Monthly Archives: August, 2013

Power Plant Cajun and the Hatchet Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Detective holding aTong War Hatchet

A Detective holding a Tong War Hatchet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally Posted August 24, 2012:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A notepad like this

A Power Plant notepad Jan may have been using

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Louthan

Power Plant Men Show Their True Colors

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah.  Just like this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of the Side Story Almost…

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Alivazatos, Athens Greece

Dr. Alivazatos, Athens Greece

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

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

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

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

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

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

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

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

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

Life and Death on the Power Plant Lake — Repost

Originally posted on August 18, 2012:

I have just finished watching the movie “Godfather II” with my son.  Toward the end of the movie Fredo Corleone and Al are going fishing.  There is a scene where the motor boat in the boat house is lowered down into the water.  I have seen one boat house like this before where the boat is hoisted out of the water in the boat house so that it can be stored dry while hovering a few feet over the water.  The Coal-fired Power Plant where I worked as a summer help had a very similar boat house.

The Power Plant had a boat house because each month during the summer months the chemist had to go to various locations in the lake to take the temperature and a water sample.  He would take the water samples back to the chemist lab where they could be analyzed.  Each bottle was carefully labeled indicating where in the lake the sample was taken.  In order to take the samples out in the middle of the lake…. A motor boat was required.  Thus the need for the boat house.

The second summer as a Summer Help I was asked to go along on this journey with George Dunagan, a new chemist at the time.  Larry Riley usually manned the motor, as it was known that the motor for the boat had a tendency to cut out and die at random times and the best person that could be counted on to fix a stranded boat out in the middle of the lake was Larry Riley.  I know I always felt safe.

I have seen Larry dismantle part of the motor out in the middle of the lake, clean a fuel filter and put the thing back together again with a minimum number of tools at his disposal.  I would sit patiently as the boat rocked back and forth with the waves (Oklahoma winds usually kept a steady flow of waves) waiting for Larry to repair the motor.  I didn’t have any fear of missing lunch because Larry was in the boat.  So, I would just sit and watch the ducks and other birds fly by or look into the water to see what I could see.

Larry would pull something out of the motor and say, “Well, look at that!  No wonder this thing died.”  Right on queue.  A few minutes later and he would start the boat up again and off we would go speeding across the lake.

During the time I was a summer help, there were various tragic events that took place.  One man committed suicide by drowning at the park while his sister and wife waited on the shore to tell whoever was first to arrive.  Summer Helps were there, but I was on an errand to Oklahoma City at the time and only heard about it when I returned.  He had wrapped himself up in some brush. Evidently, he was in some kind of legal trouble at the time.

Another tragedy which was very sad was when a man was swimming with his son on his shoulders out to the dock that was placed out in the water so that swimmers could swim out to it, when he had a heart attack while his daughter was waiting for them on the shore.  When the summer help arrived, the daughter told them that her father and brother just went under the water and never came up.  One of the Summer Help, David Foster jumped in and found them both drowned.  It was a traumatic experience for him, which I’m sure lives on in his memory to this day.

Another man was fishing where the river pumps discharged into the lake.  This was a popular place to fish at a certain part of the day.  A large man had waded out into the water, and at some point fell over.  He could not swim and was also drowned.

These tragic events were a constant reminder that water sports of all kinds have their dangers.  Following Safety rules is very important.  I believe that two of those 4 people would have not drowned if they had on a life preserver.

Another more humorous tragedy (depending on how you look at it) occurred not far from the boat ramp at the park located closer to Hwy 177.  The story as I heard it was that this stubborn farmer (and I won’t mention his name, because I don’t remember it.  Heck.  I can’t even remember his initials, if you can believe that), had bought his first boat.  Not knowing much about boating, he wanted to make sure he was well equipped, so he attached the biggest motor he could buy to it.

He lowered it into water at the boat ramp at the park, and turned it around so that it pointed out into the lake.  Then he opened it up to full throttle.  The nose of the boat proceeded to point straight up in the air, and the boat sank motor first. The man swam over to the shore.  Climbed in his truck and drove away.  Leaving the boat on the floor of the lake.  Now… I figure that someone must have seen this happen, because I’m sure that the person didn’t go around telling everyone that he met what he had done… — That is, until he had a few beers in him… maybe.

I would like to tell you some more about George Dunagan, the chemist that went with us to take the water samples.  He looked like the type of person that would make a good Sergeant in the Army.  A solid facial structure, and a buzz haircut reminded me of the Sergeant Carter on the Gomer Pyle TV show.  Here is a picture of Sergeant Carter and George Dunagan when he was younger:

Sergeant Carter

George Dunagan

Or does he look more like Glenn Ford?

George was in his mid-40s when I first met him.  He was 4 months older than my father.  He went about his business as a man that enjoyed his job.  Occasionally, something might get under his craw, and he would let you know about it, but you always knew that he was the type of person that was looking out for you, even when you thought you didn’t need it.

I considered George a True Power Plant Chemist.  He was a genius in his own field.  When I was young and I worked around George, I felt like he was passionate about his job and that he wanted to teach it to others.  He would explain to me what the different chemical processes in the Water Treatment were doing.  He would take any opportunity to explain things in detail.  Some people would think that he was kind of grumpy sometimes, and sometimes they would be right.  He cared passionately about things that involved “right” and “wrong”.  When he saw something that he considered wrong, he rarely sat still.

I considered George to be a passionate teacher that loved to see others learn.  I made it a point to stop and nod my head like I was really listening when he was telling me something because I could see the joy in his face that knowledge was being bestowed upon someone.

As he took the water samples in the lake, he explained to me why he was doing what he was doing.  How the EPA required these for so many years to show that the lake was able to cool the power plant steam back to water without disturbing the wildlife that inhabited the lake.

At that particular time, they were still taking a baseline of how the water was with just one unit running.  Later when both units are running they would see how it held up by comparing the year before when no unit was running, then this year with one, and next year with two units.

I listened intently.  Not so much because the topic interested me.  I wouldn’t tell George that I was struggling to pay attention because the particulars about how he had to label each sample and put them in order in the box were not as interesting as things that came to my own imagination.  I imagined things like… “Wouldn’t it be neat if you could breathe under water?”  Or,  “If the boat tipped over, and we were in the middle of the lake, would I stay with the boat or try to swim to the shore….”  “Was that my stomach rumbling?  Am I getting hungry already?”  I would put my own imagination aside.

I listened intently, mainly because I could see that George would brighten up to find such an attentive pupil in the boat.  I was grinning inside real big to watch George with such a satisfied look.  I suppose inside as George was explaining the world of water temperature and bacteria growth, I was thinking, “I wonder if George used to be a Sergeant in the Army.”  “Does he teach his own children the same way he does me?”.  “I wonder what George did before he came here.  Was he a chemist somewhere else?”

At the beginning of this year I began writing this Power plant Man Blog because I felt a great need to capture on paper (well.  Virtual paper anyway), some stories about the people I was blessed to work with at the Power Plant.  Sonny Karcher, who I considered a good friend had died a couple of months earlier.  I needed to write about these men, because if I didn’t, I feared these stories would be lost to the world.  These are too great of men to just fade away into history without something being left behind to record at least some memorable events in their lives.  16 days after I wrote my first post this year (on January 18, 2012), George Dunagan died in the Ponca City Medical Center.

One thing I was not surprised to learn about George was that he used to be a teacher.  He had a Master Degree in Education and had taught at the Chilocco Indian School for 11 years before going to work at the power plant.  This explained why he seemed to go into the “Teacher” mode when he was explaining something.

I also learned that he was in the U.S. Navy where he enlisted in 1954.  This didn’t surprise me either.  As I mentioned above, George reminded me of the Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle, and not in the humorous way, but in the way he carried himself like someone in the military.  George Dunagan reached the rank of Master Sergeant in the Army Reserves where he retired in 1994, two years after retiring from the Power Plant life.

The movie Godfather II seemed to be about how one man struggled to build a secure home for his family and fellow countrymen through any means necessary, and about how his son destroyed his own family to the point where he was left completely alone with his family destroyed at the end.

Power Plant Men had their own struggles at home.  They were not immune to family strife any more than anyone else.  The nature of their work gave them a great sense of dignity.  This sense of dignity helps relieve some stress in the family unit.  To realize every day that the work that you perform directly impacts the lives of everyone that receives the electricity being produced at the Power Plant.

When something goes wrong and a base unit trips suddenly, the lights flicker in every school room, every store and every house of 2 million people reminding us that this fragile system is so stable because of the due diligence of True Power Plant Men with the sense to care as much as George Dunagan a True Power Plant Chemist.

Lifecycle of a Power Plant Lump of Coal

Fifty Percent of our electricity is derived from coal.  Did you ever wonder what has to take place for that to happen?  I thought I would walk through the lifecycle of a piece of coal  to give you an idea.  I will not start back when the it was still a tree in a prehistoric world where dinosaurs grew long necks to reach the branches.  I will begin when the large scoop shovel digs it out of the ground and loads it onto a coal truck.

The coal is loaded onto trucks like these before it is dumped onto the train cars.  This photo was found at http://www.gillettechamber.com/events/eventdetail.aspx?EventID=2827

The coal is loaded onto trucks like these before it is dumped onto the train cars. This photo was found at http://www.gillettechamber.com/events/eventdetail.aspx?EventID=2827

The coal for the power plant in North Central Oklahoma came from Wyoming.  There were trains from the Black Thunder Mine and the Powder River Basin.

Coal Trains on their way to power plants

Coal Trains on their way to power plants

It’s a long ride for the lump of coal sitting in the coal train on it’s way to Oklahoma.  Through Nebraska and Kansas.  It’s possible for the coal to be visited by a different kind of traveler.  One that we may call “A tramp.”  Someone that catches a ride on a train without paying for the ticket.

One time a tramp (or a hobo, I don’t remember which), caught a ride on one of our coal trains.  They forgot to wake up in time, and found their self following the lumps of coal on their next phase of the journey.  You see.  Once the coal reached the plant, one car at a time enters a building called the “Rotary Dumper”.

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

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

As each train car enters the dumper four clamps come done on the car and it rolls upside down dumping the coal into a bin below.  Imagine being a tramp waking up just in time to find yourself falling into a bin full of coal. with a car full of coal dumping coal on top of you.  One coal car contained 102 tons of coal (today they carry 130 tons).  Today one train contains 13,300 tons of coal.  This is over 26 million pounds of coal per train.

Miraculously, this passenger survived the fall and was able to call for help or someone saw them fall.  He was quickly rescued and brought to safety.  Needless to say, the tramp went from being penniless to being, “comfortable” very quickly.  I don’t know that it made the news at the time.  I think the electric company didn’t want it to become “viral” that they had dumped a hobo into a coal bin by accident.  Well.  They didn’t know what “going viral” meant at the time, but I’m sure they had some other phrase for it then.

Ok.  Time for a Side Story:

Since I’m on the subject of someone catching a clandestine ride on a train, this is as good of a place as any to sneak in the tragic story of Mark Meeks.  Well.  I say it was tragic.  When Mark told the story, he seemed rather proud of his experience.  You see.  Mark was a construction electrician.  He hired on as a plant electrician in order to settle down, but in his heart I felt like he was always a construction electrician.  That is, he didn’t mind moving on from place to place.  Doing a job and then moving on.

Mark explained that when he was working at a construction job in Chicago where he worked for 2 years earning a ton of overtime, he figured that by the time he finished he would have saved up enough to buy a house and settle down.  He was married and living in an apartment in Chicago.  He didn’t spend much time at home as he was working 12 hour days at least 6 days each week.  He figured that was ok, because when he was done, he would be set for life.

Unknown to him at the time, each morning when he woke up before the crack of dawn to go to work, his wife would drive to O’Hara airport and catch a plane to Dallas, Texas where she was having an affair with some guy.  By the time Mark returned from work 14 hours later, she was back home.  Each day, Mark was earning a ton of overtime, and his wife was burning it on airline tickets.

When the two years were over, Mark came home to his apartment to collect his wife and his things and go live in peace in some small town some where.  That was when he learned that his wife had been having the affair and using all his money to do it.  She was leaving him.  Penniless.

Completely broke, Mark drifted around for a while.  Finally one day he saw a train that was loaded down with wooden electric poles.  Mark figured that wherever those poles were going, there was going to be work.  So, he hopped on the train and traveled all the way from Minneapolis Minnesota riding in the cold, wedged between some wooden poles on one of the cars on the train.

The train finally arrived at its destination somewhere at a port in the Gulf of Mexico.  I don’t remember if it was Mississippi or Louisiana.  He watched as they unloaded the poles, waiting to see what jobs were going to be needed for whatever the poles were for.  He watched as they took the large wooden poles and piled them up in the ocean.  They were using them to build up the shoreline.  There were no jobs.

It is when you have been beaten down to the point of breaking when you reach a very important point in your life.  Do you give up, or do you pick yourself up and make something of yourself?  Mark chose the latter.  He was a natural fighter.  He eventually ended up at our plant as contract help, and then was hired as a plant electrician.

End of side story.

Let’s follow the lump of coal after it is poured out of the coal train in the dumper…

The coal is fed onto a conveyor belt.  Let’s call this Conveyor 1, (because that is what we called it in the plant).  This has a choice to feed it onto belt 2 which leads up to the stack out tower, or it can feed the other way to where some day it was planned to add another conveyor with another stackout tower.  This was going to go to a pile of coal for two other units that were never built.

Anyway, when the coal drops down on Conveyor 2, way under ground, it travels up to the ground level, and continues on its way up to the top of the stackout tower where it feeds onto Belt 3.  Belt 3 is a short belt that is on an arm that swings out over the coal pile.  The coal is fed onto the coal pile close to the stack out tower.  I suppose it is called stack out, because the coal is stacked up next to the tower.

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

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack. The tower with the conveyor running up to the top is the stack out tower. Belt 3 is the arm pointing to the right in this picture

Anyway, there are large dozers (bulldozers) and dirt movers that pickup the coal and spread it out to make room for more coal from more coal trains.  As mentioned above.  One train now carries 26 million pounds of coal.

Dirt Mover full of coal

Dirt Mover full of coal

the  coal that is spread out on the coal pile has to stay packed down otherwise it would spontaneously combust.  That is, it would catch on fire all by itself.  Once coal on a coal pile catches on fire it is impossible to “reasonably” put out.  You can spray all the water on it you want and it won’t go out.  When a file breaks out, you just have to drag the burning coal off of the pile and let it burn out.

In order to keep the coal from performing spontaneous combustion, the dirt movers kept it packed down.  As long as the coal is packed tight, air can’t freely reach the buried coal, and it doesn’t catch fire.  So, dirt movers were constantly driving back and forth on the coal pile to keep the coal well packed.  Even on the picture of the coalyard above from the smoke stack, you can see two pieces of heavy equipment out on the coal pile traveling back and forth packing the coal.

Anyway, the next phase in the life of the lump of coal happens when it finds itself directly under the stack out tower, and it is fed down by a vibratory feeder onto a conveyor.  In our plant, these belts were called, Belts 4, 5, 6 and 7.  Belts 4 and 5 fed onto Belt 8 and belts 6 and 7 fed onto belt 9.

Belts 8 and 9 brought the coal up from under the coal pile to the top of the Crusher tower.  In the picture above you can see that tower to the right of the stack out tower with the long belts coming from the bottom of the tower toward the plant.  The crusher tower takes the large lumps of coal that can be the size of a baseball or a softball and crushes it down to the size of marbles and large gumballs.

Coal conveyor carrying coal to the coal silos from the coalyard

Coal conveyor carrying coal to the coal silos from the coalyard.  This is the size of the coal after it has been crushed by the crusher

From the crusher tower the lump of coal which is now no more than a nugget of coal travels from the coal yard up to the plant on belts 10 and 11.

conveyor 10 and 11 are almost 1/2 mile long

conveyor 10 and 11 are almost 1/2 mile long

Up at the top of this belt in the distance you can see another tower.  This tower is called the Transfer tower.  Why?  Well, because it transfers the coal to another set of belts, Belt 12 and 13.  You can see them going up to the right to that tower in the middle between the two boilers.

The tower between the two boilers is called the Surge Bin tower.  That basically means that there is a big bin there that can hold a good amount of coal to feed to either unit.  At the bottom of the white part of the tower you can see that there is a section on each side.  This is where the tripper galleries are located.  There are two belts in each tripper, and two belts that feed to each tripper belt from the surge bin.  So, just to keep counting, Belts 14 and 15 feed to unit one and belts 16 and 17 feed to unit 2 from the surge bin.  then Belts 18 and 19 are the two tripper belts that dump coal into the 6 silos on unit one, while belts 20 and 21 feed the silos on unit 2.

Once in the Coal silos, the coal is through traveling on belts.  The silos are positioned over things called bowl mills.  The coal is fed from the silo into the bowl mill through something called a Gravimetric feeder, which is able to feed a specific amount of coal into the bowl mill.  This is the point that basically decides how hot the boiler is going to be.

Once the coal leaves the gravimetric feeder and drops down to the bowl mill, it is bound for the boiler.  The gravimetric feeder is tied right to the control room.  When they need to raise load more than just a minimal amount, a control room operator increases the amount of coal being fed from these feeders in order to increase the flow of coal into the boiler…..  I don’t know… maybe it’s more automatic than that now….  The computer probably does it these days.

When the nugget of coal falls into the bowl mill the long journey from the coal mine in Wyoming is almost complete.  Its short life as a nugget is over and it is pulverized into powder.  The powder is finer than flour.  Another name for a bowl mill is “Pulverizer”.  The coal comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and just before it is consumed in Oklahoma it really does become powder.

Big rollers are used to crush the coal into fine particles.  The pulverized coal his blown up pipes by the primary air fans and blown directly into the boiler where they burst into flames.  A bright orange flame.  The color reminds me of orange sherbet Ice cream.

The color of the fireball in the boiler

The color of the fireball in the boiler

At this point an incredible thing happens to the coal that so many years ago was a part of a tree or some other plant.  The chemical process that trapped the carbon from the carbon dioxide millions of years earlier is reversed and the carbon is once again combined to the oxygen as it was many millennium ago. A burst of heat is released which had been trapped after a cooling effect below the tree as it sucked the carbon out of the environment way back then.

The heat is transferred to the boiler tubes that line the boiler.  The tubes heat the water and turn it into steam.  The steam shoots into the turbine that turns a generator that produces the electricity that enters every house in the country.  The solar power from eons ago that allowed the tree to grow is being used today to power our world.  What an amazing system.

To take this one step further, the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere today is replenishing the lost carbon dioxide from many years ago.  Back when plants could breathe freely.  Back before the carbon dioxide level was depleted almost to the point of the extinction of plant life on this planet.  Remember, what we look on as a pollutant and a poison, to a plant is a chance to grow.  The Sahara desert used to be a thriving forest.  Maybe it will be again some day.

So, there is the question of global warming.  We humans are so short sighted sometimes.  We want to keep everything the same way we found it when we were born.  We try desperately to keep animals from becoming extinct.   We don’t think about the bazillions (ok, so I exaggerate) of animals that were extinct long before man arrived.  It is natural for extinction to occur.  That is how things evolve.  We are trying to keep a system the same when it has always been changing.

Years from now we may develop ways to harness the energy from the sun or even from the universe in ways that are unimaginable today.  When that time arrives, let’s just hope that we remain good stewards of the world so that we are around to see it.  I believe that the use of fossil fuels, (as odd as that may seem) is a major step in reviving our planet’s natural resources.

Luxuries and Amenities of a Power Plant Labor Crew — Repost

Originally Posted on August 11, 2012:

When I was a janitor at the Power Plant there were times when we were christened by being allowed to work with the Labor Crew on jobs that needed to be done in a hurry.  Larry Riley was the foreman of the Labor Crew.  I had worked with Larry Riley during the summers when I was a summer help, and I always held him in high esteem.  I think he knew that, and he said he was glad to have me working for him whenever they were in a pinch to complete a job in a hurry.  I have described Larry as reminding me of the Marlboro Man, as he had a moustache that looked like his.

Yep. That’s the Marlboro Man

The wonderful thing about working in a Power Plant is that when you drive through the gate in the morning, you never know what you might be doing that day.   Even after 20 years at the plant, I was still amazed by the diversity of jobs a person could do there.  Anyone who spent those 20 years actually working instead of doing a desk job, would know a lot about all kinds of equipment and instruments, and temperatures.

When I was young I was able to go to Minnesota to visit my cousins in a place called “Phelp’s Mill”.  Named after an old mill along a river that was a “self service” museum.  Across the road and on the hill loomed a big foreboding house where my cousins lived during the summers.  We would play hide-and-seek in that mill, which was mainly made out of wood.  It was 4 stories high if you include the basement and had a lot of places to hide.

Phelps Mill, MN where we played as a boy.  You can see the house on the hill in the background

This is a picture of the inside of Phelps Mill by Shawn Turner: http://www.flickr.com/photos/32364049@N04/7174048516/

When I began working in the Power Plant, I realized one day that this was like that old mill only on a much bigger scale.  You could spend half of a live time wandering around that plant before you actually knew where everything was.  So, each day brought something new.  My first years as a summer help, most of the “emergencies” that I would take part in had to do with cleaning up coal.  When I was able to work with the Labor Crew, things became a lot more interesting.

One day in the spring of 1983 when I arrived at work ready to mop the floor and sweep and dust the Turbine Generators, I was told that I needed to get with Chuck Ross an A foreman over the Labor Crew at the time, because I was going to work with the Labor Crew that day.  I was told to bring my respirator… Which usually had meant it was time to shovel coal.  This day was different.

Chuck brought me to the Tool room and asked Bif Johnson to give me a new Rubber Mallet.

New Rubber Mallet just like this

I went with the labor crew up on #1 Boiler just above the Air Preheater Baskets that I didn’t know existed at the time…  The Boiler had been shutdown over night because there was a problem with the airflow through the boiler and we had to go in the duct and clean the Slag Screen.

“Slag Screen,” I thought… That sounds like a fancy word for something that was  probably just some kind of filter or something….  I knew that Power Plant Engineers liked to give fancy words to make the Plant sound more like a Palace.  As I mentioned before… there are places like:  The Tripper Gallery.  Hopper Nozzle Booster Pump. Generator Bathtub.  The Gravimetric Feeder Deck — I liked that one, it sounded like you were on a ship.  Travelling Water Screens.  There were long names for some, like “Force Draft Fan Inboard Bearing Lube Oil Pump” (try saying that with a lisp).  Anyway, I could go on and on.

Larry Riley explained to us that we needed to work as fast as we could to clean the slag screen because they wanted to bring this unit back on in the evening.  We couldn’t wait for the unit to cool down much, so we were only allowed to go in the hot air duct for 10 minutes at a time.

So, in I went.  The first thing I noticed as I stuck my head in the door was that there wasn’t any immediate place to stand.  There was only a hole below me that went down into the darkness.  So I looked around for something to grab onto to pull myself in.  Once my body was in the door I was able to walk along a beam next to this big screen.  It looked similar to a screen on a window at home only the wires were about 1/2 inch apart.  Something like this:

A picture of a similar slag screen

Oh, and there was one more thing that I noticed…. It was incredibly HOT.  I was wearing leather gloves so I could grab onto the structure to hold myself up, but if I leaned against the screen with my arm, it would burn it.  I was just wearing a t-shirt.  I don’t know the exact temperature, but I have worked in similar heat at other times, and I would say that it was around 150 degrees.  I was not wearing my  hard hat because there was a strong wind blowing to try and cool the boiler down.

The problem is that we were on the tail end of the air flowing out of the boiler, and it was carrying all that heat right onto us.  At 160 degrees your hard hat will become soft so that you can squish it like a ball cap.  I was wearing Goggles as well, and that helped keep my eyes from drying out since everything else went dry the moment I stuck my head in there.

Anyway, I threw my lanyard around a pipe that ran diagonal across my path, and held onto it with one hand while with my other hand I began pounding on the screen with the rubber mallet.  I had to breathe very shallow because the air was so hot.  It gave the air time to cool off a bit before it went down into my throat.

This was a new adventure for me.  There are some Brave Power Plant Men that work on the “Bowl Mill” crew that have worked in these conditions for weeks at a time.  I suppose you grow used to it after a while.  Kind of like when you eat something with Habenero Sauce.  The first time it just very painful.  Then a few weeks later, you’re piling it on your tortilla chips.

After my first 10 minutes were over, someone at the door, (which was hard to see) hollered for me, so I made my way back to the door and emerged into the cool air of the morning.  I noticed that Larry Riley gave me a slightly worried look and I wondered what it meant.  I realized what it was moments later when I went to remove the respirator off of my face.  I only had one filter cartridge in the respirator.

Half-face respirator

The other one was missing.  I thought that was silly of me to go in there with only one filter.  No wonder it seemed like I was breathing a lot of dust.  Then I thought…. No.  I know I had both filters when I went in the duct.  I must have lost one while I was in there.  Maybe with all that banging I knocked it off.

Anyway, 10 minutes later it was time for me to go back in there, and this time I made sure my filters were securely screwed onto the respirator.  I worried in the back of my mind that I may have ruined my lungs for life by breathing all that silicon based fly ash because I was feeling a little out of breathe (for the next 10 years).

Anyway, halfway through my 10 minutes in the duct I reached up with my hand to make sure my filters were still tightly screwed in place, and to my astonishment, they weren’t tight.  I couldn’t screw them tight.  The respirator itself had become soft in the heat and the plastic was no longer stiff enough to keep the filter tight.  It made sense then why I had lost my filter the first time.  It must have fallen down into the abyss of darkness that was right behind me while I was banging on that slag screen.

After working on the screen for an hour or so, we took a break.  When we returned the temperature in the boiler had dropped considerably, and I was able to stay in the duct the rest of the day without having to climb in and out all the time.

Larry had an air powered needle gun brought up there and someone used that for a while cleaning the screen.  It is what it sounds like.  It has rods sticking out the end of a gun looking tool that vibrate wildly when you pull the trigger.  I don’t know what the real name is for it, but it cleaned slag screens a lot faster than my beating the screen with the rubber mallet all day.

Needle Gun

I did beat that screen all day.  When it was time to leave I brought the mallet back to the tool room, and it looked like this:

Rubber Mallet after banging on a slag screen all day

I had worn the rubber off of the  mallet.  When I brought the mallet back to the tool room, Bif said, “What is this?”  I said I was just returning the mallet that I had borrowed that morning.  He said something about how I must be some kind of a he-man or crazy.   I was too worried about my lungs to think about how much my wrists were aching from taking that pounding all day.

A couple of months later I was promoted to the Labor Crew.  Chuck Ross had kept saying that he couldn’t wait for me to go to the Labor Crew because he wanted me to work for him.  The very day that I started on the Labor Crew, the plant had a going-away party for Chuck Ross.  He was leaving our plant to go work at another one in Muskogee.

During the party Chuck presented me with the rubber mallet that I had used that day cleaning the slag screen.  He said he had never seen anything like that before.  He was sorry he was going to leave without having the opportunity to have me working for him.  I felt the same way about Chuck.  I have always kept that rubber mallet laying around the house since 1983 when I received it.  My wife sometimes picks it up when she is cleaning somewhere and says, “Do you still want this?” With a hopeful look, like someday I may say that it is all right if she throws it away.

Of course I want to keep it.  It reminds me of the days when I was able to work with True Power Plant Men in their natural environment.  The slag screen was later deemed unnecessary and was removed from the boiler.

It also reminds me of other things.  Like how quickly something can happen that changes your life forever.

Questions from that day have always remained with me.

How much ash did I breathe in?  I couldn’t see much more than a few feet in front of me as I banged on that screen knocking ash down all over me.  What did it do to my lungs?

What if I had taken a step back or slipped off of that beam before I had walked to the other end to secure my safety lanyard?  I know now what was below me then.  I would have fallen about 20 feet down to some fins, and then down another 20 feet onto the air preheater baskets.  It would have taken a while to retrieve me, once someone figured out that I was missing.

What does that much heat do to your body… or your brain?

I know these are things that go through the minds of True Power Plant Men.  I worked with them for years improving the safety of the power plant.  All-in-all, no one ever died when I was there, though some came close.  The Slogan over the Shift Supervisor’s Office said, “Safety is job #1”.  That wasn’t there to try to convince us that Safety was important.  It was there as a testimony to everyone who had already made that decision.

What do Power Plant Men in North Central Oklahoma Do For Recreation

I first ran across Power Plant Men totally by accident the summer of 1979 when I was 18 and I went to work as a summer help at a Power Plant in Oklahoma.  I walked into the plant, and there they were.  All standing there looking at me as if I was the new kid on the block.  Which, of course, I was.

I had very little in common with this group of men.  It was interesting enough to watch them at work, but it was equally as interesting to observe them after hours.  I didn’t spend a lot of time with them myself.  I often just listened to their stories of adventure on Monday Mornings.  I think that was why the Monday Morning Safety Meeting was invented.

Like I said.  I had little in common with these He-men.  The only thing I could relate to was around Fishing.  I had been fishing my entire childhood with my Father.  Most everything else they did was foreign to me.  Though, the first summer it seemed like the only things to do was to go fishing and to go over to the Peach Orchard by Marland, Oklahoma and pick peaches.  Well, that, and go to Men’s Club dinners.

Like I’ve said twice now, I had little in common with this sunflower eatin’ bunch of men.  I had just finished my first year as a college student and the only thing I knew to do during my free time was to play Dungeons and Dragons or Pinball.  Actually, I was quite a pinball wizard and could usually spend all day on one quarter.  This didn’t seem to impress the likes of this bunch, so I kept my Pinball Prowess to myself.

The Evil Knievel Pinball machine was one of the many I had mastered.  By the way, why isn't his last name pronounced: "Nee-vel"?  Just wondering.

The Evel Knievel Pinball machine was one of the many I had mastered. By the way, why isn’t his last name pronounced: “Nee-vel”? Just wondering.

As I learned more about the Power Plant Men, I found out that they were a diverse group of men that had many different recreational activities.  I have mentioned before that the evil plant Manager Eldon Waugh was a beekeeper, and so was my good friend Sonny Karcher.  Even though Sonny spent a good portion of his time away from the plant doing some sort of farming, he enjoyed raising bees.

I mentioned in a previous post “Imitations and Innovations of Sonny Karcher” that Sonny liked to choose one thing about someone else and then take on that characteristic or possess a particular item that they had.  So, I figured Sonny had become a beekeeper because he had a friend that did the same thing.  I never thought that it was Eldon Waugh, since Sonny usually only chose something from someone he admired and Eldon made it a full time effort to make sure no one really liked him.

Beehives like this only lined up on a trailer

Power Plant Beehives

While I was a summer help I learned a few of the activities that Power Plant Men liked to do.  For instance, I knew that Stanley Elmore liked to spend the weekend either making his yard look like something you would find in a Home and Garden magazine, or he liked cleaning his car and waxing his engine so that you could cook an egg right on it and not have to worry about any grit or grime between your teeth.

It goes without saying that the Power Plant Men that had families spent most of their free time with them.  Those that didn’t have a family spent a lot of their time trying to avoid going down that path.  So, they chose activities that would take them into the wilderness somewhere or maybe a river or two.

I heard very little talk of disgruntled husbands from the true Power Plant Men.  The only story I can remember off the top of my head about a husband that was upset with his wife was Marlin McDaniel.  He told us one Monday morning that he had to take his wife over his knee on Saturday.  He explained it like this.  “I was so mad at her that I grabbed her and laid her across my knees.  I pulled up her skirt to spank her.  I looked down to make sure I was aiming in the right direction… Then I paused for a moment… and I suddenly couldn’t remember why I what I was mad about.”

You know… It is funny because I had always thought that Marlin McDaniel looked like Spanky, and in the story he told about his wife, he was going to spank her.  What are the odds of that?

Marlin McDaniel always reminded me of Spanky from Little Rascals

Marlin McDaniel always reminded me of Spanky from Little Rascals

It wasn’t until I entered the Electric Shop as an electrician in 1983 that I learned more about the recreational activities of Power Plant Men.  I mean.  I knew that Gene Day liked to drive around campus on weekends in his black pickup truck with the flames on it to impress the college girls, even if he was 50 years older than them.  But besides that, I mean…..

Gene Day's truck was similar to this only different, with a different pattern of flames and a newer type of truck

Gene Day’s truck was similar to this only different, with a different pattern of flames and it wasn’t a low rider

Outside the welding shop on the lawn was a piece of art made from metal rods that had been created by the welders to resemble a cow with horns.  It was used to practice lassoing.  There was a certain group of Power Plant Men that took part in rodeos.  Some riding on broncos, some lassoing cows and tying them up in knots.  If I remember correctly, Andy Tubbs, one of the most intelligent electricians, was a rodeo clown.  If you haven’t been to a rodeo, then you  might not realize what a Rodeo Clown does.

A couple of Rodeo Clowns

A couple of Rodeo Clowns

Sure they stand around in bright colored clothes.  These two guys aren’t just there for laughs.  Here is a rodeo clown at work.

Rodeo Clown at Work

Rodeo Clown at Work

You see.  When a contestant is riding a bull and they fall off, in order to keep the bull from turning around and goring the poor guy to death, a rodeo clown jumps into action and distracts the bull while the contestant is quickly spirited away to safety.

A Rodeo Clown Hard at Work

A Rodeo Clown Hard at Work

Jerry Mitchell had told me when I was still a summer help that you could tell who liked to participate in rodeos.  They were usually missing one or more fingers.  One of the rodeo hands explained it to me like this.  When you lasso the cow, you quickly wrap the rope around the saddle horn.  Just as you are doing that, the cow hits the end of the rope and goes flying back.  This means that if you don’t get your fingers out of the way when you are wrapping the rope around the saddle horn, the rope will snap it right off.

January 1997 a new Instrument and Controls person came to work at the plant.  Brent Kautzman was a rodeo person.  We were sitting in a Confined Space Rescue team meeting once and Randy Dailey was espousing the dangers of roping cows in a rodeo when Brent said that he had his thumb cut off in a rodeo once.  At first we looked at him as if he was just pulling our leg.  He had all of his fingers.

Someone asked if they sewed his thumb back on.  He said they weren’t able to do  that.  Instead they took one of his big toes and sewed it on his hand where his thumb had been.  We were surprised when he showed us his thumb and sure enough.  There was a big toe in place of his thumb.

Brent said that if he knew at the time how important a big toe is, he never would have done it.  He said that he was young at the time, and he wanted to continue participating in rodeos, so he had them cut off his big toe and sew it on his hand.  Anyway.  Later, Brent returned to where he had come from, Richardton, North Dakota.  He was a great guy, and a hard worker, but like myself, he wasn’t a True Power Plant Man.

The biggest source of recreation for Power Plant Men was Hunting.  I would hear stories about how the hunters would send in their name for a drawing to be able to take part in the annual Elk Hunt in Montana.  It was a lottery and they only picked so many people.  So, the hunters would wait patiently each year to see if they were going to be able to make a trip to Montana.

Corporate Headquarters and the Evil Plant Manager wanted to make sure that not too many took off for Christmas because they wanted to ensure that enough people stayed in town in case there was an emergency at the plant and they needed to call everyone out.  Christmas wasn’t really the problem at the plant as was “Hunting Season”.

There were two parts to deer hunting.  The first few weeks it was bow season.  You could go hunting for dear with a bow and arrows.  Later you could hunt with a rifle.  This was serious business in North Central Oklahoma.  The Deer Hunters would prepare for this season all summer long.  They would build their tree stands, and they would put out deer feeders to fatten up the deer.

A Deer and a raccoon fighting over who gets first dibs on the deer feeder.  My money is on the raccoon.

A Deer and a raccoon fighting over who gets first dibs on the deer feeder. My money is on the raccoon.

People would become pretty sparse around when deer hunting season opened.  At least or a few days.  You could usually only kill one or two deer and that was your limit.  Each year the number was decided by the population of deer.

If there were too many deer running around then the deer hunters could kill more.  The whole idea of Deer Hunting from a Wildlife perspective was for population control.  When there were too many deer, they would start passing around diseases and then all end up dying off anyway.  So, this was a way of controlling the population.

A few times I was invited to join the Power Plant Men in their recreation.  It was always a learning experience for both of us.

I was invited to Charles Foster’s house one summer to make pickles.  We picked the cucumbers from Charles garden.  Charles’ garden was the pride of Pawnee.  I spent some time with his family that day, cleaning and boiling the cucumbers in vinegar in the pickle jars with the dill we had picked from his garden.  I think often of the day I spent with Charles in his garden picking the cucumbers and in his house that evening.

I was also invited once to go to the Resort just outside of Pawnee known as “Pawnee Lake”.  Diana Brien and Gary Wehunt and their spouses were camping out there and they invited me to join them the following morning.  I showed up in the morning where we cooked breakfast, then they taught me the art of flying across the lake on a jet ski.

Pawnee Lake Oklahoma. Photo taken by John Brumfield

Pawnee Lake Oklahoma. Photo taken by John Brumfield

To me, this was sheer madness, but I bucked up and did it anyway.  If I was going to die, doing it on a jet ski was as good of a place as any.

Then they invited me to play horseshoes.  Well.  I kindly declined saying that they didn’t really want me to play horseshoes.  They said that they needed two teams of two, and they would really appreciate it if I joined them.  So, I succumbed.

My first throw was very impressive as it bumped right up against the stake.  I knew that this was just beginner’s luck,  I really wasn’t a beginner.  I had played a lot of horseshoes as a kid.  Only, I had lost any sort of self-control when it came to letting lose of the horseshoe.  I think it was my third throw that did it.  The horseshoe literally ended up behind me.  I think I almost hit Tek’s pickup. (Tek was Dee’s husband’s nickname or was it Tex?).  When I let go of the horseshoe and it went flying through the air, everyone scattered.

There was an interesting character that came by when we were at the Pawnee Lake.  His name was Trail Boss.  He was a larger sociable person.  Someone that you would think would come from a town called Pawnee, Oklahoma.  There was another guy that was there that scattered when Trail Boss showed up.  So, I made a comment to the Boss that he seemed to have quite an influence on people.  I figured that was why they called him Trail Boss.

This isn't Trail Boss, but you get the idea.  This guy is wearing a Trail Boss Hat

This isn’t Trail Boss, but you get the idea. This guy is wearing a Trail Boss Hat

Anyway.  There were a lot of other things that the Power Plant Men did for recreation.  I could go on and on.  Maybe some of the Power plant that read this blog will post some of them in the comments.  I purposely didn’t mention anything about “Noodling” (except for just now).  I think I’ll do that in another post some time later.

Though I was like a fish out of water when I was with the Power Plant Men enjoying their time off, I was always treated as if I belonged.  No one made fun of me even when they were scattering to dodge a rogue horseshoe.  When I went fishing with them as a new summer help when I was 18 years old, I was never shunned and no one ever looked down on me.  I have to give them this:  True Power Plant are patient people.  They put up with me for 20 years.  I can’t ask for more than that.

“I Think I Can, I Think I Can” and Other Power Plant Chants — Repost

Originally Posted on August 3, 2012:

The second summer as Summer Help at the Coal-fired Power Plant, was when I first worked out of the Automotive garage.  It wasn’t finished during the first summer.  The second summer when I began working in the garage, Jim Heflin, Larry Riley, Doug House  and Ken Conrad were the regular workers that mowed the fields using tractors with brush hogs, as I have explained in previous posts.  A summer help that also worked with us from Ponca City named David Foster was also able to mow grass using one of the new Ford tractors that we painted Orange to easily identify them as belonging to the Electric Company in Oklahoma.

I learned to drive the tractors later in the summer when I worked irrigating the fields in our attempt to grow grass (as told in the post “When a Power Plant Man Talks, It Pays To Listen“).  The next summer I was able to mow grass using a Brush Hog pulled behind a tractor:

brushhog

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

It didn’t take long before I had to mow grass on the side of the dam (and other levies).  The side of the dam has a very sharp incline, so while mowing grass on the side of the dam you sat more on the side of the tractor seat than on the seat itself.  Heavy weights were put on the front of the tractor and the back tires on the tractor were turned around so that they were farther apart than they would be otherwise.  This gave the tractor a lower, wider profile and a lower center of gravity helping to keep it from rolling over sideways down the slope.

Tractor Weights that fit on the front of the tractor

I had watched Jim, Larry, Ken and David mow grass along some very steep inclines the summer before without any tractors tumbling over, so I felt like it must be safe, even though looking at the tractors they still seemed a little “top heavy”.

The dam had a slope this steep but  much was taller

It was quite an eerie feeling the first time I actually mowed a slope this steep.  I experienced the same feeling as you have on a roller coaster when it hits the top of the hill and flings you down real fast when the tractor tire on the downhill side of the tractor rolls into a washed out spot on the dam causing the tractor to roll over just a little farther than you are used to.  It was definitely an adrenaline rush each time this happened, because it felt like the tractor was going to roll over.

That is when I remembered the story about the little engine that was trying to pull the train over the steep mountain, and he kept chanting, “I think I can, I think I can” over and over.  So, between each decade of the Rosary that I was saying while counting Hail Mary’s on my fingers, I added in an “I Think I can…” as an added prayer before the next “Our Father”.

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

In the time that I worked as a summer help we never turned over a tractor while mowing on a slope.  That isn’t to say that the tractors didn’t start to tip over.  It’s just that if you realize that the large back tractor tire has left the ground and is spinning freely, you could quickly turn the steering wheel downhill so that the tractor would turn downhill preventing it from rolling completely over.  The weight of the brush hog on the back helped to keep the tractor snug against the sloping dam.

Years later, after I left the Power Plant, in 2006, my father’s best friend, Tom Houghton, a Veterinarian in Lakeland, Florida was killed in a tractor accident at his family’s farm in Polo, Missouri.  This greatly effected my father.  He has not recovered from the loss of his friend still today.  As I was mowing grass and picturing my sudden demise if a tractor were to roll down the hill, my main concern was the sorrow my family would have felt by my death.  Needless to say… I never toppled a tractor.

It was during that same summer in 1981 that I first worked with the Power Plant Icon Walt Oswalt.  Every plant must have at least one person like Walt.  He is the type of person that once he has something in his mind about how to do something, nothing is going to change it.  I know many different stories about Walt Oswalt that have been shared with me, but this is one of my own.  Walt is a sandy-haired Irish-looking man that always reminded me of the little old man, Jackie Wright, on the Benny Hill Show.

Walt reminded me of Jackie Wright only with more hair

One Saturday while I had caught a ride to the Power Plant to do “coal cleanup” the crew was asked who would like to wash down belts 10 and 11.  These are the 1/2 mile long belts that go from the coalyard all the way up to the plant.  You can see them on the left side of the picture of the plant on the side of this post.  Finding the opportunity for a challenge, I volunteered.

I made my way up to the top of the Transfer tower where I found Walt Oswalt.  He was working out of the coalyard at the time and was helping us wash down 10 and 11 belt.  Wearing rainsuits and rubber boots we began at the top and worked our way down.  It didn’t look like this belt had been washed down for a while.  We could blast the tin enclosure with the high pressure hoses we were using to completely wash off all the coal dust that had built up over time.  This looked like it was going to be a fun job.

Then Walt pointed out to me that most of our work was under the belt where the coal had built up almost solid up to the belt itself so that the coal was rubbing on the rubber Uniroyal conveyor belt.  Remember, if the conveyor belt goes up, it has to go back down also.  So underneath the conveyor is where the belt returns.  it is a big loop.

Directly underneath this conveyor is the return for the belt

So, Walt Oswalt and I spent the rest of the day laying on the grating so we could see under the belts washing the coal down the slope of belt 10 and 11.  Under the conveyor is another set of rollers that the rubber conveyor belt rides on it’s return trip to the Crusher Tower.  During this time there were two chants that came to my mind…. One was, “Whistle While you Work”, since we seemed to be in some kind of coal mine working away like the Seven Dwarfs (you know…  Walt Disney… Walt Oswalt).  The other one was the song, “Workin’ In a Coal Mine” (…goin’ down down).

Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mining

At one particular spot the coal had built up and packed itself in there so much that one of the rollers wasn’t able to turn and the belt was just rubbing on the roller.  After we had washed the coal away we could see that the roller was not able to turn still because the belt had worn it flat on one side.

Walt called the Control Room to shutdown the belt so that we could look at it.  We could see that the roller was bad.  For some reason the other belt (11) was out of commission so without this belt running, no coal was being sent up to the plant.  The coal silos and the surge bin hold enough coal for a while but not for too long during the summer when the units need to run at their maximum rate to supply the electricity needed by the customers.  We could have the belt shutdown for a while, but not for too long.

I followed Walt down the belt to the Crusher Tower wondering what he had in mind.  He didn’t tell me what we were going to do, so I just gathered my clues by watching what he did.  When we came out of the belt and left the Crusher I was surprised that it was already dark outside.  When I had left the Maintenance Shop it had been morning.  Now it was dark.  We had spent the entire day (12 hours at this point) in Belt 10 and 11.  I didn’t remember ever taking a break or eating lunch.  Just holding the high pressure water hose, directing the stream down under the belt… all day.

We walked over to a new building that was still being built called the Coalyard Maintenance Building.  This was the new building that was going to be used by the new Labor Crew in a few months. Outside the building to one side was a Conex Box, as I have described before.  This is the kind of large box that you see on the CSX train commercials that are being transported by trains.

A Conex Box

We used them to store equipment used for specific jobs or crews.  In this case, the Conex box had conveyor equipment in it.  Walt found a long straight roller that is used under the Number 10 and 11 belts and tied it to a 2 wheel dolly.  We rolled it back to the Crusher Tower and began the long trek back up the belt.  I was pulling the dolly and Walt was carrying some large wrenches.

When we arrived at the spot where the roller had been worn, Walt called the control room to let them know we were beginning to work.  We pulled the safety cords on the side of the conveyor to ensure that the belt would not start, even though we were assured that a Clearance had been placed on the breaker in the Main Switchgear (where I began my first war with the spiders a year later.  See the previous post “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement“).

Walt climbed over the belt and I stayed on the main walkway.   We worked upside down for a while unbolting the roller.  At one point we decided we needed some more suitable tools and headed back down the belt to the Coalyard Garage where the heavy equipment is serviced and brought back some large ratchet wrenches and sockets with an extension.

Socket Wrench with extension

I think the chant, “I think I can, I think I can” was running through my head on our second trip back up the conveyor belt.  I think it was around 10pm.  We finished changing the roller and decided to leave the old one laying in the walkway for the night.  Walt said he would bring it back to the coalyard on Monday morning.

We made our way back to the Maintenance shop where I took off the rain suit and rubber boots that I had been wearing all day and put my regular boots back on.  I went up to the control room and asked if anyone could give me a ride to Stillwater since the evening shift of operators were just getting off at 11pm. I believe it was Charles Buchanan that gave me a ride home that night in his little beat up pickup truck.

I never worked directly with Charles Buchanan since he was an operator.  The first impression that one may have is that he looks like a caricature of a construction worker in a comic strip.

First Impression of Charles Buchanan

Charles reaffirmed my belief that Power Plant Men are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  There were a few times when I caught a ride with Charles to or from the plant.  Each time I felt honored to ride in his truck.  If I think about what chant was running through my mind as we were on our way home at night, I think it would be something like the song “You’ve Got a Friend”: “Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend….”

That is what all real Power Plant men and linemen are like.  Wherever you look in the United States, these great men and women work tirelessly to keep you safe by providing electricity to your homes.  Something we take for granted until the power goes out.

Recently when the power went out in the east, the linemen from this electric company drove with pride, eager to help those in need:

A convoy of Electric Company Trucks on their way from Oklahoma to Indiana to help return power to millions of Americans in the dark

Below I have included the lyrics for the song “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King and her husband James Taylor.  See how well it fits those people that work around the clock bringing the power to your home:

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend? People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you. Well, they’ll take your soul if you let them,
oh yeah, but don’t you let them.

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend. You’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend. Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
Oh, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.

Not a Fan of French Power Plant Fan Filters

I had only been an electrician a couple of months before I heard about Power Plant Louvers. My first thought was that this was a mispronunciation of the word “Louvre”.  I remembered how Marland McDaniel would pronounce the word “Italian”.  He pronounced it “It-lee-un”.  The first time he said that I asked him what he had said, and he said, “So, You’re an It Lee Un Huh?  An It-Lee-Un from It-Lee.  Meaning “An Italian from Italy”.

So, when I heard the word Louver, I immediately said to myself “ok.  They are probably trying to say the word “Louvre” (pronounced “Loove” which rhymes with “move”).  Why shouldn’t they be trying to say the name of the most famous museum in the world.  After all.  When Sonny Karcher wanted to say there were a lot of things, he would say that there were “boo-coos” of them, When I asked him what “Boo-coos” meant he explained that it was French for “A lot”.  Then I understood that he was mispronouncing the word “Beau-coup” (pronounced: “Bo Coo”).  I suspected that everyone knew about the Louvre in Paris, France.  I had first visited the Louvre in 1974 when I was 13 with my father on our way from Rome to Liverpool which I mentioned in the post “Power Plant Snitch“.

The Louvre in Paris France.  The home of the Mona Lisa and the Venus De-Milo.

The Louvre in Paris France. The home of the Mona Lisa and the Venus De-Milo.

It didn’t surprise me that they may have named a motor after the Louvre (as we were told to go replace a Louver Motor when we were doing filters).  I half expected it.  I figured it was somewhere up in the Tripper Gallery which is where the coal feeds into the coal silos above the bowl mills.  I explained about the Tripper Gallery in the post “Power Plant Painting Lessons with Aubrey Cargill“.  I have expected to see painting lining the walls when I first entered the Tripper Gallery.

So.  I mentioned that we were supposed to replace a Louver Motor while we were “Doing Filters”.  As a new electrician (which in my head an electrician was a vision of “elitism” going about the plant fixing electric circuits and running conduit and pulling wire), I soon learned from my foreman Charles Foster that as an electrician we were responsible for anything that had a wire going to it.  That meant… well.  Just about anything, one way or another.  From water fountains, to elevators, to air filters.

Air Filters?  Really?  Not that I minded changing out air filters.  It was just the connection to being an electrician that was confusing me.  Ok.  I could understand the filters that were on motors.  Since motors were something we worked on all the time.  It was the air handling filters that I was having a trouble connecting.  Needless to say.  within a few months my expectations of what an “electrician” meant was much more down to earth.

Even though we were the “elite” group of magical maintenance men (and woman), we were also the team that was looked to for all sorts of other tasks that was too involved for the labor crew, and too vague to fit under Mechanical Maintenance, because somewhere, there was a wire attached.  God forbid if a labor crew hand was electrocuted while changing out a bank of paper air filters.  — Ok.  It’s not like me to complain… — or maybe in my old age, it is becoming more common… I’m not sure.

So.  In most houses there are two types of filters.  There is what I would call a “Paper Filter”, and there is a “Metal Filter”.  The paper filter is found in the air conditioner intake.  You probably don’t change it out as often as you should, but you know what I’m talking about.  The metal filter is probably over your stove in your oven vent. — Oh…. You didn’t think about that one?  Better go clean it then….

The Power Plant is the same.  There are both paper filters and metal filters, and things we would call “Bag Filters”. — Oh.. yes.  and coffee filters… but I’m not going to talk about Coffee filters in this post other than to say that, “yes.  We did have coffee filters also.”

Power Plant Coffee Maker Coffee Filter

Power Plant Coffee Maker Coffee Filter

Ok.  A short side story… The person that was appointed to drive the truck was responsible for making sure the coffee maker was ready to go by break time.  Only, when I was the designated truck driver I told everyone that I was not going to make the coffee.  My reason was that I don’t drink coffee, and I wouldn’t know how to make a good cup of coffee and they could be sure that if I made it, it was going to be as thick as syrup.  — The rest of the Electric shop agreed that it would not be a good idea for me to make their coffee, so either Andy or Dee made the coffee when I was on Truck Driver Duty. — End of side story.

So, when we were placed on Filter Duty… That meant that we went around the plant and changed out filters for air handlers, and we cleaned and coated the metal filters that were used on motors.  This task took about a week.  “A week?” you say?  Yep.  I don’t remember the exact numbers, though at one point in my career I had counted everyone of the them just to amuse my self… but just one air handler for the main switchgear had about 50 large paper filters and if I remember correctly had another 50 bag filters behind them.

Industrial Paper Air Handling Unit Filter

Industrial Paper Air Handling Unit Filter.  They kind of look like Modern Art I suppose

Here is the bag filters that usually were attached to the back side of the paper filters:

Industrial Air Handler Bag Filter

Industrial Air Handler Bag Filter.  Except ours weren’t pink and they weren’t on a beach.

First we had to remove the old filters that were often crawling with various kinds of flying insects that had been stuck to the filters since they flew too close and were sucked onto the filter.  Then we installed the new filters in their place on a wall made of a large metal frame designed specifically for these filters.  I think the reason they have a picture of the beach with this bag filter is because usually when you are trying to fit the bag filter into the basket you often thought that you would rather be at the beach than doing this task.

So.  In the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma, there were a set of very large motors that spun the large fans that blew air into the boiler and that blew the exhaust up the smoke stack.  Each of these motors (and we have two of each kind), had a set of large metal filters on them.  You had to remove a large panel bolted to the side of the motors to remove the filters. — The motors were almost always running when this was being done.  After all.  We can’t stop lighting Oklahoma City just because it’s time to clean the motor filters on the fans on the boilers….

The metal filters reminded me of the filters over the stove when i was a cook at Sirloin Stockade.  We would have to take them out each night and run them through the dishwasher after all the dishes had been washed after closing.  Then the dishwasher was put in a self-cleaning mode to clean out all the gunk from the filters.

Galvanized, Stainless Steel Framed Air Filter used in large motors.  This is a about 2 feet by 2 feet square.

Galvanized, Stainless Steel Framed Air Filter used in large motors. ours is a about  2-1/2 feet by 2 feet in the largest motors.

Then we had pump motors around the plant and down at the river that had smaller versions of these metal filters.  Each of these metal filters were taken to the shop where we used a high pressure washer (one that would take the paint off of your car), and we would disintegrate the bugs that were stuck to these filters using the high pressure washer until the filters were cleaned.    Then after letting them dry, we would coat them with a “filter coat” that would collect dust so that we wouldn’t have to wait too long before they were dirty again.

Well.  There were some that didn’t like using the filter coat.  Especially if they thought they might have to be cleaning the same filters themselves the next time.  This happened when we decided to split the Filter Duty up between teams once.  We decided that one team was going to be responsible for Unit 1 and the other team was going to be responsible for Unit 2, and we split up the air filters so that they were pretty evenly divided.

When we did this, an incredible thing happened.  Each time we had to clean our filters, they were really dirty.  Half the time the other team cleaned their filters they were not very dirty.  It was obvious what was happening…. someone wasn’t using the filter coat.  We all knew that it was “Ain’t My Mota” (translated “not my motor) Michael Rose.  There was nothing anyone could really do about it.  His foreman tried and tried to reform him, but there was really only one cure.

Talking about “Ain’t My Mota” Michael reminds me of one guy that was on our crew, Gary Wehunt.  It wasn’t that he cut corners.  It’s just that he always wanted to do the easiest jobs first and work his way up to the worse jobs.  I was the other way around.  I always wanted to get the tough jobs over with right away, and then cruise on down to the easier jobs.

So, when I was working with Dee (Diana Brien) cleaning motor filters, we would start with the bowl mill motors and then work our way over to the big fan motors.  Then we would end up down at the river cleaning the river pump motor filters.  When I was working with Gary, he always wanted to go straight to the river pumps.  I always had the feeling that he thought that there might be a chance that by the time the Bowl Mill motors (which were always caked with Coal Dust) he would be called off to go work on an air conditioner instead.  To each their own.

So.  What is a Louver?  I guess I forgot to mention that.  A Louver is the metal flap that opens to let the air in.  When the air handler is off, the louver closes.  Before it starts up, the Louver opens so the air can pass through the filters.  It is like a set of blinds on a window.  The Louver Motor opens and closes the Louvers:

Large Metal Louvers for an Industrial Air Handler

Large Metal Louvers for an Industrial Air Handler

Today I am not able to change out the filter for my air conditioner in my house without having a flashback to the time I spent replacing filters at the plant covered with dirt, coal dust, fly ash and bugs.  I had reminded myself often early on after I joined the electric shop as an electrician what Charles Foster had told me when i was still a janitor.

In my new job I sit in a clean office area with people sitting all around typing away on their computers or talking to one another.  But out of the corner of my ear I can hear the noise every so often up in the ceiling above the false ceiling of the air handler louvers adjusting the air flow as the climate control detects that more air is needed in another area.

My coworkers may think I’m sort of strange (for a lot of reasons, but one of them may be) because as I’m working away on the computer apparently oblivious to what is going on around me, I may suddenly break out in a big smile.  Why?  They may wonder.  Because I can hear that louver slowly changing position.  They sound like they are pneumatically controlled, but there is no mistaking the distinct low grind of the flaps as they slowly change.  So, without stopping what I’m doing, a grin may appear on my face.

Charles had come up to me when I was a janitor while I was working on the floor scrubber in the main switchgear and asked me if I would think about becoming an electrician.  He said that a lot of being an electrician was cleaning things.  He had noticed that I took a lot of pride in the way I cleaned and that he thought I would make a good electrician.

I did enjoy being a Janitor and having someone encourage me to become an electrician was all I needed to pursue the honorable trade of “Electrician”.  It didn’t take me long once I joined the shop to learn that Charles wasn’t stretching the truth when he said that a lot of what an electrician does is clean things.

I spent 18 years as an electrician at the Power Plant before moving on.  Throughout that time, my wife never knew what to expect when I came home from work.  My clothes could be just as clean as when I left in the morning, or (most likely), they would be covered with Soot or Coal Dust from the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.   One thing she could usually count on when I walked in the door was that I would have a smile on my face for having the privilege to spend a day at work with such a great group of Power Plant Heroes.