Experiencing Maggots, Mud and Motor Vehicles with Dee Ball

Revised 11/26/2021

Originally Posted March 30, 2012:

Have you noticed that some people are so proud of their middle name that they prefer to be called by that name instead of their first name, like Andy Tubbs, who is really Carl Andy Tubbs? Others don’t really care for their first name, so they go by a nickname like Sonny Karcher who is really Clarence Karcher. Others would rather you didn’t know their middle name because it doesn’t seem to fit the rest of their name or their personality.

I used to think that Dee Ball’s mom decided to call him Dee Ball because that way it would be easy for him to spell when he had to spell it in school.  Another person I thought had a similar experience was O D McGaha (pronounced Mc Gay Hay).  The O and the D were his first and middle names.  They weren’t abbreviations, so there is no period after them.  His name wasn’t Odie, it was just O D.

Later in life, out of curiosity, I decided to look into Dee Ball’s background a little more closely, since I was writing this post mainly about him and he seemed reluctant to discuss his middle name one time when I asked him about it when I was a new summer help at the plant.  I found out that Dee’s middle name is Theron.  The only other person I know with a name like that was Charlize Theron, an actress.  Neither of us knew about Charlize Theron at the time since she was only 3 years old during the summer of 1979.

I suppose if someone knew that Dee’s middle initial was a T, they probably would have nicknamed him Tee Ball.

Anyway, enough about middle names.  Let me move on to the story about Mud, Maggots and Motor Vehicles and what it all has to do with Dee Theron Ball.

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 with a dash of smoldering dirty diapers thrown in for spice.  During the summer of 1979, 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 stabber 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 and soaked 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 by describing the effect that it had on me when I had to inhale a whiff.

Well Fed Power Plant Maggots

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 will 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 emanating 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 hopped back and forth much like a leprechaun, 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 the truck 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 (See the post Power Plant Genius of 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 (well, chronologically, this was the first) 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 Interstate 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 the mud that had been flinging up from the back tire.  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, 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.

Indian Curse or Brown and Root Blunder

Revised 11/20/2021

Originally posted on February 18, 2012.

We had a meeting the other day where I work and the chief of the Choctaw tribe was being interviewed.  This is Native American Heritage Month, and we were celebrating it by having events like this.  Our CIO (Chief Information Officer) is Cherokee and he was being interviewed along with the Chief from the Choctaw Tribe.

This reminded me of the days when I first became a summer help at the Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.

I worked at Sooner Coal-fired power plant about a month during the summer of 1979 before I heard about the Indian curse that had been placed on the plant before they started construction.  It came up by chance in a conversation with Sonny Karcher and Jerry Mitchell when we were on our way to the coal yard to do something.

I was curious why Unit 1 was almost complete but Unit 2 still had over a year left before it was finished even though they both looked pretty much identical.  When I asked them that question I didn’t expect the answer that I received, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to hear about an Indian Curse.  It did explain, however, that when we drove around by Unit 2. Sonny would tense up a little looking up at the boiler structure as if he expected to see something.

Sonny Karcher

The edge of the plant property is adjacent to the Otoe-Missouria Indian Tribe.  It was said that for some reason the tribe didn’t take too kindly to having a huge coal-fired power plant larger than the nearby town of Red Rock taking up their view of the sunrise (at least until the tax revenue started rolling in from the plant, building the best school in the state at the time).  So it was believed that someone in the Indian tribe decided to place a curse on the plant that would cause major destruction.

I heard others say that the plant was built on a Holy Indian Burial ground.  At the time it seemed to me that this was a rumor that could easily be started and very hard to prove false.  Sort of like a “Poltergeist” situation.  Though, if it was true, then it would seem like the burial site would most likely be located around the bottom of Unit 2 boiler (right at the spot where I imagined the boiler ghost creeping out to grab Bob Lillibridge 4 years later.  See the post Bob Lillibridge Meets the Boiler Ghost).

I am including an aerial picture of the immediate plant grounds below to help visualize what Jerry and Sonny showed me next.

This is a Google Earth Image taken from their website of the power plant.  In this picture you can see the two tall structures; Unit 1 on the right with Unit 2 sitting right next to it just like the two boilers that you see in the picture of the plant to the right of this post.  They are each 250 feet tall.  About the same height as a 25 story building.

Notice that next to Unit 2 there is a wide space of fields with nothing there.  The coal yard at the top is extended the same distance but the coal is only on the side where the two units are.  This is because in the future 4 more units were planned to be built in this space.  Sooner Lake was sized to handle all 6 units when it was built.  But that is another story.

At the time of this story the area next to Unit 2 between those two roads you see going across the field was not a field full of flowers and rabbits and birds as it is today.  It was packed full of huge metal I-Beams and all sorts of metal structures that had been twisted and bent as if some giant had visited the plant during the night and was trying to tie them all into pretzels.

Sonny explained while Jerry drove the truck around the piles of iron debris that one day in 1976 (I think it was) when it was very windy as it naturally is in this part of Oklahoma, in the middle of the day the construction company Brown and Root called off work because it was too windy.  Everyone had made their way to the construction parking lot when all of the sudden Unit 2 boiler collapsed just like one of the twin towers.

It came smashing down to the ground.  Leaving huge thick metal beams twisted and bent like they were nothing more than licorice sticks.  Amazingly no one was killed because everyone had just left the boilers and were a safe distance from the disaster.  I thought that if this was an Indian curse, then it was a very well thought out one.  After all,  a billion dollar structure came crashing to the ground and not one person was killed.  That’s a pretty targeted curse if you ask me.

Needless to say this shook people up and those that had heard of an Indian Curse started to think twice about it.  Brown and Root of course had to pay for the disaster, which cost them dearly.  They hauled the pile of mess off to one side and began to rebuild Unit 2 from the ground up.  This time with their inspectors double checking the torque (or tightness) of every major bolt.

This brings to mind the question…  If a 250 foot tall boiler falls in the prairie and no one is injured… Does it make a sound?

In the years that followed, Sooner Plant took steps to maintain a good relationship with the Otoe Missouria tribe.  Raymond Lee Butler a Native American from the Otoe Missouria tribe and a machinist at the plant was elected chief of their tribe (or chairman as they call it now).  But that (as I have said before) is another story which you may read here:  Chief Among Power Plant Machinists.  During one summer we had an encounter with a bobcat, which you may read here:  Ken Conrad Dances with a Wild Bobcat.

Comment from Earlier Post:

eddie hickman March 20, 2013

I was there the day unit 2 fell. I was walking to the brass shack, just came down from unit 2 when we noticed the operator of the Maniwoc 5100 crane did not secure the crane ball to the boiler or the crane to keep it from swaying in the wind. I kept watching the crane ball slamming into the steel causing the boiler to sway and within a minute I watched it fall from 50 yards away and took off running, the whole unit was going up quick because B&R were behind schedule, and the most of the steel hadn’t been torqued yet by the bolt up crew.

In Memory of Sonny Karcher – Power Plant Man

Added a new beginning on 11/11/2021

This was originally posted on January 7, 2012

I remember on January 12, 1980 I had decided that November 11, 2011 was going to be a very special day for me.  For almost 32 years I waited for that day to arrive.  If I had been paying more attention at the time, I should have realized that it was going to be a day walking down memory lane as well as a day of death.

My roommate, Mark Sarmento in the private dorm “Mark Twain’s Residence Hall” at the University of Missouri in Columbia had just returned from his Christmas holiday and he had quite the tale to tell me as soon as he walked in the door.  He told me a story about how his friend had told him over the holiday that he kept seeing the numbers 1111 (eleven eleven) or 111 (one eleven).  It kept showing up at the oddest places.  Too often to just be a coincidence.  Then a few days later after Mark’s friend had told him about seeing all the ones, he died suddenly when he had a seizure while taking a shower.

Mark had just been to his friends funeral the day before on (get this) January 11 (1/11).  Mark returned from his vacation and now Mark was seeing the numbers 1111 and 111 everywhere.  I have to admit that over the next semester, Mark had some very interesting encounters with these two numbers.  Even to the point where he was on flight 111 when he went home for spring break.  He wondered what this could mean.

To me, I knew what it meant.  I had decided that day in January 1980 that no matter where I was or what I was doing, I was going to find Mark Sarmento and give him a call on November 11, 2011 at 11:11am (or 11/11/11 11:11).  You can see now why I was looking forward to that day.  It went off without a hitch.  I called his company and told the receptionist that I was an old friend of Mark’s and I have been waiting 32 years to call him on this day.  I had called him at 10:11 since he was in the Eastern Time Zone while I was in the Central  Time Zone.  He called me back an hour later, at 11:11.

Two days later, a power plant man sent me an email informing me that Sonny Karcher had died on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11).  I wondered if it was at the same time I was talking to Mark on the phone.  I had met my roommate Mark Sarmento exactly 111 days after I had met Sonny Karcher.  Another interesting coincidence.

It wasn’t my idea to go work at a power plant for a summer job in 1979.  My dad called me in my dorm room one night during the Spring Semester at Oklahoma University in Norman Oklahoma before I decided to go back to Missouri.  I had figured I would go back to working in a restaurant during the summer as that had been my “go to” job in the past.

Dad said that a fellow Deacon from the Catholic Church in Stillwater, who was the assistant plant manager had asked him if I would be interested in being a summer help at a new power plant the electric company was building 25 miles north of Stillwater.  Without giving it much thought, I told him, “Sure”.  Not really knowing at the time that my simple answer to that question sent me on a journey that lasted for over 22 years.

The next Monday after school was over, I took my mom’s station wagon and drove north out of Stillwater on Hwy 177.  It wasn’t until I topped the hill just before Bill’s corner that I realized that this was actually happening.  I had figured up to that point that someone was going to change their mind, and I would go back to Sirloin Stockade and work for my old manager Ken Low.  But, “No.”  This was actually happening.

Now, 42 years later, I cherish the memories of the days I spent working at the plant as a summer help during the summers of 1979 through 1982, when I became a full time Janitor at the plant.  I later worked my way into the Labor Crew, and eventually ending up in the Electric Shop, where I was an electrician for 18 years.

When I heard the sad news of the death of my very first mentor at the plant, Sonny Karcher on 11/11/11 (November 11, 2011), I wished I had been able to attend his funeral.  I did reserve some amount of time that night when I heard about his death to remember the times I have spent with Sonny.  All of them good, as Sonny was always pleasant to be with even when he was mad about something.  Here are some of the first and last things I remember:

When I first worked at the Sooner power plant the summer of 1979, The first two mechanics I worked with were Sonny and Larry Riley.  They taught me how things worked at the plant at that time.  Both of the units were still under construction, so there was no electricity being generated.

The first job we were to work on was on my second day at the plant, since the first day was taking a safety class, and getting my hard hat and safety glasses and getting fitted for ear plugs. We were supposed to work on a stuck check valve in the dumper sump pump pit.  Not only did I not know what a check valve was, I wasn’t too sure what was meant by a dumper sump, though I did recognize the word “pump”.

It took us about an hour to take the truck to the coal yard, as a coal yard foreman Richard Nix had the key and wasn’t going to give it to us until one of his hands was ready to go with us.  So we sat in the truck parked in the north entrance of the maintenance shop for almost an hour.  When the guy was finally ready, and he had climbed in the back of the pickup, it turned out that he only needed to go as far as the parking lot… about 200 yards away (as the parking lot was at the Engineer’s shack at the time).  We dropped him off and drove up to the coal yard, and made our way down belt 2 to the sump pump pit at the tail end of the belt.

We tested the pump and saw that the water would run back into the sump once the pump stopped running.  So, it was determined that the check valve was stuck.  We drove back to the plant and took the morning break. That’s when I learned that a check valve keeps the water from running backward down a pipe.

About an hour later, Sonny told me to go to the tool room and get the following items (which I thought was a joke, because he gave me such a strange list of tools that I didn’t recognize):   Two ¾ box ends (pronounced “three quarter box ends”), One four foot soft choker, a ¾ ton come-along, a ¾ shackle, a two foot steel choker a large flat bastard file, a large channel lock, and two pry bars (I did recognize Pry Bars and shackle, which I believed was thrown in there just to make the list sound legitimate).  – I wrote down the list, because I recognized right away that a joke was being played on me and I was going to play right along.

So, I went to the tool room and when I saw Bud Schoonover (a very large tall and easy going man at the time) I wondered if he was perchance the large flat bastard file that was on my list.  I thought maybe when I came to “Flat Bastard File” on my list, he would fly into a rage and pick me up by the neck and throw me to the ground (unlikely, I know, but at that time, I didn’t know what to expect).  I told him, “I need a ¾ come-along (I thought I would choose the most ridiculous item on the list first, just to get on with the punch line of the joke…).

Well.  Bud turned around, walked to the back wall, took a come-along off the top of a pallet full of what appeared to be a bunch of junk, and laid it across the tool room gate window (The tool room was still being “organized” at the time and the gate was actually a window in A foreman’s office next to the tool room).  — not the regular gate that has been in the tool room for the past 35 years.

So, I asked for two ¾ box ends (this was before anyone had been issued toolboxes by the way, that’s why we had to go to the tool room for these things).  Well, you know the rest of this part of the story.  These are all legitimate items, and I learned a lot that day and the next few weeks about the names of various tools.  I kept that list in my wallet for over 10 years until it finally disintegrated as a reminder to myself of when I first came to the plant, and how much I didn’t know then.

So, Larry, Sonny and I went up to the coal yard, and went down to the tail end of #2 belt and removed the check valve from the discharge pipe and brought it back to the maintenance shop to repair.  When we returned, we went to lunch.  During lunch Sonny told me about how he was hired at Sooner plant.

He said he lived a few miles down the road and had heard that someone was building a lake up on top of the hill he could see from his property.  So, he went on over to see who was dumb enough to build a lake on top of a hill, and while he was looking around Orville Ferguson came up to him and asked him if he was looking for a job.

Sonny said that he liked to mow grass, and Orville said that he would hire him to mow grass then.  Sonny said, if I remember correctly, that he was hired at the same time that Linda Shiever, the timekeeper, was hired and that they were the first two new hires at the plant.  The rest were already company employees that had transferred there.

After lunch we went down to the shop and took the check valve apart and what do you know….  There was a piece of coal stuck in the check valve keeping it open.  We cleaned it up and put it back together.  When we were finished, we took our afternoon break.  After break we drove back up to the coal yard and went down to the tail end of #2 Conveyor belt and put the check valve back in the discharge pipe.  When we returned to the maintenance shop, we returned the tools to the tool room and filled out our time cards.  A day’s worth of work cleaning a check valve.

I did many other things that first summer, since Sooner Plant didn’t have a yard crew yet and that was what a typical non-educated summer help usually did, I worked most of the time in the maintenance shop bouncing around from crew to crew helping out.  I also did a lot of coal cleanup (especially on weekends), since the conveyor system didn’t work correctly when they started it up when they were starting to fire up unit 1.  See the post “Spending Long Weekends with Power Plant Men Shoveling Coal“.

The second day before I left at the end of the summer to go back to school, I worked again with Larry Riley and Sonny Karcher to fix the exact same check valve.  This time we jumped in a truck (we had a lot more trucks now…. Which is another story — See the post: “Experiencing Maggots, Mud and Motor Vehicles with Dee Ball“), went to the coal yard, went down #2 tunnel to the tail end of #2 Conveyor, pulled out the check valve, removed the piece of coal, put the check valve back in, went back up to the truck and back to the maintenance shop just in time for morning break. Sooner Plant had improved a lot in the short three months I worked that summer.

I worked many years with Sonny Karcher in the garage, and fixing coal handling equipment, and just about anything else.   He finally left the plant to go mow grass, when after a battle to move to the garage from coal yard maintenance to mow grass, he was told that he was going to have to go back to the coal yard to be a coal yard mechanic, because he was real good at that and they just needed him up there.  So he left the plant.

He talked to me about it before he went, that’s how I know what was on his mind.  He said, “Kev, you remember when you first came here and I told you how they hired me to mow grass?  Well, that’s what I want to do.  Mow grass.  So I’m going to have to go back home and do just that.”

After that, the only times I remember seeing Sonny was when he was mowing grass down at Bill’s corner, with a smile on his face waving at the Sooner plant employees on their way home from work.

During the summer of 2018, while I went through Stillwater on my way to Columbia Missouri to attend my 40th High School Reunion, I took a couple of days visiting friends from the plant.  I went to the Morrison Cemetery hoping to find Sonny Karcher’s grave.  I was not able to find it.  I searched other nearby cemeteries including the Sumner cemetery close to his house, and I was never able to find his grave.

Regardless, I can see Sonny talking to St. Peter at the gates of heaven now…..  The only words I can hear Sonny saying is, “I like to mow grass”… and St. Peter nodding with approval and points out that they have a lot of green pastures as he lets him through the gates.

Sonny Karcher

Sonny Karcher

Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley

revised 11/06/2021

Originally posted February 25, 2012.

When I first began working at the power plant (in 1979), one of the people I spent a good deal of time with was Larry Riley.  I was 18 and knew very little about tools, equipment, power plants and how to speak in the Power Plant language.  I quickly found out that in those early days, when the plant was still under construction, a lot of people turned to Larry Riley when they were faced with an obstacle and didn’t know how to approach it.

Larry Riley was a 24 year old genius.  I was amazed by his vast knowledge of seemingly disparate areas of expertise.  When he was asked to do something, I never heard him say that he didn’t know how.  He just went and did it.  So, after I asked Larry how old he was, I asked him how long he had been at the plant.  He hadn’t been there very long, but he had worked in the construction department before transferring to the power plant.

Larry Riley already at the age of 24 had a beat up hard hat full of hard hat stickers.  One indicating that he was a certified industrial truck driver.

Certified Forklift Drivers had these on their hardhats

I think he had about 5 safety stickers and various other hard hat stickers.  He was a thin clean cut dark haired young man with a moustache that sort of reminded me of the Marlboro Man’s moustache.  He walked like he had a heavy burden on his back and he was rarely seen without a cigarette in his mouth.

Yep. That's the Marlboro Man

Yep. That’s the Marlboro Man

I worked with Larry off and on throughout my years as a summer help and during that time Larry taught me the following things (to name a few):  How to drive a tractor.  How to mend a fence.  How to bleed the air out of a diesel engine’s fuel line (which is more important than you would think).  How to operate a brush hog (a large mower on the back of a tractor).  How to free a brush hog from a chain link fence after you get one of the bat wings stuck in one.  Tie rebar, and pour concrete and operate a Backhoe.

I remember asking Larry why a backhoe was called a backhoe.  I think Sonny Karcher was in the truck at the time.  You would have thought I had asked what year the War of 1812 was fought!  I’m sure you are all chuckling while reading this (especially all the power plant men).  But for those of you who are as green as I was, I’ll tell you.  A Backhoe is called a Backhoe because the Hoe is on the Back.  Gee.  Who would have thought?

A Backhoe

Here is a picture of a backhoe

Later when I was a full time employee and had worked my way from being a Janitor to being on the Labor Crew, Larry Riley became my foreman.  At that point on occasion I would call him “Dad”.  He would usually disown me and deny that he had anything to do with it.  On occasion when he would own up to being my dad, he would admit that when I was little I was dropped on my head and that’s why I acted so odd (though, I don’t know to what behavior he had in mind).

There was this other guy at the plant the first summer I was there that had the unique title of “Mill Wright”.  His name was Gary Michelson.  He evidently had gone to school, taken some tests and been certified as a Mill Wright and this probably brought him a bigger paycheck than the other regular workers as well as a much bigger ego.

Gary would spend days at a time at a band saw cutting out metal wedges at different angles so that he would have them all in his pristine tool box.  I worked with him a few times during my first summer as a summer help.  I will probably talk more about Gary in a later post, but just to put it plainly…  I could tell right away that he wasn’t a real “power plant man” (see the post “A Power Plant Doctor does a Jig in a Puddle of Acid“).

The rest of the power plant men I’m sure would agree with me.  I wouldn’t have traded Larry Riley for ten Gary Michelsons unless I was trying to help some engineers change a light bulb (actually.  I have met some good engineers along the way.  Some of them very good.  But they were not the norm.  At least not those assigned to power plants).

I have mentioned some different things that Larry had taught me and if you remember, he was the person that I worked with on my second day at the plant when Sonny Karcher and Larry had taken me to the coalyard to fix the check valve (in my post about Sonny Karcher “In Memory of Sonny Karcher – Power Plant Man“).  There will always be one day that first comes to my mind when I think about Larry.  This is what happened:

I drove a truck down to the Picnic area on the far side of the lake from the plant.  Jim Heflin drove a Backhoe down there.  I believe he was going to dig up some tree stumps that had been left over after the “engineers” in Oklahoma City had decided where to put all the trees in the area.

What the engineers in Oklahoma City did was this:  They cut down all of the trees that were in the picnic area and planted new trees.  Some of them not more than 15 or 20 feet away from a tree that had been there for 30 years and was a good size.  So, there were a lot of stumps left over from the big hearty trees that had been cut down that needed to be removed so that the sickly little twigs that were planted there could prosper and grow without feeling inadequate growing next to a full grown he-man tree.

Anyway.  I had climbed out of the truck and was making my way around the picnic area picking up trash and putting it in a plastic bag using a handy dandy homemade trash stabbing stick.  As Jim was making his way across the “lawn” (I use the word “lawn” loosely, since the area was still fairly new and was not quite finished) when he hit a wet spot.  The Backhoe was stuck in the mud.

There wasn’t much I could do but watch as Jim used the hoe to try to drag himself out.  He rocked the backhoe back and forth.  Used the stabilizers to pick up the backhoe while trying to use the scoop to pull it forward.  I would say he worked at it for about ten minutes (even though it seemed more like half an hour).  Eventually it was time for us to head back to the plant to go to break.

Back at the plant, Jim told Larry about his predicament and asked him if he would help him get the backhoe out of the mud.  Larry said he would come along and see what he could do.  At this point, I was thinking that he would jump in the Wench Truck and go down there and just pull him out.  Instead we just climbed in the pickup truck and headed back to the park (notice how it went from being a picnic area to a park in only three paragraphs?).

When we arrived, Larry climbed into the Backhoe after making his way across the vast mud pit that Jim had created while trying to free himself before.  He fired up the Backhoe…. cigarette in mouth…  then the most fascinating thing happened…  using both feet to work the pedals, and one hand working the controls in the front and the other hand working the levers in the back, Larry picked up the backhoe using the scoop and the hoe and stabilizers and cigarette all simultaneously, he walked the backhoe sideways right out of the mud pit and onto dry land just as if it was a crab walking sideways.  I would say it took no longer than three minutes from the time he started working the controls.  Jim just looked at me in amazement.  Patted me on the back, shook his head and said, “And that’s how it’s done.”

The Splittin' Image of Jim Heflin

This is the best picture I could find of Jim Heflin

Now that I’m on the subject of Larry Riley on a backhoe, let me tell you another one.  I have seen Larry digging a ditch so that we could run some pipe for irrigation.  Now picture this.  The bucket on the backhoe is digging a hole in the hard red clay of Oklahoma, and Larry suddenly stops and says….. “I think I felt something”.  What? (I think) Of course you did, you are operating this machine that has the power to dig a big hole in the ground in one scoop like it was nothing and Larry said he felt something?

He climbed off of the backhoe, jumped down into the ditch he was creating, kicked some clods of dirt around and lo and behold, he had just scraped clean a buried cable.  He hadn’t broken it.  He had come down on it with the bucket and had somehow “felt” this cable buried under all that dirt.  I wonder what it felt like that told him he had encountered something that wasn’t just dirt.  Maybe the electromagnet forces from the electricity in the cable caused the backhoe to be slightly magnetized and it tugged on his key chain.   I think the entire labor crew just went down on one knee before his greatness for a moment of silence – all right, so we didn’t really.  But we were somewhat  impressed.

The one thing that makes Larry a True Power Plant Man with all the rest is that he performed acts of greatness like what I described above with complete humility.  I never saw a look of arrogance in Larry’s face.  He never spoke down to you and he never bragged about anything.  To this day, I still picture Larry Riley working at the power plant working feats of magic that would amaze the rest of us as he thinks that he’s just doing another day’s work.  That’s the way it is with True Power Plant Men.

Since I first created this post two years ago, I have found a picture of Larry Riley taken many years after this story:

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Since I first posted this story about Larry, he has passed away.  I described the day of his passing in the post:  “Power Plant Saints Go Marching In

Steve Higginbotham’s Junky Jalopy late for the Boiler Blowdown

revised 10/31/2021

Originally Posted March 2, 2012:

The first day I showed up at the Power plant to report to work as a new employee, it took longer than it should have to find the parking lot where I was supposed to park.   A lot of construction workers were mulling around, large trucks were stirring up dust on the dirt roads around the plant. I was trying to follow the directions that Bill Moler had given me when he had called the night before.  He wanted to make sure I was going to show up for work.

Bill told me to park in the parking lot next to a green shack on the road that was running east and west and not in the parking lot where everyone else was parking, because that was the construction parking lot.  I was heading up to the coal yard before I told myself that the little green shack I had past back by the main plant was probably where I needed to go.  To me, it seemed like that road was running north and south, not east and west.

When driving through the construction gate, I had my directions shifted around 90 degrees, so that north seemed like it was east.  I was usually good with directions, but somehow, with the gradually turning road, it had turned east when I thought it was still running north.  I never really recovered from the idea that north was east at the plant.  From the very first day, I always thought the coal yard was east instead of north.  It didn’t help that the plant wasn’t true north and south, but at an angle of about 14 degrees to the east.  I had a word for this in my head to keep it straight.  I called it “plant north”.

Having arrived in the parking lot about five minutes late, I was just in time to meet Steve Higginbotham the only other summer help during the summer of 1979.  Well, there was one other guy that joined a few weeks later, but he quickly joined a Brown and Root construction crew because he was a welder and they were getting paid a lot more than the $3.89 per hour the summer helps were blessed to receive.

Higginbotham and I walked together into the main office that morning.  He was about 35 years old with red hair, freckles  and sort of reminded you of Margaret Thatcher only shorter with a more prominent forehead and wider chin, slightly more male and he had a Georgia accent.

Steve Higginbotham had an uncanny resemblence to Margaret Thatcher

Steve Higginbotham had an uncanny resemblance to Margaret Thatcher

He had worked as a Pinkerton guard at the plant before advancing to summer help.  As we were walking to the plant he explained it to me like this:  “If I get my foot in the door by being a summer help, they will be more likely to hire me as a permanent employee.”  “Somehow”, I began to think that this probably wasn’t the best strategy for Steve to take.  Even after such a brief encounter, I had already sized him up and I thought perhaps a surprise attack would be more effective, where they don’t know you at all when they hire you.

The company hired summer helps because there was a tax write-off for hiring college kids during the summer to give them a real life experience (I guess this was “real life”.  The verdict is still out on that one).  Steve explained to me later that he really wasn’t going to college, but told them that he was going to go back to school to finish a degree so that they would hire him, but he really wasn’t planning to do that.

He drove an old Ford Ranchero (which is what inspired the El Camino).  It was pretty beat up, and had the manual gear shift on the steering column, to give you an idea of how old it was. Below is a picture of one in good condition.  His car however had dents, rust, and an assortment of trash in the back, and it squeaked when it hit a pothole as the car bounced on the springs.

Like this only more beat up

I didn’t own a car and had just borrowed my family’s car to drive to the plant that day, so when Steve asked me if I would like to ride with him to work each day I jumped at the opportunity.  I told him where I lived and he said that he would be by to pick me up in the morning.  I thought I must be the luckiest person in the world at the time.  I already had someone willing to carpool with me and I hadn’t even met Sonny Karcher yet (see the post “In Memory of Sonny Karcher – Power Plant Man“).

I am the kind of person that likes to arrive at work at least 10 or 15 minutes early, so I was getting a little anxious the next morning when Steve didn’t show up.  Finally, when I was about ready to ask my parents if I could borrow the car again, his beat up old car came puttering down the street…  It turned out that Steve was the kind of person that likes to show up at least 5 minutes late each day…. Something I was going to have to get used to that summer.  This is an important point in the story because those 5 minutes on one particular morning made all the difference in my outlook on what it meant to be working at a “Power” plant.

First, let me tell you a little more about Steve Higginbotham, just so you can appreciate his unusual character the way that I did.  As an 18 year old summer help, not having had my encounter with Ramblin’ Ann until later, where I learned the fine art of rambling (see the post: “Ed Shiever Trapped in a Confined Space with a Disciple of Ramblin’ Ann“), I was amazed by the way Steve Higginbotham could talk and chew gum or sunflower seeds at the same time — all the time — non-stop.  His open mouth would move in a circular motion while chewing and talking.

Food of choice in the Power Plant Maintenance Shop

Food of choice in the Power Plant Maintenance Shop

From the time he picked me up in the morning throughout the 25 mile ride to the plant, and until I arrived home in the afternoon, Steve Higginbotham was talking about something to someone and chewing either sunflower seeds or gum the entire time.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had been learning something, but I can’t think of one thing that he told me that was useful all summer except maybe the price of the toll booths on the turnpike between Stillwater and Tulsa.

I paid Steve $15.00 each week for the privilege of his company.  Gas at the time was around 89 cents a gallon.  Which after taxes came out to be half of a day’s wages after a round trip to the plant, 25 miles north of Stillwater Oklahoma.

Twice each week we would sweep the entire maintenance shop from one end to the other.  I would start going down one half,  Usually the (plant) north side that has all the machine shop equipment, and Steve would start down the south side where the welders were.  Invariably, he would catch an unsuspecting welder off his guard and start talking to him.  I realized after the first day of sweeping the floor that I was going to be doing the majority of sweeping.

After I had finished my side of the shop and was starting back the other way up the other side, I finally met up with Steve and a half-dazed welder somewhere around the Welder’s lunch table, which was about 50 feet from the spot where Steve had started (I would say the shop is about 75 yards long)  I didn’t mind sweeping, because I liked working and it felt good to look around at the clean floor and see that I had done something noticeable.

I had worked in a Hilton Inn restaurant as the night janitor when I was in High School, and the kitchen was almost as long as the maintenance shop.  I would spend six hours each night sweeping and mopping the kitchen, and vacuuming the restaurant and bar.  So, I always enjoyed sweeping the floor.  It reminded me of those nights all alone in a kitchen sweeping and mopping.  Up until this time I had only worked with other people when I worked as a cook at a Sirloin Stockade restaurant and then, conversation was limited to the orders we were preparing.

Mondays and Fridays were days where we would go to the soon-to-be park and pick up trash.  The rest of the time I was able to work with the maintenance crews.  For more information about picking up trash at the park, read the post:  “Mud, Maggots and Motor Vehicles with Dee Ball“.

All the company employees at the power plant were fitted for a special set of earplugs that were made out of a Silly Putty looking material because there was going to be a “Boiler Blowdown” on Unit 1 (which was just finishing construction).  I suppose that most people (except the old timers) at the plant today have not experienced a boiler blowdown like the one that is done on a new power plant, since a new base unit hasn’t been built in a long time.

We were told that when you hear the 2 minute warning make sure you put your earplugs in, because it is going to be real loud.  We were reminded the day before to have our earplugs handy the following morning because that was when the blowdowns were going to start.

A boiler blowdown is when they run a big steam pipe right off of the high pressure section of the boiler and point it out off the side of the boiler and after they have built up the pressure as high as they can go without blowing the place apart, they flop open the valve and the steam is released quickly blowing out any unwanted material from the steam tubes, such as welding rods, tin cans, shoes, lunch boxes, a lost construction foreman, or anything else that was accidentally left in the steam pipes when they were assembled.

I remember someone saying that they had a come-along go flying out of one once during a blowdown.  The first blowdown was the loudest, and then after that they were slightly less forceful each time.

The next morning on the way to the plant, I could see steam shooting out of the boiler from about 10 miles away.  As we pulled into the parking lot, the steam was shooting out about 100 yards from the big pipe on the side of the boiler creating a very loud rumbling sound that made your body shake all over.  This is exactly how I remember what happened next…..

I climbed out of the car and looked up at the large plume of steam shooting out of the boiler and I said to Steve, “Well, that’s pretty loud, but it’s not THAT loud!”  Just at the exact moment that I finished that sentence, the ground started to shake, and my lunch box and hardhat went flying as my hands went to my head to cover my ears!

I fell to the ground and rolled sideways to see that the plume of steam that had been blowing out of the boiler had grown into a huge white roaring dragon about 500 yards long as it reached directly over my head to the point where the condenser discharges water back into the lake behind me!  The sound was so loud my entire body was shaking from the force, as we were directly in line with the steam pipe.  It continued for about a minute or less and then abruptly shutdown back to the much smaller quieter plume of steam that had been there before.

I stood up, but my legs were all wobbly.  I picked up my hard hat and lunch box and wobbled my way into the maintenance shop.  My ears were ringing and I remember that I couldn’t hear very good and I was pretty upset about my possible loss of hearing.

Then I wondered to myself why I hadn’t heard the two minute warning, and in my muted state I looked around at the mechanics standing around and my eyes settled on one person who was chewing on sunflower seeds or gum, and was talking to someone, though I couldn’t hear his voice  —  and I knew why!  I couldn’t hear the 2 minute warning because we were 5 minutes late getting to work!  We were always 5 minutes late!

This bummed me out the rest of the day.   As the day went by my hearing was returning, and by the time we were heading home, I could hear Higginbotham talking very clearly all the way to the house.  Maybe this would have been a good time for the earplugs.

That night as I lay in bed, I could hear the boiler blowdown continuing 25 miles away every half hour or so.  I thought about how much power it took to create that much force.  It gave me a great respect for the power harnessed in the power plant and how it takes all that power and turns the majority of it into electricity to serve the state of Oklahoma.

Interview Adventures of a Power Plant Electrician

Back in November 2015 I wrote a post about how in November 2000 I realized that I was probably going to have to leave the Power Plant because I was not able to apply for an IT job in my own company.  You can read about it here:  Crack in Power Plant Armor leads to Gaping Hole in Logic.  A month later I wrote a post about how I was moving to Round Rock Texas to work for Dell:  The Heart of a Power Plant.  I thought it would be interesting to describe my experience interviewing with different companies.  The difference between companies was very noticeable.

One of the first companies I interviewed with was ABF, a trucking company.  ABF stands for “Arkansas Best Freight”.  The headquarters was in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  After my first interview they asked me to drive to Arkansas for a second interview, which I did on my day off (as we were working 4 – 10s at the time, we had some weekdays off).  I took my wife Kelly and the kids with me and made a trip out of it.  They fed us a lunch and paid for my driving expenses and they drove us around town.  I think I was more interested in the nearby Nuclear Power Plant than I was ABF.

ABF Freight

After it was all said and done, they decided not to hire me.  They were looking for someone younger who wasn’t such a troublemaker.  — I had explained how I wrote the program that wrote the script language for GLink so the foremen could take their work home and still do their mainframe work.  You can read about that here:  Power Plant Men Take the Corporate Mainframe Computer Home.

I think it was when I described the Birthday Phantom application to them, that they became a little wary.  After all, it did end up sending emails to the user from themselves announcing that it was someone’s birthday that day.  — 10 years before Facebook came around and now does the same thing.  You can read about that story here:  Power Plant Birthday Phantom.

When they sent me a polite rejection letter telling me they decided not to hire me, I wasn’t surprised.  Kelly was relieved, because she wasn’t looking forward to a possible move to Arkansas.  Even though I wasn’t surprised, Kelly was.  She figured anyone would want to snatch me up if they had the chance.  When she asked me “What’s the deal?” I just replied, “I don’t know.  I think they want someone younger they wouldn’t have to pay so much.”  We just breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.

Another company I wasn’t too excited about was DST Systems in Kansas City.  They housed the Mutual Fund transactions for all but a couple of the Mutual fund companies in the US.  I had grown up in Missouri and I had a lot of Italian relatives living there.  I had spent a lot of time there.  The company flew me up there and put me in a nice hotel for the night.

DST Systems

Then the next morning they gave us a tour of their data center that is inside a cave on the south side of Kansas City, 5 miles from my Aunt Ginny’s house.  They were real proud of the fact that their data center contained 70 Terabytes of data!  That’s funny to think about today.  Just a couple of years later, Dell’s data warehouse had over a Petabyte of data, or 1000 Terabytes.

After the tour of the data center in the cave, (where I was more impressed by their back up generators, since they looked like the ones we had at our power plant) they drove us downtown and interviewed. me.  — When I say “Us”, I mean the other college students applying for the jobs.

I had heard that they liked to ask you technical Java questions, so I was prepared for their question, which was, “If you needed to do this, this and this, how would you write the code in Java?”  My response was, “Do I need to know Java on the day I start the job?”  They replied, “No, we will teach you the way we write Java”.  — I already knew that was the case before the interview.  That’s why I asked that.

Then I said, “I took Java a year and half ago in an accelerated summer course, and made an A in it.  I haven’t used Java since, so I don’t remember the exact syntax, but there is how I would write the code….”  — They offered me the job, but the pay was too low.

The one company all the IT students wanted to work for was Williams Communication in Tulsa.  They held a reception in one of the new buildings on campus in the evening, which I attended.  I talked to a couple of classmates from the last couple of years that had gone to work for them and were now helping to recruit new employees.

Williams Communications

They told me that during the interview they were on the lookout for people who came to the interview very prepared.  They didn’t want to hire them, because they figured that their answers weren’t necessarily “honest”.  I found this rather confusing.  I was going to be well prepared for the interview, and now they are telling me that they want me to act as if I wasn’t.

So, the next day during the interview when they came to the point where they asked, “Do you have any questions?”  I responded by asking, “When someone attends a meeting at your company, do you expect them to be prepared to discuss the topic at hand when they show up, or do you prefer they just go to the meeting unprepared and make it up on the fly?”

When they replied that they expected the person to be prepared for the meeting (which I knew they would), I asked, “When I was preparing for this interview, I talked with some of the recruiters that I knew because they were in my classes in the past.  They told me that during this interview you are looking for people that are prepared for this meeting.  If they are, then you don’t want to hire them.  How does that make sense if you expect them to show up for a meeting prepared but not an interview?”

The two young guys interviewing me looked a little embarrassed and just shrugged their shoulders.  Needless to say, they didn’t offer me a job.  The following week while I was in various classes, I heard others talking excitedly about being offered jobs with Williams Communication beginning when they graduate in May.  This was the company a lot of students wanted to go to work.  They evidently gave a lot of perks to their employees.

Many of the students going to work for Williams, had arranged to moved to Tulsa at the end of school.  They had hired over 200 students.  A couple of people had already moved and were commuting to class.  Then the news hit the fan (so to speak).  Williams Communication was in financial trouble and they were not only not hiring the students they said they were going to hire, but they were laying people off.  I considered myself lucky to not have been offered the job 6 months earlier.

I had a similar “scare” during the first week of May when Dell, (who had been laying off a lot of employees all spring — This was the Millennium Internet bust) called to tell me that they were moving my start date from the beginning of June until August 20 as I discussed in the post linked above, “The Heart of a Power Plant”, so I knew what some of the students were going through.  My problem was that I was in the middle of selling my house in Stillwater, Oklahoma and buying a house in Round Rock, Texas at the same time.

I had an interview with Wal-Mart and they offered me a job.  The pay wasn’t that good.  Before I even considered whether to accept it, I went to a “social” where they had a meeting to explain what working for Wal-Mart would be like as an IT employee.  While they were talking, one of the people giving the presentation recognized someone in the room and asked her if she would like to stand up and tell how it was last summer when she worked there as an intern.

Wal-Mart

The young girl stood up and walked to the front of the room.  She looked around at the Wal-Mart representatives and smiled.  Then she looked at the audience of eager students waiting to hear about all the great things about working for Wal-Mart.  Then she spoke.  She hesitantly said, “Well (pause).   I cried a lot.”  The room burst into laughter.

The Wal-Mart recruiters were as surprised as everyone else.  They asked her to explain.  So she told us that one day she went to run a job on the mainframe and when she did, she shutdown all of Argentina for about 30 minutes.  They informed her that they lost millions of dollars in that time.  She said that no one told her that you weren’t supposed to run jobs like that during working hours.

I knew exactly how she felt.  I had tried compiling a program on our mainframe at the Electric Company one day just for fun, and a little while later someone from the IT department called the Power Plant wanting to speak to Kevin Breazile.  — Yeah.  I had locked up the mainframe until the program finished compiling.

They asked me if they could kill the job.  I told them “Sure!”  This was after I had been scolded by Tom Gibson, our Electric Supervisor after the plant had been contacted by the President of the company because I had sent something to everyone’s printer and messed up all the billing, payroll and work order jobs.  See the post Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild.

Then came Boeing.  I was interviewing for a job in Wichita.  When they found out that I was both an IT person and an Electrician they offered to hire me right on the spot.  They asked me to give my 2 week notice and they would move me to Wichita where I could start as soon as possible.  They said that I could work on fighter planes, both wiring them and programming them.  This was very tempting.

I told the recruiters that I would like to get my degree before I would leave the electric company.  After all, they were paying for my classes.  I only had 6 more hours after the current semester, and if they wanted to talk next semester, I would be willing to discuss it with them then.  They said that if I went to work for Boeing I would receive a $3,000 bonus when I receive my degree, if there was some way to make that work.  That was the last time I heard from them.  My wife wasn’t too keen about moving to Wichita anyway, so, I took that as a good thing.  Although….

I also interviewed with Koch Industry in Wichita and they did interview me on-site (twice).  When they offered me a job I told them that the pay was not enough.  Then they called me back a few weeks later and I went up to interview again. This time with their pipeline switching team.  It turned out that they were using a system called “PI” that we used at our Power Plant.  I mentioned this in the post:  Power Plant Control Room Operator and the Life of Pi.  By that time I had the offer from Dell and Koch said they couldn’t pay me what I was asking.

Koch Industries

An interesting thing happened when I was on site for the interview.  That morning they had found one of the Koch Industry employees brutally murdered in his home (I think I watched a Forensics Files many years later about this murder).  This had unnerved the employees and they were sort of on “lock down”.  They didn’t really want to advertise that, but when the recruiter was having lunch with me in their cafeteria, she mentioned it to me.

JD Edwards was a competitor with SAP at the time.  I had an advantage when I interviewed with them, because I had been working on SAP for the past 3 years.  They flew me to Denver and I stayed in a nice hotel just across the parking lot from their office.  By this time, I was used to flying with a few other 4.0 students who had been offered jobs from the same companies I had.  Some who ended up working at Dell when we were all said and done.

JD Edwards

While I was in the interview and they found out that I knew the SAP Maintenance Module and worked for the company that had worked with SAP to develop it, the person interviewing me became excited and left to go find another person to come into help with the interview.  JD Edwards wanted to develop their own Maintenance Module and since I knew both systems (as I had taken a computer course in school where we worked on JD Edwards’ One World application), They were eager to hire me.

They offered me more than any other company, but when I looked at the cost of living in the area around their office (which was not far from Columbine High School), I told them they would have to go higher.  They went back and forth with me, but couldn’t come up to where I would accept their offer.

As a follow-up to this story…. In the year 2005, I went to Denver for some training with Kronos, our timekeeping system.  I ended up staying in the same hotel where I stayed when I interviewed with JD Edwards.  Their building was just across the parking lot.  It was abandoned.

JD Edwards had been bought by Oracle a couple of years after I interviewed with them, and they just liquidated their IT department in Denver.  So.  I dodged a bullet with that one.

The same thing happened with Sprint.  This was another company a lot of students were interested in.  They had a nice campus in Overland Park Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City.  I began the interview by joking around with the recruiters who were older people like me.  I told them where they could find a nice place to eat dinner and other stuff like that.

Sprint

They didn’t like my answer to the question, “Who is Sprint’s number one competitor?”  I told them, “Technology”. They asked me to explain, and I told them that in one day a new technology can come out and make their company obsolete.  They didn’t seem to like that answer.  I know they were looking for the answer, “AT&T and T-Mobile.”  Like I said, I wasn’t too eager to move to Kansas City.

Sprint didn’t offer me a job, but they did offer it to another older student who was eager to move to Overland Park in May.  I suppose he eventually did.  Then in 2003 when I was in another training class in Overland Park for Kronos, I met up with my best friend of all time Jesse Cheng.  While we were driving around town we passed the Sprint campus where my friend from class would have worked.  The campus was abandoned.  Jesse said they closed it about a year before.  — Whew. Glad they didn’t offer me a job there.

My favorite interview story is this:  I interviewed on campus with Fleming Foods.  A Supermarket chain in Oklahoma City.  Many of the people on the board of directors of our electric company were also on the board of directors for Fleming Foods.  After the first interview I received an email stating that my next interview was going to be in Oklahoma City on the Monday afternoon two weeks from then.  I immediately responded and said that I had a prior commitment during that time and would not be able to attend the interview (I had a test in one of my classes during that time), and I asked if they could reschedule the interview.

Fleming Foods

I didn’t hear back from the recruiter to reschedule the interview.  The next time I received an email was the Friday before the Monday when the interview was scheduled.  It reminded me to show up for the interview and gave instructions as to where to go, etc.  When I received the email, I immediately wrote and told them that as I had already indicated, I would not be able to attend the interview on Monday due to a prior commitment, and I had asked if the interview could be rescheduled.

The recruiter wrote back saying that it was very inconsiderate of me since a lot of trouble had been put into scheduling the people for the interviews and  that valuable time would be wasted by important managers if I didn’t show up for the interview.  — I thought….. “Wow.  This is a great way to inspire students to come and work for Fleming Foods.”  So I responded…..

I said this:  “In my past experience I have found that the culture in the HR department generally reflects the overall culture of a company.  I thank you for showing me the culture found at Fleming Foods.  First of all, you totally ignored my response when I indicated two weeks ago that I would not be able to attend the interview by not responding and not attempting to reschedule it.  You have shown me that Fleming Foods is not a company that I would want to work for.  Please cancel the interview and do not try to reschedule it.  Thanks again for the heads up.”

I went to work for Dell in the end.  The Post “The Heart of the Power Plant” linked above tells the story about moving down to Round Rock to work for Dell.  As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the Rest of the Story”.

Dell

Power Plant Desk Job

I have always been a late bloomer.  It wasn’t until I was 60 before I realized that every time I yanked a hair out of my nose, I had one less hair on my head.  Imagine my surprise.  Now that I have to wear a hat when I go outside to prevent a sunburn on my dome, I wish someone had told me about this a long time ago.

As a young boy, I knew something was up the day my mom received a letter with the results from the IQ test we had taken at school.  She seemed excited at first as we were standing at the mailbox.  After opening it and quickly reading the results, she suddenly folded it up and put it back in the envelope without divulging her findings.  At first I took that as meaning that I was such a genius that my mom didn’t want me to know in case it would go to my head.

I thought to myself…  “Well, if I knew it meant that much to her, I would have paid more attention when I was taking that dumb test.”  I was more interested in the instructions the teacher had given us at the time, which was that when we had finished this test, which had nothing to do with our grades, we could go outside and play for the rest of the day.

I knew I looked at the world differently than my classmates.  Sometimes I would answer a question or make a comment that seemed perfectly obvious to me, and the rest of the class would suddenly go silent as if I had just said something very stupid.  I would look around at them like, “Am I not making myself clear?  The answer is obvious.”  I couldn’t help it if they didn’t understand.  But then again, I realized that maybe it was just me.

Even at 60 years old, I still have that same effect on people.  Often when I give my input in meetings, everyone seems to pause as if to indicate that I just said something rather dumb.  I’m used to it.  As I said, I knew I see the world differently even at an early age.  I also knew all along that I didn’t know a lot of things that other people just seemed to know instinctively.

That was why the first day I showed up at the Power Plant as a summer help in 1979, I was rather cautious about my first encounter with Power Plant Men.  I didn’t want them to immediately know that I was “slow”.  I had years of practice at hiding that fact, so I put on a look of “confident kindness” thinking that if I was friendly, then who cares if I’m dumb.  I looked young for my age.  Even though I was 18 I knew I looked more like I was 15 or even younger.

My first encounter was with Sonny Karcher, as I described in the post In Memory of Sonny Karcher – Power Plant Man.  Before long, I was working with a number of Power Plant Men that took me under their wing.  Especially after I had told them that some day I might write a book about them.  Which for someone as dumb as me, I thought was a brilliant idea.

I soon became so popular that a number of crews would ask if I could go along on jobs with them.  I had never been one for being lazy, and manual labor suited me just fine.  I was a perfect “gopher” who didn’t mind taking the truck back to the shop to “go for” parts and tools.

Even though I was just a temporary employee for the summer, I was invited to help disassemble and reassemble pumps and gearboxes, as the plant at the time was going through something called “check out” before they actually came online and began producing electricity for the first time.  I was enjoying my notoriety.  Never before in my life had I experienced the feeling of friendship that I received from the men in the maintenance shop.

The A foreman, Marlin McDaniel (or Mac) came up to me one day and explained that some people in the shop were complaining that I was working on things that they should be doing.  Since I was going to be going back to school at the end of the summer, they should be the ones working on the equipment, since they will need to know everything going forward.  They made a good point.

I knew that I probably would never need to know about the tolerance level between the size of a bearing and the bearing housing of a pump end bell, but they would.  I would be gone, and they would have missed the opportunity to learn at a critical stage of their training.  So, I was not surprised when Mac gave me my next job.

Mac took me over to a corner of the maintenance shop where pallets of large boxes had recently been unloaded from a truck that had backed into the shop that morning.  He said that these were office desks that needed to be assembled.  There were 15 of them all together.  Some would be used as work benches in the shop, and others would be brought to the office area upstairs.

I was going to assemble the desks by myself in a corner of the maintenance shop, so I dragged a box over to an open spot on the floor and pulled the parts out of the box and looked at the instructions.  It seemed as if each desk consisted of the parts for each of the drawers, and the desktop and sides and back, and about  10,000 little bolts.

As I started working on the first desk I realized that it was going to take all day just to assemble one of these.  Using my exceptional brain power, I quickly calculated that this amounted to 15 days of work, or three weeks.  It so happened that I was going to be at the plant for only 3 more weeks before I left to go back to school.  It looked as if this was going to be the only job I was going to be doing the rest of the summer.

I began feeling a little sick about my prospects, after spending two months working side-by-side with other Power Plant Men that had treated me as an equal.  Now I was consigned to my own little corner of the shop where I was going to be spending my days alone.  I was surprised by how much this seemed to rub me the wrong way.  The monotony of using a nut driver to install each bolt seemed like such an overwhelming burden to me.

This surprised me since my life up to this point was spent enjoying menial tasks such as this.  It was my new friends I was missing.  As they carried their tool boxes to their trucks to head out on a job, I watched them as they glanced over at me, sorry that I wasn’t going to be able to go with them.

That morning on the way to work I had been looking forward to whatever job I was going to be doing that day.  On the ride home that evening, I was silent, sitting the in back seat of Dale Hull’s Volkswagen Sirocco.  My knuckles were scraped up from the protruding bolts as I reached into tight spots to assemble drawers, and the cabinets that fit under the desks.  I was painfully aware of my over reaction to my turn of events.

The next morning when I began assembling my second desk, I waved goodbye to the various crews that had adopted me in the previous weeks as they took off to do their jobs.  I noticed that after building the first desk, I was able to assemble the second one a lot faster.  By lunch time, I had almost finished it.  This meant by the end of the second week I should be done.

After I came down from the lunch room and began my work finishing up the second desk something remarkable happened.  Dale Hull came up to me and said,  “Mind if I help?”  Overjoyed for his help, I tried to appear calm as I gladly said, “Sure! That would be great!”  He walked across the shop and grabbed his tools and came back with Ricky Daniels.  They each grabbed a box off of the stack of desks, and began assembling them.

I thought, “With 3 of us working, we could be done with 5 desks by the end of the day!  1/3rd of them in 2 days!

While I was hoping that Dale and Ricky would be able to stay and finish their desks before being called away, Tom Dean came over and slid a box off of a pallet and began working without even saying anything.  Sonny Karcher, Larry Riley and Jerry Mitchell were the next three that grabbed a box.  Before long desk parts were strewn over half of the shop as Power Plant Men were building all of the desks!

Someone had brought a radio over and plugged it in and everyone was listening to music and talking as if they were having a party. By the end of the day all of the desks had been assembled.  My 15 day lonely task had turned into a 2 day task ending with a party of Power Plant Men all pitching in to help.

That evening during the drive home, sitting in the back of Dale Hull’s car, I was overwhelmed at how quickly things can turn around when you have friends.  Little did I know that the next day, I would be given quite a different task.  Not one where I worked alone, but one that would keep me busy for the next 2 weeks until I left to go back to school.  You can read about that in this post:  Power Plant Painting Lessons with Aubrey Cargill.

Letters to the Power Plant #128 — Figured it out

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the one hundred and twenty eighth letter I wrote.  Keep in mind that at the time when I originally penned this letter I didn’t intend on it being posted online.

11/30/07  — Figured it out

Dear Power Plant Men (Women and Old Timers),

Thanks Ben for remindin’ me.  Larry Wyskup was the other guy, and Don Spears was the Electrical Supervisor at Muskogee.   —  But there was another thing…..

Early this morning I woke up in a cold sweat when I realized that it wasn’t Bob Kennedy that was on that overhaul with us, it was a guy named Joe Flannery.  I had him confused with Bob Kennedy because they were both very tall.

There were a couple of things that I remember about Flannery.  One was that he was real strong (and I don’t mean in an odor sort of way).  If you needed your car moved over one spot in the parking lot, all you had to do was ask Flannery and he could move it over for you.

I also remember that he was always arguing with someone in the Muskogee Electric Shop (I think it was Ellis Moore  —  At least I think that’s his name).  —  Bein’  the good ex-janitor that I was (and Psychology School Graduate), he asked me to help him out with his personality.

He wanted to know why people didn’t like him very much even though he had the innocent face of Goober on the Andy Griffith Show (and we all know how likable Goober is —  Especially when he grins).

I told him that it wasn’t enough just to be helpful by carrying their 2 ton motors over his shoulder for them, but that when he set it down he had to make sure he wasn’t crushing someone’s toolbox.  —  Well.  It was something like that anyway.  We worked on it over the three months we were there.

I just thought I would clear that up for all of you who really didn’t care in the first place…..

Your friendly Dell Programmer,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

Dell Inc.

Application Management Analyst

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Letters to the Power Plant #127 — Shufflin’ Around at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the one hundred and twenty seventh letter I wrote.  Keep in mind that at the time when I originally penned this letter I didn’t intend on it being posted online.

11/27/07  —  Shufflin’ Around at Dell

Dear Friends at Sooner Plant and Beyond,

I realize it has been a long time since I have written, even though as I get older, it seems like only a few weeks.  I received an e-mail yesterday from my old “roomie” at Horseshoe Lake that reminded me that I haven’t written to you guys for quite a while.

I went to a User Conference in Phoenix for our Expense Reporting tool the week before Thanksgiving, and I just now caught up on all my backlogged e-mails!  For the last two years I have been in the Finance department, and yesterday I was told that I will be moving back into IT.

It seems that since I am doing mainly IT work, I should be in the IT department….. Imagine that.  That’s ok.  I enjoy working in IT.   That’s why I came to Dell in the first place.

So, how are things going at OG&E?  I haven’t heard from anyone lately until my old roomie sent me an e-mail with a copy of the Merry Christmas Power Plant Man poem in it that someone had sent him.

I’ve call Steve Trammel my Old Roomie ever since we were working on an overhaul at Muskogee Power Plant in 1985 and we were sharing a Camper down at #3 plant by the river.  Bob Kennedy was there and there was another guy, who,  I can see his face, but I can’t remember his name….  And we would go out and eat dinner together every night.

Note to Reader:  To learn more about my Roomie Steve Trammel and the Overhaul at Muskogee that I am referring to throughout this post, see the post “Lap o’ Luxury at the Muskogee Power Plant“.

The other guy, that I can’t remember his name, had a son or some relative who was in a contest for a free car, and they had to keep their hand on the car until they were the last person left.  I think they had been at it for three days when we went to see them.

It’s funny how things start coming back to you kind of slowly as you get older, but it seems that the guys last name began with a “W”.  Like Wickert or Watson but it wasn’t that…..

I think he worked at Seminole and probably early retired on the second go-around in ’94.  —  My old roomie will probably come back and tell me that his name was John Smith, or something completely different than I remember.

I’ve gotten to the point at work where I don’t try to remember things.   I just let people remind me what they want me to do when they come by and ask me if I am done with their stuff yet.  It’s a lot easier that way.

I try to fix or create stuff as quickly as possible when they ask me to do something so I don’t have to remember it for very long.   I think its just that I’m doing too many things at the same time to remember everything.

I’m back to three computers on my desk and I am working on all of them at the same time, most of the time…..  (actually, even while I was typing that last sentence someone came to my cube asking if I could create  a new program that would process some files for payroll that they have to start using next week….

They have already left my cube and I have forgotten exactly what they wanted, but they will go back to their desk and write everything out and send me an e-mail (and a task) so that I can work on it.  They just wanted to make sure that it could be done.

No, it wasn’t Willard Stark…..   I met him the following Spring at Mustang Plant when I went to work there with Ted Riddle.  This was the time when I was working at Muskogee with Ben Davis and we kept slipping out the back on Friday afternoon and the Supervisor over the Electricians kept trying to catch us, but we kept getting away….

Note to Reader:  To learn more about Willard Stark and when Ted Riddle and I worked at the Mustang Plant during overhaul, see the post “Working Power Plant Wonders with Willard Stark“.

But I can’t remember his name either, but I can remember that he looked like the coach from Oklahoma University, —  You know who I mean…. I know his name…. It’s Barry Switzer….. Geez… finally a name came back to me.   And…..

Maybe that first guy I was trying to remember whose last name began with a “W” had a first name like “Terry”.  Or maybe I’m just remembering someone from High School (or was it grade school — yeah.  Grade school….) who had a name like:  Terry Wizniski (of coarse, I’m not spelling that right, but my friends from High School, Brent and Mark — At least I can remember their names — will remind me…).

Note to Reader:  To read more about the person whose name I couldn’t remember read this post:  Something is in the Water at the Muskogee Power Plant.

Unless Terry used to go to the Catholic school that I went to,   but I don’t think so, because it seems like I can remember my grade school friend Brent saying his name at some point in my life…..).

Anyway…..  Is it a sign of “old-timers” disease when you can’t remember names like that?  I don’t think it is when I just keep changing the subject and keep rambling on, because that was an affliction that I gained in College when I met “Ramblin’ Ann Bell.

It does seem like it’s an “old-timers” symptom to start remembering odd things from your childhood as if it just happened….. Like graduation day from High School when there was a big lightning storm, and lightning hit the transformer for the school and all the lights went out just as Matt Tapley (who had white hair) was walking across the stage, and all we could see in the dark (as the emergency lights lasted about 10 seconds before they died), was Matt Tapley taking a bow with his glowing bright white hair….

And like I said.  I can remember my friend from elementary school Brent saying Terry Wizn-whatzHisName’s name during recess or art class or something like that…..  —  I know…  I know…. I’m not that old.  I just like pretending that I am, because then it lends a little credence to my inability to remember simple things like the name of the Electrical Supervisor at Muskogee.

The guy that came into the electric shop around 2pm to watch Ben Davis and I to make sure we wouldn’t leave early, so I went in the office and sat in his lap and told him that he was the cutest thing I ever saw… then he got up and ran out the other door as we headed for the parking lot…..

I can see his face so clearly with his jaw hanging down in utter disbelief as I put my arms around his shoulders like I was going to give him a big kiss…..  Maybe I figure that if I keep talking about him that his name will finally come to me….

About 2 months ago I moved to a new team and so I have a new manager and today I was explaining to him how we drop tested the stack elevators.  He just looked at me like it was crazy (of course, that may be because of other reasons than the story I was telling….  He may just think I’m crazy, because, well, because…..).

Maybe that is why he agreed to have me move back into IT.  So in a few weeks, I’ll have a new manager again….  That’s just how things work around here.  —  Believe it or not, but in the time I have been writing this e-mail I have already received over 30 other e-mails….  Pant…pant…pant…..

It’s no wonder that I can’t remember the name of the Electrical Supervisor at Muskogee…  Help me out Ben!

Ok.  I know.  I’ve rambled long enough.  You guys probably quit reading this letter right after the phrase “…and Beyond”.  But that’s ok.  At least I was able to take a fifteen minute break today and type a letter to all my friends!

Your friendly Dell Programmer,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

Dell Inc.

Employee Services

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Letters to the Power Plant #126 — Travelin’ at Dell

This is my longest post ever, so pop some popcorn, sit back and read the one hundred and twenty sixth letter I wrote to the Power Plant.  I wrote it over a two week period and I probably could break it down into about 5 posts, but below is the way I sent it back to my friends at the Power Plant:

4/9/07 —  Travellin’ at Dell

Dear Sooner Plantians,

I finally have a few minutes of spare time to write to my favorite buddies up there in the frozen tundra of Oklahoma.  Right now I am sitting in the airport in Los Angeles waiting for a plane to Singapore.  From there I have to fly to Penang Malaysia to train the IT support team for a week.

I don’t know if I mentioned them before.  They are waiting to meet me because I have been telling them that I am really old with gray hair and a long gray beard that gets caught in my keyboard every now and then.

A few weeks ago one of the Penangers (That’s what I call it when they send me an IM – Getting “Penanged”), was IMing me a few weeks ago and was complaining about how Global Warming was causing all the weather to change.  I told her that it wasn’t as bad as it was in the 1930s.  It was really bad back then.

Then I said,  “Oh, but you probably weren’t around back then, were you?”  Then one time when they were “Penanging” me, I didn’t reply for a few minutes because I was working on something at the time.  So, they started to give me a hard time for not replying right away, and I told them that I am so fat that my hands can’t reach the keyboard when I’m sitting back in my chair  because my stomach is in the way and I was just taking a rest.

I asked the Penangers how far away is their workplace from the hotel where I am staying.  They told me it was about an hour and a half walk if I wanted to walk there, but that I should take a Taxi.  I told them if it was too far, then I would probably have to take my walker with me on the plane, so I could rest on my way to work.

They asked me what a “walker” was.  One of my IT friends calls them Penanguins, but I probably told you that already.  It has been a while since I wrote last, and as old as I am, my memory isn’t what it used to be.  At least I don’t think it is what it used to be, but, I can’t really remember how that was, so I’m just “speculating”.

I’m sitting at a table by some restaurants, and out the window are a couple of palm trees and a bunch of airplanes.  —  All big ones.  They are the planes that fly over the Pacific ocean.

I think my next flight is supposed to be 18 hours long!!!  Then I change planes and fly another hour and a half.  Arriving in Penang on Sunday morning.  (Right now it is Friday afternoon).  —  I am not writing this “online”.  I am just writing it in Word, since the wireless connection in the airport is not being “User-friendly”.

Anyway.  I will be teaching the IT support over there how to take care of the applications that I am in charge of maintaining.  I tried to get them to send a couple of people from there to come to the U.S. instead of having them send me over there, but they had a big “cat fight” about who they should send, because everyone wanted to meet me, so they decided that it was cheaper to send me than to have their entire IT department fly over to Austin.

One of the items on the agenda is called:  “The proper use of the Elvis Wand”.  I am bring an “Elvis Wand” (which is a fan with Elvis’s face on it that I use when all else fails.  —  It has the same effect as when I lay my hands on the monitor and yell “Heal!!”).

I am returning to the U.S. this upcoming Friday night.  Then I have to leave again on Sunday morning to fly to Boston where I am a speaker for a bunch of companies that want to know how we do Time and Attendance.  Kronos (the timekeeping software that we use) is paying my way.

Hey!  No need to pass up a free lunch.  —  So I am going to see my family in passing, on my way to bed, then on my way back out the door when I wake up early Sunday morning.

I have been getting to know people all over the country since we have been putting Kronos clocks in our Kiosks in the Malls.  If you are ever at Woodland Hills in Tulsa, or Penn Square mall in OKC, if the team lead is there, most likely they have talked to me a few times.

I have become pretty familiar with the names of malls lately.  It is interesting to see what kind of names they have.  Some of them sound pretty fancy, like “The Mall at Wellington Green” in Florida.  Some of them sound rather dull, like “Tucson Mall”.

There is one that sounds like a foreign country in Pennsylvania.  It is called “Plaza at King of Prussia”.  I suppose they have to come up with unique names.  There are two malls called “Independence Mall”.  Which doesn’t make me think they are “That” independent.

I figured I would make this a fairly long letter, since I have nothing to do for the next couple of hours except sit here and watch the people.  The interesting thing I noticed about this airport is that it really seems old and simple.

After taking a trek though the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport a few times, this airport seems way too small.  For instance.  When I arrived, I was in Terminal 4.  My next flight is in Terminal 2.  Now, in the DFW airport, you know what that means….

That means that you have to get on the sky link train which takes you around to the place where you get on the shuttle, that takes you way out to some parking lot (because you got on the wrong one!  —  don’t you hate when that happens?), Then you have to hitchhike back to the airport where you follow the signs to Terminal 2, which must be near the Red River and almost into Oklahoma.

So I was thinking….. “Oh great.  I have a lot of time today to go from Terminal 4 to Terminal 2, but when I’m coming back, I only have an hour and 45 minutes.”  And that means, going through customs, going out of the secure area and getting my American Airlines boarding Pass, (since I will be on Singapore Airline), then hoofing it to Terminal 4 and going through the security check, all in time to just see the plane taking off without me (or so I imagine).

So, as I exited my last plane, I made my way out of the building to a man standing there looking like he was trying to help people.  So, I asked him.  “What is the fastest way to get to Terminal 2?”  He whipped out a map and said, “See this blue line here?  That is this sidewalk.  If you walk around this sidewalk, you will see Terminal 3, then you will see Terminal 2, and there you are.”

I’m thinking… “Boy.  If that is the fastest way, then the traffic around here must really be bad, or all those buses only take you to parking lots out in some field somewhere.  So I said, “Thanks a bunch”,  and I headed around the sidewalk.  I hadn’t walked 50 yards, and I was already at the main terminal and I could see from what his map had showed me that these terminals are not very far apart, and they aren’t that big.  For instance.  In terminal 4, I came in at gate 48, and guess what?  That’s the biggest number.  48.  This is Los Angeles, after all, isn’t it?  Isn’t this like one of the biggest cities in the country?  —  The distance around all these terminals doesn’t look much bigger than walking around the two boilers and T-G building.

Well.  I’m going to stop here, to save my battery, until I can find a place to plug my laptop in.

Ok.

Now that was very fun.  I made the long trek (not really), to the gate where my next ride is going to arrive in two hours or so.  I noticed that a few gates down from my gate there was a plane going to Moscow, so I thought I would watch the people boarding the plane, just to see the kind of folks that were heading that way.

There were a handful of serious looking people wearing bland clothes, and the rest looked like regular Joe’s, so I thought, “now would be a good time to test out the camera on my new mobile phone.”  So I stood alongside the line of people getting on the plane, and looked around at them through the camera lens on the phone for about a minute.

Then I zeroed in on two of those bland blokes and acted like I was taking their pictures as they boarded the plane.  Then I put my phone back in the holster and picked up my bags and walked off.

So, after doe-see-doeing (imagine that.  My spell checker didn’t have “doe-see-doeing” in it  — does now) around quite a few pillars, I finally found a place to plug in my laptop.  So now, I’m sitting at a gate going to Guadalajara Mexico.

This is definitely a different set of people taking this plane.  I suppose it is spring break and some of these people are just heading to a beach somewhere.   A much more laid back crowd.  This gate is more fun than my own gate.

Besides, I can tell what they are saying over the intercom…. Oh, wait…. They just said something that sounded like “Dos es los quervo por favor”.  Does that mean they have Margaritas on that flight?  The word Quervo caught my attention.

Looking outside, I see a seagull flying by.  It had the appearance of admiration as it flew over those jumbo jets out there.  I wonder what must be going through its mind when it sees a big plane like that.  —  Probably, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

I suppose there must be an ocean around here someplace.  —  At least, there is when I watch Perry Mason.

I suppose I should be taking a nap right now.  After all, it may be 4:30 pm here, but it is 7 tomorrow morning over in Penang right now, and I just stayed up most of their night.  I’ll try to make it up on that long plane ride.

Hey, they just announced over the intercom that the plane to Dublin is now boarding.  I should go watch them.  That should be interesting…… No, I should probably head back to my gate to make sure they didn’t make any last minute changes and move my gate over to Terminal 6 or something like that….

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Well.  It has been a while since I added anything to this letter…. Actually, I’m on my way back home and I’m sitting in the Singapore Airport.  Yep.  It’s Friday again, and I have spent my week in Malaysia.  —  Boy.  Was that an adventure.

So, here is the scoop.  If you have to fly over the Pacific Ocean, the way to do it is with Singapore Airline.  They treat you real nice, and keep giving you drinks (I mean the alcoholic type) and they have foot rests that come up so you can sleep better, and they have a TV screen right in front of you where you can watch Movies On Demand, and play video games, and even make a play list where it plays the songs you choose over and over again.

So here is how I spent the 18 hours:  I spent 6 hours sleeping.  6 hours playing video games.  3 hours talking to the guy next to me, and hour and a half watching a movie (The Night at the Museum) and an hour and a half eating and looking around at what other people were watching on their TVs.

So, I have something I would like to talk to the Electricians and Instrument and Controls guys, so the rest of you can skip the next few paragraphs:

I was sitting next to a guy that works for “AutoDesk”.  You probably don’t remember, but that is the company that makes AutoCAD.  The blueprint drawing program.  They have this real neat program now for Electrical Schematics, and PLC drawings and you name it.  The guy showed it to me and it was impressive.

You can actually have a drawing of a Junction Box, with all the relays in it and wiring (which you can build by selecting the correct model of relays and stuff), and you can click it and go to a schematic diagram or even a Parts List.

You can view PLC programs as a Ladder Diagram and look at the parts, or even look at the layout of the wiring to the different contacts, based on the model number of the PLC.  I told him about our meager attempt to come up with a Red Lining Program, back in the Ron Kilman Regime.

Now I want to talk to just Toby O’Brien:

I asked him if AutoCAD had something like that for Piping, and you should see what they have.   It was real impressive.

You can build 3D images of piping, then look at the layout diagram, or click on a section of pipe and have it give you all the part number information about it.  When designing something, all you have to do is pick your parts, and put them together and it builds a 3D image on the screen.  If you want to modify it, you just choose different parts or rotate something, and it builds the thing before your eyes.

Now I want to just talk to the Boiler Rats…  Oh yes.  You know who you are.

I told the guy that works for AutoDesk about how they need to build an application that would have the racks of boiler tubes that are in a boiler, where you have the ability to remove sections of tubing and put in new tube, with all the serial number and ASME data that you have to keep track of, so that your boiler tubes are “certified”.  You know what I mean.  I just don’t know the correct term to use.

I explained to him how it is important to keep track of all the tubes sections that go in the boiler, and if they could build something where you could just move your mouse over the different sections of the boiler, then zoom in, then rotate it and zoom in some more, and then just hover your mouse over the tubes and see all the information about that section of tube.  —  He said he would pass that on to the people who make those decisions.

Ok, for all of you that I haven’t been talking to….. I’m back to just my regular rambling again.

So, I arrived in Penang last Sunday Morning after leaving home on Friday Morning (it was Saturday evening Austin time when I arrived in Penang).  I was only there about half an hour before the Penangers called me and told me they wanted to take me out to eat and to look around Penang.

So, instead of resting up after my long trip, I quickly took a shower, and met the team I was going to be training.  They took me to a Mall that is much like a regular American Mall, except for a few things.

They wanted me to eat every kind of food they could imagine, so I actually spent most of the week eating whenever I wasn’t teaching.  After we ate lunch, they took me to go see a Buddhist Temple on a hill.  It has the biggest bronze statue in the world of a god that I think is called something like “Look-See”.

So I started climbing the long winding path up to the temple through all the souvenir shops that literally created a tunnel all the way up the hill.  The weather was like Oklahoma in August.

Every once in a while I would turn around and find that I had left the Penangers, somewhere down the hill through the maze of souvenir shops.  —  It wasn’t that they had stopped to shop.  They just weren’t in very good shape.  They were all as thin as a rail, (unlike me, who has the distinguished look of a miniature Buddha or Alfred Hitchcock, or both), but they were not in very good shape.

The last leg of the journey, they insisted on taking a cable car.  So we did.  We came to a temple where it was packed with people all kneeling and praying with a big pile of shoes outside.  There were monks inside praying real loud and it reminded me of watching Kung Fu, because the monks were wearing robes just like the monks in Kung Fu.

The team tried to take me to see the temple where there was a statue of “Sleeping Buddha”, but it was closed.  Across the street from that temple there was another temple, and when we went in it there was a monk sitting on a chair to one side of a very tall statue of some god that I don’t know…

So I went over to him and asked him what was the significance of taking off your shoes when you entered the temple.  He was a Burmese Buddhist monk, and knew very little English, so after waving my arms around and talking real slow, and making gestures like I would think Kwai Chang Caine would make, I finally gave up trying to find out, though I think by what he tried to tell me in the language of a Burmese Buddhist monk, I think he said that it was to keep the floor clean.

When people drive in Malaysia, it is quite different than driving in the U.S.  For instance:  They drive on the wrong side of the road like England…  So, they were probably an English Colony at some time or other.

The other peculiar thing they do, is that the lines that distinguish between one lane and another lane does not have the same meaning as it does in the U.S..  I think in Malaysia, the dashed lines in the middle of the road is more of a “suggested” boundary that can be ignored whenever you want.

So, even though you are traveling down the road in one lane, it doesn’t mean that two other cars may not decide to come up right alongside you in the same lane at the same time, while a string of little motorcycles go weaving back and forth between the cars.  —  The whole act of driving reminded me of a large flock of birds all flying in a whirl, but not running into each other.

I think in Malaysia, they drive more by instinct than we do in the U.S.  —  Oh.  They have accidents.  I think I counted three that I saw just on the way to the office and back.

When you get a ticket for doing something wrong, you can usually just give the police some money to go buy coffee and they will let you go.  One guy I was with did get pulled over, because I think it was lunch time and the Police needed some extra cash to go out to lunch.  – Pretty weird, huh?

So, my entire week was spent eating, teaching and being driven around the island (Penang is on an island, just off the coast of Malaysia).  I ate every kind of Asian food they could find.  Most of which I can’t pronounce.

One guy (let’s call him Farid, because that is what everyone else calls him, because, well, that’s his name), asked me if I felt nervous when Soo Yuen was driving.  I told him that after the first day, I just realized that everything was in God’s hands at this point, and I would just let him take care of me, so I didn’t have to worry about it.

I gave the team I was teaching the Elvis wand and showed them how to use it correctly.  Now Farid has it sticking up above his cubicle so that the whole team can feel blessed by Elvis’s presence when they have a difficult issue they are trying to resolve.

So, now I’m on my way home.  I will try to send this e-mail to you guys sometime on Saturday, if I remember, or I might just continue it on my way to Boston on Sunday morning.  —  I will be back from there next Wednesday.

While I was in Penang I went to the website of my High School and found a few of my friends from my High School and grade school days in Columbia Missouri, so I’ll try to remember to include them on this e-mail as well.  They haven’t seen me since High School and don’t have a clue what I’ve been doing with my life, so this can help fill them in.

From what I gather, one guy named Tim (Knight) is a brain expert in Washington State (so I should probably call him Doctor Tim —  Like I sometimes refer to my friend Jesse as Doctor Jesse  — “come get your Chili!!”), another guy also named Tim (Collins) is in Florida working on a SWAT team at the Kennedy Space Center.  How cool is that?

Boy.  I never realized how much trouble those astronauts were causing down there.  Matt Tapley, my other friend just happens to be getting his Masters in Math down here in AUSTIN!!!!  Isn’t that neat?

So, by the way…. I am sending this letter to my friends at my previous job where I worked for 20 years.  18 of those years as an electrician.  Sooner Plant is a large coal-fired plant that makes Electricity for the folks in Oklahoma (I said that for the benefit of my “old” friends that don’t understand why I was calling you “Sooner Plantians” at the beginning of this e-mail).

By the way, I include Mark Schlemper and Brent Stewart on these e-mails.  They are in Columbia still.  And a couple of other people here and there that you know, and some that you don’t.   —  But they know who they are. —  I hope.

Some lady just came up to me while I was sitting here typing this letter and told me that if I have a long wait in this airport (which is more like a shopping mall than an airport), then they actually have a free tour of Singapore while you wait.

Well.  I better start making my way toward my gate.  I won’t have time to stop and write when I’m in Los Angeles.  I will barely have time to make it between flights.  —  I’ll let you know if I missed it when I finish this letter later…

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All right.   To make a long story a bit longer, I’ll try to be brief for the rest of this letter….  (yeah…  Like that is going to happen).

I made my flight just fine.  I didn’t lose any bags, because I carry everything on the plane with me.  I arrived back in Austin around 11 pm, and was home by midnight.  I slept most of the next day and had to get up around 3 in the morning to get to the airport to catch my flight to Boston to attend a Kronos Tech Summit where I was a guest speaker.

I spoke to 350 engineers that developed their Timekeeping application.  I talked for two hours to them, and then they came up to me after it was over to ask me a bunch of questions.  Then the following day (which was a Tuesday), I flew back home.

Because it took me so long to write the last part of this letter, I might as well continue….  I knew I couldn’t keep this short….

Last week, (April 3), three of us on our team drove up to Dallas to accept an award from Kronos for “Best Practices”.  We spoke to over 250 people about how Dell uses Kronos and why we are so good.  They gave us a big award and then I met with people from all sorts of companies (including the Oklahoma State Government) that wanted to know more about how we did this or that with Kronos.  Then we drove back home (on April 4).

My wife was wondering why my voice was so hoarse when I returned from my trip to Dallas.  I told her that my voice became hoarse while I was listening to the guy that was driving the car tell stories all the way to Dallas and back…..  —  Yeah.  Right….  She didn’t believe it either.

Needless to say.  My friends in the car (as Ed Shiever can testify), now knows a lot more about you than you know about them.  — Specifically, they know a lot more about Walt Oswalt than anyone else at the plant, because by the time we made it to Dallas (about 2 1/2 hours later), I was just about done telling stories about Walt.

Three times I had to grab the steering wheel because the car was swerving off of I-35 while Stephen (that’s the guy that was driving), was laughing so hard he couldn’t stay on the road.  — I have only started to introduce him to Bud Schoonover!!!!!

So, now I have finally filled you ‘all in on all I have been doing the past month.  It has been real crazy.  I hope things will finally settle down now so that I can catch up with the 3,000 e-mails I have in my Inbox!!!!

I hope to hear from you soon.

Your friend,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile