Monthly Archives: June, 2014

When Power Plant Competition Turns Terribly Safe

I’m sure the plant manager at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma thought that a little competition might just do our Safety Program a little good.  The maintenance crews always knew what they were going to be doing first thing on Monday morning.  They were going to attend a Safety Meeting with their team.  All of the maintenance crews attended a team safety meeting every Monday morning to remind them to be safe during the week.  This had been going on for at least 9 years at the power plant.  Every Monday morning we all looked forward to the 30 minutes we would spend reminding ourselves to be safe that week.

It didn’t seem to matter if I was on the Summer Help yard crew, or a janitor, on the labor crew or an electrician.  The Monday Morning safety meetings were all pretty much the same.  Someone would read from a Safety pamphlet that each of the foreman would receive once each month.  We would try to read one of the articles each week in order to stretch it out so that it lasted the entire month of Monday Morning Safety Meetings.  This often meant that we would be listening to a completely irrelevant safety article that really didn’t apply to us.

Some of the articles were things that reminded us to be safe in the work place.  Other articles reminded us to clean up the kitchen counter after you have finished cutting up the chicken in order to cook fried chicken for dinner.  The chicken juices could lead to food poisoning if they sat there for a while and then some other food was placed on the same counter if it was still soaked in juices from the chicken.  We justified to ourselves that it didn’t hurt to remind ourselves about things like this because if we went home and had food poisoning by not watching our chicken juices, then it could be as serious as a lost workday accident on the job.

When I joined the electric shop, I used to keep a stack of all the Safety Pamphlets.  Who knew if they would ever come in handy.  Years later when I left the Power Plant to pursue another career I left the stack behind in case some other safety zealot needed some motivating safety material.  I tried to find a picture of the safety pamphlets that we used to read on Google, but I could only find Safety Pamphlets that were more colorful and had more eye-catching covers.  The only aesthetic difference between our safety pamphlets from one month to the other consisted of using a different color font.  So, one month, the pamphlet would be written in blue.  The next month, green.  Then red.  Maybe purple some times.  The December one would have a little drawing of holly at the top.  That was about as exciting as they were.

Occasionally the foreman would get a different kind of safety pamphlet on a certain topic.  Instead of changing the font color, this pamphlet would change the background color to one bright solid color.  I could find a picture of one of these:

Wouldn't want to make the cover any more interesting.  It might take away from the message

Wouldn’t want to make the cover any more interesting. It might take away from the message

In the first paragraph I mentioned that the maintenance crews generally knew what they would be doing right off the bat on Monday morning when their work day began.  Yep.  They would spend 15 to 30 minutes staring off into space while their foreman, or the designated hypnotist would read a safety pamphlet in a monotone voice.  I think it was permitted to fall asleep as long as you didn’t snore.  Once you snored it was too hard to claim that your eyes were closed only so that you could better picture how to lift with your legs and not your back.

In order to add some dynamic to the Monday Morning Safety Meeting, it was decided that some friendly competition might help.  So, here is what happened:

A Safety Committee was formed and their task was to collect safety slogans from the teams and once each month they would decide which slogan was the best and then it would become the “Safety Slogan of the Month”.  Then for the next month this particular safety slogan would be posted on all the bulletin boards throughout the plant.  At the end of the year, a winner was selected from the 12 winning Monthly Safety Slogans.  Whichever team won the safety slogan of the year award would be honored with a free Pizza (or two) for lunch.

Power Plant Pepperoni Pizza

Power Plant Pepperoni Pizza

A noble attempt at trying to add a little spice into the safety program.

At first our team didn’t give this much thought.  I was one of the first people from the electric shop on the committee and since I was on the committee, I didn’t think it would be fair to submit a safety slogan myself, because I would have to be one of the people voting on it.  One person from each area was on the Safety Committee.  One person from each of the three A foremen’s teams in the Maintenance shop.  One person from the Instrument and Controls team and one electrician.  One person from the office area.   One from the warehouse.  There might have been one person from the Chemistry Lab, but since there were only three chemists, I’m not sure how long that lasted.

Anyway, sometime in March, 1992, when we were sitting in a Monday Morning Safety Meeting staring blankly at the only thing moving in the room besides the lips of the Safety Article Hypnotist, a black beetle scurrying across the floor, Andy Tubbs finally broke through our hypnotic state by making a suggestion.  He said, “How about we start entering safety slogans for the Safety Slogan Contest and try to win the free pizza at the end of the year?  Instead of just sitting here on Monday Mornings doing the same thing over and over, let’s spend our time brainstorming Safety Slogans!”

This of course was a brilliant idea.  It meant that we would actually be blurting out all kinds of goofy safety slogans until we hit on a really good one to turn in for the month.  We began immediately.  I was the scribe capturing all the creativity that suddenly came popping up from no where.  Andy was real quick to come up with some.  Others took their time, but when they spoke they usually had a pretty clever safety slogan.

By the end of the first day we had about 10 new safety slogans to choose from.  We picked the best one of the bunch and turned it in at the front office.  I don’t remember the specific safety slogan we started out with, but I do remember some of them that the team invented.  Here are a couple unique slogans that I have always remembered – not written by me….

“Lift with your legs, not with your back, or you  may hear a Lumbar crack.”

“Wear skin protection in Oklahoma or you may get Melanoma.”

I invite anyone at the plant that remembers more slogans to  add them to the Comments below….

You can see that we tried to take a standard safety slogan like “Lift with Your Legs and Not your Back” and added a clever twist to it.  I had taken out the stack of safety pamphlets from the cabinet and we reviewed them.  Each of them had a safety slogan on the back.  We weren’t going to use any that were already written, but it gave us ideas for new slogans.

We won the Monthly Safety Slogan that month.  So, we figured we were on a roll.  The next month we picked our next best one.  By that time we must have come up with over 25 pretty good safety slogans, and we figured we would enter our best one each month.  We were in for a little surprise.

After submitting a real humdinger of a Safety Slogan the second month (something like, “Where your Eye Protection at work so you can See Your Family at Home”  — well.  I just made that up.  I don’t remember the exact slogan 22 years later), the slogan that won that month was a much more bland slogan than our clever one.  We felt slighted.  So, we talked to Jimmy Moore (I believe) who was the electrician on the other team of Electricians in our shop that was on the Safety Committee selecting the safety slogans this year.  He said that there were some people on the committee that thought it wasn’t good for the same team to win two times in a row.  Others thought that any one team should only be able to win once a year.

As it turned out, we were able to win the monthly safety slogan only a few more times that year only because we were the only team that turned in a safety slogan during those months.

When it came time for picking the winning safety slogan for the year, Sue Schritter’s slogan from the warehouse won even though it was fairly lame compared to the clever ones we had been turning in. (Note the warehouse and the front office were all under the same manager…. so, when one of them won, they both really did).  So, the front office (slash) warehouse were able to enjoy the free pizza.

After complaining about the process at the beginning of the next year, we were determined that we were going to do what it took to win every single month and that way they would have to give us the pizza at the end of the year.  So, in 1993 that was our goal.

It was determined at the beginning of the year that all safety slogans would be judged without knowing who had turned them in.  It was also determined that a team could turn in as many safety slogans as they wanted each month (probably because we had complained that our team was unfairly being singled out).  So, we made a concerted effort to turn in at least 15 safety slogans each month.  That way, the odds of one of ours being picked would be very high, especially since our team was the only team that was really serious about wanting to win the free pizza at the end of the year.  Gary Wehunt from our team was on the committee selecting the slogans in 1993, so he would tell us about the conversations the committee was having each month when they would get together to select the slogan, and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy to win every single month.

During the year, it became a game of cat and mouse to try to win the safety slogan of the month every single month.  We knew that a couple of people on the Safety Committee were doing everything they could to not pick one our our slogans.  So, here is what we did…  along with the best safety slogans we had, we threw in some really lame ones.  I think we had some that were so bad they were nothing more than…. “Think Safety”.  Our better safety slogans were more like:  “Watch for Overhead Hazards!  Avoid becoming Food for Buzzards”  or “Wear you Safety Harness when working up high.  One wrong step and you may die.”  — I mean…. How could any other safety slogan compete with the likes of those?

The funny thing was that we thought that just in case the Safety Committee was trying to look for a safety slogan that our team didn’t write, they would intentionally pick a really bad one.  Like “Think Safety”.

Various Safety Signs you may see around a Power Plant

Various Safety Signs you may see around a Power Plant

And it actually worked.  Two months during 1993, the team actually chose a Safety Slogan that was really lame, just to try and pick the one that our team didn’t enter only to be surprised to find that it was from our team.

Through October our team had managed to win ever  Safety Slogan of the Month, and it looked like we were going to finally win the Safety Slogan of the Year and receive the free Pizza.  I had written down every safety slogan our team had invented.  We had over 425 safety slogans by that time.  I had a folder in the filing cabinet with the entire list.

Then in November, the people who were on the Safety Committee who were intent on us not winning the yearly safety slogan was able to slip one by.  They had submitted a safety slogan from their own team and had told a couple other people to vote for it.  It didn’t take too many votes to win for the month since when we turned in 15 to 20 slogans the votes were spread out.  Most of the slogans that did receive a vote would only get one vote.  So, any slogan that had two or more votes would usually win.  So, all they had to do was throw together a safety slogan and tell someone else on the committee that was not happy about our team winning every month during the year, and they would win that month.

Louise Kalicki turned in a safety slogan in November.  It was a simple safety slogan like “Be Safe for your family’s sake”.  We had turned in a number of slogans that had said pretty much the same thing in the 400 or more slogans we had submitted, but that was the slogan that won during that month.

Well.  That was all it took.  When the winner of the Safety Slogan for the year was chosen, there was no way that everyone didn’t already know whose team the safety slogan was from because they had been posted on the bulletin boards throughout the year.  So, you can guess what happened.  After the electric shop had won 11 of the 12 safety slogans in 1993, The girls in the front office won the free pizza… again.

So, what happened in 1994?  Well…. That’s another story… isn’t it?

Reddy KiloWatt never takes a vacation... Oh wait... That's not a Safety Slogan.

Reddy KiloWatt never takes a vacation… Oh wait… That’s not a Safety Slogan.

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Power Plant Phrases Fit for Mixed Company (almost) — Repost

Great people in history are known for their great quotes.  Take Albert Einstein for instance.  We automatically think of the one most famous thing that Einstein said whenever we hear his name.  We think of “E equals M C squared.” (which explains the direct relationship between energy and matter).

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

In more recent history, we have Gomer Pyle saying:  “Golly”, only it was drawn out so that it was more like “Go-o-o-o-llyyyyyy” (which expresses the improbable relationship between Gomer and the real Marines).

Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle on the virge of exclaiming his favorite word

Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle on the virge of exclaiming his favorite word

Then there was the famous line by officer Harry Callahan when he said…. “Go Ahead.  Make My Day!” (which demonstrates the exact relationship showing how guns don’t kill people.  People kill people).

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

Even more recently, we heard the famous words of Arnold Jackson while talking to his brother when he said, “What you talkin’ ’bout Willis?” (which supports the commonly held understanding that ‘Inquiring minds want to know”).

Gary Coleman as Arnold in Different Strokes

Gary Coleman as Arnold in Different Strokes

Great people are known for their great quotes.

This is true in the power plant kingdom as well.  I have passed on the imcomparable wisdom of Sonny Karcher in the post:  Power Plant Innovations and Imitations of Sonny Karcher.  When you told him something that he found totally amazing, he would look you right in the eye with an expression of total amazement and would say, “Well….. S__t the bed!” (only, he would include the word “hi” in the middle of that first word).

I had to run home and try it on my parents during dinner one night when I first heard this as a summer help…. at first they were too proud of me to speak.  When they couldn’t contain their amazement any longer, they both burst out into laughter as I continued eating my mashed potatoes.

When I became an electrician, I belonged to a group of wise souls with a multitude of quotes.  I would stare in amazement as I tried to soak them all into my thick skull.  Every once in a while one would squeeze in there and I would remember it.

When talking about the weather, Diana Lucas (later Brien, formerly Laughery) would say, “Chili today, Hot Tamale”.  I know there were a lot more like that one.

I invite any power plant men that remember these phrases to leave a comment at the bottom of this post with a list of phrases used, because I liked to forget them so that the next time I would hear them, it would be like hearing them for the first time all over again.

Andy Tubbs would say something like “Snot me.  Statue” (I am not sure if I am even saying that right…).  I know that Andy had a dozen other phrases like this one.

There was an old man named John Pitts that used to work at the old Osage Plant.  I wrote about this plant in an earlier Post called Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Peace.  He would come out to our plant to work out of the electric shop on overhaul to make a few extra dollars.

One day at the end of the day, when we were all leaving for the parking lot, Andy Tubbs stepped out of the door shaking his head as if in disbelief.  He had a big grin on his face, so I asked him why.

Andy said that he had asked John Pitts “What d’ya know.”  John had said something that didn’t make sense, so Andy had asked him what he had said.  I asked Andy what John had said.  Andy told me that John Pitts had said, “It takes a big dog to weigh a ton.”  When this confused Andy, he asked him for clarification, and John had replied, “Well.  You asked me what I know, and I know that it takes a big dog to weigh a ton.” —  You can mark that one down as a famous quote from John Pitts.

Our A foreman was a tall thin black man named Bill Bennett.  He would walk into the electric shop office during lunch and sit down next to me.  He would look at me with a look of total disgust.  Shaking his head with disappointment, he would say to me…. “You Scamp!”  He might throw in another line like, “You disgust me.” (with the emphasis on the word “disgust) or he might say “You slut.”  It was times like these that I knew that Bill really cared about me.  I mean… he wouldn’t say those things to just anybody.

Bill accidentally said that last phrase to Diana when she had walked into the room just after he had graced me with those words.  She stood there for about one second stunned that Bill had said that to her, then she turned around and walked right back out.

I asked him what he had said, because his back was to me at the time, and he had said it under his breath like he had to me and I couldn’t hear what he said…. but I did catch the look on Diana’s face, and it wasn’t a happy expression.

He told me, and he said he probably just made a terrible mistake.  I’m sure once Diana thought about it twice she would have realized that this was Bill’s way of passing on his endearment toward you.

Charles Foster was my foreman for my first year as an electrician trainee.  He was my friend for all 18 years I spent as an electrician.  I had the habit when I was trying to think about something of starting my sentence with the word “Well….” and then pausing.  Charles would invariably finish my thought with “…that’s a deep subject.”

The first time, my reaction was like Andy’s when John Pitt told him that it took a big dog to weigh a ton.  I said, “What?”  He replied.  “Well….   That’s a deep subject.”  Ok.  I know….  I’m slow.

Each morning when Charles would walk into the electric shop office, or when I would walk in and Charles would already be there, I would say, “good morning.”  Charles would say, “Mornin’ Glory.”  In the time I was in the electric shop, I must have heard that phrase over 1,000 times.

One time we were on a major overhaul on Unit 1, and we were doing check out on all the alarms in the plant that weren’t specific to Unit 2.  When you do that, you go to the various devices and mimic sending the alarm by either activating a device or putting a jumper across the contacts that would send in the alarm.

In order to perform this task, we found early on that there were two people in the shop that you couldn’t assign to this job.  One person was Bill Ennis.

Bill Ennis was a middle aged (ok.  well… older) fellow that owned a Coast-To-Coast store in Perry, Oklahoma.

Gee.  This might be a picture of the actual store.  Bill's store had a motel associated with it just like this one.

Gee. This might be a picture of the actual store. Bill’s store had a motel associated with it just like this one.

The reason you couldn’t assign Bill to do alarm checks was best put by Bill Ennis himself.  He said it like this.  “I’m blind in one eye, and I can’t see out of the other.”  This was Bill’s famous power plant quote.  What he meant was that he was color blind in one eye and he was literally blind in the other.  So, he really was “blind” in one eye, and couldn’t see out of the other.

In order to do alarm checks, you needed to be able to locate wires some times by color.  Well… Green and red both look the same to Bill Ennis.

If you are not color blind, you can see a number 62 in this picture.

If you are not color blind, you can see the number 62 in this picture.

If you are color blind, this is what you see.

So, you see, that wouldn’t be good.

The other person you didn’t want to have doing alarm checks was Charles Foster.  As we found out later, this was because he has Dyslexia.  So, even if he could read the 62 in the picture above, he might see it as a 26.

During alarm checks one person has to stay in the control room and watch the alarm monitor and the alarm printouts.  So, as we would send in alarms to the control room the person in the control room would reply to us telling us which alarms came in.  He would read the number on the screen or the printout.

In the spring of 1986, the person that was elected to sit in the control room all day and watch the alarm panel was Gary Wehunt.  He was new at the plant, and didn’t know his way around much, so it was easier for him to perform this job.

The only problem was that Gary had a habit of not paying attention.  He would either be daydreaming or he would be talking to someone in the control room about something other than the benefits of having a reliable alarm monitoring system.

So, while Dee (Diana), Andy and I were running around the plant sending alarms into the control room, we would be sitting there waiting for a response from Gary telling us what alarms he received.  When he wouldn’t reply, we might call on the radio…. Gary, did you get an alarm?

Gary would always reply the same way.  “Just now came in.”  Well… we knew it didn’t take that long for an alarm to come into the control room, as the control room needed to know immediately when there was an alarm.  So, some times we would send the same alarm about 20 times in a row one right after the other waiting for Gary to tell us that he received the alarm.

Finally we would just have to key the radio to call Gary, and he would jump in there and say, “Just now came in.”  We had about 2,000 alarms to check, and you want to be able to move from alarm to alarm rapidly once you finally make it to a position where there are a number of alarms in the same area.  But this was slowing us down.

We tried different ways to “remind” Gary that we needed to know immediately when the alarms came in, and we needed to have him give us the number of the alarm as well.  But all during the overhaul, we would receive the same response from Gary…. “Just now came in.”

The last phrase that I will mention was said by Mike Rose.  He was an Englishman that had moved to the U.S. from Canada where he had worked with the railroad.  He pointed out that a Diesel engine is really an electrical generator.  A diesel engine on a train is really pulling the train using electricity generated by a turbine generator turned by a diesel engine.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I remember the phrase well, as it became a well used phrase in our shop after we heard it for the first time from Mike Rose.  The phrase was, “Ain’t my mota.”  (in this case “mota” is a slang word for motor).

So, Mike was replying to a comment that some motor was not working properly, or had burned up all together by saying “Ain’t my mota.”  Which meant, “it isn’t my worry.”  Actually, this was pretty much Mike’s philosophy of life altogether.

Art Hammond and I would jokingly use the phrase, “Ain’t my mota.”  When faced with an obvious task that was our worry.  We might stop in the middle of our work and look at one another and say, “Well…. It ain’t my mota.”  then continue working away.

When I was working in Global Employee Services Support at Dell, where I work today, during a particular project our project team had come up with the phrase, “Nobody’s gonna die.”  Which meant that when we go live with our project, if something goes wrong, everything will be all right, because… “Nobody’s gonna die.”  Meaning that it isn’t going to be so bad that we can’t fix it.

When the project was over we were given tee-shirts that said on the back, “Nobody Died”.  This phrase reminds me of Mike Rose’s phrase “Ain’t my Mota.”

I tried to remember any phrases I came up with myself, but I’m either just not that creative, or I have just “forgotten more than I ever knew” (which is an actual phrase used by my mother once).  I was more into singing songs like Richard Moravek, when he would sing “Nestle’s makes the very best Chocolate” with Jay Harris at the Muskogee Power plant each morning before going to work.

I would break out into song by belting out the Brady Bunch song, or the Beverly Hillbillies, or some such thng.  I would also make some songs up like the one about Ronnie Banks on the Labor Crew to the tune of the William Tell Overture (The Lone Ranger galloping song for the more western educated readers)…. by singing, “Ronnie Banks, Ronnie Banks, Ronnie Banks, Banks, Banks.”

Or I would sing the Wizard of Oz like this.  “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz, because because because because…. because because because because…”  No… no great quotes from me.

Ok.  I do remember borrowing a phrase from the movie, “Trouble with Angels.” with Haley Mills, when she would say, “Another Brilliant Idea.”

Trouble With Angels

Trouble With Angels

Only when I said it, it was usually for a very sarcastic reason….  For instance, (and I will write about this much later), I remember announcing on the radio on an open channel one day that this was “Another one of Jasper’s ‘Brilliant’ Ideas”  I was called to his office later that day, but as you will see when I write that much later post, that it turned out it wasn’t because of the remark I had made on the channel I knew he was monitoring (much to my surprise).

 

Comments from the original post:

  1. Bruce Kime June 8, 2013:

    Jimmy Moore always said “Alrighty Then”. Scott Hubbard ” Hubbard Here”. Gerald Ferguson “Hey Laddie”. David Alley “Hand me that Hootis”

  2. Bruce Kime June 8, 2013:

    I J Hale “You scum suckin’ Dog”

  3. Bruce Kime June 8, 2013:

    Jim Cave “Hey Mister”

  4. That was a good read! You often remember people for their phrases. I had this teacher in middle school that answered yes or no questions with “Yes, we have no bananas.”. There’s supposedly an English speaking people, I don’t recall which, who answer negatingly by first saying yes, getting your hopes up, and then saying no, and for them it’s normal.

  5. Tubby June 11, 2013:

    Howard Chumbley (another of the Great Power Plant Men) would say “In twenty years they won’t even remember my name.” That was in 1982. It has been thirty years and some of us still remember and respect Him.

  6. Fred June 13, 2013:

    Here’s a few.

    That sumbuck! Jimmy Moore

    Know what I mean, HUH? (spoken quickly) Jody Morse

    If you think it’s big, IT IS. Bill Moler-

    Going on der, dis n dat. Floyd Coburn.

  7. Jack Curtis June 22, 2013:

    Well, don’t that beat all!

  8. Fred June 22, 2013:

    When you’ve worked a very long day 16-18-20 hours L.D. Hull would say “Sleep fast.” as you left.

  9. PARTNERING WITH EAGLES June 29, 2013:

    About color blindness –
    65% of all males are -to a certain degree- color blind; genetics “F’s” us. We don’t have the corresponding gene to cancel this defect like woman do. I can read the “62″; however, there are dozens of other dot tests like the ones you posted. I found this out when -after Reagan got in- I tried to enlist in the Navy. I failed every one of them.

  10. Monty Hansen August 14, 2013:

    One custom I’ve grown up with in the power business is changing powerplant words to something a little more colorfull for our own amusement.

    Circulator = Jerkulator
    inverter = perverter
    cubicle = pubicle

    etc…etc…you get the idea, the low brow humor keeps us grinning thru the day 🙂

Spending Long Weekends with Power Plant Men Shoveling Coal — Repost

Originally posted on:  June 1, 2012

The first couple of years while I worked as a summer help at the Coal-Fired Power Plant Coal Cleanup was performed on weekends by volunteer He-Men that wanted to make a few extra dollars.  As a summer help, I needed all the extra money I could get.  My wages during the first year (1979) were $3.89 an hour.  This jumped to $5.84 an hour when I worked on the weekend, so you can imagine the thrill I had at receiving a paycheck that included the extra money made by doing “Coal Cleanup”.  Another great advantage to doing coal cleanup on the weekends was that I was able to carpool with different people.  So, during the first summer instead of just riding to work with Steve Higginbotham, I caught a lot of rides with real Power Plant Men like Dale Hull, David Hankins, Jerry Mitchell, Preston Jenkins and Marlin McDaniel (Yeah.  Marlin McDaniel as an A Foreman would volunteer for coal cleanup some times.  Maybe it was when we were short a few people).

Coal Cleanup really became important during the second half of the first summer because Unit 1 was getting ready to go online.  There was a major flaw in the Coal Conveyor logic when the conveyors first started conveying coal from the coal pile to the coal silos just above the bowl mills.  What would happen was the same thing that happens if someone were to fall down at the top of a crowded escalator going up.  Everyone behind that person would be shoved right on top of them if there wasn’t an emergency stop button to stop the escalator.

Escalator

All the conveyors had a safety cord alongside the entire length that could be pulled to stop the conveyor in an emergency, but this was something different.

To give you an idea… once the coal on the coal pile has been fed onto either Belts 4, 5, 6 or 7, from there the coal is dropped onto either belt 8 or 9.  That carries the coal up to the coal Crusher which has a bin above the crusher that can be filled with coal.  If the bin gets too full, then conveyor 8 and/or 9 would stop.  When that happens, belts 4, 5, 6 or 7 should stop also…. only they didn’t.  Belts 8 and 9 continued dumping coal into the crusher bin until it filled up and then coal fell out all over the top of the crusher tower around belts 8 and 9 until the coal tripped the belt by hitting the safety cord on the side of the belt.  Belts 4, 5, 6 and 7 continued dumping coal onto belts 8 and 9, which caused the coal to backup and spill out all over the floor until the coal piled up high enough to trip the safety cord on the side of the belt.

In the picture of the power plant on the side of this post, there is one long conveyor that goes from the coalyard to the plant.  It is about 1/2 mile long.  This is where belts 10 and 11 carry the coal from the crusher, which crushes the coal down from big pieces the size of baseballs down to the size of walnuts.

The long belts 10 and 11 were like these only they are in a metal enclosure so the coal didn’t spill out on the ground.

At the top of the Transfer tower the coal from belts 10 and 11 are dumped onto belts 12 and 13 which carry the coal up to the Surge Bin Tower where the coal is dumped into the Surge bin.  Now when the Surge Bin fills up, it stops belts 12 and/or 13 and it should also stop belts 10 and 11 and the feeders that feed the coal into the crusher at the bottom of the crusher bin… only they didn’t.  They continued dumping coal into the Surge bin, which filled up and spilled coal all over the surge bin until belts 12 and 13 tripped, at which point, coal began spilling out all over the transfer tower filling up both floors of the transfer tower with tons of coal.  The same thing would happen at the bottom of Belt 10 and 11, where the crusher feeders kept feeding coal down to belts 10 and 11, which spilled out all over the bottom floor of the crusher tower.  I have worked in the transfer tower where the coal was higher than the windows and you had to bend over because your head would hit the ceiling on the floor at the foot of belt 12 and 13.  It was almost dangerous enough to picture yourself sliding down the pile of coal and slipping right out one of the windows (which had been broken out by the pile of coal).  To give you an idea of what this felt like, it was then a straight drop of 150 feet to the concrete below.

If that doesn’t seem like enough coal spills, then picture this…  The coal from the Surge Bin tower fed onto belts 14, 15, 18 and 19 which in turn fed onto belts 16 and 17, 20 and 21.  These last 4 belts were in what was called the “Tripper Gallery”.  These 4 belts would dump coal into 12 coal silos (6 on each unit) that would feed the bowl mills. These are big silos about 5 stories tall.  The same thing would happen to these belts leaving piles of coal at the bottom of the surge bin in the surge bin tower and all along the tripper gallery because when the coal silos were full, the tripper was supposed to move to the next silo and dump coal until it was full, and keep moving until all the silos were full.  Only, the tripper wasn’t working correctly, so it wouldn’t detect that the silo was full so the belt would keep dumping coal and would end up spilling coal all over the entire tripper gallery which runs about 100 feet or so.

So, our first experience with doing coal cleanup was like being on a chain gang where we shoveled coal from morning until night trying to clean up these 15 or so major coal spills by shoveling the coal back onto the conveyor while it was running.  In some cases, we had to shovel the coal away from the belt before the belt could even run (as was the case with belts 12 and 13).  So, you can imagine how shoveling coal one scoop at a time made it seem like you were not getting anywhere fast.  3 or 4 men could all be shoveling on one pile of coal for 30 minutes and not even make a noticeable dent in the pile.  That is why when I went to the tool room to choose a shovel, instead of picking a regular shovel, I picked a large scoop shovel used to scoop grain.

Scoop Shovel

Regular Shovel

Even though each scoop of coal was heavier, it seemed more satisfying to see the bigger dent in the pile of coal with each shovelful.  I remember one day after we had shoveled coal all day from morning until late at night only to come back into work the next morning to the new piles of coal just as big as the ones we had shoveled the day before.

After 2 years of volunteer coal cleanup which was becoming less volunteer and more rotational since the list of volunteers was growing smaller, Ray Butler pointed out that it didn’t make much sense to pay a first class machinist overtime to shovel coal when you could create a labor crew and pay them bottom dollar to do coal cleanup all the time, as well as other dirty jobs that no one really wanted to do (such as suck out sewage pits and other sump pits around the plant).  That was when the Labor crew was formed.  While I was in my 3rd year as a summer help (1981).  Bill Cook was a summer help then that stayed on as a labor crew hand at the end of the summer.  By the 4th summer as summer help, the only time we did coal cleanup was when there was a major spill, which was only a couple of times all summer.

I will write later about coal cleanup with Dale Hull.  I also remember doing coal-cleanup with Preston Jenkins one weekend.  I hadn’t carpooled with him to work, but I caught a ride back to Stillwater with him because my ride left at the end of a full day, and I decided to stay behind to add a few extra dollars to my bank account.  We left a couple of hours later around seven o’clock.

I climbed into the back of Preston’s Camaro.  I apologized for being so dirty, as I was covered from head-to-toe in coal-dust and my clothes were soaked with coal-dust permeated sweat.  Preston said that he didn’t mind.  I soon found out why.

When I climbed into the backseat of his car, I noticed that the upholstery that covered the seat back of the back seat was stained with some blackish-brownish um…. something.  Anyway.  I decided to sit on the passenger side of the back seat instead of behind the driver side because that side wasn’t near as stained.  As we drove down the highway toward home, I quickly learned why the seat back was so stained.

Being the “good-ol’ boy” that Preston was, when he climbed into the car, he took out his can of Skoal and put a pinch between his cheek 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.

As we flew down the highway like a Texan heading for Stillwater, Preston would lean his head out the window and squirt out a wad of spit.  It would dance in the air like a little fairy just before it would be sucked into the back window of his car and splat against the seat back of the back seat.  Yep that explained it all right.  I always wondered if he knew, never having to sit in the back seat of his own car.

It was during the first summer when I was able to catch a ride with David Hankins a couple of times.  He was the crane operator at the time and drove a black Trans Am.  He was a black man with a very broad chest that never seemed to tire while doing coal cleanup.  From the first day he always treated me with great respect which in turn gave me a great respect for him.  I had him classified as a true Power Plant Man.

The second summer when I had been back at the plant for a couple of weeks, one day when Jim Heflin and I were going somewhere in a yellow Cushman cart, I asked Jim why I hadn’t seen David Hankins around.

A Cushman Cart Like this only Yellow

Jim (who hadn’t been at the plant the first summer) stopped the cart in the middle of the road and looked at me very solemnly and told me that David Hankins had died in a car accident in the spring.  He had been going home from a Men’s Club event when he was killed.  Because of this, alcoholic beverages were no longer allowed at Men’s Club events.  As with all the people I have worked with at the power plant, I keep David Hankins in my memory and I often think about him to this day.  David Hankins was a True Power Plant Man.

Comments from the original Post:

  1. neenergyobserver June 1, 2012 as 6:28 pm

    We’ve lost so many friends over the years, in the plants and on the line, especially when they were relaxing on their way home. You, and David’s family have my 9very belated) condolences.

    Somebody, somewhere, needs to teach engineers a course on Conveyor Logic 101, I’ve seen the same thing happen in nearly every plant (from automotive, rarely, to meat packing, often) I’ve been in. Or they could, just for once in their life, shut their pie-hole and listen to people like you and me.

    1. Plant Electrician June 1, 2012 at 11:39 pm

      Thanks Nebraska.

      We were often exhausted while driving home from work when we had been working a lot of overtime. It was a wonder sometimes that we were able to keep the car on the road.

      My uncle Bill Breazile worked for the Utility company in Nebraska City where someone closed a breaker while he was working on a line. He was in the hospital for about 6 months healing from his burns. This was about 30 years ago. He has since passed away. It takes a special person to be a lineman. Putting their life on the line every time they reach out to do their job.

      1. neenergyobserver June 2, 2012 at 10:42 am

        Not that different from you. It’s all about planning your work, and doing it right, and safely. You and I know that 480 will kill you just as quick as 7200 if you get careless. That’s why almost all (old) linemen and electricians are in some sense stolid and unexcitable.

  2. jackcurtis July 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Industrial America returns in stories and comments in places like this, from the only place it still exists: the minds of those who were part of it. Industrial America was a giant; those who manned it were giant tamers and it seems to me, very much the special breed illuminated in these posts…