Experiencing Maggots, Mud and Motor Vehicles with Dee Ball

Originally Posted March 30, 2012:

I learned very quickly my first summer as a summer help at the power plant that one of the worst smells a human being can experience is the smell of rotting fish and maggots.  Every Monday and Friday I would go with Dee Ball down to the two park areas with plastic bags and my Handy Dandy Homemade trash stabbing to clean up where the fishermen had been fishing.

There were a few trash cans out there that we would load into the back of the truck and haul off to the junkyard located at the perimeter of our main plant grounds.  There was always a well baked pile of fish guts and soiled disposable baby diapers flowing over the top of the trash cans.  Most of which had been baking in the hot sun for at least a day or two, and sometimes all week.  The diapers came from families that came to swim in the swimming area.  At that time they had piled some sand in one area and put some buoys out in the water to keep the boats away and tied a raft out away from the shore a short distance.

It is so hard to describe the actual smell of this conglomeration of waste materials and maggots the size of grubs that I can only come close to describing the effect that it has on me when I had to inhale a whiff.  I am sure that if I had ever wretched up my breakfast, it could only have made matters better.  My own immune system kicked into autopilot and I was generally left holding my breathe not because the smell was so terrible, but because my auto-immune system had decided that it was better to suffocate than to suffer the intake of another breath.

Dee Ball didn’t seem to mind too much and I just took it to mean that his older and wiser soul had learned to dampen the effect through the use of cigarettes and maybe something between his cheek and gums.  I wasn’t too sure how old Dee Ball was when I first met him, but later figured out that he was around 40.  His hardhat looked like it was about that old.  Though I would have guessed he was a little older.

His body was thin and worn out.  Wrinkles were already appearing around the edges of his face.  He had light blue eyes that you wouldn’t notice unless he was excited, and then his eyebrows would go up and reveal a set of wide blue eyes.  He wasn’t excited in general, but he was what some would call…. “jumpy”.  Meaning that if you grabbed his knee and hollered at the same time he would have jumped right out of the window of a moving truck.  In later years during my summer help experience, I seem to remember Ken Conrad doing that to him.  After Dee pretty near jumped out of his clothes, Ken Conrad would get such a kick out of it that he would almost fall over laughing, which would make me laugh at Ken for being so goofy.

Winch Truck

Dee taught me the fine art of using a winch truck like the one shown above, only ours was Electric Company Orange.  The first day we went to the park to clean-up trash that summer, after lunch, we returned with the Winch Truck.  That was my first experience being a passenger in a larger truck with Dee, and it was one I would never forget.  Not because there was some great tragedy, or we saw a huge deer walk across the highway in front of us or anything grandiose like that.  But because as we were driving down the highway and neither of us were talking I suddenly became aware of a new and different “puttering” sound.  At first I wasn’t sure if I had heard it at all because it was so low and almost in tune with the truck motor.

Listening to it more intently I could ascertain that the sound was from somewhere inside the cab of the truck.  So without being too obvious I began taking inventory of the front seat.  It sounded like it was coming from somewhere between Dee and I, but there wasn’t anything there.  The truck was fairly new and clean.  As I began to examine Dee, I realized that the puttering sound was coming from Dee’s mouth.  He was making a puttering motor-like sound as a small boy would make as he plays with his toy trucks.

When we arrived at the park I asked Dee what he had done before he had moved to the Power Plant (you may notice that I asked that of just about everyone I worked with), and he told me he used to be a truck driver for the electric company.  I had the idea that he still wished he was back in a big rig rolling down the highway.  Though Dee was just four years younger than my own father, I often felt like I was watching a young boy in an older man’s body.  Dee enjoyed doing very simple things, and like Sonny Karcher who had told me that what he like most in life was to mow grass, I understood Dee without him having to say another word.  He liked to drive trucks.

With those thoughts still rolling around in my mind when Dee backed the truck up to an old  trunk laying on the ground of what used to be a pretty good sized tree, I began wondering if Dee Ball knew what he was doing.  He turned the Winch on and had unhooked it from the back of the truck and was throwing slings around this big trunk laying longways behind the truck.

I had never seen anyone use a winch truck other than a tow truck picking up the front end of a car to tow it away.  So, I stood back and observed.  Dee walked back and forth, running the winch motor one way, then the other, and walking back to adjust the slings.  Then as neat as it could, the tree trunk lifted up on one end and with Dee Ball at the controls, he lowered the front end down on the back of the truck.  Letting some slack loose, Dee moved the slings around the back end of the trunk and began pulling the winch in.  As he did this, the large trunk came to rest on the bed of the truck.  Learn something new every day.

Dee Ball loved to drive trucks, but unfortunately, he had the worst luck when it came to driving them anywhere.  Here are my personal experiences on three occasions.  The first one was while we were in the park and I was walking around picking up trash, and Dee was slowly driving a pickup across the grass watching me and looking around for things that we might need to do while we were there, when all of the sudden he said, “huh, seems like I ran into something.”  So, he tried backing up.  No.  That didn’t work.  He was stuck on something.  so, he rocked back and forth a couple of times, and when he couldn’t break free, he turned the truck off and went around front to see what had snagged him.

It turned out that he had run over a tree stump sticking up about two feet.  It was in some brush, so you couldn’t see it unless you looked closely.  I mentioned in an earlier post about Larry Riley that the engineers in Oklahoma City had decided exactly where the trees needed to be, so they had cut down all the trees in the area and planted new ones.  Well.  This was one of those trees that was unfortunate enough to have been there before the park was built.  The stump was stuck between the front bumper and the radiator.  Unfortunately, in his fervor to release the truck from this nemesis, he had smashed and punctured the radiator and some yellow green fluid was squirting from a tiny hole.

As this was our only transportation, we were sort of stuck.  So, I looked around and about a mile away down at the corner of the lake where highway 177 and 15 East meet, there was an electric company construction crew putting up a large metal High Voltage Electric Pole.

High Voltage Power Pole

Dee asked me if I would run over there and ask them if we could borrow a saw.  At the time, the lake level was a probably 3 feet below being full, which meant that the park area was somewhat larger than it is now, and you could walk all the way from the park to the electric pole without having to hop over the barbed wire fence that lined the plant property.   So, I jogged on over there and they were glad to help.  They drove me back and we were able to free the truck from the stump.  We took the truck back to the shop and removed the radiator and had it sent to a radiator repair shop in Ponca City.

The second memorable event having to do with trucks and Dee Ball was when Dee and I were sent to Oklahoma City to pick up new trucks from a large electric company vehicle garage.  We were driven by another person who dropped us off.  We drove the new trucks back to the plant.  I was in a flat bed truck.  This was like driving a U-Haul truck, as you couldn’t see through the rear view mirror because there was a black plate in the back window.  It was a thrilling experience trying to maneuver through Oklahoma City traffic in a vehicle where I couldn’t see who was in the right lane because my mirror wasn’t set correctly.  It wasn’t until I was off the Interstate and making my way through Perry Oklahoma before I felt like I could relax.

I returned to the plant about one hour after I had left the garage.  Time went by, and Dee Ball didn’t appear.  Another hour went by and still no Dee. He had been driving the large dump truck that Aubrey Cargill, Ben Hutchinson and I used later to pick up driftwood from the dikes (See the post: “Power Plant Painting Lessons with Aubrey Cargill“).  finally around 3 hours after I arrived, Dee drove the new dump truck into the shop.  The most obvious problem was that the “O” was missing from “FORD” and there was a dent in it’s place that ran down the front of the truck.  It turned out that Dee had been driving down the highway and his cigarette fell down onto the seat between his legs and disappeared under him.  As he was flailing around trying to find his cigarette, he had run off the side of the road and hit a reflector post like they have to warn you where the edge of the road is by an exit.

The third memorable event having to do with trucks was when Dee Ball and I had been to the park to pick up trash and on the way back to the plant a quick cloudburst had come by and dumped some rain on us.  When we went to the junkyard to dump out the trash, we made it down into the junkyard all right, but when it came time to leave, the truck couldn’t make it up the road because the mud was too slick on the road and the crew cab  just slipped and slid back and forth.  So, I ended up literally building a rock road for Dee to drive on up the hill (this was when you actually had to go out the construction gate and back in another gate to get to the junkyard).  While I was finding rocks and putting them under the back wheels of the truck, Dee would back up and take a run up the hill while I was behind pushing him with all my might.

Finally after well over 1/2 hour and cutting into our lunch time, the truck was finally free.  Unfortunately for me, I had been pushing the truck up the hill while placing myself behind one of the back wheels, which meant that I was covered from head to toe with mud.  When we returned to the shop, I just walked into the shower and hosed myself off, clothes and all.

I wasn’t with Dee during other times, like when he took our new crew cab and while leaving the park, turned too soon after exiting the front gate and dented the side of the back door on the fence post.  Or when…… Well.  I could go on.  Needless to say, by my third summer as a summer help, there was a standing order that Dee Ball was not allowed to drive a vehicle.

Two years after that, while I was a janitor, I was walking over to the Engineering shack to sweep and mop when I saw Dee Ball come around the corner in a forklift.  He was on his way to fill it up with Diesel.  As I saw him pull up to the pump I thought to myself, “Oh, I see they are letting Dee Ball drive again.”  After I had mopped the floors in the engineering shack, I headed back to the main plant, and there was a winch truck pulling the forklift out of the soft ground where Dee had parked it to top off the Diesel and where it had become stuck.  It put a big smile on my face for some reason.

It looked like this, but definitely wasn’t this Brand

During my first and second summer while I worked with Dee Ball, at times he would stop by a large equipment building that was located out in a field by the dam where the discharge from the river pumps poured water into the lake.  Dee told me that when the plant is completed they would split the garage and have a separate yard crew.  He had been told that this was going to be his shop.

The place was big enough to hold a number of large tractors with brush hogs.  It was run down though, and was probably used when they were building the lake and dam for the heavy equipment to be repaired and parked.  Dee had been told that if he came to work at the Power Plant that he would be made the head of the yard crew.

I came to learn that a lot of people were told stories like that from the Assistant Plant Manager when he was trying to coax people to move their homes north to this power plant out in the middle of nowhere.  Dee was never made the head of the yard crew, and the yard crew was never separate from the garage.  Dee was always pleasant and courteous and was always a joy to work with.  Even when I ended up covered in mud.  I will always consider him a good friend.

Power Plant Spider in the Eye

If you have been following my posts for very long, you may have the idea that I just like to write posts about spiders.  After writing two posts about Spider Wars (see posts:  “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement” and “Power Plant Spider Wars II – The Phantom Menace“), another post about spiders just seems like a bit much.  Even though there is a spider in this story, another appropriate title could be something like “Another night in the Life of a Power Plant Electrician”.  Without further ado, here is the story.

Ninety nine times out of a hundred, when the phone rang in the middle of the night, it was the Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma calling.  I don’t remember a time when the Shift Supervisor on the other end of the phone wasn’t very polite.  They knew they were waking someone from their sleep to ask them to drive 30 miles out to the plant in the wee hours of the morning.

The Shift Supervisor, whether it was Joe Gallahar, Jim Padgett, Jack Maloy, or Gary Wright, they would all start out with something like, “Hey, sorry to wake you buddy…”.  After such an apologetic introduction, how could you be upset that your sleep had just been interrupted?  Then they would proceed to tell you why they needed your assistance.  For me, it was usually because the coal dumper had stopped working while a train was dumping their coal.  This meant that 110 cars tied to three or four engines was sitting idle unable to move.

Each car on the train would be dumped one at a time as it was pulled through the rotary dumper.  The process was automated so that the operator in the control room watching out of the window only had to push one switch to dump each car.

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 train would move forward to the next car automatically as a large arm on a machine called a Positioner would come down on the coupling between the cars and pull the entire train forward to the next car.

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

There were so many moving parts involved in positioning the car in place and rolling it over to dump the coal, that it was common for something to go wrong.  When that happened the entire process would come to a halt and the train would just have to sit there until someone came to fix it.  That was usually an electrician since the dumper and the positioner was all controlled by relays much like the elevator controls, only more complicated.

This particular night, Joe Gallahar had called me.  It seemed that there was an intermittent problem with the dumper that didn’t seem to make much sense and they couldn’t figure out why it was acting so strange.  One of the train cars had actually been damaged as the positioner arm would start coming up from the coupling to the point where the holding arm on the other end of the dumper had come up, then the positioner arm began going back down, causing the train to move on it’s own only to have the arm on the positioner scrape the side of the train car as it rolled backward uncontrolled.

Though it was less frequent, it was not so strange to have a train damaged by erratic dumper controls.  I have seen the side of a train car smashed in by the positioner arm when it decided to inappropriately come down.  This night, the problem was acting like that.  So, instead of damaging the train further, they decided to call me out to have a look at it.

I always had the philosophy when being called out in the middle of the night to be just as polite back to the Shift Supervisor when I answered the phone.  I had a Marketing professor at Oklahoma State University named Dr. Lee Manzer, who explained this one day.

Here is a short side story about Dr. Manzer —

Dr. Manzer told a story in class one day about how he was travelling home one day from a long and difficult trip where everything had gone wrong.  It was very late at night when he arrived at his house (which, incidentally was just down the street from my parent’s house), he was really beat.  He went into his bedroom and began preparing for bed.

About the time he was taking off his tie, his wife rolled over in bed and welcomed him home.  Then she said, “Oh, by the way.  I forgot to buy milk (or maybe it was ice cream).  Do you think you could run down to the store and buy some?”

Dr. Manzer explained his decision making process at that point like this:  “I could either go on a rant and tell my wife what a long and tiring day I had just had and now you are asking me to go buy milk? , and then I would go get the milk.  Or I could say, ‘Of course Dear.  I would be glad to go buy some milk.’  Either way, I was going to go buy the milk.  So, I could do it one of two ways.  I could complain about it or I could be positive.  I could either score points or lose them…. hmm…. Let’s see…. what did I do?  I said, ‘Of course Dear.'”

— End of the side story about Dr. Lee Manzer who by the way was a terrific Marketing Professor.  I understand he still teaches to this day.

So, when Joe Gallahar called me that night, and explained that the dumper was acting all erratic, Instead of saying “Yes Dear.”  as that wouldn’t have been appropriate, I told him, “No problem.  I’ll be there as soon as I can.”  My wife Kelly knew who was on the other end of the phone when she heard my answer.  She had heard it many times before.  I usually only had to say one word after hanging up the phone, “Dumper”, and she knew what that meant.

A Power Plant Electrician’s spouse knows that this is part of the job.  As I pulled on the jeans that I had laid out before I went to bed, Kelly would usually say something in her sleep like, “Be careful”.  I would give her a hug and tell her I’ll be back in a while, even though, sometimes I would be gone for two days working on the precipitator during a start up or some major catastrophe.  Usually, it was just a couple of hours before I came crawling back in bed.

This particular night I drove to work in silence with the window open so that the cool air would keep me awake.  Normally I had the radio on some rock station so that I would be singing along (in my terribly off-key singing voice) in order to stay awake.  Sometimes I would just take the 25 minutes of silence to just think.

My thought that night was that it was nice to be wanted.  There is some comfort in knowing that the Shift Supervisor could call me with enough confidence to know that I would be able to come out on my own and fix a problem that was costing the company a large amount of money each hour the dumper was offline.  Some might think that I would be annoyed to be wakened in the middle of the night to go fix something at the plant.  That night, as most nights I was feeling honored.

That wasn’t always the case, and I’ll soon write a post about another call out in the middle of the night where Scott Hubbard and I wondered exactly why they called us… but that’s another story.

When I arrived at the plant, I rolled my car up to the speaker at the front gate and said, “Hello” with an arrogant English accent.  I don’t know why, but I always liked doing that.  I think it was Billy Epperson who answered back.  I told him I was here to work on the dumper.  He thanked me and opened the gate and I drove the 1/2 mile down the hill to the plant parking lot.  As I went over hill, in the moonlight I could see the train up at the coal yard looking like a long silver snake.

I walked into the maintenance shop and grabbed a truck key off of the hook and drove around to the electric shop to pick up my hard hat and tool bucket.

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

I took the long way around to the coal yard since the train blocked the shortest route.  We had a tunnel on the west end of the coal yard that went under the tracks for just this occasion.

When I arrived at the dumper, Stanley Robbins explained that he had tried troubleshooting this problem himself, but he couldn’t find anything that would explain the strange behavior.  Since the last downsizing, we were all able to sort of mix our skills so that an operator could do simple electric tasks if they felt comfortable with it.  Stanley knew enough to fix your normal minor dumper issues.  This one was a little different.

Since I had been an electrician for the past 15 years at this point, I felt pretty confident that I would quickly find the problem and be heading back home soon.  So, I walked into the dumper switchgear where the dumper controls are found.  I asked Stanley to go turn on the power to the dumper so that I could watch the relays.  When the power was on, I began tracing the circuits looking for the point of failure.

The problem was intermittent, and when Stanley started the dumper back up, everything seemed to be working just fine.  Stanley explained that this was why they couldn’t use the dumper because they couldn’t be sure when it was going to malfunction.  They had even uncoupled the train and pulled it apart right where the positioner arm was so that I could see what was happening.

Using radios (walkie talkies), I asked Stanley to move the positioner arm up and down while I checked it.  He lowered it and raised it back up without any problem.  When he began lowering it the second time, it suddenly stopped halfway down.  Watching the controls, I could see that it indicated that it had come all the way down.  It would be this case that would tell the holding arm on the far side of the dumper to go back up, which is what happened when the train rolled back earlier that night.

Then the relays rattled like they were picking up and dropping out rapidly.  Then the problem cleared up again.  Somehow the positioner arm had thought it had come down on the car clamps when it was still up in the air.  That was not likely to happen because when something fails it usually doesn’t see what it’s supposed to see, not the other way around.  It doesn’t usually see something that isn’t there.

So, I had Stanley lower the positioner arm down so that it was level with the ground, so that I could check the connections to the electric eye that was on the positioner clamp that detected the train car clamp when it came down.  I couldn’t find any lose connections or anything that would explain it.

So I told Stanley that I was going to look up from under the car clamp to look at the electric eye.  So, I asked him to kill the power to the positioner so that it wouldn’t move while I was doing that and crush me like a bug.  Kneeling on the train track, I took my flashlight and looked up at the electric eye from under the car clamp, and this is what I saw:

A spider almost like this

A spider almost like this

This spider had built a spider web in front of the electric eye on the positioner and was sitting right in the middle causing the positioner to think it was down on the car clamp when it wasn’t.  Stanley was watching me from the window of the dumper control room when he saw me stand up quickly and look up at him with a big grin on my face.  I gave him a thumbs up.

You know the phrase, “Everyone has 10 minutes of fame….”  It indicates that some time in most people’s lives they are famous for a brief moment.  It may or may not define the rest of their life.  Well.  This was that spiders claim to fame.  This one spider had successfully stranded a coal train with 110 cars of coal.  A train crew, a coal yard operator, and one lone electrician that had traveled 30 miles to watch it act out it’s drama of catching gnats on it’s web being constantly watched by one large electric eye.

I did not drive home in silence that early morning.  I laughed out loud all the way home.  I still laugh to myself to this day when I think about this night.  Phrases like, “Isn’t life wonderful” comes to my mind.  Or “Even Spiders desire attention every now and then.”  Could there have been a better malfunction than to have a spider dancing in front of an electric eye out in the plains of Oklahoma saying, “Look at me!  Look at me!”  and by golly.  Someone did!  I’m just glad it was me.

When Enough Power Plant Stuff Just Ain’t Enough

Originally posted March 21, 2014:

As a young novice Power Plant Summer Help, I had watched seasoned Power Plant Men measure the distance between two points by walking between them and multiplying the number of steps by two. At first I wondered how they could be sure that their strides were all exactly two feet apart. Because the end result of these actions usually came out pretty close to their estimate, over time I began to think that the length of the stride of any respectable Power Plant Man must naturally be three feet.

So, one day when I was working on going to pull a cable from one manhole to the next, I decided I wanted to know the distance before I pulled a lot of cable off of the cable reel. So, I remember that I grabbed the tape measure out of my tool bucket and began walking at as normal of a gait as I could.

I thought if I measured the first step, or even the last step I took that it would somehow be a different size because I wasn’t moving at my normal speed. So. I figured I would surprise myself by just stopping at some random step as I walked between the two manholes.

I don’t know if anyone was watching me as I stood out in the field just north of the two smokestacks, if they were watching me, then they would have seen me pause and stand still for a moment looking down. Start messing around with my feet. Then take a few more steps. Pause once more and do the same thing.

What I was doing was stopping in the middle of my stride when I had just put a foot down, before I lifted the other foot and with my Stanley metal tape measure, I was measuring the distance from the back of one heel to the back of the other heel.

A Standard Power Plant Issued Stanley PowerLock 25 foot metal Tape Measure

A Standard Power Plant Issued Stanley PowerLock 25 foot metal Tape Measure

I can’t say that I was too disappointed to find that my stride was not exactly three feet. I hadn’t figured I was completely Power Plant Man material anyway. It turned out to be exactly 30 inches. Or two and a half feet. So, I realized I was about 3/4 Power Plant measured by my stride.

I found that I could easily walk between two points and measure the distance with great accuracy by multiplying the number of steps by two and a half feet. With great knowledge comes great responsibility…. or…um… something like that. Hence the story about how enough was not quite enough.

During the spring of 1992 I was tasked with running telephone cable to various points around the plant. We were going to begin installing a new computer network known as the “Ethernet”. When I first heard the name, I thought they were referring to something in space, where it used to be the belief that there was an area called the “Ether”. But as it turned out, it was the regular network that is still in use today.

Dennis Dunkelgod from Oklahoma City had come to the plant with a bunch of drawing much like they did a few years earlier when they wanted me to install the Dumb Terminals all over the place. (See Post “Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals“). This time the diagrams included places where PCs were going to be placed. And where the network server was going to be setup. This required much better quality wiring than the dumb terminals.

So, Dennis saw to it that I had 1/2 mile of 100 pair telephone cable to run from the main plant up to the coalyard. Along with the cable came a box of 25-pair punchdown blocks. I’m sure you’ve seen punchdown blocks in movies when someone is tapping into a phone line, so they go up to these punchdown blocks and hook their handset up to the wires and listen in.

Telephone punch down block

Telephone punchdown block

One of the places where I needed to place a number of computers was in the warehouse and the warehouse office. There were no good phone lines running to this building. There were barely enough to take care of the phones that were in the office at the time. So, I needed to figure out how to run the telephone cable to the warehouse which was the southern-most building in the main plant grounds.

Across the drive from the warehouse was the garage. When I looked at the phone panel in the garage, this looked like a good place to tap into the phone system. There were two 25 pair blocks in this building for only one phone. Enough for all the computers in the garage and the warehouse.

All I needed to do now was figure out how to pull a 50 pair telephone cable from the garage over to the warehouse. After looking for the conduit that brought the existing cable into the garage, I was able to determine how it went over to a hand hole at the north corner of the building and then over to a manhole not far away.

A hand hole was a shallow hole in the ground that has buried conduit coming into it. Our handholes had a large piece of concrete covering it.

A man standing in a handhole

A man standing in a handhole

When I looked at the handhole I suddenly remembered that in during the week of March 21, 1981 I had visited the Power Plant to pick up my application to apply for working as a summer help for my 3rd summer. I was wearing a beard that day when I arrived. While I was in college, I usually wore a beard in the winter to keep my face warm because I rode my bike a lot, and it helped keep my face warm.

I had my friend Tim Flowers with me that day because he was going to apply to be a pre-novice Power Plant Man and work as a summer help also that summer. It was snowing that day and it was almost 4:30pm. Quittin’ Time by the time I had said hello to the many Power Plant Men that I hadn’t seen since the previous summer.

We were heading back out to the parking lot when I heard someone hollering at me. I looked over toward the garage and there was Jim Heflin sitting on a backhoe digging a ditch. He had turned off the backhoe so that I could hear him yelling at me.

A Backhoe

Here is a picture of a backhoe

The Backhoe that Jim was on didn’t have a cab on it. He was all bundled up tying to keep warm. I believe when he pulled down his face warmer, he too was wearing a beard. He said that before he could go home that day he had to finish this rush job to dig a ditch all around the back and side of the garage.

When I returned the next summer Jim asked me if I remembered him digging the ditch in the snow that day in March. I told him I did. Then he said, “Come here.” We walked around the side of the garage, and sure enough. There was the ditch still open leading around the side and back of the garage. He said, “It was such a rush job I had to stay out in the snow digging this ditch before I could go home, and it has been left untouched since then.

The reason I bring this up, was because the ditch he had been digging was for the conduit that went from the handhole around the back of the garage and over to the warehouse. Later that summer the Construction crew from downtown came out to the plant and laid the conduit in the ditch and covered it back up. So, I knew how the cable needed to run from handhole to handhole over to the warehouse. Oh. Before I forget. Here is a picture of Jim Heflin with a beard:

The Splittin' Image of Jim Heflin

The Splittin’ Image of Jim Heflin

So, back to figuring out how to get the cable to that warehouse. I measured how far it was from the punch down blocks to where it went down into the ground. From there I walked with my normal gait (which I knew was exactly 18 inches – remember?) counting my steps.

I measured how many steps it was to each handhole and over to the warehouse. where the conduit came up out of the ground and went into the warehouse. In this manner I calculated that I needed 775 feet exactly.

I figured I didn’t want to use the 100 pair cable. That was a lot more cable than we would ever need for this job, so I went up to Bill Bennett’s office and told him that I needed 775 feet of 50-pair telephone cable to go from the garage to the warehouse. He said that he would order some.

I don’t remember what time it was when I woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night thinking that the length of cable was just going to reach the telephone junction box, and not enough to comfortably reach the punch down blocks halfway up the junction box. So, when I arrived at work in the morning I went straight to Bill’s office and told him that I should have ordered at least 800 feet of cable instead of 775, just to be safe. Bill told me that he had already placed the order for 775 feet. It was too late to change it.

I thought to myself… surely when you order 775 feet of cable they will send some reasonable amount, like 1000 feet. Would they really cut it off at 775 feet exactly. So, I told myself it would be all right.

Sure enough. a couple of days later a reel of 50 pair telephone cable showed up in the electric shop. In big numbers written on the side of the real in red marker were the numbers “775 ft.” Oh geez.

Ok. Somehow I was going to have to make this work. Cross my fingers that maybe my stride was only 17 and a half inches now instead of 18 inches and I had measured it longer than it really was.

So, I pulled the cable from the garage, through the manholes over to the warehouse. In order to pull it from the last handhole into the junction box in the warehouse I had strapped some mule tape to it that I had strung earlier through the conduit using a fish tape. I remember going inside and beginning to pull the last bit of the cable to the junction box hoping to see the end of the cable come up out the conduit.

As I was pulling the cable, I could feel the cable beginning to bind up as it was tightening up in the last handhole. I was still only holding mule tape when I couldn’t pull anymore. Meaning that I didn’t have any cable yet.

So, I went back to the garage and pushed as much cable into the conduit that I could and still punch down the wires on the punchdown block. I even lowered the punchdown block in the junction box hoping that the extra foot would help. Then I went to each handhole and pulled the cable from the garage in the direction of the warehouse until it was as tight around the corners as it would go.

I had managed to pull an extra 2 feet or so into the last handhole. Now all I had left was to go into the warehouse and pull the mule tape to see if the cable would reach the junction box. — Suspense. Yeah. I know.

When I pulled the last 2 feet of cable from the handhole into the junction box, the end of the cable came out. But only about 1 foot of cable was in the junction box. A punchdown block is about 1 foot long.

So, in order to be able to punch the telephone cable down on the punch down block, I had put the punchdown block at the bottom of the junction box, right where the cable came out of the conduit. On both ends of the cable, I never had to cut one inch of cable from either end. After making sure I had every inch of cable pulled tight through every handhole, I punched down both ends using the handy dandy Telephone wire punchdown tool.

Telephone wire punch down tool

Telephone wire punch down tool

I told myself that from now on, I was always going to throw in a couple hundred extra feet whenever someone asks me how much cable I need. That was too close! You would have thought I learned my lesson.

Now, 22 years later, I still have the same problem as a business analyst at Dell. Part of my job is estimating how long it is going to take to complete various parts of a project. I always make the same mistake and try to over-analyze it so that I can give a really accurate value. The problem is, that I don’t take into account that things take longer than you would think because of factors out of our control.

My project managers know me well enough to take the number that I give them and add a decent amount of time to my estimates. I even tell them that they should because I always underestimate the time. I always estimate how long it would take me to do it personally and I’m not usually the person that is actually writing the code.

Through the last 12 and a half years while working at Dell, I have never missed a go-live date. Oh. Just like this story, we finish on time, but with little or no time to spare. We are always up to the wire. Beginning right when I said we would and ending on the date we planned. Believe me. Just as I pulled every inch of slack out of that cable that day, we end up doing the same with the progress of our projects.

So, I guess I still haven’t learned to properly pad my estimates to reduce the risk of falling short. I think it has something to do with my personality and the way everything has to be mathematically calculated in my head.

Comments form the original post:

    1. NEO March 21, 2014

      Hah! my stride (heel to toe) is 3 feet, two strides to the link. That’s what practice does.

      But I have learned to add 10% to everything (nearly), somehow it always gets used. :-)

    1. jerrychicken March 24, 2014

      In the early 70s I was an assistant to a surveyor in a large electrical contractors when we tendered for, and won, a contract to rewire a local Town Hall, the unusual thing about the job being that the engineers had specified pyro (fireproof) cable throughout the building, some of which was large three phase stuff and very expensive.

      We scaled up the runs from a 1:100 drawing and placed the orders according to those measurements, each of the large cables being cut specially for that run – every single length was wrong when it was installed, short by several feet.

      It took a lot of measuring on site to realise that the drawings were totally inaccurate, this was a Town Hall that had been built in stone around 150 years earlier and some of the walls were two or three feet thick, on the drawings they looked like standard stud walls.

      Expensive lesson to learn but I kept my job :)

    1. Jonathan Caswell March 24, 2014

      Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
      MEASURING YOUR STRIDE—IS THAT ANYTHING FOR A NOVICE LIKE LOOKING FOR SNIPE IS FOR A YOUNG BOY SCOUT?

  1. They always told me to expect things that needed measurement to be available in one of only two quantities: Too much, or too little. I discovered for myself that cutting something to fit where it was needed inevitably reclassified it from on of those categories to the other …

After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests

Originally posted March 22, 2013:

I have found that elevators have a way of equalizing personal differences when there are just two of you alone in an elevator. It is one of the few places in a Power Plant where no one is watching or listening (usually) to what is said between two parties. Once the doors open, it is difficult to convince others what has happened because there is only one other witness. Depending on your position, this can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

Soon after I became an electrician I was introduced to “Elevator Maintenance”. The Power Plant has 7 elevators. One that goes to the main office area. One that goes to the Control Room. Two for the boilers. Two for the Smoke Stacks and one that takes you to the top of the Fly Ash Hoppers in the coal yard.

The office and boiler elevators were made by Montgomery. These each had to be inspected regularly to keep them running safely. If not, then the plant ran the risk of having people stuck in the elevators for a period of time, which is never a good situation.

There were times when people were stuck in the plant elevators. I may devote an entire post to that subject at some time. Today I’m more interested in the people that inspect the elevators and the effects that elevator inspections had on them.

I didn’t think about it for a long time, but one day when I was walking by a person that I worked with at Dell, Jeremy Tupa, stopped and said, “I still get chills thinking about what you used to do at the Power Plant.” I didn’t know what he was referring to until he reminded me. He said, “When you had to drop test the elevators.” It took me a while, but I finally remembered when I had told Jeremy about drop testing the stack elevator.

Our team at Dell had gone to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio for the day. Jeremy and I were sitting next to each other on a ride called “The Scream”. It would raise you up and then you would free-fall down and then it would quickly jerk you back up again and drop you again. That’s when I told him this wasn’t scary to me, because it was just like drop testing a stack elevator.

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Oh yeah. I guess to some people that must seem kind of scary. To the people that actually perform that activity, they do things to their mind to convince themselves that everything is safe. Well. Besides that, when following all the safety precautions, it really is a safe activity (see. I’m still doing it).

When drop testing an elevator, you load the elevator with more weight than what the elevator is designed to carry. Usually by bringing a few pallets of sandblasting sand by forklift to the elevator and then piling them in the elevator until you have reached the desired weight for a drop test.

A clean Elevator Shaft

A clean Elevator Shaft. The plant elevator shaft was always full of coal dust and just dirt.

Once the elevator is weighed down, you climb on top of the elevator and manually operate the elevator using the inspection controls until you have raised it up a couple of floors. Then someone up in the penthouse releases the brake so that the elevator free falls.

Once the elevator obtains a certain speed, a tripping device located in the penthouse rolls over and locks, that causes a locking device on the elevator to engage, which sets the “dogs”. The dogs are clamps that dig into the railing that the elevator uses as sort of a track to go up and down without shaking back and forth.

Once the tripping mechanism in the penthouse is operated. it cuts the power to the elevator. Once the dogs are set, there is a loud bang and the elevator isn’t going anywhere. It comes to an instant stop.

Performing a drop test in an elevator shaft seems rather routine, and it is more trouble resetting everything and filing the track smooth again where the dogs dug in creating a notch, than it is to actually perform the drop test.

The Smoke Stack elevators are a lot more fun.

The smoke stack elevators are these Swedish made three man elevators made by a company named Alimak. They operate like a roller coaster does when it is cranking its way up the first hill. The weight limit for these elevators is much lower obviously, since they only hold 3 people.

I could usually load a few large anchors and maybe an Engineer or two in the stack elevator and run it up 50 feet or so and perform the drop test. In order to perform a drop test on a stack elevator (notice how I use the word “perform” as if this was a work of art…. well… in a way it was), you had to disengage a governor first. The governor would prevent a free-falling stack elevator from just flying to the bottom by engaging a secondary brake when the governor sensed that the elevator was moving too fast.

After installing the special governator (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) to keep the governor from engaging, using a large screwdriver or small prybar (meaning that the large screwdriver also functions as a small prybar), the brake is released allowing the elevator to free fall to the ground or well, until the elevator sensed it was moving way too fast and locked up.

A typical Stack Elevator.  Not the same brand as ours.

A typical Stack Elevator. Not the same brand as ours.

Did I mention that these activities are performed while standing on top of the stack elevator? Yeah. Right out in the open. The entire elevator inspection was done standing on top of the elevator. That was how you inspected the railing and tight checked all the bolts all the way up and down the 500 foot stack elevator rail.

A large Allen Wrench with a permanent cheater bar was used to tight check the rail bolts.

Large Allen Wrench

Large Allen Wrench without a cheater bar

One time before I was an electrician, when Diana Lucas (later Diana Brien) was pulling down on an allen bolt with the cheater bar, Jerry Day, who was with her, pressed the button to lower the elevator down to the next bolt and left Diana hanging in mid-air 100’s of feet above the ground!

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

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

Needless to say, the experience of hanging onto a large Allen wrench stuck in a bolt 100’s of feet up a smoke stack, left Diana a little scarred. Diana is a tough Power Plant Woman of the highest degree and I used to perform the elevator inspections with her. She would go up the smoke stack on the top of the elevator, but I generally did the tight check on the bolts and let her run the buttons.

This is all just a teaser to the real story behind this post…

In the fall of 1984 Ben Davis and I went to Muskogee on a major overhaul. While I was there, part of the time I lived in a trailer with a guy from Horseshoe Lake named Steve Trammell. To this day, (and Steve does read these posts) we have always referred to each other as “roomie”.

While at Muskogee Ben and I worked out of the electric shop located next to the main switchgear for Unit 6. The Muskogee electricians we worked around were, John Manning, the B Foreman, Jay Harris, Richard Moravek, David Stewart and Tiny.

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

All of the electricians Ben and I worked with were great Power Plant Men, and I will write a post later about our experience there. For now, I am just going to focus on one person. David Stewart. Why? Because he inspected the stack elevators at Muskogee, like I did at Sooner Plant.

I don’t know exactly how the conversation was started because I walked into it in the middle when I entered the Electric foreman’s office to eat my lunch. David was semi-arguing with the rest of the he-men in the room. The argument centered around this: David Stewart was convinced that if you were in an elevator and everything failed and it was falling to the ground, if you jumped up as hard as you could at the last moment, you would be all right.

I will pause here while you re-read the last sentence………..

While you are thinking this thought over, watch the following Pink Panther video from 1968 called, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Pink on YouTube. Especially from 4 minutes and 15 seconds to 30 seconds into the film:

At first I thought that this was an ingenious joke that David was playing on everyone in the office because everyone was falling for it (I had actually used this technique before in my own jokes). They were all trying to explain to David why it was impossible to jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and you would be all right. The more I listened, the more I came to realize that David was convinced that this was so.

I took David aside and tried to explain to him that according to the law of gravity and acceleration that you would be falling too fast to be able to jump high enough to make any difference to your falling fate. I presented him with the formula for acceleration and showed him that if you even fell from about 50 feet, you would be crushed.

final velocity = Square root of the initial velocity squared plus 2 times acceleration times distance. With Gravity having an acceleration of 9.81 meters per second and 50 feet being just over 15 meters…

I showed him that his final velocity would be about 17 meters per second, which is equivalent to about 38 miles an hour straight into the ground. From only a 50 foot fall. It didn’t phase him. He was so certain it would work. — I understood. This was his way of coping with doing a drop test on the stack elevator. His mind had convinced him that all he had to do was jump up in the case that the elevator safeties failed.

Fast Forward 5 months. It was in April of 1985 when a man from the Swedish Elevator company would come around and do our yearly stack elevator inspection. During this inspection he told me that we needed to remove the top gear rail from the railing.

The reason was that on a stack in Minnesota, when all the safeties had failed on an elevator, it didn’t stop going up. It went all the way to the top and off the top of the railing and fell to it’s doom. By removing the top gear section, the elevator wouldn’t be able to go high enough to go over the top of the railing.

Anyway, while we were inspecting the elevator I asked him if he would be going to the Muskogee power plant after ours, and he said he would. He knew David Stewart and would most likely be working with him on the Muskogee Stack Elevators.

So, I told him the story that David really believed that he had convinced himself that he could jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and he would survive. So I convinced the elevator inspector to tell everyone about how they need to remove the top gear section, but that it doesn’t really matter, because it is a proven fact that all you have to do is jump up in the elevator at the last moment and you will be all right.

Fast Forward another year. It was now April 1986…. The elevator inspector and I were up on the stack elevators tight checking all the bolts when I remembered about David. So I asked him, “Hey, did you ever do anything with David and jumping up in the elevator?”

He responded with, “Yeah I did! And until the moment that I had said anything I thought you were playing a joke on me, but here is what happened…. We were all sitting in the electric shop office eating lunch and I told them just like you said. When I got to the part where you could just jump up in the elevator and you would be all right, David jumped out of his chair and yelled ‘See!!! I told you!!!’ It was only then that I believed your story. Everyone in the room broke out in a roar of laughter.” — As much as I love David Stewart, I was glad that the joke was performed with perfect precision.

Now for the clincher…. — Oh. You thought that was it? So, let me explain to you one thing about drop testing the stack elevator… The elevator doesn’t go up and down like regular elevators with cables and rails and rollers. It uses one gear on a central rail that has notches to fit the gear.

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The gear is heavy duty as well as the rail. You can count on it not breaking. The gear was on a shaft that was tied to the braking mechanism, the governor and the motor through a gearbox. The ultimate clincher is this… The gear… The only thing holding the entire elevator up and the only thing tied to any kind of a brake had one pin in it that kept it from rotating on the shaft. One pin. In mechanical terms, this is called a Key:

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

Everything else on the stack elevator can fail and the elevator will not fall, but if this pin were to fail…. the elevator would free fall to the ground. Thinking back, I must have explained this to Jeremy Tupa, my coworker at Dell back in 2004 when we worked together. It made such an impact on him that I would drop test an elevator that was completely held up by only this one pin. This is the weakest link in the chain.

I know that every now and then I wake up either from a claustrophobic fit because Curtis Love just shut my air off (see the Post: Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love) or while I’m taking a flying leap off of the stack elevator. If only I could have the confidence that David had. If only I could believe that jumping up at the last moment would save me.

Actually, I can picture jumping up and a hand reaching down to grab me and pulling me up… only it pulls me on up to heaven. That’s when I’ll know the truth. David was right. Just jump up as hard as you can. Jump and know that you will be safe. God will catch you.

Comment from the original post:

  1. Monty Hansen June 27, 2014

    I got stuck in the plant elevator once, I was playing – jumping up and down in it, and enjoying it bounce – until it came to a crunching halt between floors – about 8 stories up. And of course I had to do this stunt on THANKSGIVING day when there were no electricians at the plant to save me! The plant was an hour drive from town. The supervisor had to call out an electricain. he said the overspeed brakes had tripped AND the slack cable switch. How embarrassing! I never move in an elevator now.

    Another time my supervisor got stuck in the plant elevator at about 5 in the morning, I was the senior guy on shift and upgradable to foreman, so I upgraded while he was stuck, but since it was so close to time for electricians to start coming on shift, there was no use calling one out. I had a Time off request for 3 hours of floating holiday waiting for him when he came out! It was winter and cold and he was up about level 8 also. Fortunately he had a big heavy coat and was dressed for the occasion.

 

Ken Conrad Dances With a Wild Bobcat

This post was originally posted on March 24, 2012:

I have just finished watching the movie “Born Free” with my son. I had recorded it on DVR because I knew he liked watching Big Cats. It reminded me of when Ken Conrad (A True Power Plant Man Extraordinaire) had become entangled with a Bobcat one day while performing his heroic Power Plant duties.

When a person usually puts the words power plant and Bobcat together in a sentence, one may easily come to the wrong conclusion that this is a story about a run-away little Bobcat scoop shovel, or what is professionally known as a Bobcat Skid-Steer Loader since these are an essential piece of equipment for any power plant or any work site for that matter (and are fun to drive and do wheelies):

This is not the type of Bobcat Ken had to Wrestle

In an earlier post entitled Indian Curse or Brown and Root Blunder I mentioned that in the years following the completion of the power plant, steps were taken to be extra kind to the plant’s nearest neighbor, the Otoe-Missouria Indian Reservation. This story takes place on one of those days where the electric company was showing their true colors to the friends next door.

Every summer the Otoe-Missouria tribe would hold a Pow-Wow some time in June. This is when the the Native Americans of this tribe come together as a time for a reunion where the culture of the tribe can be kept alive. It spans over a number of days, and people come from all over with camping trailers and stay on the reservation and have a good time visiting. You can learn more information about the tribe’s Pow-wow, culture and the benefits from the Casino (which was not there at this time. Not even the Bingo Hall that used to bring in buses from all over the country) from web service that hosts news about the tribe: http://www.otoe-missouria.com

The Power Plant helped out by mowing the areas around the Otoe-Missouria Reservation where the campers would park and a large open field where events could take place and large tents could be erected. So, when I arrived at work in the morning I was instructed to fill a water and ice bucket, and get a box of cone cups, and bring my lunch. This was because I may not be back for lunch as I was going to be the gopher for Jim and Ken that day while they mowed the area around the Otoe-Missouria Reservation. Being a “Gopher” as most of you know means that you are the one that “Goes For” things. So, if they need something back at the plant, then I hop in the truck and I go and get it. This is fine for me, but I generally liked staying active all day, or else the day drags on. So I grabbed some trash bags and my handy dandy homemade trash stabbing tool and put them in the back of the truck as well.

I followed Jim Heflin and Ken Conrad on the two shiny new Ford tractors with double-wide brush hogs down the highway with my blinkers on so people barreling down the highway from Texas on their way to Kansas at ungodly speeds would know enough to slow down before they ploughed into a brush hog like the one below:

brushhog

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

After we arrived at the reservation there was a man there that directed us to where we should mow and Ken and Jim went right to work. They first mowed in the area where there were a lot of trees and areas to park campers and Jim and Ken worked their magic weaving in and out of the trees with these big mowers behind them just missing each tree, trash can, fire grill, building and vehicles that happened to be in their way (like the one I had driven there).

After watching their skill with the mowers for a while I stepped out of the truck, now certain that I wouldn’t be hit with a flying rock because the mowers had moved a safe distance from me. I began walking around picking up some trash. While Ken and Jim mowed the rest of this area, I helped the man move some large logs and picnic tables and things like that around the campsite.

When Ken and Jim had finished the camping area they moved over the the large field at the edge of the campground, and I drove the truck over there and watched as they both circled around and around making smaller circles each time staying opposite of each other like they were doing a synchronized dance with the mowers.

I was standing in the back of the truck leaning against the cab watching them when I noticed that Jim began waving one hand up in the air much like a cowboy would do while riding on a bronco to keep their balance. His head began bobbing and I wondered if he was all right. Then I saw what had happened. A very large cat that looked like a grown mountain lion came darting out of the tall brush and ran in front of Jim’s tractor and headed for the trees that lined the far side of the field. As excited as I could tell Jim was by this, he didn’t miss a beat with his mowing, and only lifted his hardhat long enough to wipe his head with a rag. Then he kept on mowing as if nothing else had happened. Maybe because he was in complete shock and auto-pilot had kicked in.

As Jim circled around, Ken came around to the spot where Jim had just been mowing. Unlike Jim, Ken did not start to wave his hand as a cowboy on a bronco. Instead he jumped up in his seat while shutting down his mower and jumped off into the tall brush. He began running around in circles. At this point Jim had seen what Ken was doing, so he shutdown his mower also. I had jumped off of the truck and ran toward where Ken was dancing. Jim came huffing and puffing up to me and asked me if I had seen that huge mountain lion run in front of him. I nodded to him and ran over to Ken who at this point was standing still as if frozen.

As we approached, Ken signaled for us to stay back, so we slowed down and watched him as we came slowly closer. Ken wasn’t moving his feet, but he was slowly swiveling his body around looking into the brush. Then like Tom Sawyer he bent down quickly and reached into a pile of mowed grass that had piled up near where he was standing. By this time we were close enough to see what was down on the ground that Ken had grabbed. He was holding down a kitten. It was a baby Bobcat. You could tell by the short tail (a bob-tail cat):

Like this one only a little younger but not by much

Ken had hold of the bobcat with both hands. One at the scruff of his neck and the other above his hind legs. He began lifting up the cat from the ground, and it was hissing and went wild trying to bite and scratch Ken. At this point the man from the reservation had come over, because he had also seen the very large bobcat run from the field and had watched Ken dancing in the grass. Ken asked him “What do I do now?” He had caught the baby bobcat, and now realized that he couldn’t let go of it without serious bodily injury (bringing to mind the phrase “Having a tiger by the tail”).

We all became aware that somewhere close by the mother was watching us from the trees. Jim remarked that he didn’t know bobcats could grow that big and the man assured him that there are a number of large bobcats on their reservation that he had seen. He suggested that he could get a five gallon bucket and Ken could throw the cat in the bucket while he put a wire screen over the top so that it couldn’t jump out and scratch or bite them.

We walked back to the camping area and the man came out of a small building and had some screen material and a board. Then Ken standing there sort of like Frankenstein with his arms straight out in front of himself (to keep from being mauled), asked a couple of times exactly what they were planning on doing, so that he would get it right. The man said that he should throw the cat into the bucket and he would quickly put the board over the top. Then he could put the screen over the board and take the board out and tie the screen on the top with some wire.

So that’s what Ken did. He quickly threw the cat into the bucket as the man slammed the board on top. It looked like it happened so fast that I was surprised to find that while the cat was quickly being ejected from Ken’s hands and being propelled into the bucket, it had enough speed to reach around with one of its paws and cut a gash down the side of Ken’s hand.

After that, I drove Ken back to the plant to get bandaged up and so that he could show everyone what he had caught. He was very proud of his wound and he seemed to grow even taller than his normal tall thin self. It seemed to take about 15 seconds before everyone in the plant knew that Ken had caught a bobcat as they were all making a trip over to the garage to have a peek at him. Ken said he was going to take it home and then decide what he was going to do with it.

I drove Ken back to the reservation to get his tractor as Jim had finished mowing the field.

The following day we learned that when Ken arrived at his house there was someone there already waiting for him to see his wild new pet. Yes. Most of you have been waiting for the other shoe to drop on this story. An Oklahoma Park Ranger. Who informed Ken that he had received 8 calls from different people at the plant letting him know that one Power Plant Hero Ken Conrad was in possession of a wild bobcat caught on an Indian Reservation (of all places — I say that because that is federal property, possibly making it a federal crime). And Ken could be in for a very serious legal entanglement. Ken told the ranger that he was only going to show it to his family then bring it back to the reservation and let it go. The Park Ranger (not usually portrayed as a lenient character) offered to take the bobcat back himself.

Needless to say. Ken was not very pleased with his fellow campers the next morning when he arrived at work. He kept saying… “You just can’t tell who your friends are. They all came over here acting like my buddies then they ran off to call the ranger.” By that time I had worked around the power plant men for one entire summer and this was my second. I knew that the Real Power Plant Men would have known that Ken would do the right thing and wouldn’t have called the ranger. Ken was right though, some of them were imposters. I knew there were some people at the plant who would have felt it was their duty to call the ranger, and I never considered them power plant men in the first place. Ken Conrad, however, has always lived up to my expectations as a Real Power Plant Man!

It’s funny what comes to mind when you sit down to watch a movie on a Friday night.

Comment from previous post:

 

Ron Kilman March 27, 2013:

Great story. I spoke with Ken at a church training deal a couple of years ago. Still tall and thin. A great guy.

Power Plant Trouble With Angels

Okay, so, no one ever called me an Angel unless it was one of the fallen type.  I suppose the closest was when Bill Bennett, our A Foreman at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma would call me a scamp.  I don’t know why, but I always seemed to be in trouble over one thing or another.  Well… maybe I do know why.

Not long after Bill Bennett left during the downsizing in 1994, when our Supervisor over Maintenance was Jasper Christensen, we had received newer computers all around the plant.  That is, except for the Electric Shop, because we had acquired one a year or so before so that we could program Eeprom Chips.

An Eeprom Chip used in the preicpiitator controls

An Eeprom Chip used in the preicpiitator controls

I helped install the computers all around the plant.  I had run the Ethernet cables and installed the jacks so they could be connected to the plant computer network.  I had become the computer person for the plant by default, since I had learned how everything worked on my own.

When we received all the new computers, we were told that we had to keep an inventory of all the computer programs that we were using on each computer to make sure that we weren’t using pirated software.  So, when we installed any program on a computer we were supposed to notify our Supervisor, who in this case was Jasper Christensen.

Jasper Christensen

Jasper Christensen

I sort of felt sorry for Jasper at times, because, it’s sort of like when you don’t get to choose your parents…. Jasper didn’t get to choose who was working for him exactly.  So, he was stuck with me.

I’m not saying that I was a bad person, or that I wasn’t good at being an electrician.  I was just annoying.  I was always up to some sort of something that no one really told me to do.

One example of this was that I had a CompuServe account, and I would use it to access stock quotes at the end of the day.  I would save them to a file, and then each week, I would pin up charts of our 401k stocks on the bulletin board in the electric shop.  Power Plant Men would come into the shop to see how their stocks were doing.  At this time, the “Internet” hadn’t been introduced to the plant and people didn’t really know much about it.  I would connect to CompuServe through a dial up modem.

 

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

I had a 14,400 baud modem with compression that made it more like 104,000 baud which was really fast for that time.   However, when the World Wide Web became available to CompuServe users, I found that even at that speed, it took a long time just to load one web page if it had a picture on it.  The Internet was just around the corner.  I’ll write a post about how it was introduced at the plant next week.

I diligently kept a log of all the software we had on our company computer.  Whenever I would upgrade CompuServe to the latest version, I would send a form to Jasper letting him know that I now had that version of software on the electric shop computer.  We also had installed other software, such as Reflex, which was sort of a hybrid between Excel and Access.  This was still a DOS based computer.  Windows 3.1 was on it, but a lot of our programs were still run in the DOS mode.

About 6 months after all the new computers arrived, we requested that the computer in the electric shop be replaced, because it was older, and we were using it for more and more things.  The computer arrived about a month after it was approved.

This time, an IT guy from Oklahoma City brought the computer to the plant.  This computer was better than all the other computers in the plant, mainly because it was newer.  At that time, computers were quickly improving.  If you waited six months more it would have even been a better computer.  While the IT guy was in the neighborhood, he installed some software on all the computers.

I was working on the Unit 2 Precipitator with Charles Foster the day that the Electric Shop received the new computer.  Alan Kramer, our Foreman, called me on the radio (walkie talkie)…  He did this because we were using radios a lot more, and were talking about shutting down the Gray Phone PA system all together.

A Motorola Walkie Talkie like this

A Motorola Walkie Talkie like this

Alan said that Jasper wanted to use the new Electric Shop computer at the Conoco Cogen (which stands for Cogeneration) plant in Ponca City.  We needed to take it to Ponca City and use the computer that was there for the electric shop. — Before I tell you my response…. let me tell you about the computer at the Cogen plant.

First, let me explain what a Cogeneration plant is…. This is a small power plant that uses waste gases from the Conoco (Continental Oil) Oil Refinery to create steam to turn the generator to produce electricity.  In exchange for using the waste gases from the refinery, the Power Plant gave any left over steam back to the refinery so they could use it in their refinery.  Plus, we would give the refinery the electricity that we produced.  Any electricity left over, we sold to our customers.

So, there was a desktop computer sitting on a desk in a small control room that allowed the control room at our power plant to dial into it and monitor the plant to see how it was working.  The connection was rather slow even though it had a dedicated phone line to connect to the plant.

The computer itself, even though it was somewhat older than the new computer we received for the electric shop, was sitting idle most of the time.  Even when it was working, it was never processing much.  The problem with the computer being slow wasn’t the computer itself, it was the Network connection back to the plant.

So, when Jasper had said that he was going to replace that computer with our much faster one that we had ordered, I was a little perturbed.  This meant that the nice new fast computer was going to be sitting idle in Ponca City collecting dust doing next to nothing and it wasn’t going to make anything faster as far as the control room was concerned.

So, in the most smarmy voice I could muster I replied over the radio, “Oh Great!  Another one of Jasper’s ‘Scathingly Brilliant Ideas’!”  I knew the phrase “Scathingly Brilliant Idea” from the movie “Trouble With Angels”.  It seemed like an appropriate remark at the time.

Trouble With Angels

Trouble With Angels

I knew that Jasper would be listening, because he had his walkie talkie set on scan so that he could hear everything we were saying.  Alan Kramer came right back after my remark and said, “Watch it Kevin.  You know who might be listening.”  I said, “Oh.  I know who’s listening.”

Approximately five minutes later, Jasper Christensen called me on the radio and asked me to meet him in his office.  “Okay.  Here it comes,” I thought.  On my way down from the roof of the precipitator I was formulating my argument as to why it was a terrible idea to take the best computer at the plant and send it to Ponca City to sit idle in a room by itself when I could easily put it to a lot of use.  I never really was able to present my arguments.

When I arrived at Jasper’s office, he told me that he wanted me to take CompuServe off of the computer in the electric shop.  I knew why.  I thought I knew why.  I figured it was because I had just insulted him on the radio.  I’m sure that was part of it, but it wasn’t the only reason.

I pressed Jasper on the issue and told him that I used CompuServe to download the stock prices for our 401k so that everyone can see how their stocks are doing and I post them on the bulletin board.  Jasper came back with “That has nothing to do with your job.”  I replied with, “I’m providing a service for our teams, just like the candy and coke machines.  I’m paying for the service myself.  I’m not charging anything.”  Jasper disagreed that I was providing a useful service.

Then Jasper said that the IT guy found a virus on one of the computers and since I was the only person at the plant that had connected to anything like CompuServe, the virus must have come from me.  When I asked him which computer had the virus, he didn’t know.  I told Jasper I better go find out, because if there was a virus on one of the computers, we need to clean it up right away.

This was at a time when McAfee’s Viruscan software was freeware.  I always had an updated copy of it that I would run on the computers.  I had checked all the computers at the plant recently, so I was surprised to hear that one of them had a virus.  Jasper told me that the IT guy was up in Bill Green’s office.  Bill Green was the plant manager.

Bill Green

Bill Green

As I was leaving Jasper’s office, I paused and turned around and asked Jasper one last question….. “Do you want me to only remove the CompuServe application, or do you want me to stop accessing CompuServe? Because I can access CompuServe without the application on the computer.  The application just makes it easier to navigate around.”  This question puzzled Jasper.  He said he would have to get back at me on that.  — So, at that point (I thought to myself), I’ll wait until Jasper gets back to me on that before I remove the software.

I knew that he knew nothing about computers, and I knew that this would confuse him.  That’s why I asked it.  I wanted him to know that if he made me remove CompuServe because he was mad at me for making my smartaleck remark about moving the computer to Ponca City it wasn’t going to make much difference to me anyway.

So, I walked back up to him as he was sitting at his desk, and I said, “Jasper.  I know that I’m the only person in this plant that has given you a list of all the programs on the computer I use.  I let you know every time I even upgrade to a new version.  I am the only person in the plant that follows the rules when it comes to what is on the computers.  I know that there has been personal software added to just about every computer at this plant.  I am the only person that has told you what software I am using.  So, just keep it mind that you are trying to punish the only person that is following the rules.”  Then I left.

I went upstairs to Bill Green’s office where I found the IT guy running a scan on Bill’s computer.  I asked him about the virus he found.  He said that he was running a Microsoft virus scanner on the computers and on the one in the chemists lab, there was one file that was questionable.  The scan said it was a possible virus, but couldn’t tell what virus it was.

I asked the IT guy what the name of the file was.  He handed me a posted note with the file name on it.  I recognized it right away.  It was a GLink file.  GLink is the application that we used to access the mainframe computer in order to work on our Maintenance Orders, or to look up parts, and any other computer related activities.

This is GLink today.  Back then it was for Windows 3.1

This is GLink today. Back then it was for Windows 3.1

I had been given a beta test version of GLink that I installed on the Chemists computer for Toby O’Brien about a year earlier when he asked me to help him find a way to connect to the Prime computer downtown so that he could work on CAD drawings from the plant.  IT had sent this Beta version of GLink to me because it could connect to the switch twice as fast as the current GLink and they were glad to let us try it out.

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend - Toby O'Brien

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend – Toby O’Brien

About that time, Bill Green came into the office and I told him that the “supposed” virus on the Chemist computer was given to us by IT and that it probably wasn’t a virus anyway, it just acted like one because it connected to a switch a certain way which was unusual.  The IT guy was still standing there and he agreed that it just indicated that it might be a virus and probably wasn’t really one.

Then I told Bill Green that Jasper had told me to remove CompuServe from the computer in our shop.  He said that he and Jasper had talked about it and were concerned that I might download a virus from CompuServe.  I assured him that I only downloaded stock prices and MSDS sheets (Material Safety Data Sheets) from OSHA.  Everything I downloaded was in text format and would not contain a virus.

The IT guy agreed that at that time, CompuServe was very careful about viruses as they had been hit with one about 6 months earlier.  Now they scanned everything they let you download.  Bill said, “Well, that’s between you and Jasper.”  —  That’s all I needed to hear.  I knew that Jasper would forget about it and never “get back with me” on it.

As you can tell, if you’ve been reading the posts this year, I am constantly becoming more involved in computers at this point in my career.  For good or bad, it was a concern for people like Jasper and Bill.  I knew a lot more than they did to the point that they would call me to help them learn how to use their computers.  They didn’t know if they could trust me.  Luckily for them, even though I was mischievous, I wouldn’t do anything to invade someone’s privacy, or hurt plant operations.

It did seem like I was always in trouble over one thing or another.  It was often brought on by someone’s misunderstanding about what the problem really was, and their feeble incorrect attempt to fix it…. and… well….(let’s face it) my big mouth.

Power Plant “We’ve Got the Power” Program

Originally posted March 14, 2014:

Early January, 1990 the entire maintenance shop at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma was called to the break room which doubled as our main conference room in order to attend an important meeting.  We watched as a new program was explained to us.  It was a program called “We’ve Got the Power”.  It centered around the idea that the best people who knew how to improve the operation of the plant were the people that worked there every day… The employees.  When it was over, we were all given an Igloo Lunch box just for attending the meeting.  We were also promised a lot more prizes in the future for participating in the program.

"We've Got the Power" Igloo Lunch Box

“We’ve Got the Power” Igloo Lunch Box

In order to participate further, we needed to sign up on a team.  Preferably the team would be cross-functional, because, as they explained, a cross-functional team usually could come up with the most creative ideas for improving things at the plant.  Once we signed up for the team each member on the team was given a gray windbreaker.

A windbreaker like this, only gray.  The "We've Got the Power" logo was in the same place as this logo

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The “We’ve Got the Power” logo was in the same place as this logo

I don’t have an actual picture of the windbreaker I was given.  I wore it to work for a number of months until we found out that the material was highly flammable and that it was not safe for us to wear it on the job.  We were supposed to wear only flame retardant clothing.  I kept the jacket for 15 years, but the jacket was made with material that disintegrated over time, and one day when I pulled it out of the closet to wear, I found that it was literally falling apart on the hanger.  I had no choice but to throw it away.

There were some interesting reactions to this program.  I thought the program was a great idea and couldn’t wait until it began in order to submit our ideas for improving the plant.  Others decided for some reason that they didn’t want to have any part in the program.  Most of the Power Plant Men were eager to take part.

So, here’s how it worked.  We had about 5 weeks to prepare our first ideas to submit to steering committee, which consisted of our plant manager Ron Kilman, the assistant plant manager Ben Brandt and I believe the Engineering Supervisor Jim Arnold.  I don’t remember for sure if Jim Arnold was on the steering committee.  We could only submit three ideas.  At any given time, we could only have three ideas in the pipeline.  Once a decision had been made about that idea, then we could submit another one.

I was the leader of the team that we assembled.  It consisted of the following electricians besides myself: Scott Hubbard, Charles Foster and Terry Blevins.  One mechanic Jody Morse.  We also had two people from the warehouse on our team:  Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell.  Here are their pictures:

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Jody Morse

Jody Morse

Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Richard Dale many years later

I was somehow the luckiest guy in the plant to have some of the best brain power on my team.  I will go into some of our ideas in a later post.  Actually, I think I will have to have at least two more posts to completely cover this topic.  For now, I just want to explain how this program worked and maybe share a thing or two about our team.

If one of the ideas we submitted was approved to be implemented, then we would receive an number of award points that was consistent with the amount of money the idea would save the company in one year.  If it wasn’t a money saving idea or you couldn’t figure out how to calculate the savings, then there was a set amount of points that would be granted to the team.  Each team member would receive the same number of points as everyone else on the team.  Each person would receive the full savings of the idea.

We were given a catalog from a company called Maritz Inc.  This is a company that specializes in employee motivation.  They have been around a long time, and the gifts in the catalog ranged from small items such as a toaster, all the way up to pretty large pieces of furniture and other big items.  I challenge the Power Plant Men who read this blog that were heavily involved in this program to leave a comment with the types of prizes they picked from this catalog.

The rules for the program were very specific, and there was a healthy (and in some cases, not so healthy) competition that ensued during the event.  Once we were able to submit our ideas, we had 13 weeks to turn in all of our ideas.  Keeping in mind that you could only have 3 ideas in the pipeline at a time.  (well… they bent that rule at the last minute.  — I’m sure Ron Kilman was thrilled about that).

I mentioned Ron Kilman, because for the entire 13 weeks and probably beyond, Ron (our plant manager)was sort of sequestered in his office reviewing the hundreds of ideas that were being turned in.  At first some mistakes were made, and then there were attempts to correct those, and you can imagine that it was sort of organized (or disorganized) chaos for a while.

I will go into our ideas in a later post, but I will say that despite the fact that a good deal of our points were incorrectly allocated to other teams, we still came out in second place at our plant, and in sixth place in the company.  Only the top 5 teams were able to go to Hawaii, and we were only a few points behind the fifth place team.  So, all in all, I think our team was happy with our progress.  Especially since we knew that over 200,000 of our points, were mistakenly given away and never corrected.  Which would have made us close to 2nd place.  Our team had no hard feelings when it was over.  We felt that for the effort that we put into it, we were well rewarded.

In the middle of this program, my daughter was born and so a lot of my points went to purchasing things like a play pen, a baby swing, and a large assortment of baby toys.  I had been such a miser in my marriage up to this point so that the majority of the furniture in our house had been purchased in Ponca City garage sales early on Saturday mornings.  I had the idea that for the first few years of our marriage, we would live real cheap, and then work our way up gradually.  That way, we would always feel like we were moving up in the world.  The first house that we rented in Ponca City was a little dumpy old house for $250 per month.

I had been married for 4 years by the time this program rolled around, and when the first few boxes of prizes had just arrived at our house, one Sunday in April, a priest came to the house we were renting on Sixth Street in Stillwater, Oklahoma to bless the house.  When he walked in and saw a large box leaning against the wall in the living room, and not a stitch of furniture, he asked us if we were moving.  I asked him what he meant.  He said, “Well, you don’t have any furniture.”  I said, “Oh.  No.  We’re not moving.  We just have the furniture in the other room” (which was a spare bedroom that we used as the computer room.  That was where our old couch was along with an old coffee table (both of which had been given to me by my friend Tim Flowers).

From this program I was able to furnish my entire living room.  I had a nice sofa (with a fold out bed), a new coffee table with two matching end tables.  All of them good quality.  Through the years, we have replaced the sofa and the coffee table.  I also had two Lazy Boys, which I still own, but we keep in the game room:

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the "We've Got the Power" program

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the “We’ve Got the Power” program

The biggest prize I purchased from this program was a real nice Thomasville Dining room table and chairs:

Dining Room Table received as an award from the "We've Got The Power" program

Dining Room Table received as an award from the “We’ve Got The Power” program

Two of the chairs are missing because they are across the street in my parents house (on loan).

So, you see, you could get some really nice prizes from this program.  The furniture came along just at the time my family was beginning to grow.

When we were originally forming our team Ron Kilman’s secretary, Linda Shiever had joined our team.  We had signed her up and had even held our first meeting.  Then one day she came to me and told me that she was going to be a part of the steering committee.  She was pretty excited about this because she figured that the steering committee, with all their hard work would be well off when it came to prizes.  So, we wished her well.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

During the program it turned out that the team that had the most work to do was the steering committee.  They worked day and night on this program.  They basically gave up their day job to focus solely on this program for those 13 weeks.  As it turned out, they were the least compensated as far as awards went.  So, it was turning out that Linda had left our team, which was raking in the points, to go to a team that was barely receiving any points.

When the time came to implement the projects that were selected, the foreman that was over the team that was going to implement an idea would receive a percentage of the award points for doing the implementation.  I remember my foreman Andy Tubbs (who was on the winning team at our plant), coming to us and telling us that we were to go implement some ideas and that he was going to be receiving award points while we went to actually do the work.  — It was just one of those interesting rules in this program.

Andy Tubbs, being the true Power Plant Man that he was, said this didn’t set too well with him.  So, what he decided to do was spend the points that he was awarded for implementing ideas on prizes for the employees to use in the electric shop.  I remember that he had purchased various different items that came in handy for us in the shop.  I don’t remember off-hand what they were.  If one of the electricians would leave a comment below to remind me… that would be great.

So.  I was bothered by the idea that Linda Shiever had been coaxed onto her team with visions of grandeur, only to find out (like Ron found out), that all their hard work was not going to be compensated at a reasonable level.  I never blamed Ron Kilman for this, because it made sense that Linda should be on that team anyway, since she spent her day in Ron’s office and he did need someone to help with the enormous amount of paperwork. So, I decided to help her out.

Two of our biggest ideas had been approved to save the company over $315,000 each per year (when we tracked it the following year, it ended up with a savings of $345,000).  In order to implement the idea, I believe the implementer would receive either a half or a third of the points.  So, I thought of a way to have Linda Shiever be the implementer of the idea.

I remember explaining to Ron Kilman that in order to implement this idea, since it mainly consisted of a process change to how the precipitator is powered up during start-up, we just needed someone that could type up the procedures so that we could place them in our precipitator manuals.  I suggested that Linda Shiever would be the best person to type up the procedure.   And that is what happened.  She received the award points for implementing our biggest idea.

When it was all said and done, the company was able to quickly save a lot of money, and in some cases increase revenue.  I think the biggest idea at our plant from the winning team came from Larry Kuennen who figured out a way to change the way the boiler was fired that greatly increased the efficiency.  This one idea probably made the entire program worth the effort that everyone went through.

It’s amazing what happens when you add a little extra motivation.  Great things can happen.

Comments from the Orignal Post:

  1. Ron March 15, 2014

    If I remember correctly, Jasper Christensen was the 3rd member of Sooner’s IAC (Idea Action Committee). I think Jim Arnold got to go to Hawaii with his team. This was the most intense, long-term, difficult (personally and inter-company relationships) program of my entire working career. Whoever decided it was fair competition for the Power Plants to compete with the other corporate departments (like the Regions, Accounting, Customer Service, Human Resources, etc.) with cost reduction as the measurement, really blew it. Power Production is where the largest potential existed for cost reduction by at least an order of magnitude. The Plant Managers took a lot of grief from the other Managers (“rigged”, “not fair”, “you guys cooked the books”, “there’s no way”, etc.).

    Sooner Plant won the over-all competition with the highest idea approval rate of any company location (19 total locations). We had audited net savings of $2.1 million/year. Reduction in “Station Power” alone accounted for a revenue increase of $7 million during 1993. We (the IAC) worked many nights, weekends, and took work home. I was proud of the way Sooner teams really got after it. It was a huge success for OG&E.

    The rewards I remember getting were a tread mill, a small sharpening wheel, and a CD player. My jacket fell apart too.

    1. Plant Electrician March 15, 2014

      Thanks Ron. I clearly remember how much time your team had to put into this effort. It was hardest on your team because you didn’t have a choice where the rest of us did.

  2. Morguie March 17, 2014

    That’s too bad about the 200,000 points…but it sounds like you were very good about that, considering. Nice job getting that sweet furniture. It IS AMAZING what can be done with some teamwork and incentive to make an idea work. So glad to see you all did so well.

  3. Jonathan Caswell March 17, 2014

    FINALLY—An incentive program offering something more substantial than free pizza! :)Despite the mix-up in points, you worked for a decent company!!!! :)

  4. Tim March 18, 2014

    I remember Dad getting a sleeper sofa, and we all got some nice binoculars and a lot of other items it seems. I don’t know what all Andy got for the electrical shop but I know one was an electric knife that is still there with the logo on it I believe.

Power Plant Snitch

Originally Posted March 16, 2013:

Seventeen years before Harry Potter captured the Snitch in the movie “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone”, the Coal-fired Power Plant in north central Oklahoma was plagued by a similar elusive snitch. Unlike the snitch in Harry Potter, which was a small ball with wings that held a special secret only revealed in the last moments of the last Harry Potter Book (and movie) “The Deathly Hallows”, the Power Plant snitch had a more sinister character.

The Snitch from Harry Potter, "The Sorcerer's Stone"

The Snitch from Harry Potter, “The Sorcerer’s Stone”

The Power Plant Snitch reminded me once again of the phrase that “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” I had experienced this phenomenon only a few years earlier when I was in High School and my father was a victim of this type of corruption. This made me especially abhorrent of deceit and dishonesty in the workplace. This was the reason why I had become so upset while I was a janitor and I learned a little “lie” that Jack Ballard had cooked up to force the employees to use their floating Holiday first (See the post Power Plant Secrets Found during the Daily Mail Run).

You see, in the Lone Power Plant stationed out in the middle of the country, a plot had been hatched by the Evil Plant Manager that rivaled a James Bond conspiracy to take over the world. Only in this case, it was a conspiracy to take over the personal dignity of honest, descent Power Plant Men. Men who said their prayers each night when they went to bed. Men who went to work each day to provide for their children. Men who held God and country in the highest esteem.

As I mentioned above, I had seen this abuse of power before when I was in High School. It had affected my personality in a way that I became instantly angry at the site of dishonesty. This was something I had to learn to deal with throughout the years as I interacted with men of less than honorable dignity. In order to understand why, I will divert into a side story:

My parents had kept their financial difficulties and other stress out of our lives while I was in Junior High and High school back in the mid ’70’s. They didn’t tell me that my father, who was listed in the top 20 Veterinarians in the world, and among the top 5 bird specialists, was being targeted by the Dean and his minions at the University of Missouri Veterinary College.

I remember that my mother was introducing new foods to our palate, such as Lentils and other types of rice and bean dishes. She had even gone to work as a secretary at Stephen’s College to make ends meet. At the same time, I had traveled with my dad when I was 13 to Europe where I met Veterinarians around the world that all greeted my father as if he were some kind of king.

I remember walking down the road on the way to Liverpool from the University (a 5 mile walk) where a group of bird specialists from around the world were meeting to determine the universal Latin names of every part of the bird’s anatomy (which at that point had not been defined). The Veterinarian walking with me from India told me afterI had made some offhand comment about my father.  He said, “You don’t realize who your dad is. In India, your dad is the Father of Physiology! Your dad wrote the bible of Veterinary Physiology used around the world!”  

I knew the book he was referring to. My dad had worked for three years day and night writing this book. Collaborating with renown Veterinarians around the world to compile a comprehensive book of Veterinary Physiology. The first of it’s kind. Before this book was written, you could only find the Physiology of a Pig, or the Physiology of a Dog. My dad had created a masterpiece that included an all-encompassing Veterinary Physiology in one book.

My Dad's book

My Dad’s book

I say this, not to lift my father on a higher pedestal than he already is, but to put in perspective, how an important person such as James E. Breazile, DVM was treated by the “Evil Dean” of the Veterinary College at the University of Missouri in 1974 and until the day he resigned on January 16, 1978. Actually, the day my father brought the gold bound copy of the book home and presented it to my mother, she stopped talking to him for about a month for the first time in her life (for a totally unrelated reason which I may relay in a future post). Though the publishing company made a lot of money for years after this book was published, the total amount my dad received for his years of work totaled no more than $10,000 over a three year period.

Anyway. To make a long story short, (because I could go on for days about this), my father was not able to get a job at any another University in the United States, because he had tried to bring the corruption of the leaders of the Veterinary School (who had been stealing money from the University through bogus expense reports) to light, only to be told by the Chancellor of the University at the time, Herbert Schooling, “Boys will be boys.” It was just like the moment when Saruman told Gandalf, “We must join with him!”

Saruman Tells Gandalf that he must join with the forces of evil in the Lord of the Rings

Saruman Tells Gandalf that he must join with the forces of evil in the Lord of the Rings

It was only because my father had worked for Oklahoma State University before, when I was very young, that they didn’t need “permission” from University of Missouri to hire him, and take the multi-million dollar contracts that he had with Purina (and other businesses that had funded their electron microscope and other expensive scientific equipment at the time) with him, that we were able to escape the firewall that had been placed around my father’s career (ok. that sentence is long enough for an entire paragraph).

Anyway (again)…. I can’t let this story go until I give you the moment that was the “clincher” for me. The moment that I finally believed that my mother and my father hadn’t just gone off their rocker and become extremely paranoid living in a “James Bond” world….

My father (secretly) obtained a job from the Oklahoma State University in the Veterinary College. He was to start on January 9, 1978 with tenure (meaning that he couldn’t be fired without a really good reason). One week before he was going to resign from the University of Missouri. As usual, Oklahoma State University would begin classes one week before the University of Missouri after Christmas break.

During Christmas break (when I was a senior in High School), we would sneak into my father’s office at the Vet School in Columbia Missouri to remove his books and personal items from his office. We would go to this office at 10 o’clock at night after the school was closed for the night. At this point, I believed that both my mom and my dad had gone off their rocker and I was already planning on going through the phone book to find them a good Psychologist, or a priest to help them out.

Until Sunday morning, January 1, 1978. New Years Day. My mother and I were on our way to an early morning Church service at Our Lady Of Lourdes. My mom said that she thought it would be safe to drop by the Veterinary school and pick up some of dad’s things from his office (Dad had already left for Stillwater, Oklahoma to deliver a load of books and personal belongings).

As we pulled into the parking lot at the Veterinary College, my mom told me that I couldn’t go in because that was “Brown’s” car on the parking lot. — She had names for the different “bad guys” in the department. The Dean was “Whitey”. There was an older lady professor named “Brown”. Then there was the one that I recognized the most…. “McClure”.

I told my mom… “Look. It’s 9 am on Sunday morning. New Year’s Day. She was insistent that “Brown” was in the building. Then finally she told me. “Ok. go downstairs (where my father’s office was) and look around. If no one is there, then grab some of his books.”

Then one of the most bizarre moments of my life occurred. I still remember every detail. It was like I had gone into a dream where fantasy suddenly became reality. I entered the dark building using my father’s key. Immediately turned left and went down the stairs into the darkness. I had to feel my way down the stairs, holding onto the handrail.

As I stepped into the subterranean hallway, I turned north toward my father’s office. I immediately stopped. About 50 yards ahead of me I could see two offices next to each other with their doors open and their lights on. The rest of the hallway was totally dark as we were below ground. Having been a “spelunker” in my youth, the darkness didn’t bother me, however, the the existence of lights ahead were a total surprise.

I briskly walked down the hallway past the two doors. In the first office a lady was sitting at a desk. In the second, a man. I quietly walked on by. Then I turned around and walked passed the door where the man was sitting and stopped between the two doors. I could tell that both the man and the woman were talking on the phone. After listening for a moment I could tell that they were talking to each other, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying.

As a seventeen year old High School student, I suddenly realized that everything my mother and father had been saying for the past 5 years had been true. All the bugs found in my dad’s phone. All the threatening notes. The reason why he hadn’t received a raise in 5 years… All made sense! These guys were crazy!

I walked south to the stairway and turned around and looked back. “Brown” (the lady), was standing in the hallway with her hands on her hips like Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter!

Professor Umbridge Holding her wand

Professor Umbridge Holding her wand

I stood there for a second looking at her silhouetted against the light from her office, knowing that she couldn’t tell who I was in the darkness. then I darted up the stairs. Ran outside to the car. Jumped in the driver’s seat of the Pontiac Station Wagon and told my mom what I had seen.

My mom explained to me that this was “Brownie”. They talk on the phone so that no one can say that they have been seen talking together. You see…. they are supposed to be at a conference or some other “official” business this weekend so they can claim expenses. That is why “Whitey” can live in a big ranch south of town on his measly salary. This is what my father had told the Chancellor of the University who told him that “boys will be boys”.

I didn’t know whether to lean over and kiss my mom when I suddenly realized that the list of insane people didn’t include my mother and father, or to peel out of the parking lot before Professor Umbridge made it up the stairs! Anyway. On News Years Day 1978 I had a totally new perspective on life. I can tell you that for certain.

To finish up with this side (non Power Plant) story…. in 1980 when Barbara Uehling became the Chancellor at the University of Missouri (from Oklahoma University, where I had attended school two years before), she began to clean house. I remember the day I learned that she had fired “Whitey” the dean of the Veterinary school.

I woke from my sleep very early in the morning. It was my father from Stillwater, Oklahoma. He had received a call from Iowa State from a Veterinarian, Deiter Delman, who had told him that they had just fired Whitey the Dean of the Veterinary College at Missouri. I told dad that was great, and I crawled back to my bed to finish my nightly ritual of sleep.

Moments later I was woken by another phone call. One of my professors from the College of Psychology Dr. Wright had called me. He said, “I have some news that your father will probably like to know. It is really top secret! I said, “Does it have to do with “Whitey” being fired? In my head I could see Dr. Wright’s one fake eye spinning around in his head like Professor Moody in Harry Potter (even though he hadn’t been thought of yet in 1981).

Professor Moody... Or is it Professor Wright in the MU Psychology Department?

Professor Moody… Or is it Professor Wright in the MU Psychology Department?

Professor Moody… I mean Dr. Wright…. said, “What? How do you know? This is “Top Secret?” the meeting was over just minutes ago? I told him that Dr. Middleton had called Dr. Delman, who had immediately called my father, who had already called me moments ago. — To put this in perspective…… The whole world knew within minutes. I wrote a letter to the Chancellor Barbara Uehling explaining the events that I knew about. She wrote back saying that the Provost would be looking into the additional names I had given her.

End of side story…..

Back to the Power Plant Snitch… (I can tell… this has already become a long post and is probably going to break my record of the longest post of all time).

In September 1984, not one year after I had joined the electric shop, Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, came down to the electric shop (which was normal. Since he ate lunch with us every day). This time, he locked the doors. The door to the Turbine room, the door to the main switchgear and the front door…. — all locked. He said, “What is said here doesn’t go outside this shop.”

Ok…. We all went instantly into “serious” mode. Bill explained that there was something up with the grubby looking janitor (I’m sorry… I don’t remember what name he was assuming to use at the time — I’ll call him “Bonzo” from now on). The janitor “Bonzo” had been neglecting his duties as a janitor, so Pat Braden (the lead janitor) had gone to Marlin McDaniel to have him fired. Marlin McDaniel had gone to the Assistant Plant Manager, Bill Moler to start the process of firing “Bonzo”.

Marlin McDaniel (who had been my A foreman while I was a Janitor and on Labor crew after Chuck Ross had left) was told by Bill Moler that he was not going to fire “Bonzo” under any circumstance. It didn’t matter to him that he wasn’t doing his job. Marlin was told to forget about it and not bring it up again.

Bill Bennett told every person in the electric shop…. “Keep clear of this guy. I don’t know what is going on, but something is definitely wrong.” At that point everyone in the Electric shop knew that “Bonzo” was a snitch. Don’t talk to the Snitch…. Ok… from now on I’ll refer to “Bonzo” as the “Snitch”.

I know I have bored all of you by the personal story of my father and the trials that he went through, so I’ll try to keep this short: I knew a year and three months ago when I first started writing about the “Goodness” of the Power Plant Man that I would eventually come to this story. I know that the Power Plant men that read this blog knew that this story had to eventually be written. So, here it is.

Through unforeseen circumstances… and I attribute it to my Guardian Angel who has kept me out of serious trouble up to this point, I was called to Oklahoma City by my girlfriend Kelly Burgess (who ten months and 11 days later became my wife and is ’til death do us part) on February 10, 1985. I called in to Howard Chumbley on February 11 and told him I would not be able to make it to work that day. I would be taking my floating holiday.

The following Monday morning when I had climbed into Bill River’s Station wagon at the bowling alley where we met, with Rich Litzer and Yvonne Taylor and we were on our way to work, I learned about what had happened the Friday before. The day that would forever be referred to at the plant as “Black Friday.”

Bill Rivers explained the entire scenario to me during the 25 minute drive to the plant. I can’t say that I was in tears because my system had gone into shock and I was zombified by each new revelation. If I could have cried, I would have. My system had just gone into shock. All emotion had shut down.

Bill explained to me that on Friday morning (February 11, 1985), a plant-wide meeting had been held. Everyone at the plant had been informed that a drug and theft ring at the plant had been found and eliminated. This included one lady who was a janitor. A machinist named Dink Myers. The Lead Janitor Pat Braden and two of the Electricians Craig Jones and Jim Stevenson.

Drug and Theft ring? Really? At our Power Plant?

Except for the female janitor (I can’t even remember her name), I had a personal relationship with every other person on this list (whether they knew it or not). I never worked directly with Craig Jones, but as an electrician, I did know that everyone held him in the highest esteem. I later found out that Dink Myers was a distant relation of mine when two years later I attended my grandfather’s funeral. Jim Stevenson was a close friend to the point that I used to give him Swedish Massages that would ease the pain of his rampant Eczema. Pat Braden…. Well. Pat Braden.. my Janitor lead. I loved him most of all.

I invited Pat Braden to sit next to my wife and I at my wedding 10 months later, even though the Evil Assistant Plant Manager would be serving as a deacon in the wedding ceremony (he didn’t come.. I understood why). Next to Charles Foster, Pat Braden was my next dearly beloved friend. — Other Power Plant Men, such as Mickey Postman and Ed Shiever, share in my total love for Pat Braden to this day. — Not that I have asked them… I just know… They used to work for this saint.

Here is what had happened…..

Eldon Waugh (the evil plant manager) had heard from a study that came out early in 1984 that 10% of a typical workforce were either on drugs or were robbing their employer. I know. I had read the same study. The company had hired the snitch to become a janitor at the best power plant in the country to infiltrate their troops and bring out the worst in them.

I distinctly remember the snitch walking into the electric shop once as I was walking out…. He paused… looked at me as if to say something, then went on…. (– my interpretation…. “oh… a victim….”…. Guardian angel response…. “This isn’t the droids you are looking for…”) He went on without saying a word.

These aren't the droids you ar looking for ( Star Wars -- A New Hope

These aren’t the droids you ar looking for (Star Wars — A New Hope)

So the Snitch nailed a good friend of mine, Jim Stevenson…. I remember in January just before the verdict came down….. Leroy Godfrey had gone on a frenzied hunt for the portable electric generator. It had turned up missing…. Everyone in the shop was sent to look for it… After a day of searching, when it was time to go home…. I remember that as we were walking out the door to the parking lot that Jim Stevenson said, “They are never going to find the generator.” Bill Ennis asked, “Why Not?” Jim answered,. “Because their snitch has it. If they are going to let a crook like that work here, they are going to have to live with the consequences. He took the generator.”

A few months after “Black Friday”, Jim Stevenson was suing the company, and the specifically the Plant Manager and the Assistant Plant Manager.  Lawyers came from Oklahoma City and interviewed people that had worked with Jim Stevenson and Craig Jones. I was in a quandary. I knew if they asked me about this situation I would have to tell them what Jim Stevenson had said. Jim had been fired for helping the snitch load the generator in the back of his truck months earlier. The funny thing was… I was the only one in the shop that they didn’t interview. I had never been on Jim’s crew, so I wasn’t on their list. At that point, if they didn’t ask me, I wasn’t going to volunteer.

The thing about this whole event was that it was setup from the beginning…. The Snitch asked Jim if he would help him lift the generator into the back of his truck…. This by itself was nothing out of the ordinary, since people could “check out” the generator for their personal use.

Portable Generator

Portable Generator

Jim had known that the Snitch had taken the portable generator and said to Bill Ennis that if they wanted to keep scum around like that, then they should incur the cost of that decision. What Jim didn’t know was that he was being secretly taped while he was being entrapped into loading the generator into the back of the Snitch’s truck. Jim reminded me of Dabney Coleman:

Dabney Colement reminds me of Jim Stevenson

Dabney Colement reminds me of Jim Stevenson

I won’t go much into the stories of Dink Myers, who shared a joint with the Snitch in the locker room, and Craig Jones who pulled up some “hemp” on the road to the river pumps to swap for a “stolen knife set” (though he didn’t know they were stolen) since these were “no-brainer” stupid moments in the life of young Power Plant Men… but I will defend Pat Braden…. The most honest and loving of souls (and again… I apologize for the length of this post).

In previous posts I have mentioned that Pat Braden reminded me of Red Skelton.

This Picture of Red Skelton reminds me of Pat Braden

This Picture of Red Skelton reminds me of Pat Braden

Today, when I want to reminisce about Pat Braden. All I have to do is watch an old episode of Red Skelton. As kind as Red Skelton was in real life… there was Pat Braden. If you don’t know about Red Skelton… Google him…. He was a sincere soul… He was a soul-mate to Pat Braden.

This is how Pat Braden was fired…… The snitch came to him one day and asked for the key to the closet so that he could get the VCR….. Weeks later, the VCR turned up missing and Pat was asked if he knew where the VCR went. He didn’t know. When I was a janitor I used to do go to Pat on a weekly basis and ask for the key to closet for the VCR. I had to regularly move it to the control room or the Engineer’s shack for training sessions. It was just part of our regular job and Pat Braden would have not thought twice about it.

As it turned out, the snitch had taken the VCR from the closet and had brought it straight to Bill Moler, the Assistant Plant Manager and handed it to him and told him that he had stolen it (even though technically, it hadn’t been stolen). Then about a month later, Bill sent out the request to find the VCR. At that point, Pat, who was the same age as my father (It’s funny, but a lot of people at the plant were the same age as my father), and on blood pressure medication that made his head swim when he stood up, didn’t remember anyone taking the VCR four weeks earlier… So, he was included in the “Theft and Drug ring at Sooner Plant on February 11, 1985″.

The story about Jim Stevenson is almost as tragic, though he had enough money to take the Electric Company to court. Pat’s income of $10 an hour didn’t quite leave him in a position to complain about being unjustly fired.

As the Tape recorder tapes revealed about Jim Stevenson (yeah… Like Watergate)… The evil Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh had told the Snitch to specifically target Jim Stevenson. The way it was explained in the recording between Eldon Waugh and the Snitch (as recorded by Jack Ballard, the head of HR at the Plant at the time), if Jim Stevenson were gone, then Leroy Godfrey’s only friend would be gone… Then Leroy would have to turn to Bill Moler or Eldon for friendship….. I want to continue printing periods as you ponder this thought…..

So…. Eldon and Bill had Jim Stevenson fired as part of a bogus “Drug and Theft” ring so that Leroy Godfrey would be their friend?….. How bizarre is that? You know… I can put this all in writing because it all became public knowledge when it became part of a trial between Jim Stevenson and the Electric Company a year later. The s**t hit the fan on January 23, 1986 when Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh were attending Jack Ballard’s funeral.

Immediately after the graveside services were finished in Ponca City at the Odds Fellows Cemetery, Jim’s lawyer hit them both with a Subpoena to appear in court… The lawyer wanted to make sure the trial took place in Kaw County. A year later, these two individuals and the company settled out of court. Both the Plant Manager and the Assistant Plant Manager were “early retired” which opened the door for a new era of Power Plant Management. Jim Stevenson walked away with an undisclosed sum of money that was at least six digits.

Pat? I found out a few years later that my wife had been working with Pat in Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Ponca City. One day after, we had moved to Stillwater, and Kelly was talking to a friend from Ponca City, the subject of Pat Braden came up. When she had hung up the phone, I asked her, “Pat Braden who?” When she explained that she had worked with a security guard named Pat Braden in Ponca City, and that he was the nicest guy you would ever meet. He cared about one thing in life and that was his daughter… I knew she was talking about our Pat Braden.

Everyone that ever met this kind soul was touched by him. It was ironic that my wife Kelly had worked with Pat for a couple of years at the hospital and I didn’t even have a clue. I knew that Pat must have known…. After all…. I was the only Breazile in the phone book in Ponca City at the time. From what I understand… Pat is still around in Ponca City doing something….. Jim Stevenson still runs “Stevenson Refrigeration Services”. Both of these are honorable men.

Note that the True Power Plant Men mourned their loss for years after this event. A certain amount of “innocence” or “decency” had been whittled away. That is until 1994 rolled around….. But…. That is another story for a much later time….

Comments from the orignal post:

  1. Old Sicilian saying: “Rats get fat, while Good Men die”.

  2. Ron Kilman March 18, 2013:

    I of course heard about “Black Friday” at Sooner, but it was from Eldon’s perspective. It is evil when innocent people are set up to be fired like that.

    We didn’t hire any snitches at Seminole.

  3. An entertaining study of the use of power in a university and in a power plant…with applications to government available!

The Passing of an Old School Power Plant Man – Leroy Godfrey

Originally Posted March 16, 2012. Leroy Godfrey passed from this earth on March 9, 2012:

One of the most ornery men I have ever met in power plant life was the Electrical Supervisor at the Power Plant named Leroy Godfrey. Compared to the Power Plant Heroes of my day, the old school Power Plant Men were from a different breed of character that I would describe more as Power Broker Men. They worked in a culture of total rule much the way dictators and despots rule their people. They expect immediate respect before they elicit any behavior worthy of respect. Their position spoke for itself. They generally wore a frown on their face that has been embedded in their facial feature permanently. This was pretty much what I thought about Leroy Godfrey when I first met him.

My first real encounter with Leroy Godfrey was when I joined the electric shop as an electrician. I quickly realized that to my benefit, I was a pawn in a game that was constantly being played between Leroy Godfrey and the Assistant Plant Manager and the Plant Manager. For reasons that I will relate in a later post, Bill Moler the Assistant Plant Manager and the Plant Manager Eldon Waugh did not want me to be promoted from a Laborer to an Electrician. As soon as Leroy Godfrey realized this, he did everything in his power to make sure I was the person chosen to fill that position. It didn’t matter to Leroy if I was the best qualified (which I turned out to be based on performance ratings), or that I had less seniority than most everyone else on the labor crew.

I first considered becoming an electrician when I was a janitor and Charles Foster an Electrical B Foreman asked me if I would be interested, because I liked to clean things and a lot of what an electrician does is clean things (believe it or not… in a power plant). I was thinking at the time that I was probably going to try to be an operator before Charles asked me that question. So, I started preparing myself by taking correspondence electrical courses offered by the company and a house wiring course at the Vo-Tech.

To make a much longer story short (as the details belong to another story), I was selected to fill the vacancy in the Electric Shop. Then I found myself under the rule of Leroy Godfrey, who was happy as a lark that I made it to the electric shop because he had won a major victory in exerting his power over his fellow power brokers, but you couldn’t tell that by looking at him. Leroy had a constant scowl on his face. He looked like he was mad at the world. Sometimes you would walk up to him and start talking to him and he would just walk away without saying a word as if he didn’t care to hear what you had to say. Here is his picture that shows his expression when he knows he has just won the current round of whatever game he is playing at the time.

Leroy Godfrey

I was the type of person that was very blatantly honest when I didn’t know something. I was not a seasoned electrician when I joined the shop and I didn’t pretend that I was. I looked to my fellow crew mates to teach me everything I needed to know and they did an excellent job. The people on my crew were all real Power Plant Men (and Lady) of the New school of thought. Once after I had been an electrician for a couple of years (2 years and 2 months to be more exact), Leroy asked me to go to the shop and get the Ductor because he wanted to test the generator shaft during an overhaul. When I asked him where the Ductor was and what did it look like, he stood there in amazement at my stupidity. He asked me over and over again to make sure he had heard me right that I didn’t know what the Ductor was. I answered him plainly. “No. I don’t know what the Ductor is. But I’ll go get it.” He said he couldn’t believe that anyone in his electric shop wouldn’t know what a Ductor was. That is just a taste of the his management style. Actually, it turned out that I had used the Ductor before, but I didn’t remember the name. To me it was a very precise ohm meter (a milli-ohmmeter).

This is the picture of a new ductor. We had a very old model.

I could go on about different instances that took place to illustrate how Leroy managed his employees, but it isn’t really the main point of this post. It is important, I believe, to understand why the old school culture was the way it was. Leroy was very smart. He had more raw knowledge and understanding in his little finger than the plant manager and the assistant plant manager put together. Based on that, today you would have thought that he would be in a plant manager position making all the important decisions.

That is not how the system worked while Leroy was moving up in the ranks. In the era when the old school of thought prevailed, the electric company could run as inefficiently as it wanted, and it was guaranteed a 10% profit, based on revenue minus expenses and depreciation. There was little incentive to improve plant operations other than to at least maintain the capital assets by spending at least as much as depreciation on capital projects. In this environment people were promoted into higher positions based on friendship more so than ability. So, if you were someone’s roommate in college (and we all knew examples of this), it didn’t matter if you knew anything other than how to sign your name at the bottom of a requisition, you could eventually make your way up to plant manager or even higher as long as your roommate was one step higher than you.

To someone with brains such as Leroy Godfrey, this was very frustrating. Here he was the Electrical Supervisor at a power plant with the two people above him who used political games to make major decisions. Leroy, of course, could out maneuver them based on brain power alone, and would take great pleasure in constantly proving them wrong whenever they made a decision without consulting him first. I could always tell when Leroy was happiest. It was when he had the biggest scowl on his face. I suppose it was because he was getting ready to checkmate his opponents.

I found out later by Bill Bennett our A foreman that the reason that Leroy would act like he wasn’t listening to you was because he was deaf in one ear. If you were standing on one side of him, he couldn’t hear you. So, you could be standing there talking away, and Leroy would just walk away as if he didn’t hear you, and that would be the reason.

Something happened on July 2, 1982 that changed the power plant world. Especially in Oklahoma. History will record it as July 5, but it was known in the financial world after the market closed on Friday July 2. This was the failure of the Penn Square Bank in Oklahoma City. It was the beginning of the end of the Oil Boom of the late 70’s after the oil crisis of the mid and later 70’s. Suddenly the future demand for electricity turned downward and for many years to come there would be a surplus of electricity on the market. What made it worse was that there were laws put in place to help up and coming co-generation plants that were still on the books (Such as PURPA, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978) in which small co-generation companies could feed off of the large electric companies guaranteeing their success at the detriment to the major electric companies.

During the years that followed, the electric company found that they had to compete for the electricity they sold. This is where the new school of power plant men began to shine. They had been cultivating their culture at our plant for years trying to prove their worth, not aware and not really caring that it was “who you knew” and how much you were liked by the person making the decision that determined your promotion to a higher position. The new power plant men had become experts in their fields and took pride in their work.

The board of directors of the electric company must have known that the old school employees would not cooperate with the new way of thinking, because by 1987 they decided to early retire anyone over 55 years old, and then layoff employees where the company had over compensated based on their earlier estimates of growth. A first in the history of the Electric company.

This is when Leroy and the other old school power broker men were given an incentive to early retire. At the retirement party people stood up and said things about the different retirees. Usually just funny things that may have happened to them over the years. Leroy’s daughter Terri stood up and said that she understood what the electricians must have gone through working for Leroy because, remember, she had to LIVE with him! We laughed.

To put it in perspective. Leroy worked almost his entire adult live at that point for the power company. Over 34 years. — During the years under the old school plant manager and assistant plant manager at our plant Leroy had to face one abuse after another. To name just one instance, the plant manager conspired to discredit Leroy’s best friend to the point that he was fired in disgrace, just so that Leroy would be friendless and have to turn to them for friendship (to give you an understanding as to why I often refer to the plant manager as the “evil plant manager”). This was known to us because while the plant manager was planning this with a hired undercover “snitch”, he was taping the conversations, which were later used in court to clear Leroy’s best friend Jim Stevenson (See last Friday’s Post: Power Plant Snitch).

Can you imagine the stress this puts on a person that then has to go home at night and be a supportive husband and father? Leroy lived another 24 years after he retired from the company. That is a long time to overcome the bitterness left over from the abuse Leroy took from the Manager and Assistant Manager at the plant.

There are two things that make me believe that Leroy was finally able to find the great peace and dignity in his life that all good Power Plant Men deserve. First, it is the loving words of his daughter Terri who many years ago, couldn’t resist “feeling our pain”. ” Daddy/Poppy, your love will forever live within us. Thank you for setting such a decent moral tone and instilling your high standards in us.”

Secondly, I know now where Leroy’s greatest love has always been. He didn’t measure himself by how high he could rise in the totem pole of managerial positions in a power company. He didn’t need to prove his self worth by how much the plant depended on his knowledge.

I believe that he had one main goal in life and once that goal was fulfilled, he had no other reason to remain. You see, just two weeks prior to Leroy Godfrey’s death, his wife Lydia had passed away on February 22, 2012. Enough said. Leroy’s heart and soul is right where it has always belonged and where it remains for eternity. Alongside his wife Lydia.

Lydia Godfrey

Power Plant Birthday Phantom

Long before Facebook ever graced the pages of our browsers, Power Plant Birthday reminders began appearing in the Outlook E-mail Inboxes of Power Plant men at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  Today it seems commonplace to be reminded of your friends birthdays as your smartphone pops up a message to remind you.  In 1997, a strange event began happening at the plant.  It sent some scurrying about to find the culprit.  Others found it funny.  Some worried that their secrets were about to be revealed.  One person was totally surprised by the response (me).

January 3, 1997 Charles Foster and I went to our morning meeting with our team in the main break room where we would meet every morning to go over the work for the day.  Alan Kramer began the meeting by asking me a direct question.  He said something like, “Kevin.  Do you know anything about emails from the Birthday Phantom?”  I asked him what he meant, and he went on to explain.

Alan Kramer

Our Foreman Alan Kramer

Alan said that when someone opened up Outlook to check their e-mail that morning, shortly after they opened it up, an e-mail appeared in their inbox that was from themselves.  So, when Alan had logged in that morning, he received an e-mail from Alan Kramer.  When he opened it, it had a subject of “Today is Wayne Cranford’s Birthday”.  The body of the e-mail said, “Today is Wayne Cranford’s Birthday.  He is 48 years old today.  Please wish him a Happy Birthday.  The Birthday Phantom.”

Jim Kanelakos in in the middle in the back (third from the left) with the red plaid shirt standing behind Vonzell Lynn

Wayne Cranford is front and center on one knee between David Evans and John Costello

It happened that when Wayne Cranford opened his own e-mail, the subject said, “Happy Birthday Wayne Cranford!”  and the body of the email had the happy birthday song,  “Happy Birthday to you.  Happy Birthday to you.  Happy Birthday dear Wayne.  Happy Birthday to you.  The Birthday Phantom.

So, after Alan explained this to me, he looked at me again with a rather stern look and said, “Kevin.  Did you do this?”  What could I say?  So, I said, “Why is it that whenever something like this happens, I’m always the first one to be blamed for it?”  I knew at that point that Alan’s next response was going to mean the difference between night and day, so I put on the most indignant look I could.

Alan said, “Well.  I just had to ask.”  I shrugged like I understood and glanced over at Charles Foster who had a stunned look hidden behind his best poker face.  Something like this:

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

You see…. about a year earlier, before we were using Microsoft Outlook, we were using Novell’s Groupwise for email.  Alan Kramer had come to me and asked me if I had done something “wrong” in regard to emails.  It turned out that I was innocent of any “wrongdoing” in that instance (well, almost).  Charles Foster was my witness.

What had happened was that one day, Danny Cain, who was the Instrument and Controls person on our team had come into the electric shop office to make a phone call to someone at Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City.  I think it was Ed Mayberry.  Email was a new idea for most people at the plant.

Danny Cain

Danny Cain

While Danny was on the phone, I turned to the computer sitting on the desk across the room from Danny and wrote an e-mail to the person that Danny was talking to telling him not to believe a word Danny was saying… whatever it was…. it wasn’t important.  I just thought it would be funny to send an email to Ed about Danny while he was talking to Danny on the phone.

The subject of the email was “Danny Cain”.  As Danny was talking on the phone, he happened to turn around just as I was clicking “Send”, and he saw his name in the subject line.  Charles was sitting there next to me, as we were on break at the time.  Danny quickly asked what I was doing and why did he see his name on an e-mail.  I put on the guiltiest look I could and said, “Oh.  Nothing.  Nothing at all.”  Rolling my eyes with obvious guilt.

I didn’t know how much this bugged Danny until a couple of days later Alan came into the electric shop office and said he needed to ask me a serious question.  I could tell he was upset with me.  He asked, “Have you been reading other people’s emails?”  I was confused by the question, because I didn’t relate it to Danny from the other day.  So both Charles and I looked confused.

I told Alan that not only had I not read other people’s emails, but even if I could, I wouldn’t because I considered other people’s emails private.  Then I explained to him that Novell’s Groupwise email was very secure, and I wouldn’t know how to hack into their email if I had a desire.  Which I didn’t.

 

Novell's Groupwise

Novell’s Groupwise

Still confused by why Alan would ask the question both Charles and I asked Alan what this was all about.  He didn’t want to say who it was that told him they thought I was reading their emails, but after we pressed him, he told us that Danny Cain said he saw me reading his email when he was in the office.  Then both Charles and I knew what this was all about.

I explained to Alan that I was just joking around with Danny at the time.  I reasoned with Alan that I would have to be pretty stupid to wait until Danny was standing a few feet away from me before I decided to read his emails.  Alan accepted my explanation.  Especially since it was backed by one of the most honest people at the plant, Charles Foster.

So, fast forward to November 6, 1996.  We were now using Outlook.  That was about as secure as a bag of Oreo cookies in a kindergarten classroom.

I was sitting in the electric shop office with Charles during lunch, and I had just finished writing some fun little programs that automated pulling stock prices from the Internet and putting them in Excel each day.  I asked Charles, “What shall I do next?”

Charles thought for a few moments and said, “You know when we were still all in the electric shop before the downsizing, how when it was someone’s birthday we used to celebrate it by bringing a cake and having a lunch or something for that person?  Well.  We don’t do anything now.  Can you come up with something that will help celebrate birthdays?”

After brainstorming ideas, we settled on sending emails and the “Birthday Phantom” was born.  I thought it would be neat to learn how to write programs that used the Outlook API, sending emails, and stuff like that.  So, I went to work during my lunch breaks writing the program.

It only took a week or so to get it working, and then we ran a bunch of tests on it until we settled on having the emails be sent by the same person that is receiving the email when they log on the computer.  Each time a person logs on the computer, the program would be kicked off.

The first thing it would do was check to see if the person had already logged on that day.  If they had logged on before, then it would shutdown because I didn’t want it to send more than one email for the same day, even if the person used a different computer.

The next thing it would check was if the person was on an exception list.  We had decided that it was best to keep the plant manager and his cronies… um… I mean, his staff from receiving emails, as we didn’t think they would appreciate it since they didn’t have much use for such things.  If the person logging on was on the exceptions list, the application would shutdown.

Then, it would check to see if it was anyone’s birthday that day.  If it was, then it would send an email from the person logged on, to the person logged on.  If it was the birthday of the person logging on, then it would modify the email so that it was personalized to say happy birthday to them.

There were little tweeks I made while testing the application before we went live with it.  First, I added little things like making sure the gender was correct.  So, if it was a woman’s birthday, then it would say “…wish her a happy birthday”.

Charles and I decided that the application would start running on January 1, 1997.  So, during December, I made sure it was setup on all the computers in the plant except those belonging to the staff.  This brings us to January 3, 1997, when Wayne Cranford was the first Power Plant Man to have a birthday.

As I hinted above, Alan’s response to my indignation at being accused of creating the Birthday Phantom would have determined how short-lived the Birthday Phantom would have been.  Since Alan didn’t pursue the inquiry I didn’t offer any more information.

For instance.  A few minutes after the meeting was over, I walked over the control room, and the control room operators were all standing around talking about the Birthday Phantom.  David Evans asked me if I was the Birthday Phantom.  I responded the same way I did with Alan, I said, “Why is it that when something like this happens, I am always the first person to be accused?”  David responded with, “Yeah, but are you the Birthday Phantom?”  Well.  I wasn’t the type of person to blatantly lie, so I had to admit that “Yes.  I’m the Birthday Phantom, but don’t tell anyone.”  The Control room operators said they would all keep it to themselves (yeah.  right).

Though some people thought the Birthday Phantom was a nuisance, others thought that their personal emails were at risk, and that the Birthday Phantom could be stealing their emails.  Whenever I heard that anyone was upset (such as Alan) with the Birthday Phantom, I just added them to the exceptions list and they never received another Birthday Phantom email.

Jim Padgett, a Shift Supervisor, had received a Birthday Phantom email one day, and called IT to report it as they were trying to track down the program to figure out where it was coming from.  Jim Cave told me that  Padgett had the IT guy on the phone and he was logged into his computer to watch what happened when he logged on and opened up Outlook to try and find what was sending the emails.

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

Jim Padgett is on the far left standing next to Jim Cave in the Jean Jacket.

Jim Cave said that the IT guy was sounding hopeful that he was going to finally be able to catch the Birthday Phantom when all of the sudden he said, “Oh!  That’s a Wiley One!”  I came to understand that in Oklahoma City, the IT department was taking this so seriously that they assigned two people full time for two weeks to try and find the culprit (I added Jim Padgett to the exception list, so he didn’t receive any more emails).

I hadn’t thought about it when I was writing the application, but back at Corporate Headquarters, they thought that the application had somehow gained access to the HR system in order to find the birthdays of each employee.  Even though, things like Birthdays and Social Security Numbers were not as sensitive in 1997 (for instance, the plant manager’s Social Security Number was 430-68-….  You really didn’t think I would put his Social Security number here did you?), if someone was accessing the HR database, that would have been serious.

Even though the IT department was taking this very seriously, there was one timekeeper at the Power Plant that was just about climbing the walls over the Birthday Phantom.  She was so concerned that I was afraid she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  I was not surprised by this at all, and had actually anticipated her anxiety.  Actually, the Birthday Phantom was designed for just this reason.  You see, this particular timekeeper was going to be turning 40 years old one week after the first Birthday Phantom email showed up.

After the second Birthday Phantom email arrived the next Monday on January 6, announcing that Jerry Potter had just turned 36, Linda Shiever called me and asked me if I could find out how to stop the Birthday Phantom.  I told her I would look into it.  I did look into it for about one second.  Linda was turning 40 on Friday.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

On Wednesday, January 8, not only did Elvis Presley turn 62 (if he had been alive… or…. um…well, you know…) but the Birthday Phantom informed everyone at the plant that Sonny Kendrick (who was only 5 days younger than Wayne Cranford) had also turned 48 years old.  Linda Shiever was thinking about calling in sick on Friday.

Linda knew that when she came to work the morning of January 10, that her cube would be full of black balloons with the number 40 on them.  She had resigned herself to this a while before when she helped blow up the balloons for Louise Kalicki’s cube the previous August 23, less than 5 months earlier.  The appearance of the Birthday Phantom, however, had thrown in a new element of recognition.

The morning of January 10, 1997 finally arrived, and the Birthday Phantom email notified everyone that it was not only Linda Shiever’s birthday, but it was also Gene Day’s birthday as well.  Yeah.  The application could handle multiple birthdays on the same day.  Linda Shiever was happy to find out that the Birthday Phantom had informed the entire Power Plant that she had just turned 29.  In fact, that year, every woman at the plant was turning 29 years old according to the Birthday Phantom. — That was another one of those tweeks that came out of our testing.

Gene Day, on the other hand, according to the Birthday Phantom had just turned 100 years old…. Well.. Everyone knew he was ancient (See the post: “Power Plant Humor and Joking With Gene Day” and the “Psychological Profile of a Control Room Operator“).  Needless to say, there was a lot less stress in the office area after that day.

The following week, when I went to the tool room to get some supplies, Darlene Mitchell stopped me and asked me if the Birthday Phantom would do her a favor.  She was turning 45 years old on January 28, and she didn’t want the Birthday Phantom to tell everyone she was 29.  She wanted it to say, “Today is Darlene Mitchell’s Birthday, She is 45 years old and Lovin’ it!  Please wish her a Happy Birthday!”  I told her I would have a talk with the Birthday Phantom and it shouldn’t be a problem.

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell, a dear friend of the Birthday Phantom

After a month, when I was in the Control Room, Jim Cave, who was now referring to me regularly as “The Wiley One” said that the IT department had told Jack Maloy that they were no longer looking for the Birthday Phantom.  They were not able to find it.  The person that did it would just have to tell them who it was.

I still have the computer code I used when I wrote the program.  Sometimes I take it out and read it and I remember that year when the Birthday Phantom visited the Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to remind everyone that we were all growing older and as a family, we should take the time to stop and say “Happy Birthday” to each other on that one day each year when we are special.

Birthday Phantom Code

Page 1 of the Birthday Phantom Code

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