There are various reasons why “outsiders” might look at Power Plant Men with a certain degree of uncertainly. It could be because their worn jeans are permanently stained with coal dust. It could be that they use a language that only seasoned mechanics, operators and welders understand. I think that the main reason that Power Plant Men remain a mystery to many outsiders is because their Power Plant Ingenuity doesn’t always translate into viable solutions outside the plant grounds.
This is best illustrated by sharing another in a series of “Walt Oswalt Stories”. I may be able to squeeze two Walt stories into one. If you haven’t read the earlier Walt Oswalt Stories, then maybe you should take a break first and read these two posts: “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride” and “Power Plant Trip Leads to a Game of Frogger“. Now let’s see how this story goes….
Before I share more of the life and times of Walt Oswalt, let me just preface the story with a few factors that influence the lives of Power Plant Men at the plant, that lead to occasional confusion when they move beyond the Power Plant Boundary.
I suppose that most Power Plant Ingenuity springs from the need to perform tasks that others would consider impossible. In order to perform these feats of magic, Power Plant Men develop a 7th sense where they have a canny ability to think outside the box.
I can’t say for sure when I first came face-to-face with this type of thinking, but it was probably the first day I ever worked with a Power Plant Man side-by-side. Various people with completely different backgrounds were hired to work on thousands of pieces of equipment that were each designed by people with incredible imaginations. In order to fix, repair or operate some of this equipment, the most obvious solution was usually not the best solution to be found.
Let me give you a for-instance…
When I relayed the story about when there was a large explosion just below the Turbine Generator that was followed with an oil fire hot enough to melt the roof off of the building, (see the post: “Destruction of a Power Plant God“), the shaft on the Main Power Generator was going to be warped because the turning gear was not able to run, mainly because all the cables feeding everything no longer existed…
If the generator warped, it would have cost the Electric Company (or their Insurance Company) a lot of money to replace as well as months of lost revenue. In order to save the generator, Charles Patten thought of using cans of STP Oil Treatment to lubricate the bearings while manually rotating the turning gear.
As Operators and Charles and some other brave souls worked throughout the night to turn the generator by hand, the fire department fought the fire that was only a few feet away.
Such bravery and ingenuity can not be celebrated enough. The life time salaries of Charles’ entire crew wouldn’t have amounted to as much cost as Charles Patten saved the company through that one act of bravery. The only reason we came to know about this was because someone passed it up the line to someone who cared enough to share it with others. Usually great feats of magic goes on every day, just not on such a grand scale.
The reason I’m sharing this with you is because after years of service at a Power Plant, the Men and Women become so accustomed to doing the impossible, that the word “impossible” is usually not in their vocabulary. In other words…. “Everything has a Solution. That seems to be the Power Plant Motto…. and management might add… “Everything has a Safe Solution”.
The problem is that “Power Plant Solutions” don’t always translate into the world beyond the Power Plant. I don’t mean that Charles Patten went home and tried STP Oil Treatment when he washed his dog…. remember… this is a story about Walt Oswalt.
Walt Oswalt had worked many years at the Power Plant in Mustang, Oklahoma before being offered a job at the new Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma by Orville Ferguson. Orville had asked Walt to move north to work at the new Power Plant because he knew that whatever task you gave to Walt, he would figure out how to “get-er-done”.
As with many Power Plant Men at the plant, when Walt went home in the evening, it wasn’t to go lay back in a chair and drink a beer. Not right away anyway. First he had to do some farming…. After all, even though a Power Plant Man’s salary paid the bills, making a little extra never hurt anyone… or so it was thought anyway.
It turned out that Walt had a new barn put on his land that was the admiration of his neighbors. A nice shiny new metal barn… this is not a picture of the actual barn… This is just a metal barn I found on Google images to illustrate my point:
As you know from my previous posts (if you read them…) that one of Ray Eberle’s best friends was Walt Oswalt. So, Ray would go over to visit him often since he lived just down the road. On one particular day when Ray came by for a visit he found Walt loading square bales of hay in his shiny new barn.
Now, be careful… or you might learn something…. Ray noticed right away that Walt was laying the bottom layer of hay flat as shown in the picture above. This might not seem like such a bad thing to an amateur like me or you, so let me explain….. The floor of the barn was dirt.
So, as tactfully as Ray could muster the words, he asked Walt… “Don’t you want to set the bottom bales of hay on edge so the wires don’t rust from the moisture that comes up through the ground?” — You see… the bale of hay is held together by two or three metal wires going around the bale.
Ray was concerned that the wires would rust and then the bottom bales would fall apart when it came time to move them later in the winter when they were needed. If you just rotated the bale onto it’s side, then the wires would go around the bale instead of under and over the bale. This was common practice in a world of which I am totally unfamiliar… – but learning.
Walt Oswalt replied with one of his most favorite phrases: “I have that all figured out.” He explained why he wasn’t worried about the wires rusting with this explanation…. Now put on your thinking cap and see if you can follow along with this logic…
This is Walt’s explanation: “You see… I happen to know that salt absorbs moisture, so before I put the bales of hay in the barn, I covered the entire floor with salt. That way the salt will absorb all the moisture and the wires won’t get wet.”
I know how Walt could come up with such a fantastic idea as this… after all, he had come up with some doozies at work in order to do the impossible, so why not think outside the box (or the barn in this case) to come up with a solution just so that you can lay your bottom bales of hay wire-side down…
Maybe he had an argument about this at a bar one day and decided to prove that you don’t “always” have to put the bottom layer on their side… because if you think about it, it’s just as easy to lay them on their side as it is flat. I know that salt is cheap, but gee whiz… sprinkling salt all over the floor of your brand new shiny metal barn in order to lay the bottom row of hay flat…. I’m just not seeing it… but then… I’m not Walt.
Within two months, Ray went to visit Walt and his shiny new barn only to find that the walls of Walt’s new barn now looked like this:
The bottom of the barn had rusted completely away around the entire barn. Walt’s neighbors were no longer envious of Walt’s new barn. In fact, I think some non-power plant neighbors were probably even unsympathetic to Walt’s circumstance.
I guess Walt didn’t consider the other feature that salt displayed…. That salt corrodes metal… Especially when wet… The entire bottom layer of hay in the barn was useless. The wires had all corroded away and it was a mess. Ray really felt bad for his friend. What could Ray do, but show his support for Walt.
Fast forward another couple of months….. Ray Eberle drops by Walt Oswalt’s house for a visit again only to find that the rusted out barn now looks completely new again…. “What Happened?” Walt explained that Jerry Osborn came over and fixed the barn….. I suppose it’s time to introduce another one of the “True Power Plant Men” of his day… Jerry Osborn.
As with many true power plant men, Jerry Osborn could fix just about anything he ever laid his hands on. Sometimes that was all he had to do… Lay his hands on it and nod a little and the pump would start running again…. sometimes it was so eerie it even startled Jerry. Jerry Osborn had a way of nodding his head much like Jerry Mitchell, only a somewhat younger version.
Whenever Walt backed himself into a corner, all he had to do was call up Jerry and he would show up and patch things up. Jerry was sort of like Walt’s Guardian Angel. Jerry was a master carpenter, sheet rocker, mechanic, and observer of mankind.
Though some people thought Jerry was lazy on the job, because he kept himself clean like Jerry Mitchell used to do (see the post: “A Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“), the truth was that when it came to helping your neighbor, Jerry would always come through.
Ray was standing there admiring the shiny new barn when he noticed that Walt was pacing off some squares in the barn, so he asked him what he was doing…
Walt said, “Oh. I’m going to turn the barn into a stable. I’m just pacing off how I am going to place the stalls. Ray watched for a few minutes as Walt walked back and forth in the barn…. Ray noticed that Walt wasn’t writing anything down so he asked, “Aren’t you going to write this down so you can remember it?”
Walt replied, “Nope. I have it all right here,” pointing to his head. “I’ll remember it.” Ray was becoming a little concerned, because he knew that Walt wasn’t the best with figures, and he also wasn’t the best with using a saw, or a hammer and he especially wasn’t the best at building a barn full of stalls…. Ray began to wonder when Walt would find time to build stalls between his weekly heart-attacks.
Ray thought he was going to find a total mess when Walt called him to come by and look at the new stalls in his barn. When Ray walked in the barn, he was totally amazed. The stalls looked like they were done by a professional stall installing service (if there is such a thing). Ray told Walt that he was really impressed that Walt had built such terrific stalls.
Walt explained that all he had to do was tell Jerry Osborn what he wanted and Jerry built the stalls! How is that for service?
I know this is a small picture, but let me show it to you again….
This story began as just another Walt Oswalt Story, but as usual with Walt, there is always something else that pops up when talking about Walt. The first Walt Oswalt story I wrote shortly after Walt had died. When I went to write the second Walt Oswalt Story, I found out that Vance Shiever (the husband of Linda Shiever the Plant timekeeper) had died that very week (only a year earlier).
I didn’t have a picture of Jerry Osborn, so, I Googled Jerry and found that he had died on February 27, 2014. This is the picture on the memorial site for Jerry. It seems that the Power Plant Party is growing in heaven faster than I imagined.
Let me tell you a little more about Jerry, since I have not mentioned him in many posts so far…
As you can tell by the way Jerry was taking care of Walt, he was a considerate man. I never had much to say about Jerry because Jerry never spent much time talking about himself… as a matter of fact, Jerry didn’t spend much time talking at all.
When Jerry was a foreman, he would stand guard over his crew in a silent vigil watching them work. This bothered some of those that worked for him, because they thought that he was either “bird-dogging” them while others thought that he should be pitching in and giving them a hand.
I had another take on Jerry. When I watched Jerry watching his crew, I had the feeling that he was looking out for them some way. Sort of “praying” for their safety in some way. I mentioned above that I looked at Jerry as Walt’s Guardian Angel. I think he was doing the same thing with his crew.
As I said, Jerry wasn’t much for words. When he spoke, it was because he had something to say. He was the type of Power Plant Man that I knew so well… The type that leaves a first “Bad Impression” (see the post: “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“). I could see right through that facade. Jerry wasn’t the grumpy old fart he wanted you to think he was. He was the one looking out for your back.
Rest In Peace Jerry, and now that Walt has joined you, take care of him up there, and try to keep him out of trouble…. you know that Walt is “worth his salt!”