Each year at a Power Plant there are two times when the Power Plant Men are invited to a banquet. There is the Service Award Banquet and the Christmas Party. The Christmas Party was a chance to meet the spouses and children of the other Power Plant Men and Women. Unlike the Service Award Banquet where you could only bring one other person, the Christmas Party allowed you to bring your entire family. Interestingly, this became a point of conflict for those few at the top when I was a new full time power plant worker.
The first year I was able to attend the Power Plant Christmas Party was after I had become a Janitor in 1982. I had graduated from college with a degree in Psychology (which made me a much better janitor) and at the end of my fourth summer as a summer help, I was able to hire on full time to begin the rest of the 19 remaining years with the company. I received my free turkey for Thanksgiving and another one for Christmas.
The farmers that worked at the plant had baled the hay on their own time from the fields surrounding the lake and we used that money to buy the turkeys. That was, until Corporate Headquarters (or maybe it was just the evil plant manager), found out about it and decided that this money belonged to the entire company, and so, in future years, instead of making a profit, the company had to hire people to cut the grass, paying tens of thousands of dollars each year with only an expense instead of a profit to show for it… and no Turkeys. See the post: Belt Buckle Mania and Turkeys During Power Plant Man Downtime for a more complete description of this example of Corporate Efficiency gone awry.
Since I was making a total of $5.15 per hour, I was still living at home with my parents. So, when they asked me how many guests I would be bringing to the Christmas Party, I told them 2 guests and myself. On the night of the Power Plant Christmas Party I showed up at the Oklahoma State University Student Union Banquet room in Stillwater Oklahoma with my Mother and Father. As we walked into the banquet room, I noticed a strange expression on both Jack Ballard’s and Linda Dallas’s faces (The two heads of HR at the plant). It was one of surprise and yet at the same time, slightly indignant.
I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It was as if they were smiling while greeting the guests as they came in, but when looking at my parents, they both seemed as if they had just swallowed something distasteful and were trying to pretend that they hadn’t. I thought for the moment that they were just in awe of my parents. After all, my dad was an important Veterinary Professor at the University, and my mom, well… She had the slight resemblence of Queen Victoria, and probably a lot of her disposition. Though she was on her good behavior that night.
Actually, Queen Victoria’s face almost looks like Marlin McDaniels in drag. I’m sure those Power Plant men that remember Marlin can see the resemblence. If you just look at only the face. I’ll bet Marlin is related to the Queen.
The Christmas party generally had one of the Power Plant Men dressed up as Santa Claus. This was usually Glen Morgan from the Instrument and Controls department (known as the “Results” department at the time). He best fit the suit.
He would hand out gifts to the Children. I remember that every now and then when they were trying to plan the Christmas event, the topic of gifts for the children would come up. Some believed that it wasn’t really fair to give gifts to the children since not everyone had children, and some were not married at all. Usually the gifts for the children won over the dissenters. Someone would point out that Christmas was really all about the Children in the first place, and when they would take a vote, the children would receive their gifts.
I found out what Jack’s and Linda’s expressions were for the following year. I was in the electric shop when they asked how many people I would be brining to the Christmas party and I told them that I was going to bring 3 guests and myself. My girlfriend had moved from Seattle, Washington to Norman, Oklahoma to work toward a degree in Nursing at Oklahoma University. I was going to bring her along with my parents to the Christmas party that year.
A couple of days later I was asked to go up to the front office. Jack Ballard wanted to talk to me about something. When I arrived in his office, he explained to me that I was not able to bring my parents to the Christmas Party. I asked why that was and he explained that I could only bring a date or my immediate family. I told him I was still living at home and that my parents are my immediate family. He went on to explain that if they let me take my parents, then other people might want to bring their parents as well. This would open up a whole can of worms.
Yeah, well, a can of worms… no, we wouldn’t want to do that. Finally Jack said that I could bring my parents, or I could bring a date, but I couldn’t bring both. Ok. I was somewhat upset since I had already told my parents the date of the party and my dad was really looking forward to meeting with the Power Plant Men as he did the year earlier. He had a lot of fun talking with real people instead of the pretentious professors he usually met with. There wasn’t any way I was not going to bring my girlfriend. I wanted everyone to meet her. More importantly. I wanted Kelly to meet everyone I was always talking about.
There was another reason why I thought that the “front office” didn’t want my parents to go to the Christmas Party. It had to do with the relationship the Assistant Plant Manager had with my father. Bill Moler liked to keep his role at work and his role away from the plant completely separate (for good reason). I felt that this was the same reason he was disturbed when he came back from summer vacation to find me already hired as a janitor. This was only a thought and a feeling. I never had any real reason to believe this was what was behind Jack’s concern over my parents going to the Christmas party. Either way it was a Party Pooper.
So in 1983, my parents stayed home, and I went to the Christmas Party with my girlfriend Kelly. I think she was so impressed with the Power Plant People that two years later, almost to the day, we were married. We sat with Arthur Hammond and his wife and children. Arthur was a new electrician. He had become a plant electrician on the same day that I did. I will talk more about him in future posts. We had a fun time. You couldn’t really help but have a fun conversation with Arthur Hammond. Espeically if you are part Italian like myself. Arthur liked to argue. That is one reason we got along so well.
Fast forward 10 years. The Christmas Party in 1993 was held in Ponca City. My daugther Elizabeth was 3 years old. Bud Schoonover, at the age of 58, was chosen to be Santa Claus that year. Now…. Not only is Bud Schoonover the best size to fit the Santa Claus suit, but he also was so shy when the children came up to sit on his lap for him to hand the presents to them that it gave him a hidden sort of dignity that the children perceived as being very “Santa” like. My daughter was convinced that this Santa Claus was not like the Mall Santas. This was the real Santa Claus. For years Elizabeth was convinced that Bud Schoonover was the real Santa.
Because Bud was so shy, his cheeks had turned cherry red. He couldn’t do anything but smile and look with wonder at the children as they came up to him and he handed them their gifts. My daughter had picked up on the genuine look of wonder that Bud expressed as she sat on his lap looking into his eyes. Bud Schoonover really had transformed himself into the Genuine Santa Claus for that one half hour. I could confidently tell Elizabeth when she asked me on the way home if that was the real Santa Claus that I thought that he really was. Bud confided in me when he told me that he was literally scared to death the entire time.
Six months later, Bud Schoonover retired from the Power Plant during the “early retirement” stage of a downsizing. He was truly missed by everyone that knew him. I have written about Bud before, and I will write about him again. You can learn more about his personality by reading: Carpooling With Bud Schoonover
Times were changing in 1987 when the electric company in Oklahoma decided that they needed to downsize the company in order to change with the new business environment. I always seemed to think that the executives down at corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City knew that the old pioneers in charge of the Power Plants would be very difficult customers when it came to the new business model.
Like I said…. Times were changing. The digital era was being introduced to the power industry. We had already upgraded the precipitator controls to make them computerized. Other areas of the plant were going to be next. Especially the employees. Of course, none of us knew that quite yet, except Bill Rivers, who was a natural visionary, and he was gone.
Side story time:
I had always been interested in computers and programming from the time I was a sophomore in High School when I had just turned 15 years old. My friend Jesse Cheng had introduced me to one of the first programmable calculators, the HP-25.
This was the most wonderful Christmas present I had ever received. I literally felt myself fainting when I opened the present and found that I had been given a pair of cowboy boots, only to find an HP-25 calculator inside when I opened it up. Ralphie had nothing on me that day.
It was much like the Christmas Story with Ralphie. I had tried every with way to convince my parents that using a slide rule in High School was passe. All the other students in my advanced chemistry class were using calculators, and I was still stuck with my dad’s old circular slide rule. It was a pretty neat one, I’ll grant you that, but it just… well….. I could work things out on paper faster than I could use the slide rule.
I introduced my friend Jesse Cheng in the post “Why Do Power Plant Men Always Lose the Things They Love Most“. He had an HP-25 calculator and had loaned it to me to take a Chemistry test. He showed me how it used Reverse Polish Notation, which is different than a normal calculator, but more like a computer.
The calculator could be programmed with 49 steps. Because it had a stack built right into it, and the reason it used Reversed Polish Notation, we could create all sorts of games with just those 49 steps. The book that came with the calculator had a moon landing game. We made more sophisticated games, like one called Battleship.
Anyway. Because of this early exposure with actually programming something in a logical manner, I was eager to learn more about programming. During college, my calculator was often sitting on my desk in the dorm room running a long program to help me perfect a random number generator. Finally in my Junior year in college, my calculator was completely fried.
After I was married at the end of 1985, I began subscribing to a magazine called “Compute”. It had actual programs in it in Basic. I would read the programs to learn how it worked, but at that point, I didn’t own a computer, so all I could do was dream about writing programs.
It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 1987 when I went to visit my ol’ friend Jesse Cheng in Columbia, Missouri who was interning as a medical doctor that I felt a sudden need to have a computer of my own. He had built a computer using a Heath Kit and we used it to play two computer games. One was called Starflight:
The other was called F15 Strike Eagle:
When I returned home I was pretty eager to buy a computer. Up until that time, every my wife and I had gone to the mall, I always had stopped in the computer stores to look at the latest computers. I never had really considered buying one. But now, they had 20 megabyte hard drives! And you could play these terrific games like Starflight and F-15 Strike Eagle.
So, one day after we had left the mall, and my wife could see the look on my face, she finally said…. “Why don’t you go and buy one?” I asked her, “Are you sure? Because you know what is going to happen if I get a computer. I’ll be playing on it all the time.” She said, “No. I want you to go buy one.” So we turned around and went back to the mall.
That was the start of my journey into the world of computers.
End of Side Story.
As I explained in the post “Boppin’ with Bif during the Power Plant Downsizing“, the company offered an early retirement package for everyone 55 years old and older. They would give them full benefits to leave. This meant that our Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey, as well as the assistant plant manager, Bill Moler and the Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh were all going to retire some time in August 1987.
We had a retirement party for Leroy Godfrey out in the country at Diana Brien’s house. A bunch of the electricians were there including Mark Meeks, who Leroy knew at the time was the one that was going to be laid off. Mark commented about that later when he was told that he was losing his job that Leroy had sat there and smiled at him while we were at the party. Mark knew Leroy didn’t like him, but hadn’t expected to be the one to go since everyone thought it would be Gary Wehunt, since he was the newest member in the shop.
I explained in the post, “The Passing of an Old School Power Plant Man — Leroy Godfrey” what Leroy’s management style was like. It was very top-down, if you know what I mean. It was like, “Because I told you so.” No need to explain anything. That was the world of Power Plant Management up to that point.
I think Corporate Headquarters realized that this needed to change in order for the company to compete in a world where electric companies could no longer count on the Corporation Commission to guarantee a sustainable rate or even a set number of customers. The world of electric power was changing rapidly and the company needed to move on from the mentality that it could be run like a “good ol’ boys” club.
It is easier to teach young dogs new tricks than older and crankier ones. It looked to me like this was a logical choice when looking back using hindsight. I think the company was making a bold move. I don’t think they really had much of a choice if they wanted to survive.
So, we had the main retirement party at the plant where people stood up and told stories about the old guys that were retiring. Nothing much happened there except the part where Leroy Godfrey’s daughter stood up and said that we just had to work with him, while she had to live with him… see the post about Leroy above for the full story about that.
Then the following Monday. I believe it was August 17, 1987, everyone was told to meet in the main break room for a meeting with our new management. That was when we were introduced to our new plant manager, Ron Kilman.
I remember a certain part of the meeting very well. Ron said something funny. It didn’t matter exactly what he said. I don’t even remember what it was. Probably something self-deprecating. I leaned over to Charles Foster, who had been my foreman for a while (on that day, it was officially Andy Tubbs). I said, “I didn’t know Plant Managers could tell jokes!”
Charles looked back at me and I raised my eyebrows and tilted my head while the corners of my mouth went down. — This was one of the signals I had learned while carpooling with Bud Schoonover when I needed to communicate with Dick Dale without saying anything out loud (see the post: Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“. This particular expression meant, “Maybe this won’t be such a bad thing.”
Ron Kilman remained the plant manager at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma for the next 7 years. The stories that I will post during this next year will all be at least partially from this time period. During this time, there were some decisions that Ron made that I applauded, and others that even he would admit he wished he hadn’t made.
All in all, I think that Ron has a good heart and that those times when he did make a rash decision, it was evident that he was falling back to his “management training” and not managing from his heart. Old School management training left a lot to be desired.
During the 7 years from 1987 to 1994, the power plant saw a lot of changes. Some I have alluded to already. Such as the move to computerize everything. The other was a total change in how management works. Or at least that was the attempt.
People were willing to step out of their regular day-to-day jobs and try new things that they thought would help the plant. Many of these things were successful. Some of them failed, but not so miserably as they would have if the earlier management had been around. The employees felt as if they had more of a say in how the plant ran instead of feeling like they were just a bunch of tools running around fixing things.
I have a quote from Ron Kilman that said it all one day after a catastrophe had occurred. It summed up his management style as opposed to his assistant manager, Ben Brandt. I will relay the exact story later, but for now I’ll just say that when Ben Brandt saw what happened, the first thing that he said was, “Who did this?” When Ron Kilman saw what had happened, the first thing he said was, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”
Ben’s approach was from the old school of thought. Blame and punish the culprit. Later when we were drastically changing the way process improvements took place, my favorite quote from Ben Brandt is, “I am the obstacle! We aren’t going to change because I say so.” We all had to agree. He was definitely the obstacle.
Ron’s approach was one more like a leader. “Let’s get the job done right.” Sure, he is human, so the decisions weren’t always perfect, but I think in general, he was leading where other people may have been dragging.
Well… I will say no more for now… I look forward to writing stories about this time period during this next year. I’m sure there are a lot of those at the plant just as eager to see how I portray the different events that took place during this time.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
in a one-bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
and to see just who in this home did live.
Merry Christmas Power Plant Men
Twas the night before Christmas, as I flew through the snow,
To a house full of kids, wife, dog and Jay Leno.
I came down the chimney with presents to share,
And to see what kind of he-man actually lived there.
I looked all about, and oh what a sight!
Four kids in their beds, without much of a fight!
A dirty pair of jeans, and a shirt full of holes,
Boots full of coal dust, worn shoestrings and soles.
A hardhat was hung by the chimney to dry,
With safety stickers, scratches, and earplugs nearby.
I felt that something was stirring in my chest,
And I knew that this man was different from the rest.
I had heard about men like this from watching Roseanne,
But now I was in the house of a Power Plant Man!
I looked down the hallway and what should I see,
A tool bag hanging behind the Christmas tree.
As I approached it to look at his side cutters,
I heard a strange sound, like a motor that sputters.
There on the recliner laid back as far as it can,
Lay the worn body of the Power Plant Man!
The hole in his sock showed a big toe that was callous,
From trudging all day through his Power Plant Palace.
His face was unshaven, his clothes were a mess,
He needed a shower, of that I confess.
I knew through the nation all people could stay,
Warm in their beds, through the night and the day.
From the power that hummed at the speed of light,
And silently flowed through the houses at night.
Day after day, and year after year,
Blizzards and storms with nothing to fear.
As the Power Plant Man lay on his chair fast asleep,
I thought about others like him that work just to keep,
Our world safe from the cold and the heat and the night,
By keeping us warm, or cool and in light.
I looked in my bag for a gift I could give,
To the Power Plant Man who helps others to live.
I found that nothing seemed quite enough,
For the Power Plant Man had all “The Right Stuff”.
As I looked through my bag for the perfect choice,
I suddenly heard a muffled cigarette voice.
The Power Plant Man had stirred with a shock,
And all that he said was, “just leave me some socks.”
Then he rolled on his side, and scratched his behind,
And a tear swelled in my eye that left me half blind,
And I knew that the Power Plant Man was selfless inside.
He lived to serve others with courage and with pride.
I pulled out some socks and put them under the tree,
Then I walked nimbly back to go up the chimney.
Before I rose to return to my sled,
I picked up his hardhat and placed it on my head.
It was then that I realized the soot on my brow,
Had come from his hardhat I put on just now.
I often get soot on my clothes and my face,
But tonight I had been blessed by the man in this place.
So as I flew through the night to finish my plan,
I took with me some of the soot from that Power Plant Man!
Merry Christmas to all! And to all a Good Night!!!!
I think it was while we were sitting in the lunchroom eating lunch while I was still a janitor when the subject of harmonicas came up. Dick Dale must have asked me if I played a musical instrument, because that was my usual reply, “I play the harmonica… and the Jew’s Harp.” Just about everyone knows what a Harmonica looks like. I suppose most people in Oklahoma knows what a Jew’s Harp is. It’s that instrument you put in your mouth and you flip the little lever and it makes a vibrating twanging sound.
Dick Dale, worked in the warehouse, and we had been friends since my second year as a summer help. He told me that he always wanted to learn to play the harmonica. I told him I learned by just playing around on it. I never took lessons or used a harmonica book or anything.
When I was growing up, my dad knew how to play the harmonica, so we had one laying around the house all the time. So, one day I as a kid, I picked it up and started playing with it. It took about five minutes before my older sister ran to my mom and complained about me making a racket. My mom told me to take it outside. So, I not only learned the harmonica by playing around with it. I was usually sitting alone in the woods while I was learning it. I have found that under these conditions, there is usually some basic part of the skill that is left out. So, I knew that my harmonica playing was never really up to snuff.
In the spring of 1983, I joined the labor crew, and I no longer ate lunch in the break room. I kept it in mind that Dick Dale wanted to learn to play the harmonica, so some time during the summer, I purchased a Hohner Marine Band Harmonica for him, and I began creating a song book with the songs that I knew how to play. I made up my own notation. The holes in the harmonica were numbered, so I wrote the numbers of the holes I would blow in, and put an arrow above the number pointing up or down to indicate whether I was blowing in the hole, or sucking the air through the hole.
During the summer I talked to Dick Dale a few times, and he was having trouble with his family. He was getting a divorce from his wife of fifteen years. He was pretty upset about that, because all along he thought he was happily married. This turned out not to be the case. In the process, Dick moved from Stillwater, Oklahoma to Ponca City. I was living in Stillwater at the time.
When winter came around, my friend Tim Flowers, who was a summer help for two summers at the plant, including the summer I was on the labor crew, came to visit me in Stillwater. I had bought a harmonica for him for Christmas, and I told him I wanted to go visit Dick Dale in Ponca City and take him his Harmonica for Christmas, along with the booklet I had handwritten (as we didn’t have computers back in those days….).
So, I called up Dick to make sure it would be all right if we dropped by for a little while. He at home in his new house, and said he would be delighted if we came by. Dick knew Tim Flowers from the time he had been a summer help. While Tim and I were carpooling, Dick would be carpooling with Mike Gibbs, and sometimes on the way home, we would play car tag going down the highway.
One day after a Men’s Club dinner at the plant, while we were leaving, I was in the front of the line of cars heading for the main gate. In those days, there weren’t two separate gates (one for entering, and one for exiting). So, the one gate had to open almost all the way up before the person exiting could go through the gate.
When I pulled up to the gate, I pulled up on the entrance side, and Dick and Mike pulled up on the exit side. We had been racing with each other up to the main gate…. Dick was revving up the engine of his pickup truck which could easily outrun my little blue 1982 Honda Civic. I had to be more cunning to stay in front of Richard (yeah. I liked to call him Richard).
As the gate opened, I was on the side where I could go through the gate first. The way it worked was that as soon as I crossed the threshold of the gate, the gate would stop opening. then, as I went through it, I drove over to the exit side and ran over the closed loop of the gate, so that the gate closed again leaving Richard and Mike waiting behind the closed gate as we made our escape.
Of course, as soon as we were out on the main highway, it didn’t take long for Richard to make up the mile lead I had gained while he had to wait for the gate to close and re-open. So, the only way I could prevent him from passing me was by weaving over in the passing lane when he attempted to pass me, and then back again, when he returned to the right lane.
Eventually he was able to go around me, but from that day forward, whenever we were travelling home at the end of the day, and we were following each other, we would both meander back and forth across the highway on the way home…. when it was safe of course. Since we were out in the country, on a little traveled rode, that was usually not a problem. This came to an end when Richard moved to Ponca City.
When Tim Flowers and I arrived at Richard’s house in Ponca City that Christmas holiday, we surprised him when we handed him his very own harmonica with the booklet that I had written. He invited us inside and we sat for a while as I explained to him how the booklet worked. He said he appreciated it, and that he would work on learning how to play his harmonica so that we could play together.
We sat around and made terrible music together for a while. Then, because I didn’t want to impose on Richard too much, we left to go back to Stillwater. A couple of weeks later after the holiday, Richard said he had been practicing on the harmonica and he really appreciated the Christmas present.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but two and a half years later, I moved to Ponca City after I was married, and my wife graduated from nursing school. That was when Dick Dale, Jim Heflin, Bud Schoonover and I began carpooling together (See the post: Carpooling with Bud Schoonover). At the time Dick said that he had hoped to get over the tragedy of his marriage by the end of the year. He had heard that it took a year to get over 5 years. Since he had been married for 15 years, he figured by the end of 3 years he should be feeling like he was over it.
The only other person at the plant that I can remember that ever heard me playing the harmonica was Arthur Hammond. He asked me one day in 1986 if I would bring my harmonica to work so that he could hear me play it. So, I did, and while we were driving down to the Arkansas River to check batteries, I played some “harmonica blues” for him. It was just stuff I was making up.
I had seen this movie called “Crossroads” with Ralph Macchio. In the movie Ralph’s character is trying to learn how to play the Blues guitar from an old and once famous blues musician. There are two things you learn as the movie unfolds. The first is that in order to really know how to play the blues, you had to have experienced a real “Blue” time in your life. So you had to play with the feeling that you had experienced. The second thing was that Ralph had to play his guitar against a contract guitar player chosen by the devil in order to save the old man’s soul.
So, what was I supposed to do? I had been blessed most of my life. I hadn’t really experienced any “real” blues. As Art was driving the pickup truck down to the river, I tried to dream up the bluest thoughts I could. I thought…. what if the world was out of chocolate….. That would ruin everybody’s mood. I piped out a few sorrowful sounding notes on the harmonica to try and portray my disappointment at living without chocolate….. that sounded kind of lame.
Then I thought, wasn’t I upset that one time when I was a summer help and I stayed over to help feed the foremen that were having a dinner in the break room and Pat Braden and I fed the foremen, and no one offered me any food, so I had to go hungry for a couple of hours before I could go home and eat some leftovers at home. I think I felt kind of blue that day….. so I cupped my hand over the harmonica, tilted my head to the side and tried to remember that painful time as I shook my hand up and down so that the harmonica would make the sad “whaaa whaa” sound.
I drummed up a few more sad thoughts, and I thought I was really floundering as my debut as a blues harmonica player, so I paused for a few minutes to try and make myself feel bad about doing such a poor job playing the harmonica hoping that it would help. Then Art said, “Hey. You are pretty good!” “What?” I thought, “Oh… That’s Art, trying to be polite.” “Thank you,” I said. Boy. How pitiful is that? Surely I should feel bad enough now to play some blues at least a little better….
Anyway, a mile or two later, I decided to give it up. I put the harmonica back in my pocket and told Art that was all I could do for now. Finally. We had some peace and quiet the rest of the way to the river. I remembered that my sister would always run screaming to my mom when I was younger and blew a few notes on the harmonica, and here Art patiently listened and even complimented my playing. Gee. What a true friend he was.
Later, Dick Dale remarried, and as far as I could tell, he was a much happier person a few years after that. I did what I could to help him. Though, I think at times I confused him a little. I will relay a story about that in a few weeks.
Originally posted December 14, 2012:
I have heard the relationship between Bill Rivers and Sonny Kendrick referred to as the “Punch and Judy Show”. Ok. I thought. Punch and Judy. Sounds like a show from the early 50’s. Must have been a comedy. I thought that for a long time until one day I ran across a brief history of the Punch and Judy Show. It turned out that Punch and Judy was a puppet show from the time of Queen Anne of England. She was queen of England from 1702 to 1714. I could only find a painting of Queen Anne. Didn’t anyone ever think about taking her photograph?
Anyway, once I learned more about Punch and Judy, I realized that this was probably a better description of the Rivers – Sonny relationship than those people realized. It turns out in the first version of the Punch and Judy show, Punch actually strangles his child and beats his wife Judy to death and beats up on other people as well. I suppose that was “entertainment” back then. Now we only have things like “The Terminator”!
I carpooled with Bill Rivers at this particular time when I was a janitor and while I was on labor crew (except during the summer when I carpooled with my summer help buddies). Each day Bill Rivers would explain about some trick he had played on Sonny that day. The one thing that amazed Bill the most was that every day he could play a joke on Sonny, and each day, Sonny would fall for it.
This reminded me of when I was in Rockbridge High School in Columbia, Missouri and I used to borrow a pencil from my friend Bryan Treacy each day and each day I would chew it up to the point where it was practically useless. I had to come up with different diversionary tactics each day, but somehow I was able to coax a wooden pencil from my friend. Before he would realize what he had done, I had already chewed it up from one end to the next. I liked to think that I was tricking Bryan each day, but I also thought that it was odd that Bryan would have a new pencil every time, and he probably made sure that his mom kept a full stock of pencils just for my enjoyment in eating them.
Bryan Treacy today is a doctor living in Moore Oklahoma. I would like to drop by his office without seeing him some time just to see if he has any wooden pencils laying about that I could leave all chewed up. I wonder if he would realize I had been there. He might read this blog from time-to-time, so I may have just blown my cover.
I mentioned Bill Rivers and Sonny Kendrick because they were the first two electricians that I worked for before becoming an electrician. I worked on the precipitator while I was on the Labor Crew. See the Post:
I also mentioned before that I owe my decision to become a Power Plant Electrician to Charles Foster an Electrical B Foreman at the time. I was a janitor and cleaning the electric shop office and lab were part of my duty. How I came to be the janitor of the electric shop is explained further in the post:
I had found the floor scrubbing machine in ill repair. Charles helped me put it back in running condition. He explained how to take care of the batteries and to keep them properly charged.
When the electric shop had an opening they tried to recruit me while I was still a janitor, but the Evil Plant Manager had a rule at the time that when you were a janitor, the only place you could go from there was onto the Labor Crew. That was when Mike Rose was hired to become a backup for Jim Stevenson that worked on the air conditioning and freeze protection. I knew about the janitor ruling so I didn’t have my hopes up. Besides, at the time I didn’t have any electrical background.
Charles asked me to take the electrical courses that were offered by the company. The company offered correspondence courses, and in about 3 weeks, I had signed up for them, read the books, and taken the tests. While I was on the labor crew I signed up for a House wiring course at the Vo-Tech. I was taking that course when I learned that Larry Burns was moving from our electric shop to go to another plant. It was then that I applied for the job as a plant electrician.
The main power transformer for Unit 1 had been destroyed by the heat wave that summer (1983) when the plant had tested it’s durability on the hottest day. The unit was offline for a couple of months while GE created a new transformer and shipped it to us.
After the main power transformer was destroyed and it took so long to ship in a new one, it was decided that we would keep a spare on hand. That way if it went bad again, we could swap them out quickly. That is probably the best assurance that we wouldn’t lose that transformer again. We had that spare transformer sitting around for years collecting taxes. I’m sure we must have paid for it a few times over again.
During the time that the unit was offline, and we weren’t shaking boiler tubes or cutting the ash out of the economizer tubes, I was working with Bill Rivers and Sonny Kendrick on the precipitator. The precipitator (by the way), is what takes the smoke (ash) out of the exhaust, so you don’t see smoke coming out of the smokestacks.
Bill and Sonny were pretty well sure that I was going to be selected to fill the opening in the Electric Shop, so they were already preparing me to work on the precipitator. Of all the jobs in the electric shop, this one had more to do with electronics than any of the others. That gave “being an electrician” a whole new dimension. I was even looking forward to taking an Electronics course at the Vo-Tech in the spring.
I was getting updates from Bill and Sonny about the progress of the job opening and they were telling me about the battle that was going on between the Evil Plant Manager and the Electrical Supervisor. Eldon Waugh, the plant manager at the time wanted Charles Peavler to be chosen as the electrician. He had an electrical background, because he had wired his barn once.
The ultimate reason why the plant manager wanted Charles Peavler to be the new electrician was because I had been placed on the blacklist due to the incident that took place earlier that I had described in the post:
Thanks to Larry Riley’s performance review, and his purposeful procrastination of the Plant Manager’s request to modify my performance review, and Charles Foster’s insistence that they follow the procedures that were laid out in the new Employee Application Program (known as the EAP), the argument stopped with Charles Foster’s statement: “Let’s just take whoever has the best performance rating as it is laid out in the company policy and leave it at that.” I was chosen to fill the position for the opening in the Electric Shop.
I was actually called to Eldon Waugh’s office while I was sandblasting the Sand Filter Tank. See Post:
When I arrived in Eldon’s office I was covered from head to toe in sandblast dust. My hair was all disheveled and my shirt was soaked with sweat. Jack Ballard (the head of HR) was sitting there along with Leroy Godfrey and Charles Foster. I knew what it was about because according to Bill Rivers on the way home the day before, they had already decided that they were going to accept me for the position.
Eldon Waugh explained that I was being offered the job that I had applied for in the electric shop. I felt really humbled at the time. Even though I was expecting it, I felt surprised that it was actually happening. To me, being an electrician was like the greatest job in the world. The electricians were like an elite team of super heroes.
I had the occasion to watch them while I was a janitor in their shop and many of them were like these super intelligent beings that could quickly look at a blueprint and grab their tool bucket and head out to fix the world. I was very grateful for the opportunity, and at the same time apprehensive. I wasn’t sure if I had the quality of character and intelligence to become a part of this team. This was truly a dream come true for me.
Few times in my life has this happened to me. The day I was married. The day I became a Father. The day I drove to Dell to begin my first day as a Programmer Analyst. These were all major milestones in my life. The first major milestone was the day I became an electrician. Because of the way that I am (I don’t know…. maybe it’s because I’m half Italian), I just wanted to break out in tears and hug Eldon Waugh and cry on his shoulder. Instead, I just managed to crack a small smile.
I thanked them and started to leave. Then Jack Ballard said something interesting. As I was leaving he asked, “Uh…. Do you accept the offer?” Oh. In my surprise and elation, I hadn’t said anything but “Thank You”. Jack’s expression was that it wasn’t official until it was official. So, I replied, “Yes. I accept the offer”. “Ok then,” Jack replied. And I left to go crawl back in my hole and continue sandblasting the Sand Filter tank.
My last day on the Labor Crew was on November 4, 1983. I was leaving my Labor Crew Family behind and moving onto a new life in the electric shop. This was hard for me because I really did consider most of the people on the Labor Crew as family. Fred Crocker, Ron Luckey, Jim Kanelakos, and Ronnie Banks. Curtis Love and Chuck Moreland. Doretta Funkhouser and Charles Peavler. Jody Morse and Bob Lillibridge.
Most of all, I knew I was going to miss Larry Riley. I had worked with Larry from the day I had first arrived as a summer help in 1979. Now it was November, 1983. Larry was a hero to me. I love him dearly and if I had ever had an older brother I would have liked someone with the character and strength of Larry Riley. He remains in my prayers to this day.
The last day on the labor crew I suspected foul play. Mainly because the last day that Bill Cook was on the Labor Crew, he had asked us if we would throw Larry in the intake as a going away gift. I had worked with Bill when we were summer help together and I felt like I owed him one, so I told him I would help.
As we were driving from the Coalyard Maintenance building (the home of the labor crew) to the plant maintenance shop that day, Bill Cook, who was driving, suddenly turned toward the intake pumps and stopped the truck. By the time Larry had figured out what was going on, we had dragged him out of the truck and I was carrying him over to the Intake and getting ready to throw him in.
Larry had worked with me long enough to know that once I had set my mind on something, there was no turning back. He had tried to escape from my grip, but I had him where he couldn’t escape. As I climbed with him over the guard rail and headed toward the edge of the water, Larry said the only possible thing that could make me stop in my tracks. He said, “Please Kevin. Don’t do this.”
I was paralyzed. Stuck between my word with Bill Cook that I would help him throw Larry in the brink, and a plea from someone who meant the world to me. There wasn’t but one choice to make. I set Larry down. I walked back to the truck and I told Bill, “I’m sorry. I can’t do it.” I returned to my seat in the back of the crew cab. Without my help, no one else had the resolve and strength to follow through with Bill’s wish. We drove on to the Maintenance Shop.
So, on my last day on the Labor Crew, I thought that something similar might be planned for me. As soon as we left to go to work that morning, I headed up Belt 10 and 11. That is the long belt on the left side of the power Plant picture on the upper right side of this post…. Ok. I’ll post it here:
Once up 10 & 11 and 12 & 13, I was in the Surge bin tower. (The Surge Bin Tower is the white building you can see between the two boilers near the top that has the conveyor belt entering it from the left). From there, I roamed around looking for some coal to clean up. I figured I would stay far away from my labor crew buddies that day.
At the end of the day, I travelled back down belts 10 & 11 and headed into the office in the Coalyard Maintenance building to fill out my last timecard as a Laborer. Beginning next Monday on November 7, I would be an “Electrician.” Along with the empty feeling at the bottom of my heart was a feeling of excitement for the new adventure that awaited me.
About a year after I had joined the electric shop at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, when it was my week to be the truck driver in Fallof 1984, I had an conversation with a contract electrician that I have never forgotten. It was with a guy named Mark Meeks. I have talked about him before in the post entitled, “Life Cycle of a Power Plant Lump of Coal“.
At the time, Mark was working as a contract help for the electric shop. He had been hired to help Mike Rose and Bill Ennis to work on Freeze Protection. I was driving him to the coalyard. He was telling me how he liked working on a job for a while and then he would move on to do another job working somewhere else.
I replied back that I liked having a job where no one had ever been laid off. The electric company had been in existence for about 70 years and had never had a downsizing. I noticed that when I said that, Mark paused and thought about what I said. I was not surprised when a few weeks later, Mark was hired as a company electrician in the shop.
I’m not saying that no one was ever fired from a power plant. I’m just saying that there wasn’t a general downsizing where a group of people were laid off. After all. you can’t really ship the jobs overseas. Not when you want to provide electricity to Oklahoma City. So, as long as you did your job and showed up to work on time, you had job until it was time to retire. That type of job security sure felt good.
All good things have to come to an end at some point. Toward the end of 1986, Martin Louthan, the Superintendent over all the Power Plants, came to our plant to talk to us. He told us that when our plant was created, it was engineered so that it would accommodate 6 units. At the time we had two. He said that when they staffed the plant, they hired enough people to operate and maintain four units.
He explained that when the oil boom went bust in 1982, it changed everything. The demand for electricity dropped instead of increased as the company had projected. So, our power plant had too many employees for the foreseeable future. We were going to have to downsize. At the time we had over 350 employees.
I think we all knew that we had too many employees at the time. There was a lot of downtime when the maintenance crews had to look for something to do. There are innumerable “for instances” I could bring up. Like times when a team of welders had to go weld something at the train gate, which would normally take a couple of hours. Instead of having it done by lunch time, the crew would park their truck at the train gate, way out where no one would bother them, and listen to the radio for a week.
There were a lot of times like these where there just wasn’t enough work during a regular work week to keep everyone busy. Everyone seemed to have their own special place where they could go take a nap if they needed one. I think we all figured that they kept us all around because when it came time for overhaul, everyone was hard at work making all kinds of overtime. Anyway. We knew it was true. There were too many employees at our plant. Especially since we weren’t going to be expanding anytime soon.
So, here is how the company decided to downsize the company. They offered everyone a “Voluntary Separation Package.” (Or VSP as we refer to it at Dell where I work today). They would give you so many weeks of pay for every year of service you had with the company. I don’t remember the exact amount. The employees had until a certain date to decide.
Employees that were over 55 years old would be able to take an early retirement package that would amount to a normal retirement if they had stayed until they had reached retirement age. Our retirement pension plan had grown large enough that it could comfortably absorb those who would early retire. You had until a certain date when you had to decide whether or not you would take the early retirement.
There was one caveat to the taking the Voluntary Separation Package or the early retirement. You had to decide to take one of these options before you were told if your permanent position with the company was going to be terminated at the end of the year. That is, if by the end of June, if you didn’t take the package, then in July if you were told that your position was being eliminated, then the package and retirement was no longer an option. So, if you doubted your “good standing” with the company, you probably would be inclined on taking the retirement package if you were old enough.
In the electric shop I think we had one person old enough to retire. Bill Ennis. He decided to stick it out and hope that his position would still be around. Bill was a good worker, so if that had anything to do with it, he was in good shape. Only one person in our shop decided to take the Voluntary Separation Package.
It broke my heart the day that Arthur Hammond told me he was going to take the package. He only had three years with the company, so his package wasn’t going to be that big, but there was a lump sum associated with it as well. I explained his decision in the post “Power Plant Arguments with Arthur Hammond“. Arthur was a dear friend of mine. I feared that he hadn’t thought this decision through. On one hand, he was used to moving from job to job like Mark Meeks as a Contract electrician. On the other hand, he was raising a family who would benefit from a stable income without having to move from place to place.
The one an only good thing about Arthur Hammond leaving was that Scott Hubbard moved to the electric shop in his place. This was fortunate for Scott because the testing team was not surviving the downsizing and his position was surely going away. I had a bias toward the testers from their inception because when I was on the labor crew, we had not been allowed to apply for the testing jobs. I was also biased because Scott was replacing my friend Arthur. I explained this in the post: “Take a Note Jan, Said the Supervisor of Power Production“. As it turned out, Scott and I became like brothers. We worked together for years, and carpooled most of the time after he joined the shop.
As a side note. I ‘fessed up to Scott one day while we were driving home from work…. He was driving, and I told Scott, “I just want you to know that when you first came to the electric shop. I didn’t like you. It wasn’t anything you did. I just didn’t like you because you were on the testing team.” When I told Scott that, I could tell that he was uncomfortable and that he felt hurt by what I was saying. He turned his head away from me. I went on…. “When I came to know you while we have worked together, I just want you to know that you have become one of my best friends. I am sorry that I had prejudged you. I just wanted to let you know. I’m glad you are on my team.”
So, what does this have to do with Bif? Well, Lynn “Bif” Johnson and Mark Meeks were two of the few people left that were told on the “day of reckoning” that their jobs were going way.
I remember how our entire team was called up to the front office. We waited in Leroy Godfrey’s office. (He was early retiring). They called us one at a time to Bill Moler’s office (He was early retiring also). There we were told that who we would be working for.
Gary Wehunt had been sure that he was going to be axed. I think by that time we knew that the electric shop needed to downsize one more person. Gary was shocked when he was told he still had his job. He was going to be working for Andy Tubbs on the same team I was on. — Of course, in my own cocky 26 year old way, I never thought I would be let go.
Mark Meeks was told he would no longer be employed at the end of the year. The same was true for Bif Johnson. The company offered to help find a job somewhere in the company if there was position left vacant that needed a person with your skills. They also provided a service to help you create a resume and would help you find a job so that by the end of the year, you wouldn’t just be sent packing.
Mark called up some of his contract buddies and was soon on his way to another job. He had been a contract electrician for so long, this was “Situation Normal” (which is the first two words for the acronym “SNAFU”) for him. I thought it was ironic that he should be the one person from the electric shop that was laid off when I knew that the reason he had applied for the position in the first place was most likely because he thought he could be there until he retired, as we had discussed that day in the truck a couple of years earlier.
I later learned that before Leroy Godfrey left he had singled out Mark Meeks and had seen to it that he was the person that was going to be laid off because he had said something to Leroy one day that had annoyed him. Much like the comment I had made to Leroy one day when he went to Bill Bennett and told him to fire me. See the Post: “Chief Among the Power Plant Machinists ” As Bill Bennett explained. Leroy wanted to make sure that Mark was included in the downsizing. It was his gift to him.
So, what about Bif? With all the help offered by the company to find a new position and five months to find a new job, what happened to Bif? Well. Bif had the attitude that I had, though he is 10 years older than me. He had it in his mind that for some reason the plant couldn’t do without him…. or maybe it was more like the attitude I have at my current job. “I am going to stay here until you make me leave.” The last day of the year came around…. Bif was no longer working for the electric company.
It seems like there were two people at the plant at the end of the year that had their positions eliminated that decided to remain at the plant up until the last day of the year (Off hand, I have forgotten who the other person was). Neither of them had sought help from the company to find another position in the company or even outside the company. They were really only laid off because they chose to be. The company had offered them every opportunity.
There were a few lessons I learned from the different events that happened during this time. The first was that I shouldn’t dislike someone because of someone else’s decision. It wasn’t Scott Hubbard’s decision not to let labor crew hands apply for the testing positions. I saw the same thing happen at the gas plant in Harrah, Oklahoma when Mel Woodring became the foreman ahead of obviously more qualified electricians. The general feeling was to dislike Mel, but who was it that picked him? Mel didn’t have anything to do with that decision. He was a pawn in an effort to move him out of the Muskogee Plant.
The second was that no matter how much you think you are indispensable, you aren’t. We all knew the saying that if you want to find out how important you are, just put your hand into a bucket of water and pull it out and see what kind of hole you leave. That’s how important you are. — Well…. Archimedes would disagree with this assessment given that the water level in the bucket changed, but that wasn’t the point.
Third, Job Security? What’s that? A Power plant probably still has more job security than most other jobs.
The fourth lesson I learned was that when your friend has decided to make a dumb decision, no matter how much it is going to hurt them in the long run, after you have tried to convince them not to take that route, you have to stand by them as much as possible. I have had some friends in the past make really stupid decisions in their lives. No matter how dumb it is…. remain their friend. How much of a friend are you if you cut and run because of their bad decisions? Like my friend Bob Ray reminds me often…. “You can’t fix stupid.” No. You can’t. But you can be there to help when needed.
Originally Posted December 7, 2012:
What happens to a million dollar forest when left to the fate of two Power Plant Summer Help? I can tell you; the result is not good. Before I explain this statement, let me introduce some summer help to you so that you will have a deeper understanding of my summer help career. It spanned 4 summer for a total of 12 months.
I would like to start out by saying that there were a few summer help that I thought were very intelligent and goodhearted people. A dear friend of mine named Tim Flowers, who was a friend that I met while attending Oklahoma University my first year in school, was one of the smartest people you might run across in your lifetime. He was also a very hard worker who didn’t mind putting his entire effort into his work.
Blake Tucker from Pawnee also had a brilliant mind and had an honorable work ethic. He was fresh out of High School when he first went to work as a summer help at the coal-fired power plant in north central Oklahoma. During his years as a summer help, I spent a lot of time with him working on mathematical calculations and on programming feats of magic.
Bill Cook, though he didn’t put his back into his work the way some would have liked to see, he did go on to work at the power plant on the labor crew a year and a half before I finally made it onto that team of singularly distinguished characters. Bill confided in me, and I consider him a friend, though I haven’t seen him in 30 years.
David Foster became a friend of mine the second summer when we were were summer help together. He only worked at the plant that one summer, but I talked to him a few times during the years when he was in college and I would run into him coming out of church or on campus. His father was a dentist in Ponca City.
This leaves me with all the rest of the summer help that worked with me during those 4 summers. I wrote a post about the first summer help I worked with that really didn’t fit the requirements, since you were supposed to be going to school in order to be a summer help. That was Steve Higginbotham. You can read more about him in the post:
Steve was a less than energetic person, but I could understand his lack of enthusiasm. He had been dealt a shorthand in his life and he was making the best out of his situation. What I found hard to understand were summer help that were fresh out of High School that were given the opportunity to work at an illustrious palace of a Power Plant, and they just didn’t want to work.
When I was leaving the house at age 14 to go to my first job where I was working for someone other than myself (I began selling tomatoes from my garden door-to-door at age 10), my dad told me something that became the core of my work ethic. He said, “Son.” Well, I don’t remember if he actually said “Son.” but it was something like that. Maybe he said “Kevin, before you go, I want to tell you something.” He said that I should do my best at whatever job they give me. I should do a job that I would be proud to show others. He never wanted to hear anything that would make him be ashamed of me.
It was a thrill to go work at a German Restaurant as a dishwasher making $1.50 an hour. I worked my tail off each night. I seldom took breaks, and I focused on keeping ahead of the work so that I wouldn’t become swamped.
So, it was hard for me, by the time I was 20, to see summer help come to the plant and work real hard at not working. Young football players from Pawnee, who you would think would be able to put their best foot forward, were usually standing around talking smack about that one doofus of a summer help that wanted to get to work right away. That one guy that liked wearing his face shield and ear muffs hanging down from his hard hat swinging the industrial weedeater to-and-fro all day long.
This one group of summer help that were hired that summer all seemed to have the same bug, except for Bill Cook. Bill didn’t get along with them because he wasn’t from the same bully class that they graduated. At one point during the summer the tension between them and Bill rose to such a level that they had to handle it the only way left.
Bill had to meet one of them outside the gate after quittin’ time to settle matters. The truth of the matter was that Bill had done nothing to stir up their ire. They just didn’t like him. It seemed to be a personality issue with them. From what I understand, the cowards received what was coming to them as usually happens when they have mistook someone to be a weakling and easy pickings.
To illustrate the intelligence of this particular group of summer help (there were 3 of them), let me describe an instance where they were struggling real hard to keep from working. I didn’t understand their desire to keep doing what they were doing in the first place, so I wasn’t about to stay in the situation all afternoon.
Stanley Elmore had told us to mow the area around the main parking lot. This included the area by the main entrance. At that time there were sections of grass on all sides of the parking lot including the side by the garage. Stanley sent me and the 3 of them (not Bill Cook. I think he knew the tension between them and tried to work it so that Bill could be doing other things) out to mow this area with regular push mowers.
It was just after lunch when we started. I knew right away that the three amigos wanted to make this job last all afternoon. I think they were afraid that when they finished they would be sent to the park to empty the trash cans of the foul rotten fish guts and soiled baby diapers. A job that would make most summer help puke and even bring water to the eyes of a True Power Plant Man.
Well. I grabbed one of the lawn mowers and headed out across the drive to the grass and started mowing around and around one stretch of grass. By the time the others had dragged their mowers out and took their time starting them, I had finished one stretch of grass and went around to the other side of the parking lot to work on that side as well.
The grass on the far side of the parking lot wrapped around by the welding shop and over to the front entrance. So, once this entire section was done, we would be finished. It really wasn’t that much grass to mow. Not when you had 4 lawn mowers all going around in a counter clockwise direction.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the three huddle together to have a quick discussion. I knew they were going to try to thwart my efforts to quickly finish this job so they didn’t have to move on to the next adventure. I also knew that there wasn’t anyway they were going to be able to stop me.
They had tried to stop me before earlier when we were going out to cut weeds down a long right-of-way. One of them had let his weedeater string out real far so that the strings were sticking out about 2 feet. He started his weedeater up so that the strings were whining and turned around so that the strings grabbed my leg and before I knew it I was flat on my back with a stabbing pain in my knee. My kneecap had been knocked out of the socket, which I quickly hit with the palm of my hand to knock it back over from the side of my knee.
I could see that this had been pre-planned by their reaction. I think they thought it would take me out of commission or make me angry so they could watch me lose my top. The guy that did it apologized in a half sarcastic way and I told him it was all right. I wiped the dust off of my pants and grabbed my weedeater and went to work. I could see them at the back of the truck standing there wondering where their plan had failed.
Anyway, back to mowing the grass around the parking lot. I was able to tell immediately what they had planned. Their idea was to hem me in and mow very slowly so that I would have no where to go but to follow along behind one of them travelling at a snails pace. They were so slow they would take one step, wait a second, then take another step, etc.
So, as I came up behind one of them I suddenly took a left turn and cut a new path through the grass without even slowing down. I quickly came to the other side of the curb, and I turned left again and was heading back in the direction I came from just as if nothing was wrong.
I knew the law of physics. Newton’s First Law of Physics. If a body is in motion it tends to stay in motion unless it is acted on by another force. Well. The mind of the weak have little force. Newton was not only one of my favorite Physicist, he was one of my favorite Mathematicians as well.
Well. He did like sitting in the park under an apple tree. — So how did they keep the grass mowed back in 1642? Maybe they trained the grass just to stay small. Why don’t we have grass that just stays short? We could do that easy enough.
Because of the laws of motion and the size of my lawn mower and the speed in which I was mowing, I had calculated that I should be able to finish mowing the entire area in about 15 more minutes (or 900 seconds) if I were to do it all myself. — Funny how things run through your mind when you are mowing grass. No wonder Sonny Karcher loved mowing grass so much.
Anyway. That little story illustrates my point about how some summer help put all their brain power into thinking about how to stay out of work that they couldn’t even conceive of someone thinking outside the box. How difficult was it for me to just turn and mow a patch of grass out in the middle of the stretch of grass we were mowing?
Once they realized that there wasn’t anyway to stop me, they went ahead and finished their job. I couldn’t figure out why they wanted to stand out in the sun in 100 degree temperature anyway pretending to mow grass. Didn’t they know that just made the day seem longer?
It was that summer that the plant manager was sold on the idea of planting a forest around the coal yard to prevent the wind from blowing all the coal away. So, a million dollars was spent to hire a company to plant a number of rows of trees along the south road next to the coal yard. When the trees were planted, they were like sickly little sticks. The summer help were sent to go water them from time-to-time using the small Mitsubishi tractor pulling a trailer with a tank of water on it.
I have to admit that I never gave the idea much hope. The ground where the trees were planted was hard clay. The company that received the million dollars hardly even put any real usable tree-growing dirt in the hole when they planted the trees.
The trees were planted very close together so that you couldn’t mow around them. So, when the weeds started growing tall and the field had been mowed, Stanley sent a couple of the lazy summer help up there to weed eat around the trees.
I had been told some time in my childhood that one of the fastest ways to kill a tree was to strip the bark off all the way around the tree. Not just strip the bark, but cut a little into the tree itself around the base of the tree. If you did this, the tree would die. The only actual living part of the tree is the outside section. Here is a link to a site that describes the part of a tree and a picture from that site:
So, do I need to go on? That’s right. When the summer help had finished trimming the verge around the trees their fate had been sealed. Two summer help in a matter of an hour totally wiped out the million dollar tree experiment. They had stripped the bark clean around every tree.
Not to be outdone. The Plant Manager spent 2 million dollars to have larger trees installed with plenty of good soil around the embankments on the north side of the coal pile. These were good healthy trees.There was even an irrigation system installed to make sure they were properly watered. This worked at least a year or two. Long enough for a lot of the trees to catch hold. The only problem is that the wind almost always blows from the west or the south defeating the purpose of the “windbreak” on the north side of the coal pile.
Ok. One more summer help story before I go. A friend of mine named Ben Cox became a summer help for a summer the fourth summer I worked as a summer help (how many times can I use the word summer in one sentence?). I had worked with him at the Bakery in Columbia, Missouri and he had followed me home that summer to try his hand at summer helping at the power plant. Tim Flowers and I had tried to dissuade him, but to no avail. I have mentioned Ben Cox before in the story about Ramblin’ Ann. He and I used to tag team Ramblin’ Ann just to keep our sanity. See the link below as a refresher on Ramblin’ Ann:
Ben wasn’t the most physically fit, and we didn’t want to see him have a heart attack at such an early age. Ben, however, held his own as best he could and survived a summer of working outdoors. He actually did better than Tim and I expected.
One day when we were driving to the coal yard Ben asked me why there were large hills of sand piled up across the road from the intake. Instead of telling him that the sand had been dredged out of the intake channel when they were filling the lake and sand was being pumped from the river up to the lake with the water, I told him something else…
I told Ben that they kept the large piles of sand there in case they ran out of coal. They would burn the sand as a last resort. I explained that they didn’t like to burn sand because it burned hotter than coal and it turned into glass in the boiler and really messed things up. But if there was a long coal strike and they totally ran out of coal, they would have to burn sand in order to keep producing electricity.
Tim and I watched closely as Ben mulled this over in his mind. At first he didn’t believe me, but after I explained why we didn’t burn sand all the time, you could start to see the wheels turning in his mind. Burning sand…. wow! There is sand all over the place! I never told him differently. I’m sure if he tried to sell the idea to someone, he would have found out quick enough.
Comment from the original post:
Your stories are so good! They bring back memories I hadn’t thought of for years. The part about “burning sand” reminded me of the Brown & Root engineer that was looking for an easy way to put holes in a thick set of blueprints. “Someone” (Kenneth Palmer or John Blake might have been involved) convinced him that shooting them with a 22 would be the easiest way to do the job. He then proceeded to take a new set of prints and totally destroy them!
Usually when I write a Power Plant Man post, the story is about the Power Plant Men and Women I worked with during the 20 years I spent at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. Today’s post, however, is more about a particular experience I had during this time period. Some Power Plant Men at the plant were witnesses to the events, but for the most part, this was personal.
This story begins early in the morning on New Years Day 1987. Some time around 3:00 am. I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night from the bed where I was sleeping at my parents house in Stillwater, Oklahoma where my wife and I were visiting on New Year’s Eve. It felt as if someone had crept into my room and stabbed me in the back with a knife!
I jumped out of bed, flailing to fight back, only to find that Kelly and I were alone in the room. A quick search of my back with my right hand told me that I didn’t have any external injury, even though the pain indicated that a knife of some sort was still piercing my lower back as if someone was working the knife around trying to increase the pain.
Not wanting to wake my wife, I left the room and went into the hallway. I figured I must be having a kidney stone. I seemed to recall a similar pain many years earlier when I was a boy. At that time the pain didn’t last too long, and I figured that I would just drink some water and hope that it would work itself out quickly.
Some of you who have experienced this pain probably guessed this from the start that I was having a kidney stone. there isn’t much that is more painful than having a kidney stone, especially if the kidney stone is of any size and spiky.
I did finally wake up my wife and tell her that I thought I was having a kidney stone. She is an RN, and I figured she would know what to do if I passed out from the pain. Besides, I didn’t want her to think the house was haunted if she woke up and heard some moaning and groaning out in the hallway.
Luckily for me, the kidney stone was small and without spikes. I was able to pass the stone through the painful stage in less than hour. It felt as if I had dropped a pebble right into my bladder. A quick trip to the bathroom, and I emerged with a little stone the size of a piece of sand.
The next morning (still New Year’s Day), we drove back to Ponca City where we lived at the time. We were only about 3 miles north of Stillwater when all of the sudden, I was hit with another stabbing pain. This time coming from the lower left side. It was that same experience as a few hours earlier.
I was able to pull the car into the gas station at Bill’s Corner. I climbed quickly out of the car, paced back and forth for a minute or two, and then climbed into the passenger seat as Kelly drove the rest of the way home. At some point on the way home. I think it was about the time we passed the power plant, the stone had worked its way down into the bladder and the pain was over.
We scheduled an appointment with a Urologist the following week, and when I arrived at the doctor’s office, I gave him the two kidney stones and he had them analyzed. They were the typical kidney stone made of Calcium Oxalate. The doctor’s advice? Cut down on my calcium intake. Ok. So, I stopped drinking a glass of milk each morning before I left for work.
The result was that every 3 months I churned out another kidney stone. For the next 10 and a half year, every 3 months I had a kidney stone. Sometimes they were easy. Other times they were difficult. It depended on the size and shape of the stones.
I began saving them in one of those cases that people use for their contact lenses. The ones that have a side for the left contact, and one for the right contact.
I would put the kidney stones from my left kidney in the Left side, and the right Kidney in the R section. How did I know which was which? It was easy. Was I being stabbed in the back on the left or the right.
So, what does this have to do with Power Plant Men? Well, at times the Power Plant men had to deal with me while I was in the middle of having a Kidney stone. Most of the times it was just as a bystander sharing in my misery as they watched me pace back and forth as pale as a zombie. Other times it was riding shotgun in peril of their lives as I struggled to bring my car safely to a stop while writhing in pain.
Here are some instances I remember. One day when Scott Hubbard and either Toby O’Brien or Fred Turner were in my car as we were driving to work, I was suddenly hit with a bat across my lower back. I vaguely remember saying, “Oh No!” I asked Scott Hubbard, who was sitting in front with me to dump the contents of my lunchbox out on the floor of the car.
You see, when a kidney stone is in full swing and the feeling of intense pain begins to build up, there is a plexus of nerves around the kidneys that send a message to the stomach that it would be best if the stomach is empty. Meaning that any recently eaten breakfast should be evacuated as quickly as possible.
I struggled to remain conscious and sane and to keep the car on the road. We were only about a mile from Bill’s Corner (where I had stopped during my second kidney stone on New Years Eve (many years earlier). So, I headed for there as a place to jump out of the car. Only this was a much worse kidney stone that during the last time I pulled into the gas station to switch sides with my wife. I was going to have to turn around and go home. I wasn’t going to be passing this one any time soon.
When I climbed out of the car, I made it to the back of the car just in time to eject the contents of my stomach onto the pavement. When you are sick and you vomit, it usually makes you feel better because that it over. When you have a kidney stone, vomiting is only about as much relief as taking a breathe.
Luckily some other Power Plant Men had stopped at the gas station to fill up their vehicle and they had enough room to take Scott and Toby, (or was it Fred… Fred? You read these posts…. was it you?). I asked Scott to tell our foreman that I wasn’t going to be in for work today.
I climbed back into my Honda and pointed the car toward home. With my Little Playmate Lunchbox open at my side, I drove home. When I walked in the door at home, my wife immediately knew what was happening. She comforted me by saying, “Poor Beast.” While I began the ritual of drinking water and pacing around the house.
You see…. At this time I no longer went to the doctor or the hospital when attacked with a kidney stone. I had learned my lesson many years earlier.
Early on, in Ponca City, when I had a kidney stone, I went to the hospital bent over in pain and having visions of my life passing before my eyes as if I was already in the middle of judgement day. When I would arrive in the emergency room, they would give me a shot of morphine to ease the pain.
The problem with morphine was that I was already using all my mental faculties to suppress the pain, and as soon as the morphine would begin taking effect, it took away my ability to block the mentally block the pain. I would end up, for about 20 minutes while the morphine was taking its full effect on my senses, climbing the walls in really intense pain. Then eventually they would send me home where I would be sick from the morphine for about a week even though I may have passed the kidney stone in a day or two.
During the worst kidney stone I encountered while I was living in Ponca City, (during the first 3 years that we were married), it took about 5 day to pass this one stone. It was especially rough. Usually the only relief I had from this particular stone was to pass out from the pain. Pacing didn’t seem to work. Drinking water didn’t seem to work. It seemed like this particular stone was stuck right at the bottom of the Ureters. That is, the urinary tract just before the bladder. I knew that if it would only fall into the bladder, the intense pain would be over.
I remember how this passed very clearly. I was kneeling on the side of the bed saying a Rosary (the Sorrowful Mysteries of course). One of the Sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary is to meditate on the Scourging at the Pillar. That was what I felt I was going through at the time, so I had been saying the sorrowful mysteries all week.
I finally prayed to God something I usually refrained from doing…. I said to Him. “Father…. this is enough. This is all I can take. Please take this away from me.” Almost immediately the kidney stone dropped into my bladder. Oh my gosh! I climbed up into the bed and fell asleep. The pain had finally ended after 5 hard days.
I was awoken 5 hours later. My Father was calling me from Florida where he was working at a Veterinary Clinic training the employees of the clinic for continuous education. (See the post “I Think I Can, I Think I Can and Other Power Plant Man Chants” to learn more about my Father and Tom Houghton who owned the Veterinary Clinic). He told me that about 5 hours earlier he was struck with kidney stone.
My father, though he had one kidney stone when I was a boy, was not prone to kidney stones like I was. It seemed as if the moment that I was relieved of my pain, my Father had picked up the torch and carried on the pain. I apologized to him, because I had prayed that the pain I was feeling would go away and it seems as if he had to experience whatever pain I was meant to finish bearing. The coincidence was too much to belief. He had just passed the stone and wanted to call me to tell me, since he knew that I was regularly experiencing kidney stones at the time. I resolved from that time on, to go ahead and suffer through whatever pain was being sent my way, because it appeared as if it was for a reason of some sort. I never prayed to have the pain leave again. Only that I was able to endure it.
Back to the Power Plant. One day Diana Brien and I were doing some work in the Coalyard Maintenance building, where the Labor Crew called home. We had driven the electric cart to the coalyard to work on whatever we were working on. The moment we sat in the cart to head back to the electric shop. Wham. I was hit with a kidney stone.
I didn’t want to mention it to Dee. There was no need in worrying her, or embarrassing me, so I just remained silent. I just held onto the side rail on the cart and closed my eyes. As we banged over the railroad tracks and down the gravel road on the hill, I just held on and thought…. “don’t throw up…. don’t throw up….” I concentrated real hard to try and ease the pain.
When we reached the shop, without a word, I walked into the shop and straight into the bathroom, where I began peeling back clothing. That is, I undid my belt, and unsnapped my pants. I paced a few minutes… then feeling the kidney stone hit the bladder, I relieved myself and walked back out into the shop. I figure all the jostling about on the bumpy road in a card with no suspension system helped move the stone down quickly.
Dee and Scott Hubbard knew right away what had happened to me. There was no hiding the pale face and the sweat that was running down my face. I went in the office to rest a while. After a while I was ready to go back to work.
So, for all you kidney stone sufferers, here is a few words of advice. Today I have passed more than 55 kidney stones. I have never had one of them removed by any other means than passing them myself. I have passed very large kidney stones. Some so big you could crush them in your fingers.
First of all. Don’t panic. Kidney stones won’t kill you (at least not right away). The first thing that happens is that the muscles in your back tighten up. This is not a good thing. You need the muscles in your back to relax. Concentrate on relaxing those muscles. I used to use a handheld massager to try to relax the muscles. Now I just concentrate on relaxing the back. Today when I have a kidney stone, even a large one, I am usually able to pass it within hours.
Pace a lot. Drink a lot of water. You will only move the kidney stone down into the bladder by drinking water and pacing (or a massager maybe). I walk back and forth in the house. I have a path that I take. I walk back and forth, then I sip water each time. Don’t worry about throwing up. It’s just part of the reaction to the pain.
I only have about one kidney stone of any size once each year these day. I found that taking a good dose of CitriCal each day (yes. Extra calcium, has reduced the number of kidney stones considerably).
If you are Catholic… then offer the pain up for souls in Purgatory. It is our belief that the painful time that a person suffers in purgatory can be shortened by someone else offering up their pain for someone in purgatory. Note the difference between suffering and pain. Pain is the sensation you receive. Suffering is what you do with it. When you accept the pain and you “embrace” it, then you suffer it. If you moan and groan a lot, you basically pass it on to others. You tell them…. “I am in Pain.” Then they empathize with you and in a sense “feel your pain.” If this helps comfort you, ok. If you want to offer it to someone in Purgatory, then accept your pain in silence (I realize this makes no sense for those who do not accept the idea of Purgatory).
For those Christians that are not Catholic, let me offer you another way to suffer the pain from a kidney stone when it is too intense to bear. St. Paul said the following: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). With this in mind, the pain felt during a kidney stone has great meaning. It literally unites you with Christ during his Passion.
I realize this has been an odd break from the usual Power Plant Man Post. The power plant man posts for the remainder of the year will be those posts that include stories from the time that the plant was ruled under the “evil plant manager” Eldon Waugh. Beginning in January, for the next year, the post will be stories during the reign of the plant manager, Ron Kilman (1987 to 1994). During the year 2015, the stories will be during the reign of Bill Green until I left the electric company (1994 to 2001).
Originally Posted November 30, 2012:
Marlin McDaniel caught my interest when he mentioned that he had a pet Mongoose in his office. The only actual experience I had with a Mongoose had to do with a set of Hot Wheels that my brother and I had as kids. In 1968 shortly after Hot Wheels came out, they had a pair of Hot Wheel cars that was advertised on TV. Don “Snake” Prudhomme or Tom “Mongoose” McEwen. Which do you want to be?
Somehow I didn’t think Marlin McDaniel was talking about a fancy Matchbox car. Especially since he said he kept it in a cage under his desk. I knew the plant grounds was designated as a wildlife preserve, but at that time in my career, I thought that just meant that there were a lot of Construction Hands around that were still constructing the plant.
The Construction Hands that worked for Brown & Root were wild enough. When they wanted a break from the hot sun, one of them would sneak on over to the gas station / convenience store just down the road and call the plant to report a bomb had been planted somewhere. All the construction hands would have to report to the construction parking lot and wait until the all clear was called, which usually gave them the afternoon off. — That’s known as the “Law of the Hog”, which I will discuss in a much later post.
I had not been working at the coal-fired power plant very long my first summer as a summer help in 1979 before Mac (as we called Marlin McDaniel) asked me if I would like to be introduced to his mongoose. I said, “All Right”. Thinking…. I’m game… This sounds like a joke to me.
I don’t know if it was because I grew up with my brother and sister, where playing jokes on my sister was a mainstay of entertainment (not to mention a reason for having a close relationship with my dad’s belt, or my mom’s hair brush), but I seemed to be able to smell a joke a mile away.
So, I eagerly awaited to see what Mac actually meant by having a “Mongoose in a cage under his desk”. You see, as I mentioned above. I had never had a personal relationship with a regular goose let alone a French one. Well. “Mon goose” sounded French to me. Like “ce qui est?” “c’est mon goose” — Well. I had a number of years of French, but I didn’t remember the French word for Goose… which is actually “oie”.
Since the actual nature of a real mongoose was lost to me through my own ignorance, I had no fear of meeting a mongoose in a case and actually wondered if it was furry if I might be able to pet it. So when Mac took this small wire cage out from under his desk and showed it to me, I was not apprehensive that a real mongoose with razor sharp teeth and a terrible disposition was in the little hut in the middle of the cage with his tail sticking out.
Mac explained to me that he must be sleeping and that if he tapped on the cage a little it might wake him up. He tapped the cage a couple of times when all of a sudden out leaped the mongoose. I don’t mean that he jumped out of his hut. I mean that he leaped completely out of the cage. In one swift motion this ball of fur came flying out of the side of the cage, leaping over the top and aiming toward my face.
I stepped out of the way and the mongoose landed on the ground in the office and it laid there. To me, it looked like a squirrel tail with something attached to it. I recognized right away that this was a joke that was supposed to make me jump in fear. Only, Mac had never met my sister. A leaping mongoose wasn’t half as scary as a raging sister that has just had a joke played on her.
I used to have a collection of wasp nest that I kept on my dresser shelves when I was young. I had considered myself the “Fearless Wasp Hunter” as a kid. Whenever I found a wasp nest, I just had to have it for my collection.
So, I was used to being chased by angry wasps as well. I don’t know how many times they chased me down only to knock me head over heels when they caught be by slamming into me with their stingers. They get rather peeved when you throw rocks at their home to try to knock the wasp nest off of the eave of a house.
That is why while I was on the labor crew in 1983 and we were on our way out to the dam in the crew cab I remained calm when a yellow jacket wasp flew in the window.
A crew cab is a pickup truck that has a full back seat.
I was sitting in the middle in the back seat. Larry Riley skid the truck to a stop and everyone piled out of the truck. Larry, Doretta, Ronnie, Jim and Bill all jumped out and went over the guard rail to escape the wrath of the wasp in the truck. I remained in my seat and leaned forward so that I could see the front seat. I picked up the stunned wasp by the wings and flicked it out the open door. The others safely returned and we drove on. — that was me… The fearless wasp hunter.
Anyway, back to the Mongoose cage. If you would like to learn how to make a trick mongoose cage all by your lonesome, you can go to this link:
I only wish they had a picture of it. As it turns out a Mongoose hunts Cobra. Later in life I read a story to my daughter written by Rudyard Kipling called “Rikki Tikki Tavi” where a mongoose hunts down a cobra in a garden. It was then that I remembered Mac’s mongoose in a cage and how I was too ignorant to know to be frightened.
Mac, along with Sonny Karcher first introduced me to Power Plant Humor. I brought some of this home with me. The second summer after hearing Mac and others call our Hard hats “Turtle Shells”, I caught some box turtles in my parent’s backyard and painted hard hat names on them using my sister’s nail polish. I had three turtles in the backyard labelled “Ken”, “Mac” and “Stan” for Ken Scott, Marlin McDaniel and Stanley Elmore. I probably would have had more, but there were only 3 turtles that frequented our back patio.
I heard a rumor that Marlin McDaniel moved to Elberta, UT where he lives to this day. I don’t know if it’s true. I think he would be about 70 years old today. He was a true Power Plant Machinist that didn’t fit too well as an A Foreman.
Especially since he had to deal with the Evil Plant Manager at the time. He was bitter about his whole Coal-fired power plant experience since he wasn’t told the truth in the first place that prompted him to take the job at the plant. So he left to go back to the plant where he came from.
The last time I talked to Mac he was in the gas-fired power plant in Midwest City standing behind a lathe machining away as happy as could be.
Actually, his expression looked like someone who was thinking about the next joke he was going to play, or story he was going to tell. I maybe have mentioned it before, Mac reminds me of Spanky from the “Little Rascals”. I wish I could see him one more time.
Comment from the Original Post:
The Seminole Plant had a mongoose too. Power Plant Man Bill Murray kept his in the plant garage/shop. He really enjoyed attacking new summer students.