Monthly Archives: December, 2014

From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers — Repost

Originally posted December 28, 2013:

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.

Hewlett Packard 25

The HP-25 calculator

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.

The Gilson Atlas circular slide rule I used in High School

The Gilson Atlas circular slide rule I used in High School

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:

Starflight by Electronic Arts

Starflight by Electronic Arts

The other was called F15 Strike Eagle:

F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose

F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose

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.

Comments from the original post:

  1. The Conservative Hill Billy December 28, 2013:

    HP 25? The only model older is Fred Flintstone’s bird chiseling into rock tablet!

  2. Monty Hansen March 4, 2014:

    One day, a fellow operator and I brought in our old slide rules, just to show. Not the round one like yours, but straight and mine had a leather case. A young engineer came hurrying through the control room and said, “I need a calculator – QUICK!” so I handed him my leather case & he ran out, about 30 seconds later he came back with a puzzled look on his face & said “No, I don’t need to MEASURE something, I need to CALCULATE something” We all had a hearty laugh!

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Power Plant Christmas Party Party Pooper – Repost

Originally posted December 29, 2012:

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

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

Power Plant Turkey

Power Plant Turkey

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

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

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

My Mother is an Italian version of Queen Victoria

My Mother is an Italian version of Queen Victoria

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

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

Glenn Morgan looked similar to this only younger

Glenn Morgan looked similar to this, only younger

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

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

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

Power Plant Can of Worms

Power Plant Can of Worms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Plant Downsizing Disaster and the Left Behinds

The Power Plant Men and Women knew that a major downsizing was going to occur throughout the company on Friday, July 29, 1994.  The upper management had already experienced the preliminary stages of this particular downsizing since it started at the top.  Over a four month period that started with an early retirement, it worked its way down the ranks until the actual Power Plant Men at the plant in North Central Oklahoma were going to be downsized on that one day.

The people that had taken the early retirement (which was available for anyone 50 years and older) had already left a couple of months earlier.  Since the downsizing was being decided from the top down, we soon learned that our Plant Manager Ron Kilman would no longer be a Plant Manager.  He was too young to take the early retirement.  I believe he was 47 at the time.

The person taking Ron’s place was Bill Green, a guy that was old enough to take the early retirement, but decided to stay.  Bill was 53 years old at the time.  Perhaps he knew in advance that he had a secure position before the deadline to choose the early retirement.

The final week when the downsizing was going to take place, several things were happening that made the entire week seem surreal (this is a word that means — sort of weird and unnatural).  I was spending the week in the old Brown and Root building because we were busy training everyone at the plant about Confined Space Safety and the OSHA regulations that we had to follow.

We had to have all the OSHA training completed by August 1 in order to avoid the fines that OSHA had given us back in April (See the post:  “Power Plant Men Summoned by Department of Labor“).  We had formed a confined space rescue team and taken the required Confined Space training (see the post “Finding and Defining Power Plant Confined Spaces“).  We were using the old training room in the old Brown and Root Building because we wanted it to be away from the plant area where the foremen wouldn’t be bothered while they were taking their class.

The first day of training, Ben Brandt the assistant plant manager was in the the class.  He was going to be a plant manager at another plant, I think it was the plant in Seminole county.

Seminole Power Plant at night outside of Konawa Oklahoma.  This picture was found at:  http://www.redbubble.com/people/harrietrn/works/1425122-seminole-power-plant

Seminole Power Plant at night outside of Konawa Oklahoma. This picture was found at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/harrietrn/works/1425122-seminole-power-plant

I could tell that Ben was not interested in being in the training, and given all that was going down that week, I could see why.  We would say something in the class about how you had to fill out your confined space permit and turn it in to the Control Room, and Ben would shake his head in disagreement as if he didn’t think that was ever going to happen….  Well, times were changing in more ways than one that week.

Tuesday afternoon was when things really began to get weird….  We knew that Friday would be the last day for a bunch of Power Plant Men, but we didn’t yet know who.  During the previous downsizing in 1987 and 1988, we at least knew who was going to leave months before they actually had to leave.  Now we were down to just a few days and we still didn’t know who had a job come August 1 (next Monday).

On Tuesday afternoon, one at a time, someone would be paged on the Gaitronics Gray Phone (the plant PA system) by one of the four foremen that had survived.

Gray Phone Speaker

Gray Phone Speaker

We were cutting the number of first line foremen in Maintenance from 13 down to 4 and getting completely rid of two levels of management.  So, that we would no longer have an A foremen and a Supervisor over each group.  So, we wouldn’t have a position like an Electric Supervisor or a Mechanical Maintenance Supervisor.

Our new foremen were Andy Tubbs,

Andy Tubbs - True Power Plant Electrician

Andy Tubbs – True Power Plant Electrician

Alan Kramer,

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

Charles Patten

Charles Patton

Charles Patton

and Mark Fielder.

Mark Fielder

Mark Fielder

All great guys!

So, when one of them would page someone on the Gray Phone, we knew that they were going to be asked to meet them upstairs in the main office somewhere.  Then they were told that they had a position on that person’s team.

So, picture this scenario.  About 160 of the original 218 employees were waiting to learn their fate that week.  It was late Tuesday afternoon when Alan Hetherington told us that they had already begun calling operators to the office to tell them they had jobs.  They were not calling anyone to tell them that they didn’t have a job.  So, when you heard someone’s name being called, then you knew they were safe (well…. safe is a relative term).

On Wednesday just before lunch, I was called to the office by Alan Kramer.  He told me he was going to be my new foreman.  I hadn’t really worried about it up to that point, because, well, I just figured that I was pretty well irreplaceable since there really wasn’t anyone else that would go climbing around inside the precipitators during overhauls, so they would want to keep me around for that reason alone.

With that said, it was at least a little less stressful to actually have been told that I did have a position.  After all, I had caused so much trouble the previous few years, enough for some people to hold grudges against me.  So, I did have this small doubt in the back of my head that worried about that.

Alan Kramer explained to me that we would no longer have teams for each area of expertise.  We wouldn’t have teams of electricians or Instrument and Controls, or Testing, etc.  We would be cross-functional teams.  We would learn more about that next Monday.

When I returned to the Brown and Root building, the rest of the confined space team asked me if I had a job.  I told them I did.  At this point, all work at the plant seemed to have ceased.  Everyone was waiting around to receive a call on the Gray Phone.

At first, we thought this was going to be like the first downsizing where each person was called to the office and told if they had a job or they didn’t have a job.  By Wednesday afternoon, it became apparent that things weren’t working out that way.  The only people being called to the office were people that were being told they did have a job.  No one was being told if they didn’t.

Either this was a cruel joke being played on the Power Plant Men and Women, or the management hadn’t really thought about the consequences of doing this.  It became apparent right away to everyone including those that had been told they had a position that this was a terrible way to notify people about their future.  What about those that hadn’t been called to the front office?  What were they supposed to think?

About half of the Power Plant Men had received the call, when it seemed that the calls had just stopped some time on Thursday morning.  We had finished our last training session in the Brown and Root building and we were just meeting as a team to discuss our next steps in creating Confined Space rescue plans.  We were not making much progress, as everyone was just sitting around in a mild state of shock.

Alan Hetherington had not been called, so he figured that he wouldn’t have a job after Friday.  We discussed other people that were being left out.  No one on Gerald Ferguson’s team at the coal yard had been called (which included Alan).  We later heard that Gerald Ferguson, all distraught that his team had been wiped out was in disbelief that they had let his entire team go.

By Thursday afternoon, the stress became so bad for some that they had gone to Jim Arnold and asked him point blank if they had a job after Friday and he refused to say anything to them.  Preston Jenkins became so stressed out that he had to go home early because he was too sick with stress.

We knew that Bill Green was the new plant manager.

 

Bill Green

Bill Green

Jim Arnold was the new Supervisor of Operations  and Jasper Christensen was the Supervisor of Maintenance.  It seemed to us as if the downsizing was being orchestrated by Jim Arnold, as he was the one going all over the plant on Thursday and Friday coordinating things.

When we came into the office on Friday morning, all the radios had been taken from the electric shop office.  I was asked to go up to the logic room and shutdown the Gray phone system.  It became clear that Jim Arnold didn’t want anyone listening to what was going on throughout the day.

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

It was normal having Highway Patrol at the plant, because they were the regular plant guards at the front gate, but today there were a lot of them, and they were in uniform.  They were escorting people off of the plant grounds one at a time.  We were told that we were not supposed to interact with people being escorted off of the plant grounds.  We weren’t supposed to approach them to say goodbye.

It took the entire day to escort people out of the plant this way.  It was very dehumanizing that great Power Plant Men who we had all worked alongside for years were suddenly being treated as if they were criminals and were being escorted off of the plant grounds by armed Highway Patrolmen.

It was just as devastating for those that were left behind.  This was a clear indication that those people that were going to be our new supervisors (not our immediate foremen) had a warped sense of superiority.  They may have justified their actions in their minds in order to sleep at night, but the reality was that at least one person involved in this extraction of humanity was relishing in his new found power.

No one had been more left behind than Ron Kilman.

Ron Kilman

Ron Kilman

He knew he didn’t have a future with the company for the past couple of months as this entire saga had been unfolding at the plant.  During the early retirement party for those that were leaving before the slaughter took place, Ron (an avid airplane pilot) had worn a shirt that said, “Will Fly for Food”, which he revealed by opening his outer shirt while introducing some of the retirees.  This had brought an applause that was reminiscent of the first day he had arrived some seven years earlier when he told a joke during his first meeting with the plant.

There were those at the plant that had reason to dislike Ron for specific decisions that he had made during his tenure at the plant.  One that comes to mind (that I haven’t already written about) is when Ray Eberle’s house was on fire and he left the plant to go fight the fire and make sure his family was safe.  Ron docked his pay for the time he was not on the plant grounds since he wasn’t a member of the voluntary fire department.  Ron has admitted since that time that there were certain decisions he made while he was Plant Manager that he would have changed if he could.

I felt as if I understood Ron, and knew that he was a good person that wanted to do the right thing.  I also knew there were times when a Plant Manager had to make unpopular decisions.  I also knew from my own experience that Ron, like everyone else was just as much human as the rest of us, and would occasionally make a decision he would later regret.  The times when Ron tried docking my pay after working long overtime hours, I just worked around it by taking vacation to make up for it and figured that he was playing the role of Plant Manager and following the rules the way he saw fit.

Some time shortly after lunch, Ron came into the electric shop office and sat down.  This was the first time in those seven years that he had come just for a visit and it was on his last day working for the company.  Ron just didn’t know what to do.

He explained that no one had told him anything.  No one had officially told him to leave.  No one had escorted him off of the plant grounds.  He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to make his exit.  Was he just supposed to go to his car and drive out the gate and never return?  No one told him anything.

The way Ron Kilman was treated Friday, July 29, 1994, was a clear representation of the type of people that were left in charge next Monday morning on August 1.  The entire plant knew this in their heart.  As much grief that was felt by the people being escorted out of the gate after years of loyal service to their company, those that were left behind felt every bit of that grief.

This was the darkest day in the history of the Power plant in North Central Oklahoma.  The Power Plant Men left behind by this experience were negatively effected for years after that day.  There was a bitterness and sorrow that took a long time to recover in their hearts.

The worst part of the event was that it was so unnecessary.  We understood that we had to downsize.  We had accepted that some of us would be leaving.  Each person at our plant had a level of decency that would accept the fact that when the time came for them to leave, they would hug their friends, say goodbye and with the help of each other, the rest would help them carry their stuff to their car and say goodbye.

We were all robbed of this opportunity.  Everyone, even those left behind, were suddenly treated as if we were criminals.  We had a “Black Friday” at the plant before, on February 15, 1985 (see the post “Power Plant Snitch“).  This time the impact was ten times worse.

All I can say to those who made the decision to handle the layoff this way is:  “Shame on you!  What would your Mother think if she knew what you did?”

Harmonizing with Dick Dale on Power Plant Christmas Harmonicas — Repost

Originally posted December 20, 2013:

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.

A Jew's Harp

A Jew’s Harp

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.

A Hohner Marine Band Harmonica

A Hohner Marine Band Harmonica

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.

Crossroads (1986)

Crossroads (1986)

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.

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Power Plant Christmas Story — Repost

Originally posted on December 21, 2012:
December, 1998 my brother who is now a full Colonel in the United States Marine Corp. sent me the following poem about Santa Claus visiting a Marine on the night before Christmas. I, in turn, sat down and in about 30 minutes wrote a poem about Santa Claus visiting the house of a Power Plant Man. Words flowed out as easily as Ralph writing about his wish to have a Red Rider BB gun.
First, here is the Marine story, and then after that, you can read the one about Santa and the Power Plant Man. Notice the similarities….
I made the title for the Marine Poem a link to the website where I found a recent copy of the Marine Christmas Story:

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

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

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

 

And now for the story where Santa visits the Power Plant Man!!!

 

 Merry Christmas Power Plant Men

Twas the night before Christmas, as I flew through the snow,
To a house full of kids, wife, dog and Jay Leno.
I came down the chimney with presents to share,
And to see what kind of he-man actually lived there.

I looked all about, and oh what a sight!
Four kids in their beds, without much of a fight!
A dirty pair of jeans, and a shirt full of holes,
Boots full of coal dust, worn shoestrings and soles.

A hardhat was hung by the chimney to dry,
With safety stickers, scratches, and earplugs nearby.
I felt that something was stirring in my chest,
And I knew that this man was different from the rest.

I had heard about men like this from watching Roseanne,
But now I was in the house of a Power Plant Man!
I looked down the hallway and what should I see,
A tool bag hanging behind the Christmas tree.

As I approached it to look at his side cutters,
I heard a strange sound, like a motor that sputters.
There on the recliner laid back as far as it can,
Lay the worn body of the Power Plant Man!

The hole in his sock showed a big toe that was callous,
From trudging all day through his Power Plant Palace.
His face was unshaven, his clothes were a mess,
He needed a shower, of that I confess.

I knew through the nation all people could stay,
Warm in their beds, 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!

Simplify

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

santa-claus3

Power Plant Christmas Star Shines over Ponca City

When my children were young and the season was right and I had finished telling them all the Gene Day stories, when they were in just the right Christmas spirit, I would tell them about the Power Plant Christmas Star and how it would shine brightly over Ponca City, Oklahoma around Christmas time, calling shepherds and Power Plant Operators to come and see what technological miracle had taken place on Bonnie Drive on the North End of the thriving community known as Ponca City (Did I actually make an entire paragraph out of one sentence? — Geez.  This is why my English Teacher was always slapping my hand — Catholic school…. you can imagine how that was).

The story actually begins way before the Christmas season starts, but some time after Christmas decorations have gone up in Target and Wal-Mart.  That is, some time after Halloween, but before Thanksgiving.  November, 1984 was the first time I had a hint that something big was going to be happening soon.  At the time, I had been an electrician for one year, and since that time, a new machinist had arrived at the plant named Randy Dailey.  We thought he looked a lot like Barney Fife, only he seemed to be a lot smarter.  Here is a picture of the two.  See what you think.

Barney Fife played by Don Knotts in the Andy Griffith Show

Barney Fife played by Don Knotts in the Andy Griffith Show

 

Randy Dailey looking like Barney-Fife's Smarter Brother

Randy Dailey looking like Barney-Fife’s Smarter Brother

Ok.  I admit it.  that’s not really Randy Dailey.  That really is Barney Fife’s Smarter Brother.  Here is a real picture of Randy Dailey:

Randy Dailey, known as Mr. Safety to Real Power Plant Men

Randy Dailey, known as Mr. Safety to Real Power Plant Men

I happened to be walking through the machinist shop at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma on my way to the tool room when I noticed a big pile of large cans stacked up next to the large press.  These cans were about the size of a large can of beans.

Large Can of Power Plant Beans

Large Can of High Fiber Power Plant Beans

The labels had been removed from all the cans, so I couldn’t tell if they were beans, corn, Hawaiian Punch, or what.  Only Randy Dailey knew for sure.  He had set up some sort of assembly line where he was punching holes through these cans in the shapes of stars and Christmas trees, and I don’t even remember what else.  Ginger Bread Men maybe…. Hopefully Randy will comment at the bottom of this post to answer the unanswered questions about the can decorations and not leave a comment about how I look more like Barney Fife than he does and how he actually looks more like Cary Grant.

 

Cary Grant

Cary Grant trying to look like Randy Dailey

One could only imagine what Randy was going to do with hundreds of cans with Christmas designs punched out around them.  I know that one could only imagine that, because I was one.  No one else seemed puzzled about the cans, so I pretended not to be puzzled also.  It seemed to work, because no one stopped me on the way to the tool room to ask me about the puzzled look on my face.  Which was surprisingly not that uncommon since I walked around a lot puzzled by a great many things.

I figured that some day all this can punching (as opposed to cow punching which is something entirely different) would some day make sense to me.  Each year, Randy would do the same thing.  He would fill the machine shop with cans and then proceed to punch Christmas Trees and stars into them.  It finally made sense to me two years later.  After I had moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma.

My wife and I were sitting around one night in our luxurious two bedroom, one bath, one dog house in Ponca City trying to decide what to do for our first wedding anniversary.

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma (thanks Google for the picture.  Actually thanks Google for all the pictures, except the one with Randy Dailey)

I suggested that we try to solve the riddle of the Randy Dailey Christmas cans.  My wife was not at all surprised, because during our wedding night a year earlier I had made up a story called “Barney Frumpkin, the Christmas Pumpkin”, so, solving a riddle like Randy Dailey’s Christmas Cans seemed right up my alley and in no way out of the ordinary.

Ok.  Here is a side story about Barney Frumpkin the Christmas Pumpkin.  Keep in mind that I just whipped this one out off the top of my head and it was 29 years ago tomorrow (December 21, 1985):

Once upon a time there was a pumpkin patch out in the country by a small town.
Each year the people from the town would go out to the pumpkin patch to pick out a pumpkin before Halloween,
in order to make Jack-O-Lanterns and/or Pumpkin Pie.
This one particular year, there was one pumpkin in the patch named Barney Frumpkin.
He had heard from the other pumpkins that the farmer had been talking to someone and said,
“Tomorrow the people from the town will be here to pick their own special pumpkin, so I want everything to be just perfect.”
All the pumpkins were excited about being chosen by a family, but none were as excited as Barney Frumpkin.
Barney stretched and stretched himself as much as he could to try to stand out as a very special pumpkin.
He could imagine himself shining bright orange among the green vines.
When the day finally arrived, Barney was as excited as he could be as children and parents walked through the pumpkin patch,
Each family looking for their own special Halloween Pumpkin.
As each family came near to Barney, he would wish as hard as he could wish that this would be the family for him.
Each time throughout the day, as each family walked by Barney, none of them so much as gave him a second glance.
Toward the end of the day, as the crowds began to thin, Barney suddenly came to the realization that he was all alone.
No one had chosen him to be their special Halloween Pumpkin.
What Barney didn’t know was that he had a very large black spot on one side that made him look like he was rotten.

As the sun set that day, Barney was left all alone in the pumpkin patch.
All the other pumpkins had been picked and carried away.
Barney Frumpkin sat in the patch and cried.
No one heard him except you and I.

As each day began, the sun was lower in the sky and the nights became colder.
Soon there was snow on the ground that left Barney Frumpkin rather wrinkled and dry.
Barney felt as if the world had left him behind and he wanted to die.
So, he just laid there in the withered pumpkin patch sinking slower into the ground.
Shivering in the snow one night, he thought he could hear songs coming from the village.
In the distance people were singing carols of happiness and joy.
In the darkness Barney felt as if his life was coming to an end.
Then suddenly Barney became aware of a different sound.
The sound of someone humming quietly to their self.
Unknown to Barney, it was an evil witch making her way through the pumpkin patch.
Back to the hovel she would call home if she had a heart.
The people of the town called her a witch and she had no friends.
As she approached Barney, the moon peered out from behind a cloud to take a look.
The witch was about to step on Barney Frumpkin when the moonlight appeared.
The witch stopped in her tracks and looked down at the shriveled pumpkin at her feet.
The one with the large black spot on the side.
She had never seen such a wonderful site in all the days of her life.
It was the perfect pumpkin laying right there in front of her!
Without hesitation, the witch carefully picked up the pumpkin.
She smiled a smile that was so big that the cloud covering the rest of the moon scurried away,
Allowing the moonlight to brighten up the pumpkin patch.
The witch hugged Barney Frumpkin with as much care as she could muster.
She carefully carried him home to her hovel which would now become a home.
Barney was so surprised that for a while he was in shock.
He wasn’t sure what had happened because suddenly everything had turned dark.
It wasn’t until he saw the fire in the fireplace that he realized that someone had taken him home.
The witch set Barney on a table close to the fire where Barney could look around the room.
Standing close by, he saw the witch leaning toward him.
Barney Frumpkin had never seen such a beautiful site!
Barney Frumpkin, the Christmas Pumpkin and the Witch lived happily ever after.

A rotten Pumpkin like Barney Frumpkin

A rotten Pumpkin like Barney Frumpkin

End of Side Story.  Back to the mystery about Randy Dailey and his Christmas cans.

So, I went to the kitchen and took the phone book out of the drawer and looked up Randy’s address…. hmm…. Bonnie Drive.  In 1986, we didn’t have the World Wide Web, so I couldn’t Google the address.  So, I looked in the middle of the phone book to where the maps of the town were, and found the street.

Kelly and I climbed into our car and drove north up Union Street to Lora Street and over to Bonnie Drive.  The mystery of the Christmas Cans was immediately solved even before we had turned the corner.  The entire neighborhood was lit up.  Randy’s Christmas Cans were lined up and down both sides of the street, up and down each drive way on the block and each can had a light shining in it so that you could see the punched out Christmas Trees and Stars shining brightly.

Randy’s house was easy to see halfway up the street because it was all lit up.

Randy's House

Randy’s House

You can see the Flag Pole in the front and the Ham Radio tower in the backyard.  Well, the Ham Radio tower had a large star on the top of it, and there were strings of lights coming down on all sides.  The entire street was lit up with Christmas lights and those in front of Randy’s house had a light show going that was fantastic.  Randy had programmed the lights himself.  The Nativity Scene on the front lawn was like none I had ever seen before.  I wish Randy would send me a picture of it (I would put it in this post).

So, the Christmas story that I told my Children went something like this:

The Evil Plant Manager (Eldon Waugh) had issued a decree that no Christmas Lights would be visible on the plant grounds.  And the Power Plant Men were distraught.  Then there were unknown sounds coming from the machine shop.  They went, “Punch, Punch, Punch.  Zing.  Punch, Punch, Punch, Zing…” Like that.

Cans were quietly being donated while the lone Power Plant Elf (Randy Dailey) punched out designs on cans.  Careful to keep them hidden where the Evil Plant Manager wouldn’t see them.  Which was easy, because he never dared to stroll through any shop where work might be happening.

Then when Christmas Eve came, and the Operators were keeping watch over the boilers at night, An Angel of the Lord appeared to them and said, “Climb to the top of Unit 2 Boiler and look to the North toward Ponca City!”

And Lo!  When the Power Plant Operators and any other Shepherds that happened to be nearby (the cattlemen were all tucked in their beds with visions of Salt Licks dancing in their heads.  Apparently, cattlemen don’t need to keep watch at night like Shepherds do..)

Cow licking a Salt lick

Cow licking a Salt lick

anyway, the Operators and any other shepherds that happened to be nearby climbed up the 250 stairs (or took the elevator), and gazed upon the Conoco Oil Refinery lighting up the night sky, they became puzzled.

Then the Angel said, “No. Over that way.”  And Lo!  The Power Plant Men of Operator Fame gazed upon a Star shining brightly in the night!  With streams of light coming down in a fantastic light show specially programmed for the occasion to elicit maximum emotions.

And the Angel said unto the Power Plant Men and any stray Shepherds, “Be not afraid!  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people!  Know that today, this very power plant has supplied the electricity to power The Star of Ponca City!  To honor the baby that was born 2,000 years ago in the town of Bethlehem, Jesus!  The Son of God!”

When the Angel of God had left them, the Power Plant Men said to one another, “Let us go to Ponca City and see Randy Dailey’s Christmas Star and all the magical Christmas Cans for ourselves!”

So, they hurried off to their pickup trucks and created a convoy of Ford and Chevy’s and an occasional GMC and Dodge Ram and raced up Highway 177 to Ponca City.  Arriving at Randy’s house, they found the Nativity Scene of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus and they were amazed!  They spread the word to all the Power Plants letting them know how important it was to keep the Star of Ponca City burning for all to see.  Then they all returned back to work.

nativity_scene

And now you know…. The rest of the Story!  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!

 

Boppin’ With Bif during the Power Plant Downsizing — Repost

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.

No.  Not this Biff!  This is Biff from "Back to the Future" played by Thomas F. Wilson

No. Not this Biff! This is Biff from “Back to the Future” played by Thomas F. Wilson — Ok. I needed at least one picture in this post…

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.

Comments from Previous post:

    1. heila2013  December 19, 2013:

      “You can be there to help when needed” Great message, for Christmas and the whole year around. Wish you happy holidays. Heila

      Jack Curtis  January 9, 2013:

      Delightful! A cameo of the mindset of the sorts of Americans who built industry and of maturing in industrial America as well. And a fair guage against the way we have changed since…

 

Last Days as a Power Plant Labor Crew Hand — Repost

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?

Queen Anne of England

Queen Anne of England

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

Punch and Judy

Punch and Judy Puppet Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement

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

We had a Clarke Floor scrubber similar to this one

We had a Clarke Floor scrubber similar to this one

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

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

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

A Main Power Transformer

A Main Power Transformer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a Note Jan Said the Manager of Power Production

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

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

Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Plant Gulf War Syndrome

It seemed like it was getting dark already when Scott Hubbard and I were driving home from the plant in Scott’s pickup on January 16, 1991.  We were listening to NPR on the radio, as we did most days.  Just as we were entering Stillwater on Hwy 177, NPR suddenly stopped their regular broadcast to announce that there were reports of bombs dropping in Baghdad.

Up to this point, we had all hoped that Saddam Hussein, seeing the massive buildup of the U.S. and other countries at his border would pull his forces out of Kuwait and go home.  At 5 pm Central Standard Time (2 am Baghdad time), the week long air assault on Saddam Hussein’s troops began.  Scott dropped me off at the church where he had picked me up 9 1/2 hours earlier and I drove straight home.  Glued to the radio for any new update.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

When I arrived home, my wife Kelly met me by the door to tell me the news.  By the expression on my face, she could tell I had already heard.  I was not able to speak.  I just gave her a hug and broke out in tears.  As much as we knew that this was necessary, and even though we had watched the buildup over the previous three months, I was not prepared for the actual assault to begin.

For the next five hours we watched as Peter Arnett and his camera man reporting from their hotel room in the middle of Baghdad showed actual footage of anti-aircraft fire continuously firing into the night sky.  We could see our bombs hitting carefully determined targets.  The battle was taking place right in our living room.

 

Peter Arnett

Peter Arnett

My brother Gregory T. Breazile was (and still is) a U.S. Marine officer in Saudi Arabia preparing for the ground assault.  We had been able to talk to him a few days earlier when AT&T setup a bank of phones in the desert so that the soldiers could phone home.  – On a side note… my mom was not too happy when she received a very large bill from AT&T for the phone calls to her house.  She called AT&T and complained.  I think they gave her a refund.

I went to sleep that night after the sun had come up in Baghdad, and even though the bombings were continuing, the initial impact of what was happening had finally been processed in my brain.

The next day at work the radios around the Power Plant were all tuned to stations that were keeping everyone updated on the progress of the Gulf War (Desert Storm, they were calling it).  I had a job for the next week or so organizing the old Brown and Root electrical parts warehouse.  This was a long tedious job that consisted of going through boxes of all sorts of electric parts and organizing them into meaningful piles of good junk.

I drove one of the pickups over to the warehouse and positioned it so that the passenger side door was lined up with the door to the warehouse.  Then I turned the volume on the radio all the way up so that I could hear it in the warehouse.  It was an AM radio that didn’t have receptions inside the warehouse.  I didn’t want to miss any new information about what was going on in Iraq.  The radio in the truck didn’t have reception when it was in the warehouse, so I would carry (or drag) the boxes toward the front of the warehouse so that I could be close enough to hear the radio.

After one week of constant bombing and after the U.S. along with our allies which consisted mostly of Britain, France and Saudi Arabia along with another 30 countries around the globe had flown over 100,000 bombing missions and dropped over 88,000 tons of bombs on Iraq’s army, the U.S. was finally ready for the ground assault.

Soon after the ground assault began, it became apparent that Iraq’s troops were no match for the U.S..  Their Soviet tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft found it difficult to inflict a dent on the side of one of our tanks.  It was apparent that the United States had won the arms race and the demise of the Soviet Union was right around the corner (exactly 11 months later on December 26, 1991).  All they could do was blindly send some SCUD missiles toward us hoping to hit a target…. any target.  The most casualties that occurred on the allies was when a SCUD missile hit a barrack in the middle of the desert killing 28 soldiers.

My brother Greg was attached to the first Marine Division and was part of the group that attacked the Iraqi Republican Guard at the Kuwait Airport.  He later described the battle something like this…. “Rockets were being fired in both directions.  Bombs exploding all over the place.  The entire scene seemed like chaos.  Even thought it looked like it was a fierce battle, it was as if we were being protected somehow.  Throughout the entire siege, we didn’t experience so much as one broken fingernail as we cleared the enemy from the airport.”

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

The ground assault lasted exactly 100 hours.  In that time Kuwait was liberated, and the Republican Guard was decimated.

The Power Plant Men and Women did what they could to show their support for our troops.  A great many of the Power Plant Men had served in the Vietnam War and they were proud patriots.  There might have been a few that felt like we had no business there in the first place, but those that I remember weren’t the real Power Plant Men.

The critics of the first Gulf War said that freeing Kuwait from their Iraqi invaders was all about oil.  That was pretty evident when Saddam Hussein set over 700 oil wells on fire as his troops were being driven out of Kuwait.  Kuwait’s main product is oil.  That’s hardly debatable.

Iraqi Oil Wells on set on fire by Iraqi soldiers

Iraqi Oil Wells on set on fire by Iraqi soldiers

The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma knew the importance of energy to our country, and a fight over oil is just about as serious as it gets.  Those people who criticize our protection of the oil fields in Kuwait by saying that this was just a fight over oil lack the same perspective as Power Plant Men.  A steady flow of energy in our lives is essential to our way of life.

A response to that may be that maybe (… “may be that maybe”….  interesting way of saying that… I’m sure my English Teacher would have had something to say about that one) our way of life needs to be changed.  I would agree with that, but I would argue that it needs to be changed for the better.  Let me try to explain what Power Plant Men across our country know each morning when they awaken.

From the alarm clock that rings in the morning that wakes the Power Plant Man, to the light in the bathroom where they take their shower with hot water, energy is being supplied to their house either through electricity or some sort of natural gas or oil.  The act of eating breakfast, whether it is eating a bowl of cereal with milk that has been cooled in the refrigerator or frying some eggs, all this takes energy.

All the Power Plant Men had to drive to the Power Plant located out in the country 20 miles from the nearest towns (except for Red Rock or Marland where few people lived).  It would be hard to produce the electricity at the plant if the Power Plant Men and Women didn’t have gasoline to drive their cars to work each and every day.  Even if they had an electric car, they would have to charge it with electricity that comes from a power plant that is either powered from coal or natural gas for the most part.

Sure we have a dream of a world where all cars are electric all charged with electricity that is generated without fossil fuels.  That is a noble dream and the struggle to reach that point some day is one worth having, but today it doesn’t exist.  We can’t transition to that world overnight.  In the meantime, the free flow of oil is and should be one of our greatest priorities.

Power Plant Men live with this priority every day.  The free flow of electricity to our nation is just as vital.  Just look at the disasters that happen when a region of the United States suddenly goes dark.  Each Power Plant Man and Woman plays their part in ensuring that never happens.

Each Electric Company employee has a picture in the back of their mind of someone laying on an operating table and as the surgeon is in the middle of the operation, the lights suddenly go out.  Or an elevator full of people travelling up around the 20th floor of a building when all of the sudden it stops and they are trapped in the dark.  What then?  No Power Plant Man wants that to happen.

So, how do you thank someone who has freely risked their life serving our country?  Someone who is willing to die for our country?  How can you?  Who am I that others should be willing to die for me?  All I can think of doing is to pray “God Bless Them”.

Some Power Plant veterans may have wished they could have been there fighting with their brothers in arms in the Gulf War.  The truth is, those men were needed right where they were.  The best way to thank our troops during the Gulf War was by showing that we supported what they were doing and by continuing to perform our daily tasks of keeping the lights on at home by producing a steady flow of electricity.  Day in and day out without fail.

The reason we take electricity for granted is because the Power Plant Men and Women in this country has been performing their job nearly flawlessly.  it is almost like the words my brother used to describe the battle at the Kuwaiti Airport, “it was as if we were being protected somehow”.  There are so many things that can go wrong that could bring down the electric grid in the United States, it is amazing that we are able to depend on electricity being there when we turn on the TV.

So, how do you thank the Power Plant Men and Women that work each day to bring us that reliable source of energy?  How can we?  Certainly the service they provide is far more than the salary and benefits provided by the Electric Company.  We can show our appreciation by letting them know that we support them.

When you see an Electric Company truck driving down the road, smile at them and wave.  When you run across a Power Plant Man eating lunch at Braum’s, buy him a cup of coffee.

Braum's is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger.  It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

Braum’s is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger. It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

Power Plant Men generally spend the majority of their waking hours in isolation at a Power Plant where they don’t directly see the benefit of their labor.  All they experience is their paycheck every couple of weeks and their benefits.  They don’t often willingly leave their job to go work somewhere else.  They spend their entire working life laboring to produce electricity for others.

If there is a Power Plant Man in your neighborhood, maybe you could give them some small Christmas present this holiday to show your appreciation for the service they have been providing you and your family this year.

If there is a soldier living nearby, do the same.  Find any opportunity to show them you appreciate their service to our country.  A Braum’s Gift Card perhaps!

A Power Plant Backstabbing Experience — Repost

Originally posted December 7, 2013:

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.

Notice the irregular shape of these kidney stones

Notice the irregular shape of these kidney 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.

A contact lens case with an L and an R for the Left and Right eye.

A contact lens case with an L and an R for the Left and Right eye.

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.

One exactly like this

A lunchbox exactly like this

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.

A rosary

A rosary

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.

A yellow electric Cushman cart like this

A yellow electric Cushman cart like this

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.

My largest kidney stone was almost as large as this one.

My largest kidney stone was almost as large as this one.

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.

A handheld massager like this

A handheld massager like this

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).

Comments from the original post:

  1. Ron  December 7, 2013

    Kidney stones are evil. I’ve had some, but none since 2009. The one change I made was to drink lots of water. I try to drink at least a half a gallon every day. The clearer your urine the better.

  2. Fred  December 9, 2013

    Yes Kev I was there and remember it well. Not that you moaned and groaned but when you set up straight in your seat and had a look on your face like. . .something was terribly wrong.
    I offered to drive you home but you assured me you would be ok driving home. I did bum a ride with someone at Bill’s corner to work.

  3. Jack Curtis  December 15, 2013

    Ouch…
    Wise advice for dealing with pain or anything negatively stressful. Not sure all are equally equipped to follow it, though. One of these days, maybe they’ll find a means for rebalancing the chemistry for you…

  4. Monty Hansen  February 20, 2014

    This is incredible! I was just talking tonight to another operator at work about passing kidney stones, I have only had two, one was when I was rolling up Valmy 1 steam turbine as a Control Room Operator, I had just started rolling and felt that familiar unmistakable pain, I turned the unit over to my assistant, went & peed out a potato shaped kidney stone about 1/2 the size of a pea & then finished putting the unit online! (Actually the concentration of bringing the unit on, mercifully helped give me something else to think about besides my pain)

    Anyway Kevin, this is how I got rid of them. I started taking MAGNESIUM, a small dosage every day, it binds with the calcium & you urinate it out before it can form into a stone, works for me, I haven’t had one in twenty years now. If I feel that familiar pain in my back I know it’s because I’ve neglected taking my magnesium, so I double up for 2 or 3 days & problem solved.

    I recommend stopping the calcium & taking the lowest dose magnesium you can get at the vitamin shop & see if the stones don’t stop for good. Take it from a fellow power plant man, kidney stone sufferer, and friend of Jesus 🙂

    P.S. I don’t get a chance to read these every day you send them out, the best I can do is save them up & read them at work when I have the time, so I am usually far FAR behind your most recent posts, but I really enjoy them.