Monthly Archives: December, 2012

Power Plant Christmas Party Party Pooper

Each year at a Power Plant there are two times when the Power Plant Men are invited to a banquet.  There is the Service Award Banquet and the Christmas Party.  The Christmas Party was a chance to meet the spouses and children of the other Power Plant Men and Women.  Unlike the Service Award Banquet where you could only bring one other person, the Christmas Party allowed you to bring your entire family.  Interestingly, this became a point of conflict for those few at the top when I was a new full time power plant worker.

The first year I was able to attend the Power Plant Christmas Party was after I had become a Janitor in 1982.  I had graduated from college with a degree in Psychology (which made me a much better janitor) and at the end of my fourth summer as a summer help, I was able to hire on full time to begin the rest of the 19 remaining years with the company.  I received my free turkey for Thanksgiving and another one for Christmas.

Power Plant Turkey

Power Plant Turkey

The farmers that worked at the plant had baled the hay on their own time from the fields surrounding the lake and we used that money to buy the turkeys.  That was, until Corporate Headquarters (or maybe it was just the evil plant manager), found out about it and decided that this money belonged to the entire company, and so, in future years, instead of making a profit, the company had to hire people to cut the grass, paying tens of thousands of dollars each year with only an expense instead of a profit to show for it… and no Turkeys.  See the post:  Belt Buckle Mania and Turkeys During Power Plant Man Downtime for a more complete description of this example of Corporate Efficiency gone awry.

Since I was making a total of $5.15 per hour, I was still living at home with my parents.  So, when they asked me how many guests I would be bringing to the Christmas Party, I told them 2 guests and myself.  On the night of the Power Plant Christmas Party I showed up at the Oklahoma State University Student Union Banquet room in Stillwater Oklahoma with my Mother and Father.  As we walked into the banquet room, I noticed a strange expression on both Jack Ballard’s and Linda Dallas’s faces (The two heads of HR at the plant).  It was one of surprise and yet at the same time, slightly indignant.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  It was as if they were smiling while greeting the guests as they came in, but when looking at my parents, they both seemed as if they had just swallowed something distasteful and were trying to pretend that they hadn’t.  I thought for the moment that they were just in awe of my parents.  After all, my dad was an important Veterinary Professor at the University, and my mom, well… She had the slight resemblence of Queen Victoria, and probably a lot of her disposition.  Though she was on her good behavior that night.

My Mother is an Italian version of Queen Victoria

My Mother is an Italian version of Queen Victoria

Actually, Queen Victoria’s face almost looks like Marlin McDaniels in drag.  I’m sure those Power Plant men that remember Marlin can see the resemblence.  If you just look at only the face.  I’ll bet Marlin is related to the Queen.

The Christmas party generally had one of the Power Plant Men dressed up as Santa Claus.  This was usually Glen Morgan from the Instrument and Controls department (known as the “Results” department at the time).  He best fit the suit.

Glenn Morgan looked similar to this only younger

Glenn Morgan looked similar to this, only younger

He would hand out gifts to the Children.  I remember that every now and then when they were trying to plan the Christmas event, the topic of gifts for the children would come up.  Some believed that it wasn’t really fair to give gifts to the children since not everyone had children, and some were not married at all.  Usually the gifts for the children won over the dissenters.  Someone would point out that Christmas was really all about the Children in the first place, and when they would take a vote, the children would receive their gifts.

I found out what Jack’s and Linda’s expressions were for the following year.  I was in the electric shop when they asked how many people I would be brining to the Christmas party and I told them that I was going to bring 3 guests and myself.  My girlfriend had moved from Seattle, Washington to Norman, Oklahoma to work toward a degree in Nursing at Oklahoma University.  I was going to bring her along with my parents to the Christmas party that year.

A couple of days later I was asked to go up to the front office.  Jack Ballard wanted to talk to me about something.  When I arrived in his office, he explained to me that I was not able to bring my parents to the Christmas Party.  I asked why that was and he explained that I could only bring a date or my immediate family.  I told  him I was still living at home and that my parents are my immediate family.  He went on to explain that if they let me take my parents, then other people might want to bring their parents as well.  This would open up a whole can of worms.

Power Plant Can of Worms

Power Plant Can of Worms

Yeah, well, a can of worms… no, we wouldn’t want to do that.  Finally Jack said that I could bring my parents, or I could bring a date, but I couldn’t bring both.  Ok.  I was somewhat upset since I had already told my parents the date of the party and my dad was really looking forward to meeting with the Power Plant Men as he did the year earlier.  He had a lot of fun talking with real people instead of the pretentious professors he usually met with.  There wasn’t any way I was not going to bring my girlfriend.  I wanted everyone to meet her.  More importantly.  I wanted Kelly to meet everyone I was always talking about.

There was another reason why I thought that the “front office” didn’t want my parents to go to the Christmas Party.  It had to do with the relationship the Assistant Plant Manager had with my father.  Bill Moler liked to keep his role at work and his role away from the plant completely separate (for good reason).  I felt that this was the same reason he was disturbed when he came back from summer vacation to find me already hired as a janitor.  This was only a thought and a feeling.  I never had any real reason to believe this was what was behind Jack’s concern over my parents going to the Christmas party.  Either way it was a Party Pooper.

So in 1983, my parents stayed home, and I went to the Christmas Party with my girlfriend Kelly.  I think she was so impressed with the Power Plant People that two years later, almost to the day, we were married.  We sat with Arthur Hammond and his wife and children.  Arthur was a new electrician.  He had become a plant electrician on the same day that I did.  I will talk more about him in future posts.  We had a fun time.  You couldn’t really help but have a fun conversation with Arthur Hammond.  Espeically if you are part Italian like myself.  Arthur liked to argue.  That is one reason we got along so well.

Fast forward 10 years.  The Christmas Party in 1993 was held in Ponca City.  My daugther Elizabeth was 3 years old.  Bud Schoonover, at the age of 58, was chosen to be Santa Claus that year.  Now…. Not only is Bud Schoonover the best size to fit the Santa Claus suit, but he also was so shy when the children came up to sit on his lap for him to hand the presents to them that it gave him a hidden sort of dignity that the children perceived as being very “Santa” like.  My daughter was convinced that this Santa Claus was not like the Mall Santas.  This was the real Santa Claus.  For years Elizabeth was convinced that Bud Schoonover was the real Santa.

This doesn't exactly look like Bud Schoonover, but his cheeks were about this red

This doesn’t exactly look like Bud Schoonover, but his cheeks were about this red

Because Bud was so shy, his cheeks had turned cherry red.  He couldn’t do anything but smile and look with wonder at the children as they came up to him and he handed them their gifts.  My daughter had picked up on the genuine look of wonder that Bud expressed as she sat on his lap looking into his eyes.  Bud Schoonover really had transformed himself into the Genuine Santa Claus for that one half hour.  I could confidently tell Elizabeth when she asked me on the way home if that was the real Santa Claus that I thought that he really was.  Bud confided in me when he told me that he was literally scared to death the entire time.

Six months later, Bud Schoonover retired from the Power Plant during the “early retirement” stage of a downsizing.  He was truly missed by everyone that knew him.  I have written about Bud before, and I will write about him again.  You can learn more about his personality by reading:  Carpooling With Bud Schoonover

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Power Plant Christmas Story

December, 1998 my brother who is now a full Colonel in the United States Marine Corp. sent me the following poem about Santa Claus visiting a Marine on the night before Christmas.  I, in turn, sat down and in about 30 minutes wrote a poem about Santa Claus visiting the house of a Power Plant Man.  Words flowed out as easily as Ralph writing about his wish to have a Red Rider BB gun.
First, here is the Marine story, and then after that, you can read the one about Santa and the Power Plant Man.  Notice the similarities….
I made the title for the Marine Poem a link to the website where I found a recent copy of the Marine Christmas Story:
 

‘Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,

in a one-bedroom house made of plaster and stone.

I had come down the chimney with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live.
I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by mantle, just boots filled with sand,
on the wall hung pictures of far distant lands.
With medals and badges, awards of all kinds,
a sober thought came through my mind.
For this house was different, it was dark and dreary;
I found the home of a soldier, once I could see clearly.
The soldier lay sleeping, silent, alone,
curled up on the floor in this one bedroom home.
The face was so gentle, the room in such disorder,
not how I pictured a United States soldier.
Was this the hero of whom I’d just read?
Curled up on a poncho, the floor for a bed?
I realized the families that I saw this night,
owed their lives to these soldiers who were willing to fight.
Soon round the world, the children would play,
and grownups would celebrate a bright Christmas Day.
They all enjoyed freedom each month of the year,
because of the soldiers, like the one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve in a land far from home.
The very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.
The soldier awakened and I heard a rough voice,
“Santa don’t cry, this life is my choice;
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more,
my life is my God, my Country, my Corps.
“The soldier rolled over and drifted to sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I kept watch for hours, so silent and still
and we both shivered from the cold night’s chill.
I didn’t want to leave on that cold, dark night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
Then the soldier rolled over, with a voice soft and pure,
whispered, “Carry on Santa, It’s Christmas Day, all is secure.
“One look at my watch, and I knew he was right.
“Merry Christmas my friend, and to all a good night!”
 
Semper Fi
 
 And now for the story where Santa visits the Power Plant Man!!!
 

Merry Christmas Power Plant Men

Twas the night before Christmas, as I flew through the snow,

To a house full of kids, wife, dog and Jay Leno.

I came down the chimney with presents to share,

And to see what kind of he-man actually lived there.

I looked all about, and oh what a sight!

Four kids in their beds, without much of a fight!

A dirty pair of jeans, and a shirt full of holes,

Boots full of coal dust, worn shoestrings and soles.

A hardhat was hung by the chimney to dry,

With safety stickers, scratches, and earplugs nearby.

I felt that something was stirring in my chest,

And I knew that this man was different from the rest.

I had heard about men like this from watching Roseanne,

But now I was in the house of a Power Plant Man!

I looked down the hallway and what should I see,

A tool bag hanging behind the Christmas tree.

As I approached it to look at his side cutters,

I heard a strange sound, like a motor that sputters.

There on the recliner laid back as far as it can,

Lay the worn body of the Power Plant Man!

The hole in his sock showed a big toe that was callous,

From trudging all day through his Power Plant Palace.

His face was unshaven, his clothes were a mess,

He needed a shower, of that I confess.

I knew through the nation all people could stay,

Warm in their beds, until the next day.

From the power that hummed at the speed of light,

And silently flowed through the houses at night.

Day after day, and year after year,

Blizzards and storms with nothing to fear.

As the Power Plant Man lay on his chair fast asleep,

I thought about others like him that work just to keep,

Our world safe from the cold and the heat and the night,

By keeping us warm, or cool and in light.

I looked in my bag for a gift I could give,

To the Power Plant Man who helps others to live.

I found that nothing seemed quite enough,

For the Power Plant Man had all “The Right Stuff”.

As I looked through my bag for the perfect choice,

I suddenly heard a muffled cigarette voice.

The Power Plant Man had stirred with a shock,

And all that he said was, “just leave me some socks.”

Then he rolled on his side, and scratched his behind,

And a tear swelled in my eye that left me half blind,

And I knew that the Power Plant Man was selfless inside.

He lived to serve others with courage and with pride.

I pulled out some socks and put them under the tree,

Then I walked nimbly back to go up the chimney.

Before I rose to return to my sled,

I picked up his hardhat and placed it on my head.

It was then that I realized the soot on my brow,

Had come from his hardhat I put on just now.

I often get soot on my clothes and my face,

But tonight I had been blessed by the man in this place.

So as I flew through the night to finish my plan,

I took with me some of the soot from that Power Plant Man!

Simplify

Merry Christmas to all!  And to all a Good Night!!!!

santa-claus3

Last Days as a Power Plant Labor Crew Hand

I have heard the relationship between Bill Rivers and Sonny Kendrick referred to as the “Punch and Judy Show”.  Ok.  I thought.  Punch and Judy.  Sounds like a show from the early 50’s.  Must have been a comedy.  I thought that for a long time until one day I ran across a brief history of the Punch and Judy Show.  It turned out that Punch and Judy was a puppet show from the time of Queen Anne of England.  She was queen of England from 1702 to 1714.  I could only find a painting of Queen Anne.  Didn’t anyone ever think about taking her photograph?

Queen Anne of England

Queen Anne of England

Anyway, once I learned more about Punch and Judy, I realized that this was probably a better description of the Rivers – Sonny relationship than those people realized.  It turns out in the first version of the Punch and Judy show, Punch actually strangles his child and beats his wife Judy to death and beats up on other people as well.  I suppose that was “entertainment” back then.  Now we only have things like “The Terminator”!

Punch and Judy

Punch and Judy Puppet Show

I carpooled with Bill Rivers at this particular time when I was a janitor and while I was on labor crew (except during the summer when I carpooled with my summer help buddies).  Each day Bill Rivers would explain about some trick he had played on Sonny that day.  The one thing that amazed Bill the most was that every day he could play a joke on Sonny, and each day, Sonny would fall for it.

This reminded me of when I was in Rockbridge High School in Columbia, Missouri and I used to borrow a pencil from my friend Bryan Treacy each day and each day I would chew it up to the point where it was practically useless.  I had to come up with different diversionary tactics each day, but somehow I was able to coax a wooden pencil from my friend.  Before he would realize what he had done, I had already chewed it up from one end to the next.  I liked to think that I was tricking Bryan each day, but I also thought that it was odd that Bryan would have  a new pencil very time, and he probably made sure that his mom kept a full stock of pencils just for my enjoyment in eating them.

Bryan Treacy today is a doctor living in Moore Oklahoma.  I would like to drop by his office without seeing him some time just to see if  he has any wooden pencils laying about that I could leave all chewed up.  I wonder if he would realize I had been there.  He might read this blog from time-to-time, so I may have just blown my cover.

I mentioned Bill Rivers and Sonny Kendrick because they were the first two electricians that I worked for before becoming an electrician.  I worked on the precipitator while I was on the Labor Crew.  See the Post:

Angel of Death Passes by the Precipitator Door (or almost dying twice in one day)

I also mentioned before that I owe my decision to become a Power Plant Electrician to Charles Foster an Electrical B Foreman at the time.  I was a janitor and cleaning the electric shop office and lab were part of my duty.  How I came to be the janitor of the electric shop is explained further in the post:

Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement

I had found the floor scrubbing machine in ill repair.  Charles helped me put it back in running condition.  He explained how to take care of the batteries and to keep them properly charged.

We had a Clarke Floor scrubber similar to this one

We had a Clarke Floor scrubber similar to this one

When the electric shop had an opening they tried to recruit me while I was still a janitor, but the Evil Plant Manager had a rule at the time that when you were a janitor, the only place you could go from there was onto the Labor Crew.  That was when Mike Rose was hired to become a backup for Jim Stevenson that worked on the air conditioning and freeze protection.  I knew about the janitor ruling so I didn’t have my hopes up.  Besides,  at the time I didn’t have any electrical background.

Charles asked me to take the electrical courses that were offered by the company.  The company offered correspondence courses, and in about 3 weeks, I had signed up for them, read the books, and taken the tests.  While I was on the labor crew I signed up for a House wiring course at the Vo-Tech.  I was taking that course when I learned that Larry Burns was moving from our electric shop to go to another plant.  It was then that I applied for the job as a plant electrician.

The main power transformer for Unit 1 had been destroyed by the heat wave that summer (1983) when the plant had tested it’s durability on the hottest day.  The unit was offline for a couple of months while GE created a new transformer and shipped it to us.

A Main Power Transformer

A Main Power Transformer

After the main power transformer was destroyed and it took so long to ship in a new one, it was decided that we would keep a spare on hand.  That way if it went bad again, we could swap them out quickly.  That is probably the best assurance that we wouldn’t lose that transformer again.  We had that spare transformer sitting around for years collecting taxes.  I’m sure we must have paid for it a few times over again.

During the time that the unit was offline, and we weren’t shaking boiler tubes or cutting the ash out of the economizer tubes, I was working with Bill Rivers and Sonny Kendrick on the precipitator.  The precipitator (by the way), is what takes the smoke (ash) out of the exhaust, so you don’t see smoke coming out of the smokestacks.

Bill and Sonny were pretty well sure that I was going to be selected to fill the opening in the Electric Shop, so they were already preparing me to work on the precipitator.  Of all the jobs in the electric shop, this one had more to do with electronics than any of the others.  That gave “being an electrician” a whole new dimension.  I was even looking forward to taking an Electronics course at the Vo-Tech in the spring.

The plant has a similar electrostatic precipitator, only it is twice as long

The plant has a similar electrostatic precipitator, only it is twice as long

I was getting updates from Bill and Sonny about the progress of the job opening and they were telling me about the battle that was going on between the Evil Plant Manager and the Electrical Supervisor.  Eldon Waugh, the plant manager at the time wanted Charles Peavler to be chosen as the electrician.  He had an electrical background, because he had wired his barn once.

The ultimate reason why the plant manager wanted Charles Peavler to be the new electrician was because I had been placed on the blacklist due to the incident that took place earlier that I had described in the post:

Take a Note Jan Said the Manager of Power Production

Thanks to Larry Riley’s performance review, and his purposeful procrastination of the Plant Manager’s request to modify my performance review, and Charles Foster’s insistence that they follow the procedures that were laid out in the new Employee Application Program (known as the EAP), the argument stopped with Charles Foster’s statement:  “Let’s just take whoever has the best performance rating as it is laid out in the company policy and leave it at that.”  I was chosen to fill the position for the opening in the Electric Shop.

I was actually called to Eldon Waugh’s office while I was sandblasting the Sand Filter Tank.  See Post:

Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love

When I arrived in Eldon’s office I was covered from head to toe in sandblast dust.  My hair was all disheveled and my shirt was soaked with sweat.  Jack Ballard (the head of HR) was sitting there along with Leroy Godfrey and Charles Foster.  I knew what it was about because according to Bill Rivers on the way home the day before, they had already decided that they were going to accept me for the position.

Eldon Waugh explained that I was being offered the job that I had applied for in the electric shop.  I felt really humbled at the time.  Even though I was expecting it, I felt surprised that it was actually happening.  To me, being an electrician was like the greatest job in the world.  The electricians were like an elite team of super heroes.

I had the occasion to watch them while I was a janitor in their shop and many of them were like these super intelligent beings that could quickly look at a blueprint and grab their tool bucket and head out to fix the world.  I was very grateful for the opportunity, and at the same time apprehensive.  I wasn’t sure if I had the quality of character and intelligence to become a part of this team.  This was truly a dream come true for me.

Few times in my life has this happened to me.  The day I was married.  The day I became a Father.  The day I drove to Dell to begin my first day as a Programmer Analyst.  These were all major milestones in my life.  The first major milestone was the day I became an electrician.  Because of the way that I am (I don’t know…. maybe it’s because I’m half Italian), I just wanted to break out in tears and hug Eldon Waugh and cry on his shoulder. Instead, I just managed to crack a small smile.

I thanked them and started to leave.  Then Jack Ballard said something interesting.  As I was leaving he asked, “Uh…. Do you accept the offer?”  Oh.  In my surprise and elation, I hadn’t said anything but “Thank You”.  Jack’s expression was that it wasn’t official until it was official.  So, I replied, “Yes.  I accept the offer”.  “Ok then,” Jack replied.  And I left to go crawl back in my hole and continue sandblasting the Sand Filter tank.

My last day on the Labor Crew was on November 4, 1983.  I was leaving my Labor Crew Family behind and moving onto a new life in the electric shop.  This was hard for me because I really did consider most of the people on the Labor Crew as family.  Fred Crocker, Ron Luckey, Jim Kanelakos, and Ronnie Banks.  Curtis Love and Chuck Moreland.  Doretta Funkhouser and Charles Peavler.  Jody Morse and Bob Lillibridge.

Most of all, I knew I was going to miss Larry Riley.  I had worked with Larry from the day I had first arrived as a summer help in 1979.  Now it was November, 1983.  Larry was a hero to me.  I love him dearly and if I had ever had an older brother I would have liked someone with the character and strength of Larry Riley.  He remains in my prayers to this day.

The last day on the labor crew I suspected foul play.  Mainly because the last day that Bill Cook was on the Labor Crew, he had asked us if we would throw Larry in the intake as a going away gift.  I had worked with Bill when we were summer help together and I felt like I owed him one, so I told him I would help.

As we were driving from the Coalyard Maintenance building (the home of the labor crew) to the plant maintenance shop that day, Bill Cook, who was driving, suddenly turned toward the intake pumps and stopped the truck.  By the time Larry had figured out what was going on, we had dragged him out of the truck and I was carrying him over to the Intake and getting ready to throw him in.

Larry had worked with me long enough to know that once I had set my mind on something, there was no turning back.  He had tried to escape from my grip, but I had him where he couldn’t escape.  As I climbed with him over the guard rail and headed toward the edge of the water, Larry said the only possible thing that could make me stop in my tracks.  He said, “Please Kevin.  Don’t do this.”

I was paralyzed.  Stuck between my word with Bill Cook that I would help him throw Larry in the brink, and a plea from someone who meant the world to me.  There wasn’t but one choice to make.  I set Larry down.  I walked back to the truck and I told Bill, “I’m sorry.  I can’t do it.”  I returned to my seat in the back of the crew cab.  Without my help, no one else had the resolve and strength to follow through with Bill’s wish.  We drove on to the Maintenance Shop.

So, on my last day on the Labor Crew, I thought that something similar might be planned for me.  As soon as we left to go to work that morning, I headed up Belt 10 and 11.  That is the long belt on the left side of the power Plant picture on the upper right side of this post…. Ok.  I’ll post it here:

Power Plant view when looking through the wrong end of the binoculars

The long belts run from the coalyard to the plant.  Oh.  And this is the intake.  Just across from here is where I was going to toss Larry in the lake

Once up 10 & 11 and 12 & 13, I was in the Surge bin tower.  (The Surge Bin Tower is the white building you can see between the two boilers near the top that has the conveyor belt entering it from the left).  From there, I roamed around looking for some coal to clean up.  I figured I would stay far away from my labor crew buddies that day.

At the end of the day, I travelled back down belts 10 & 11 and headed into the office in the Coalyard Maintenance building to fill out my last timecard as a Laborer.  Beginning next Monday on November 7, I would be an “Electrician.”  Along with the empty feeling at the bottom of my heart was a feeling of excitement for the new adventure that awaited me.

Power Plant Summer Help Sanity Check

What happens to a million dollar forest when left to the fate on two Power Plant Summer Help?  I can tell you; the result is not good.  Before I explain this statement, let me introduce some summer help to you so that you will have a deeper understanding of my summer help career.  It spanned 4 summer for a total of 12 months.

I would like to start out by saying that there were a few summer help that I thought were very intelligent and goodhearted people.  A dear friend of mine named Tim Flowers, who was a friend that I met while attending Oklahoma University my first year in school, was one of the smartest people you might run across in your lifetime.  He was also a very hard worker who didn’t mind putting his entire effort into his work.

Blake Tucker from Pawnee also had a brilliant mind and had an honorable work ethic.  He was fresh out of High School when he first went to work as a summer help at the coal-fired power plant in north central Oklahoma.  During his years as a summer help, I spent a lot of time with him working on mathematical calculations and on programming feats of magic.

Bill Cook, though he didn’t put his back into his work the way some would have liked to see, he did go on to work at the power plant on the labor crew a year and a half before I finally made it onto that team of singularly distinguished characters.  Bill confided in me, and I consider him a friend, though I haven’t seen him in 30 years.

David Foster became a friend of mine the second summer when we were were summer help together. He only worked at the plant that one summer, but I talked to him a few times during the years when he was in college and I would run into him coming out of church or on campus.  His father was a dentist in Ponca City.

This leaves me with all the rest of the summer help that worked with me during those 4 summers.  I wrote a post about the first summer help I worked with that really didn’t fit the requirements, since you were supposed to be going to school in order to be a summer help.  That was Steve Higginbotham.  You can read more about him in the post:

Steve Higginbotham’s Junky Jalopy Late for the Boiler Blowdown

Steve was a less than energetic person, but I could understand his lack of enthusiasm.  He had been dealt a shorthand in his life and he was making the best out of his situation.  What I found hard to understand were summer help that were fresh out of High School that were given the opportunity to work at an illustrious palace of a Power Plant, and they just didn’t want to work.

When I was leaving the house at age 14 to go to my first job where I was working for someone other than myself (I began selling tomatoes from my garden door-to-door at age 10), my dad told me something that became the core of my work ethic.  He said, “Son.”  Well, I don’t remember if he actually said “Son.” but it was something like that.  Maybe he said “Kevin, before you go, I want to tell you something.”  He said that I should do my best at whatever job they give me.  I should do a job that I would be proud to show others.  He never wanted to hear anything that would make him be ashamed of me.

It was a thrill to go work at a German Restaurant as a dishwasher making $1.50 an hour.  I worked my tail off each night.  I seldom took breaks, and I focused on keeping ahead of the work so that I wouldn’t become swamped.

So, it was hard for me, by the time I was 20, to see summer help come to the plant and work real hard at not working.  Young football players from Pawnee, who you would think would be able to put their best foot forward, were usually standing around talking smack about that one doofus of a summer help that wanted to get to work right away.  That one guy that liked wearing his face shield and ear muffs hanging down from his hard hat swinging the industrial weedeater to-and-fro all day long.

One with two handles like this one

One with two handles like this one (I like reusing pictures from old posts)

This one group of summer help that were hired that summer all seemed to have the same bug, except for Bill  Cook.  Bill didn’t get along with them because he wasn’t from the same bully class that they graduated.  At one point during the summer the tension between them and Bill rose to such a level that they had to handle it the only way left.

Bill had to meet one of them outside the gate after quittin’ time to settle matters.  The truth of the matter was that Bill had done nothing to stir up their ire.  They just didn’t like him.  It seemed to be a personality issue with them.  From what I understand, the cowards received what was coming to them as usually happens when they have mistook someone to be a weakling and easy pickings.

To illustrate the intelligence of this particular group of summer help (there were 3 of them), let me describe an instance where they were struggling real hard to keep from working.  I didn’t understand their desire to keep doing what they were doing in the first place, so I wasn’t about to stay in the situation all afternoon.

Stanley Elmore had told us to mow the area around the main parking lot.  This included the area by the main entrance.  At that time there were sections of grass on all sides of the parking lot including the side by the garage.  Stanley sent me and the 3 of them (not Bill Cook.  I think he knew the tension between them and tried to work it so that Bill could be doing other things) out to mow this area with regular push mowers.

It was just after lunch when we started.  I knew right away that the three amigos wanted to make this job last all afternoon.  I think they were afraid that when they finished they would be sent to the park to empty the trash cans of the foul rotten fish guts and soiled baby diapers.  A job that would make most summer help puke and even bring water to the eyes of a True Power Plant Man.

Well.  I grabbed one of the lawn mowers and headed out across the drive to the grass and started mowing around and around one stretch of grass.  By the time the others had dragged their mowers out and took their time starting them, I had finished one stretch of grass and went around to the other side of the parking lot to work on that side as well.

The grass on the far side of the parking lot wrapped around by the welding shop and over to the front entrance.  So, once this entire section was done, we would be finished.  It really wasn’t that much grass to mow.  Not when you had 4 lawn mowers all going around in a counter clockwise direction.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the three huddle together to have a quick discussion.  I knew they were going to try to thwart my efforts to quickly finish this job so they didn’t have to move on to the next adventure.  I also knew that there wasn’t anyway they were going to be able to stop me.

They had tried to stop me before earlier when we were going out to cut weeds down a long right-of-way.  One of them had let his weedeater string out real far so that the strings were sticking out about 2 feet.  He started his weedeater up so that the strings were whining and turned around so that the strings grabbed my leg and before I knew it I was flat on my back with a stabbing pain in my knee.  My kneecap had been knocked out of the socket, which I quickly hit with the palm of my  hand to knock it back over from the side of my knee.

I could see that this had been pre-planned by their reaction.  I think they thought it would take me out of commission or make me angry so they could watch me lose my top.  The guy that did it apologized in a half sarcastic way and I told him it was all right.  I wiped the dust off of my pants and grabbed my weedeater and went to work.  I could see them at the back of the truck standing there wondering where their plan had failed.

Anyway, back to mowing the grass around the parking lot.  I was able to tell immediately what they had planned.  Their idea was to hem me in and mow very slowly so that I would have no where to go but to follow along behind one of them travelling at a snails pace.  They were so slow they would take one step, wait a second, then take another step, etc.

So, as I came up behind one of them I suddenly took a left turn and cut a new path through the grass without even slowing down.  I quickly came to the other side of the curb, and I turned left again and was heading back in the direction I came from just as if nothing was wrong.

I knew the law of physics.  Newton’s First Law of Physics.  If a body is in motion it tends to stay in motion unless it is acted on by another force.  Well.  The mind of the weak have little force.  Newton was not only one of my favorite Physicist, he was one of my favorite Mathematicians as well.

Sir Isaac Newton  Had 3 laws of motion and liked to mow grass (ok. So I made up that second part)

Sir Isaac Newton Had 3 laws of motion and liked to mow grass (ok. So I made up that second part)

Well.  He did like sitting in the park under an apple tree.  — So how did they keep the grass mowed back in 1642?  Maybe they trained the grass just to stay small.  Why don’t we have grass that just stays short?  We could do that easy enough.

Because of the laws of motion and the size of my lawn mower and the speed in which I was mowing, I had calculated that I should be able to finish mowing the entire area in about 15 more minutes (or 900 seconds) if I were to do it all myself.  — Funny how things run through your mind when you are mowing grass.  No wonder Sonny Karcher loved mowing grass so much.

Anyway.  That little story illustrates my point about how some summer help put all their brain power into thinking about how to stay out of work that they couldn’t even conceive of someone thinking outside the box.  How difficult was it for me to just turn and mow a patch of grass out in the middle of the stretch of grass we were mowing?

Once they realized that there wasn’t anyway to stop me, they went ahead and finished their job.  I couldn’t figure out why they wanted to stand out in the sun in 100 degree temperature anyway pretending to mow grass.  Didn’t they know that just made the day seem longer?

It was that summer that the plant manager was sold on the idea of planting a forest around the coal yard to prevent the wind from blowing all the coal away.  So, a million dollars was spent to hire a company to plant a number of rows of trees along the south road next to the coal yard.  When the trees were planted, they were like sickly little sticks.  The summer help were sent to go water them from time-to-time using the small Mitsubishi tractor pulling a trailer with a tank of water on it.

A tractor just like this

A tractor just like this

I have to admit that I never gave the idea much hope.  The ground where the trees were planted was hard clay.  The company that received the million dollars hardly even put any real usable tree-growing dirt in the hole when they planted the trees.

The trees were planted very close together so that you couldn’t mow around them.  So, when the weeds started growing tall and the field had been mowed, Stanley sent a couple of the lazy summer help up there to weed eat around the trees.

I had been told some time in my childhood that one of the fastest ways to kill a tree was to strip the bark off all the way around the tree.  Not just strip the bark, but cut a little into the tree itself around the base of the tree.  If you did this, the tree would die.  The only actual living part of the tree is the outside section.  Here is a link to a site that describes the part of a tree and a picture from that site:

How Does A Tree Grow

cutting the Cambium layer all the way around a tree will kill the tree

cutting the Cambium layer all the way around a tree will kill the tree

So, do I need to go on?  That’s right.  When the summer help had finished trimming the verge around the trees their fate had been sealed.  Two summer help in a matter of an hour totally wiped out the million dollar tree experiment.  They had stripped the bark clean around every tree.

Not to be outdone.  The Plant Manager spent 2 million dollars to have larger trees installed with plenty of good soil around the embankments on the north side of the coal pile.  These were good healthy trees.There was even an irrigation system installed to make sure they were properly watered.  This worked at least a year or two.  Long enough for a lot of the trees to catch hold.  The only problem is that the wind almost always blows from the west or the south defeating the purpose of the “windbreak” on the north side of the coal pile.

Ok.  One more summer help story before I go.  A friend of mine named Ben Cox became a summer help for a summer the fourth summer I worked as a summer help (how many times can I use the word summer in one sentence?).  I had worked with him at the Bakery in Columbia, Missouri and he had followed me home that summer to try his hand at summer helping at the power plant.  Tim Flowers and I had tried to dissuade him, but to no avail.  I have mentioned Ben Cox before in the story about Ramblin’ Ann.  He and I used to tag team Ramblin’ Ann just to keep our sanity.  See the link below as a refresher on Ramblin’ Ann:

Ed Sheiver Trapped in a Confined Space with a Disciple of Ramblin’ Ann

Ben wasn’t the most physically fit, and we didn’t want to see him have a heart attack at such an early age.  Ben, however, held his own as best he could and survived a summer of working outdoors.  He actually did better than Tim and I expected.

One day when we were driving to the coal yard Ben asked me why there were large hills of sand piled up across the road from the intake.  Instead of telling him that the sand had been dredged out of the intake channel when they were filling the lake and sand was being pumped from the river up to the lake with the water, I told him something else…

I told Ben that they kept the large piles of sand there in case they ran out of coal.  They would burn the sand as a last resort.  I explained that they didn’t like to burn sand because it burned hotter than coal and it turned into glass in the boiler and really messed things up.  But if there was a long coal strike and they totally ran out of coal, they would have to burn sand in order to keep producing electricity.

Tim and I watched closely as Ben mulled this over in his mind.  At first he didn’t believe me, but after I explained why we didn’t burn sand all the time, you could start to see the wheels turning in his mind.  Burning sand…. wow!  There is sand all over the place!  I never told him differently.  I’m sure if he tried to sell the idea to someone, he would have found out quick enough.