inch fire hose? (or was it just 3 inches?).  There were two hoses actually being used.  One to create a wide barrier of water to protect us from the heat, and another hose to shoot water through the barrier into the fire.

A couple of guys manned the large roll around fire extinguisher.  Here is an actual picture of the OSU Training Service training a group of employees at a work site to fight fires to give you a picture of what we faced:

This is am actual picture of the OSU Fire Service training plant workers to fight fires.

Notice the two different types of sprays in the picture.

Like I said, these guys aren’t called the best Fire Trainers because they have pretty pamplets.  so, the first time I slipped in the mud, I thought… hmm… I suppose the rainsuit would have kept all that mud from coming into contact with my jeans, and my shirt and my ego.

Well, the most fascinating thing was that we could walk up real close to this intense fire and the wide spray of water sheltered us from the heat.

This is how you open the nozzle to create the wide barrier spray

Then with the large fire extinguisher on wheels, you could open it up on the fire by standing behind this barrier and shoot the chemicals right through the water onto the fire, and it would quickly and incredibly put out that tremendous fire when it was done right.  The other fire hose that was spraying through the barrier of water was used to cool everything down so that the fire didn’t spring right back up.  the water wasn’t going to put out an oil fire.

Anyway, not long after our first of many fire fighting training sessions that we had throughout the years, the night that we were actually fighting the dragon in the boiler (See the Post, “Where do Knights of the Past go to Fight Dragons Today“), the Control Room came over the gray phone (PA system) saying that there was a fire on the turbine room floor.

A bunch of power plant he-men dropped the lance they were using to pierce the dragon and ran off to fight the fire.  It turned out to be a barrel full of oily rags that had spontaneously combusted.  The fire refused to go out for a long time.  It kept re-igniting until the contents had completely burned up.

I remained in the bottom ash area as I was still reeling from the steaming hot water that had been spewed all over me.  A little while later the men were back ready to grab the lance and go back to work on the boiler around 10pm (this after a full day of coal cleanup from 8am that morning).

The one important topic that they ingrained into our minds while we were taking the training was that you have to know when the fire is too big to fight.  We had learned what our equipment could do and what it couldn’t do.  So, we had the knowledge to realize that if the fire is too big, then it is time to get out of there and call the professionals.  The only problem was that the nearest professionals were about 20 minutes away.  A lot can burn down in that amount of time…. but that is a story for another time.  I see the grin on the power plant men’s faces.  They know what I am talking about.

What Happens When Power Plant Gremlins Bite Back

I suppose many of you have seen the movie Gremlins that came out in 1984.  It’s a story about a creature named Gizmo who is a Mogwai that becomes a pet of an unsuspecting young man, who inadvertently breaks certain rules that were explained to him in specific detail.  The first rule was Don’t get the Mogwai wet…. The second rule was Don’t feed a Mogwai past midnight.  — There was another precaution, like Mogwai do not like Bright Lights.  The Mogwai is a cute little pet designed to sell toys, and I think it was probably pretty successful.

When a Mogwai get wet, it pops out some fur balls that then turn into other Mogwai.  You would think this would be good, but when the boy accidentally spills water on Gizmo, the new Mogwai turn out to be mischievous, where Gizmo is friendly and has a nice smile.  The new Mogwai trick the boy into feeding them past midnight.  This is when the trouble really begins.  The cute fuzz ball Mogwai turn into Gremlins:

Gizmo from the movie Gremlins

Gizmo from the movie Gremlins

Stripe from the movie Gremlins

Stripe from the movie Gremlins

Can you guess which one is the Gremlin?

So, what does this have to do with Gremlins in a Power Plant?  As it turns out something like Gremlins live in Power Power Plants.  I know they did at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma where I worked as an electrician.  Sometimes when you least expected it, a Gremlin would jump out and bite you.

At first a Power Plant Gremlin may appear like a nice cuddly Mogwai.  For instance, one day when Stanley Elmore asked Hank Black to pull up to the front of the garage with the large P&H Crane to unload a large piece of equipment from a truck, or some such thing.  I’m sure to Hank, this seemed like a nice cuddly Mogwai sort of a job.

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

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

Just think about it.  Operating something with so much power and the ability to do so much work by just pulling a few levers and pressing a couple of petals, flipping a few switches.  Not many people at the plant were privileged enough to have the opportunity to operate the P&H Crane.  So, when Stanley asked Hank to lift that load and tote that bale, he hopped right to it.

Unfortunately, Hank didn’t realize when he climbed into the cab of the crane that the little Mogwai sitting in the seat next to him had been eating after midnight the night before….  One little pull of the wrong lever at the wrong time, and a little distraction that caused Hank to forget to put his outriggers out before trying to lift his heavy load, and the crane flipped over on its side.

Like this crane I found on Google Images

Like this crane I found on Google Images except our crane was laying all the way over on it’s side, but you get the idea

I wonder if Hank noticed the Gremlin jumping out of the cab just after that happened, or was he in too much of a state of shock.  Though Hank appeared all right after that incident, he had injured his back in a way where he eventually had to leave permanently.  I know that many years later after he left, he was still collecting a pay check from the company.  Compliments of the Gremlin.

One day RD (Dick) McIntyre, Dale Mitchell, Don Timmons and George Alley were working underneath one of the four Intake Pumps, also known as the Condenser Water Pumps.  These are the large water pumps that push the lake water through the condenser in order to cool the steam so that it can make another round through the boiler and end up turning the turbine once again.  I believe each of these pumps can pump something like 189,000 gallons of water per minute.  — One of the Power Plant Men at the plant can correct me if I’m mistaken.

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

This is a view from the smoke stack.  The four Intake pumps are at the bottom center

The crew was putting the coupling back on the pump if I remember this correctly…. and they needed to rotate the rotor of the motor or the pump in order to line it up or check the alignment.  I wish I had a team picture of these four men, because they were the nicest bunch of old men.  Especially when you were able to catch them all together.  It seemed like the energy of their friendship made their group larger than the sum of the individuals.  I’m sure while they were working on this job, all sprawled out underneath the pump motor, they had warm cuddly feelings just as if each of them was petting a Mogwai.

That’s when the Mogwai suddenly turned into a Gremlin.  The team had put a strap wrench around the rotor (correct me if the details are wrong Mickey.  You would know better than I) and were attempting to rotate the rotor.  Dale Mitchell told me later that suddenly something slipped and the handle of the strap wrench swung around and smacked Dick McIntyre right in the forehead.  Dick and Dale were just about as inseparable as Dick Dale was with his first and last name, so you can imagine how Dale felt that he had injured Dick.

Here is an interesting coincidence…. Dick Dale worked in the warehouse across the drive from the automotive garage where Dick and Dale (McIntyre and Mitchell respectively) worked, which was where the crane had tipped over with Hank Black in the driver seat.  — I could stretch the coincidence to David Hankins, who used to drive a Black Trans Am.  I would have mixed up David Hankins and Hank Black, because of David’s Black Trans Am, but David died in an auto accident early in 1980, and I don’t think Hank had arrived until shortly after.   Racially, David Hankins was Black, and Hank Black was not.  He was Native American.  Anyway.  I digress (which means… I have strayed from the topic of Gremlins).

When I think about Gremlins at the plant, Yvonne Taylor comes to mind.  Not because she reminds me either of a Mogwai or a Gremlin, but because she encountered a Gremlin of sorts that sort of had a similar effect of spilling water on a Mogwai.  I have recently reposted a story called “How Many Power Plant Men Can you Put in a 1982 Honda Civic” where I talked about Yvonne Taylor, one of the Chemists at the Plant.

Yvonne Taylor had worked as a Chemist at the plant since around 1980.  We carpooled while I was a janitor and on the labor crew, almost until I joined the electric shop.  So, I knew her pretty well.  She liked to talk a lot, so I knew her a lot better than she knew me.  As a chemist, she worked in the water treatment plant testing water quality, as well as testing our sewage treatment pond, and ground water, etc.  She worked with a lot of different chemicals.

I was always fascinated with the chemistry lab.  I had my own chemistry lab set up in the basement of our house when I was young.  My dad would bring home different left over chemicals from work, and I would mix them, heat them, and light them on fire, and test their chemical properties… to the point of making gunpowder and exploding them in the backyard.

I think Yvonne had worked at the plant about 10 years when she developed a rash (or something) where she would become ill when working in the lab or in the water treatment plant.  It was serious enough that Yvonne would have to take sick leave at times to recover.  I first learned about her condition when I went to the chemistry lab for something and she was sitting in there wearing a paper filter mask.  When I asked her why, she explained to me that she was trying to figure out what was causing her to become ill.  She thought there might be some particles in the air in the lab or the water treatment plant that was causing it.

I think that the effects of Yvonne’s condition sounded a lot like what happens when someone develops an allergy to Latex.  Yvonne would wear Latex gloves a lot when handling chemicals, so maybe that was it.

The sad part of the story is that Yvonne’s condition was severe enough that she had to leave the Power Plant and find another job.  I don’t know where she went to work when she left the Electric Company.  So, you see, Yvonne Taylor who happily went to work each morning ready to cuddle up to her chemicals just as if they were Mogwai, was finally chased away by Power Plant Gremlins.

In the post about the Honda Civic I mentioned that Yvonne’s husband Patrick had died in 2012.  So, I wondered how Yvonne is doing lately, so I Googled her, knowing that she lived out in the country near Perkins Oklahoma…. But an interesting thing happened when I pulled up a page from the Perkins Journal for June 9, 2011.

I became confused when I saw this page.  You see, the picture in the middle at the top is Mike Rose.  He was an electrician I had worked with at the Power Plant, and I had recently re-posted a story about him called “River and Rose In the Power Plant Palace”  Mike Rose had his own set of Gremlins which I may have mentioned in that post, but why, when I searched for Yvonne Taylor, did I pull up the a Newspaper Obituary of Mike Rose with the same picture of Mike I had posted in my post:

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

Mike Rose

Talk about a Coincidences:

I read through the entire page before I found Yvonne’s name in a totally unrelated article on the same page of the Perkins Journal!  Look in the lower right corner of the screenshot of the newspaper.  The picture of Kimberly Jo Taylor Wilkins.  — Yep.  That’s right!  The daughter of Yvonne and Patrick Taylor!  I don’t know how may hundreds of stories I heard about Kimberly throughout the 9 or 10 months I spent carpooling with Yvonne each morning as we drove to the Power Plant.  Here she was beginning a new phase in Kimberly’s life on the same page that Mike Rose was beginning a new phase in his life.  Two unrelated stories of Power Plant People I worked with on the same page of a small town newspaper (Perkins Oklahoma, Population 2,863) 10 years after I left the plant to go work for Dell. — Isn’t that neat?

Power Plant Men’s Club Prizes and a Story of Luck — Repost

My wife used to wince a little each time I told her I would be late coming home that evening because I was going to the Men’s Club dinner after work. Not because I was going to be spending the evening at the Raccoon Lodge with Ralph Cramden:

Ralph and Norton at the Raccoon Lodge

Ralph and Norton at the Raccoon Lodge

It wasn’t because I would come home Blotto’ed after an evening of drinking. No. The reason my wife would cringe at the thought of Men’s Club was because about half the time I went to Men’s Club I would come back with some sort of prize.

You see… I have always been cursed with being lucky. It came in handy sometimes because there were times when I was flying by the seat of my pants and if I wasn’t just plain lucky, things would have ended quite suddenly and there would not have been any “rest of the story.”

Others in the Electric shop recognized that I was lucky and would try to take advantage of it by having me buy the squares in the football pots and they would pay me back. Those types of things never really worked. I tried to pass my luck on by proxy, but it didn’t seem to rub off.

Sure in the early days, Men’s Club was held offsite at a lodge. At those dinners, there were alcoholic beverages being served. That was back during the summer of 1979 when I was 18. I was barely old enough to drink the 3.2% beer from a convenience store in Oklahoma at the time.

I didn’t have a car, so I had to rely on Steve Higginbotham driving me home in his Junky Jalopy. (See the post: “Steve Higginbotham in his Junky Jalopy Late for the Boiler Blowdown“). He acted as if he had been drinking even if he hadn’t been… or maybe he had and I just didn’t know it.

By the summer of 1980, after David Hankins was killed in an automobile accident while driving home from a Men’s Club event, alcohol was no longer served and most Men’s Clubs at our Power Plant were held On-Site.

The Women’s Club however was still held off-site. You see, in order to be fair, the Women’s Club was given the same amount of money that the Men’s Club was given. Only there over 300 men and only about 15 women. So the Women had even better prizes than the Men.

I suppose it was when they decided to have Men’s Clubs in the break room at the plant that they decided they needed to do something to make it worthwhile. They tried having interesting speakers, but listening to Bill Gibson (Gib) tell jokes would only go so far. After all, even though he could tell jokes as well as any other storyteller at the plant, we could hear him any day of the week. So it was decided to start having drawings for prizes.

Prizes were good. Everyone likes prizes. After all, when you won a prize it was given to you freely. You didn’t have to put on a show or stand on your head or anything to get it. You just had to walk the gauntlet of Power Plant Men oogling your new fishing rod, or tackle box wishing they had won it instead of you, and asking you if you would like to trade it for an old busted up pair of Channel Locks.

There were some of us that seemed to win prizes all the time. Some may have even won enough prizes to furnish their house with prizes from Men’s Clubs. Me? I did a pretty good job of furnishing my garage.

Here are some of the gifts I won:

Everything in this picture is a Power Plant Men's Club prize except for the cat food

Everything in this picture is a Power Plant Men’s Club prize except for the cat food

If you look closely at this picture you will see that even after 20 years, the “Heavy Duty Double Gear Cable Puller” is still in the box. — Yeah. I never had a chance to use it. Believe me…. I have been waiting desperately for the day when I can say. “I have a tool for that!” Just like Bob Kennedy used to say (See the Post, “Bobbin’ Along with Bob Kennedy“). Alas… the “come-along” is still in the box.

I did use the floor jack on my riding lawn mower when i had to change the tires. The tackle box actually has Tackle in it. the cooler has been used a lot. The camping chair, not so often. I have never used the Emergency blinking light combination air compressor, that hooks up to a car battery for power.

I won many other prizes, but these are the prizes that I still have readily available in my garage. You can see that I dragged them all into the kitchen this evening for the picture. My wife was sitting on the couch when I came into the room with a floor jack under one arm, and a combination light slash air compressor under the other arm holding a tackle box in one hand the cooler in the other.

She asked me what I was doing, (with a look of anticipation). I suddenly realized that the look of hope in her eyes was because she thought that I had a momentary lapse of civility and was going to be throwing out some junk from the garage. I caught a glimpse of disappointment when I told her I was writing my blog post. — What? throw away something from the Power Plant? Do I act like I have dementia?

My son walked into the kitchen to quench his thirst and saw the assorted items arranged across the kitchen floor and asked, “Why is all this junk here in the kitchen?” I explained that I was writing my blog and these were some of the things I won at Men’s Club at the Power Plant. “Oh. Ok,” he said as he gave me a side-glance that said, “whatever dad.”

After having collected all sorts of really good junk over the years at the plant, Terry Blevins who had been a fellow electrician for 11 of the 18 years I had spent in the shop was sitting across from me during dinner and the subject of winning prizes came up.

I never liked to mention to others how I won a prize half the time I went to a Men’s Club, because they used to give the other lucky people such a hard time about it. Accusing them of cheating because they were always winning. It seemed like Fred Turner was another lucky person that came away with a lot of loot.

Anyway, When Scott Hubbard and I were talking to Terry, he mentioned that he had never won a prize at Men’s Club. What? I couldn’t believe it. He had to repeat it many times before it sunk into my thick skull. I must have had more than 20 Men’s club prizes by that time and Terry had never ever won a prize. How does that happen?

I recognized that I was lucky early on. When I was in college I would count on it. I also contributed it with having Saint Anthony as one of my best friends. He is the saint of finding lost items. Here are a couple of examples that happened in just one night.

I had arrived in Columbia, Missouri my senior year in college from Christmas break in a brand new Honda Civic. It was early January, 1982. This was the same Honda Civic I just re-posted about earlier this week (See, “How Many Power Plant Men can You Put in a 1982 Honda Civic“).

My friend Ben Cox had come over to the dorm and we decided to go eat at a natural food store just northeast of the campus. So, we took my car. The roads were icy. That was fine with me. Not only was I lucky, but I was experienced in driving on ice, having learned to drive in Columbia.

Now, when I say the roads were icy. I mean.. with ice. Not packed snow. So, with Ben sitting next to me in the Honda, in the dark as I made my way up Locust Street going east. I was timing my speed so that I would hit 9th street (The Strollway) just as the light turned green, because if I had to stop, it would be difficult since I would be stopping on the slope of a hill and would probably start sliding back down.

Just as I arrived at 9th street the light turned green and I slid right through the intersection right on time. The only problem was that there were two cars going each direction on 9th street (one in front of the Missouri Theater and the other in front of the Calvary Episcopal Church), and they were not able to stop.

So, I was caught directly between two cars. There didn’t appear to be anyway out of this predicament. That was when I found that my Honda had a tendency to spin out of control on ice for no apparent reason.

As I slid across the intersection my car began to spin around. Just as I was in the middle of the intersection and the two other cars were skidding by me, I had turned parallel with them. As they passed by, all three cars continued spinning and going through the intersection, pirouetting as in a ballet, so that as the car going north was just passing by, the front of my car came around and pointed back in the direction of travel (I had spun 360 degrees), and I continued on my way as if nothing had happened. Whew… — Yeah. My pants were still dry at that point… — see how lucky I was? Dry Pants!

Anyway. I went one more block and parallel parked directly across from the Greyhound bus depot. Ben climbed out of the car and made some sort of comment, though I couldn’t quite hear him. I noticed he was walking a little funny. Maybe his pants weren’t as lucky.

Anyway. We walked the two blocks to the restaurant slash health food store called “The Catalpa Tree”. We ate something that had fried tofu in it that tasted like the tofu had went bad some time last summer… — No. That wasn’t part of the story about how lucky I am.

Anyway. After eating Ben and I walked back to my car. As we were approaching the car, another car began rolling back out of the Greyhound bus depot directly toward my car. There was no one behind the wheel. All that Ben and I could do was stand there and stare at it heading directly into the side of my car.

The car had rolled out into the street and was bound to smash right into my brand new car. Then all of the sudden another car came sliding down the road right between my car and the approaching one. The rogue car smashed into the side of that car instead.

When the car with no driver from the bus depot came to a smashing stop, two little boy heads peered up from the front seat. You see. Their mother had left the two kids in the car while she went into the bus station to do something. She had left the car running to keep her children warm in the sub-freezing weather. Well…. oops.

After making sure that everyone was all right, I climbed into my car and drove away. Within an hour… two incidents where I could have had my new car smashed through no real fault of my own, instead I came out unscathed. — That has been the story of my life — well.. Not to tempt fate…

My luck hasn’t changed… I still end up bringing home things that I win at different functions. Sure some functions everyone comes home a winner. But there are times when it just isn’t fair to the my coworkers.

I have a number of stories since I have been at Dell, but they are all similar to this one story…. A couple of years ago, I attended a Well At Dell event where a special speaker that was a Champion Runner from Burundi Africa was speaking about everything he went through to reach this point in his life. He survived an attack during the war between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes. His name is Gilbert Tuhabonye.

Gilbert Tuhabonye

Gilbert Tuhabonye

Tuhabonye was a lucky person. Or you may say that he has a large guardian angel. On October 21, 1993 while he was in High School, a group of Hutu attacked his school. They took more than 100 students and teachers, beat them and packed them in a school room then burned the building down with them in it. After being burned, nine hours later he took the charred bone of another student and used it to break out of the building where he ran to safety.

Anyway. I went to go listen to this remarkable man speak in a large meeting room on the Dell Campus in Round Rock, Texas on October 21, 2010. 17 years to the day after Gilbert’s tragedy, and the beginning of his new life.

I arrived early and was the first person in the room that wasn’t someone setting up the room for the event. I walked up the middle row with the pick of any seat. I went the the third row on the left and sat on the chair in the middle of the row.

The people that were setting up the room all smiled at me. They had all seen me, as I had been working out in the gym where they all worked. I said hi back to them.

Anyway at the end of the inspirational talk by Gilbert, he announced that one person in this room was going to get a free copy of his book. They just had to look under their seat and if they had a paper taped under it then they were the winner. — Of course… I had the pick of chairs in the room… so you know what happened. Yep. Here is the book:

Gilbert's Inspirational book

Gilbert’s Inspirational book

I could go on and on… maybe I will later when I talk again about how lucky I was to just miss a falling piece of metal that would have killed me, but I had stopped to tie my shoe…

Sure I’m lucky. Today is September 27. It is one of those days that sticks in my mind because both tragedies and good things have happened on this day in the past. On September 27, 1980 I was lucky enough during a tragic situation when the world was turned upside down, that I became friends with a young beautiful person named Kelly.

Kelly became my wife 5 years and 3 months later. After all the times I have been lucky enough to win some prize even when I wasn’t really trying, I can surely say that on that one day when I really wasn’t looking, I began a relationship with the most remarkable person I have ever met. It has been exactly 33 years since that day, and I still believe that it is the luckiest day of my life.

Comment from Original Post:

  1. Roomy September 30, 2013:

    You were even lucky enough to find the best roomy in Muskogee!!

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