In Memory of Sonny Karcher – Power Plant Man
this was originally posted on January 7, 2012. Added a picture of Sonny Karcher:
When I heard the sad news of the death of Sonny Karcher on 11/11/11, I wished I had been able to attend his funeral. I did reserve some amount of time that night when I heard about his death to remember the times I have spent with Sonny. All of them good, as Sonny was always pleasant to be with even when he was mad about something. Here are some of the first and last things I remember:
When I first worked at the Sooner power plant the summer of 1979, Sonny and Larry Riley were the first two mechanics I was assigned to work with. They taught me how things were at the plant at that time. Both of the units were still under construction, so there was no electricity being generated.
The first job we were to work on (my second day at the plant, since the first day was taking a safety class, and getting my hard hat and safety glasses and getting fitted for ear plugs) was a stuck check valve in the dumper sump pump pit (Not only did I not know what a check valve was, I wasn’t too sure what was meant by a dumper sump, though I did know “pump”).
It took us about an hour to take the truck to the coal yard, as a coal yard foreman Richard Nix had the key and wasn’t going to give it to us until one of his hands was ready to go with us. So we sat in the truck parked in the north entrance of the maintenance shop for almost an hour. When the guy was finally ready, and he had climbed in the back of the pickup, it turned out that he only needed to go as far as the parking lot… about 200 yards away (as the parking lot was at the Engineer’s shack at the time). We dropped him off and drove up to the coal yard, and made our way down belt 2 to the sump pump pit at the tail end of the belt.
We tested the pump and saw that the water would run back into the sump once the pump stopped running. So, it was determined that the check valve was stuck. We drove back to the plant and took the morning break.
About an hour later, Sonny told me to go to the tool room and get the following items (which I thought was a joke, because he gave me such a strange list of tools that I didn’t recognize): Two ¾ box ends (pronounced “three quarter box ends”), One four foot soft choker, a ¾ come-along, a ¾ shackle, a two foot steel choker a flat bastard file, a large channel lock, and two pry bars (I did recognize Pry Bars and shackle, which I believed was thrown in there just to make it sound legitimate). – I wrote down the list, because I recognized right away that a joke was being played on me and I was going to play right along.
So, I went to the tool room and I asked Bud Schoonover (a very large tall and easy going man at the time), “I need a ¾ come-along (I thought I would choose the most ridiculous item on the list first, just to get on with the joke…). Well. Bud turned around, walked to the back wall, took a come-along off the top of a pallet full of what appeared to be a bunch of junk, and laid it across the tool room gate window (The tool room was still being “organized” at the time and the gate was actually a window in the office next to the tool room).
So, I asked for two ¾ box ends (this was before anyone had been issued toolboxes by the way, that’s why we had to go to the tool room for these things). Well, you know the rest of this part of the story. These are all legitimate items, and I learned a lot that day and the next few weeks about the names of various tools. I kept that list in my wallet for over 10 years as a reminder to myself of when I first came to the plant, and how much I didn’t know then.
So, Larry, Sonny and I went up to the coal yard, and went down to the tail end of #2 belt and removed the check valve from the discharge pipe and brought it back to the maintenance shop to repair. When we returned, we went to lunch. During lunch Sonny told me about how he was hired at Sooner plant.
He said he lived a few miles down the road and had heard that someone was building a lake up on top of the hill he could see from his property. So, he went on over to see who was dumb enough to build a lake on top of a hill, and while he was looking around Orville Ferguson came up to him and asked him if he was looking for a job. Sonny said that he liked to mow grass, and Orville said that he would hire him to mow grass then. Sonny said, if I remember correctly, that he was hired at the same time that Linda Shiever, the timekeeper, was hired and that they were the first two new hires at the plant. The rest were already company employees that had transferred there.
After lunch we went down to the shop and took the check valve apart and what do you know…. There was a piece of coal stuck in the check valve keeping it open. We cleaned it up and put it back together. When we were finished, we took our afternoon break. After break we drove back up to the coal yard and went down to the tail end of #2 Conveyor belt and put the check valve back in the discharge pipe. When we returned to the maintenance shop, we returned the tools to the tool room and filled out our time cards. A day’s worth of work cleaning a check valve.
I did many other things that first summer, since Sooner Plant didn’t have a yard crew yet, I worked most of the time in the maintenance shop bouncing around from crew to crew helping out. I also did a lot of coal cleanup (especially on weekends), since the conveyor system didn’t work correctly when they started it up when they were starting to fire up unit 1.
The second day before I left at the end of the summer to go back to school, I worked again with Larry Riley and Sonny Karcher to fix the exact same check valve. This time we jumped in a truck (we had a lot more trucks now…. Which is another story), went to the coal yard, went down #2 tunnel to the tail end of #2 Conveyor, pulled out the check valve, removed the piece of coal, put the check valve back in, went back up to the truck and back to the maintenance shop just in time for morning break. Sooner Plant had improved a lot in the short three months I worked that summer.
I worked many years with Sonny Karcher in the garage, and fixing coal handling equipment, and just about anything else. He finally left the plant to go mow grass, when after a battle to move to the garage from coal yard maintenance to mow grass, he was told that he was going to have to go back to the coal yard to be a coal yard mechanic, because he was real good at that and they just needed him up there. So he left.
He talked to me about it before he went, that’s how I know what was on his mind. He said, “Kev, you remember when you first came here and I told you how they hired me to mow grass? Well, that’s what I want to do. Mow grass. So I’m going to have to go back home and do just that.”
After that, the only times I remember seeing Sonny was when he was mowing grass down at Bill’s corner, with a smile on his face waving at the Sooner plant employees on their way home from work.
I can see Sonny talking to St. Peter at the gates of heaven now….. The only words I can hear Sonny saying is, “I like to mow grass”… and St. Peter nodding with approval and points out that they have a lot of green pastures as he lets him through the gates.
Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day
This is a revised version of a post that was originally posted on 1/14/2012:
What sets power plant men apart from your regular mechanic, lineman or men of other occupations is that they are a semi-captive group of people with a lot of freedom to move about the plant and the plant grounds. This provides for the opportunity to play jokes on each other without resorting to “horseplay”. There is no room for horseplay at a power plant. The power plant man lives among dangerous equipment, poisonous chemicals, carcinogenic dust, asbestos gloves and purely evil plant managers who would love to catch one of his minions engaging in horseplay.
The more elaborate yet simple joke seems to have the best effect on those who find themselves the victim. First of all, the joke must be essentially harmless. That is, no one is left injured (this rule seems to be more of a suggestion since I seemed to end up on the short end of the stick a few times). Secondly, the longer the joke takes to completion, the better.
If the joke goes on for a week or longer, then the final impact of the joke is much greater. For instance. A person that you are going to play a joke on sits in a chair that is raised and lowered by turning the chair upside down and twisting the wheel bracket around (which is how you lowered office chairs before the fancier spring and air cushioned chairs arrived). Say you were to gradually lower a person’s chair each day by 1/8 of an inch or so.
Eventually, in a couple of weeks, the person will be sitting lower and lower at their desk until one day they get frustrated at sitting so low that they turn their chair over and raise the chair higher. But each day, you keep lowering the chair by just a little bit until they are sitting so low again that they complain about it again and raise the chair up. This can go on indefinitely. The more people that know the joke is being played, the better in this instance.
The first time I met Gene Day, I knew that he was someone that would be fun to play jokes on. I don’t know what it was about him exactly. It wasn’t that he appeared to have a lower IQ. On the contrary. He seemed to be very knowledgeable as Control Room operators go. Maybe it was because he seemed like a happy person that took most things rather lightly.
He wouldn’t be the type of person that would hold something against you just because you made him look foolish in front of his peers (or you posted it on a blog for the entire world to see. — Right Gene?). It seemed like the first time I noticed Gene Day, he was standing in the Control Room and I gave him a look like I was suspicious of him and he returned the look with one that said that he knew that I might be the type of person that would play a joke on him. This surprised me, because I thought I had masked that look pretty well.
Throughout my 20 years of power plant life I played many jokes on Gene Day, and each time it seems that I was throttled to the edge of extinction, which meant that I had executed the joke perfectly. It seemed that each person had a different way of expressing their joy of finding out that they have been the victim of a power plant joke. Gene’s general reaction was to place his hands carefully around your neck and start rapidly shaking your head back and forth.
My favorite Gene Day joke was not one that took a long time to execute, and from the time that I conceived the idea to the time that I was being strangled by Gene Day was a mere 15 hours.
It began when I was driving home from work one day on my way down Sixth Street in Stillwater Oklahoma where I lived on the west end of town at the time. Gene Day was an operator and their shift was over an hour and a half before the rest of the plant. As I drove down Sixth Street about a block ahead of me, I saw Gene Day’s truck pull away from the Rock House Gym travelling in the same direction. Gene had a black pickup with flames on the side…. Something left over from High School I think… The only one in town like it.
I kept an eye on his truck to see where he went, and as he passed the Stillwater Hospital he pulled into an Eye Clinic and parked in the parking lot. I drove on past and pulled into my driveway about 3 blocks further on. As I checked my mail I decided to go to the bank to deposit some checks I had received. I returned to my car and pulled my car out of the driveway and headed back toward downtown.
Gene Day just happened to turn onto Sixth Street in front of me again as he left the Eye Clinic and proceeded to go down Sixth street in front of me. So again I watched him to see where he went.
Just as I came to Duck Street, I saw Gene Day pull his truck into the Simon’s Gas Station on the corner of Duck and Sixth. He had pulled his truck up to the garage instead of the pumps, so I figured that he was getting his truck inspected. I turned on Duck street to go to the bank drive-thru about a block away from the gas station.
After taking care of my banking business, I left the bank and headed back home toward Sixth Street. I arrived at the corner of Sixth Street just in time to see Gene Day pulling out of the gas station and heading off in the opposite direction toward his house. I thought that he hadn’t been at the gas station very long so he probably had just had his truck inspected.
The next morning when I arrived at the plant I walked by Gene Day’s truck on the way to the electric shop and I looked to see if he had a new Safety Inspection sticker. He didn’t have any Safety Inspection sticker which meant that his truck had failed the inspection.
Armed with this information when I arrived in the electric shop I took out a yellow pad of paper and proceeded to write the following:
Private Investigator’s Notes for Gene Day:
3:05 Gene Day leaves work.
3:45 Gene Day arrives at Rockhouse Gym where he works out with a young college coed named Bunny.
5:05 Gene Day leaves Rockhouse Gym.
5:07 Gene Day arrives at Cockrell Eye Care Center where he meets with a nurse in his pickup truck in the parking lot.
5:20 Gene Day leaves Eye Care Center.
5:25 Gene Day arrives at Simon’s Garage at the corner of Sixth and Duck and has them clean his pickup seats to remove the perfume scent. While he was there, he tried to have his pickup inspected, but it didn’t pass inspection.
5:33 Gene Day leaves Simon’s Garage and goes home.
I folded the paper in half and after I began work, I headed to the Control Room to see how the Electrostatic Precipitator was doing. I sat at the computer by the Control Room door that opened up to the Turbine Generator room. After a while Gene Day walked by on his way to pick up the mail from the front office.
I waited about 30 seconds and followed him out onto the Turbine Generator (T-G) floor. The T-G floor at Sooner Plant is painted bright red and the floor is kept clean so that the lights overhead reflect off of the floor.
The Control Room is halfway across this large room about 200 yards long. The office area is at one end. I walked over to the door that leads to the Office area and laid the half folded paper in the middle of the floor.
I figured that Gene wouldn’t be able to resist picking it up to see what it said. Then I went back to the Control Room and leaned against one of the big blue monitors used by the Control Room Operators to view alarms.
After a few minutes, Gene Day walked into the Control room. In one arm he carried various parcels of mail. In the other hand, he was carrying the yellow paper I had left for him to find. He was violently shaking it at me yelling, “How did you do this?!?!”
I acted surprised as if I didn’t know what he was talking about. Somehow he figured I was behind this, but for the life of me I don’t know why…. He tried to explain to me that he had stopped to see his wife who is a nurse at the Cockrell Eye Care Clinic, and that there wasn’t any girl named Bunny. He couldn’t figure out how I would know that he tried to get his truck inspected and it failed inspection….
I insisted that I didn’t know what he was talking about. About that time, the room became blurry as my head was shaking back and forth, and I came to the realization that this joke had been performed perfectly.
Bob Lillibridge Meets the Boiler Ghost
This is a repost of a story that was Posted on January 21, 2012. I rewrote it slightly and added a story to the bottom of it. Everything past the poem is new.
When I worked on the labor crew we used to have a lot of fun cleaning out the boiler. Especially the economizer section where we had that three foot crawl space in the middle where you had to lie flat with a the hydraulic spreaders and the four inch vacuum hose trying to suck out the chunks of ash clinkers before the crawl space filled up with ash. After lying around in this wonderful environment for a day or so, one begins to look around for something to break the drone of the sucking sound of the vacuum and the swishing sound of the crosscut saws welded end on end as they rose and fell in a rhythmic beat propelled by Labor Crew He-men ten feet above this large bundle of Economizer tubes.
Bob Lillibridge was never in a bad mood when it came to cleaning the boiler. His thin physique allowed him easy access to the crawl space. The wild glare in his eye and cigarette smile kept everyone guessing what he would do next. The texture of Bob’s face was like those bikers that have spent too many hours riding their Harleys through the desert without wearing a helmet.
He was especially cheerful when we were able to work in the Economizer crawl space with Ronnie Banks. Ronnie Banks, unlike Bob was not wiry. His stature was more like a thin black bear standing on his hind legs. He sort of walked that way too. I developed a song when Ronnie Banks and I worked together that went to the tune of the Lone Ranger theme (the William Tell Overture), that consisted of saying his name rapidly over and over again (like: Ronnie Banks Ronnie Banks Ronnie Banks Banks Banks). It felt good to say, and it seemed to amuse Ronnie Banks.
Bob on the other hand knew that Ronnie was highly claustrophobic. So, he would let Ronnie crawl through the too small hole into the boiler, then would crawl in after him. After they were in the boiler far enough, Bob would grab both of Ronnie’s legs and hug them as hard as he could. This would send Ronnie into a Claustrophobic seizure where he would flail himself around wildly yelling unrecognizable words such as “Blahgruuuee” and “uuunnnhh-ope” and other similar pronunciations. I think Bob Lillibridge just liked to hear Ronnie Banks speaking in tongues. I have to admit it did give you a strange sort of spiritual high when you saw the smile of pure satisfaction on Bob’s face as his body flew by while he was hugging Ronnie’s legs that were spinning and twirling all round a crawl space that was only three feet high.
I think it was these kind of spiritual moments that gave me the dream to write a story about the day that Bob Lillibridge met the Boiler Ghost. It went like this:
The Boiler Ghost
From the darkness of the boiler it came.
The Boiler Ghost, black, enormous, full of hate.
I watched with disbelief as it edged its way along.
Its eyes, red and piercing, with a stare of terror
It glanced first this way and then that.
As its eyes passed through me I was filled with
Such a terrible fright that I felt near the point of death.
The massive head hung down between two pointed
Shoulder blades vulture-like.
The most terrifying thing of all was the gaping mouth
That hung open.
It was full of such a terrible darkness,
So dark and evil as if it were the gates of Hell.
Just then I noticed its eyes had fixed on Bob.
He was pressed against the wall by the piercing stare,
His mouth open wide as if to scream.
Eyes bulging out in utter terror.
Mindless with pure fright.
I tried to scream, but felt such a choking force
I could make no noise.
With steady movement the monster advanced toward Bob.
Bob was white as ash staring into that dark empty mouth.
Smoke poured out of a flat nose on that horrid face.
It reached out a vile and tremendous hand
And grabbed Bob,
Who burst into flames at his touch.
In one movement he was gone.
Vanished into the mouth of pure darkness.
The Evil Ghost glanced first this way, then that,
And into the darkness of the boiler it went.
All was quiet,
The roar of the boiler told me I was safe once again.
Until the boiler ghost should decide to return.
I showed this poem to Bob after I had written it down. He chuckled a little, but didn’t seem too amused by it. Actually he looked a little worried.
Some time after I had written this poem and was actually on the labor crew (I had been on loan while I was a janitor when we were cleaning the economizer), we were in the bottom ash hopper at the bottom of the #2 boiler while it was offline. There are two hoppers side-by-side, and we were breaking up some hard clinkers that had built up in there. I had climbed over the one hopper where we were entering the hoppers to check something out, when all of the sudden someone started sandblasting the other hopper.
Now, these hoppers are quite large and you would have thought that someone sandblasting over on the other hopper wouldn’t really bother you if you were over in the other hopper, but I can assure you, that isn’t the case. As I was only wearing a t-shirt and jeans, when the sandblast hose started blowing out sand, before I could climb over the hopper to try to escape, I was being pelted by sand.
It felt as if someone was just aiming the sandblast hose over the top of the hopper toward me. I searched around the hopper to find a place where I was being pelted the least, and then I just crouched there with my face against the side of the hopper to protect it. Finally after 10 to 15 minutes (though it seemed more like an hour), the sandblast hose was turned off, and I was able to climb over the hopper and out the portal to fresh air.
I don’t think anyone even realized I was over in the other hopper when they decided to turn the sandblast hose on. I just climbed out of there and went about my business just slightly bruised all over from being blasted by sand. — It didn’t occur to me until just now that this is the hopper where I had seen the Boiler Ghost climb out, and Bob was there that day, and may have even been the person holding the sandblast hose…
Later Bob was able to move off of the labor crew. I think he went to the welding shop. Then later during the 1987-88 reshuffle, I think he was told that he was going to have to go back to the labor crew, and that was too much for him after being on the labor crew so long before being able to move off. So, he left the plant. I never knew for certain what happened to Bob. I think he still lives somewhere around Pawnee, Oklahoma.