Monthly Archives: August, 2020

Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day

Favorites Post #28

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 from across the room, 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.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.  See what I mean about he has a face that says it would be great to play a joke on him?  Actually, everyone else smiling in this picture are doing so because they are in the middle of playing a joke on Gene, only he doesn’t know it yet.

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.

Gene Day's truck was similar to this only different, with a different pattern of flames and a newer type of truck

Gene Day’s truck was similar to this only different, with a different pattern of flames and a newer type of truck

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:

Date:  5/14/91

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.

Unit 2 Turbine-Generator

This picture by Jim Cave shows the Unit 2 Turbine-Generator, The Office is in the opposite direction but just as far as to the wall at the end of the Generator

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

Favorites Post #27

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.

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.

Diagram of a boiler – the Economizer is on the right side in blue

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.  Especially after working in the economizer for a week.

Ok. I'm over exagerating. Bob didn't have this many wrinkles

Ok. I’m over exaggerating. Bob didn’t have this many wrinkles

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 economizer, then would crawl in after him.  After they were in the entrance 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.

Bob Lillibridge.

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 (which could very well have been the case).  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.

Comments from previous posts

  1. Ron Kilman 

    I never saw the boiler ghost – but I knew a “boiler jerk” once. He was an evil Plant Manager that would send Mechanics into a dangerously hot superheater/reheat section (off-line just a few hours) to start repairs. He’d also send in laborers to clean out bottom ash while clinkers were still falling.

    Like

  2. Plant Electrician 

    Yes. I have seen the those same two things. I have a post about working below the economizer cleaning the slag screens when the air was about 160 degrees and you had to wear long sleeves to keep from burning yourself when you touched something metal. I may have mentioned in that post about a guy that had to go weld a boiler tube in the high pressure section standing on a plank that was jutted out from the top shelf like a plank on a ship when the unit was only offline for a short amount of time. Crazy!

Power Plant Spider Wars II — The Phantom Menace

Favorites Post #26

Originally posted February 7, 2015

I suppose we are all  born with certain phobias.  Some people are scared of spiders.  Some people can’t stand the sight of snakes.  When I was young just speaking to a girl was the most terrifying thing I encountered.  I never liked spiders, but I didn’t have a great fear of them.  But there were times in my life when faced with an overwhelming spider army, I wondered if I should fear spiders a little more than I did.  This is one of those stories my children would want to hear when they were in the mood for a horror story.

If you are terrified by spiders, then stop reading this post now.  I don’t want to be responsible for any injuries that may occur when you fly backward off of your chair while reading this post.

I wrote a Power Plant man post three years ago called “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement“.  I began that story by mentioning that there were two distinct times in my life when I went Head-to-Head with a horde of spiders.  The second time I fought side-by-side with my trusty friend and carpooling buddy, Scott Hubbard.  This post is about the second Power Plant Spider War.

I believe it was the beginning of an overhaul during October, 1997 at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  Scott Hubbard and I knew where we would be working.  It was the Precipitator.  The big structure that sat between the boiler and the smoke stacks.  It took the ash out of the boiler exhaust before blowing it out of the stack.  Scott and I always worked on the precipitators during overhauls.  No one else ever wanted to volunteer for that job.  It was a dirty, thankless job that the rest of the plant tried their best to ignore.  Yet, if not maintained properly, would waste more power than all the other equipment in the plant combined.

Anyway, it was a Monday morning at the beginning of the overhaul and Scott and I decided to carry some tools to the enclosed Precipitator roof to prepare for the next three weeks of work ahead of us.  It was an hour earlier than we would normally begin working because overhauls meant working long days.  So, we usually came to work in the dark, and left for home in the dark.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Scott and I climbed the ladder to the precipitator roof from the walkway just below.  When we did, we were confronted with a site we were not expecting to see, and one that we will never forget.  In the previous Spider Wars post, when I walked into the basement below the main switchgear, I was confronted with a black moving mass of bugs, spiders and snakes….  This time, we were standing, staring what looked like a snow storm had blown through the precipitator transformers.

There are 84  eight foot tall transformers on the precipitator roof in 3 rows of 28.  Each row has the transformers staggered back and forth like the black squares on two rows on a checker board.  The row of transformers we were facing was completely covered in spider webs. — Let me say it again…. Completely covered in spider webs!  Not just spider webs strung between the transformers…. No….. It was a solid net of spider webs from the ground to the top of the entire row of transformers.

Spider Webs covering the ground in Australia

Spider Webs covering the ground in Australia gives you a little idea of our problem, only our spider webs stretched 8 feet tall from the transformer stand to the top

Scott and I were going to be spending the next three weeks on this precipitator roof working on all of the transformers.  I don’t remember exactly how long we stood there staring at this “Kingdom of Spiders”.  It seemed like a long time, but I suspect it was actually about 15 seconds.  We decided right away that we couldn’t even begin to ground out all the transformers (which was required before opening the precipitator doors) until we had cleared out the spiders.

The spiders that were in these webs were not your typical garden variety.  They were a special kind of Daddy Long Leg called a Cellar Spider.

Cellar Spider

Cellar Spider

They are also known as “Invisible Spiders” because when they are disturbed, they vibrate so fast that they seem to disappear.  We were easily facing well over 200,000 of these spiders.

So that you can see what we were going against, here is a short video I found on You Tube:

For those who are not able to view YouTube videos directly from the picture, here is the link:  Pholcidae Vibrating

Scott and I decided to go the the tool room and pick up 4 propane torches (or propane accessories for King of the Hill fans) and some extra propane bottles.  The only thing we could think to do was to burn them out.

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane torch

We went straight to work knowing that this was going to be a long slow process.  I began on one row of transformers and Scott took the next one over.  I began from the walkway with a propane torch in each hand, I began burning away the spider webs which quickly melted away in the flames.  Spiders went crazy.  They were scurrying throughout the mass of webs.  Not necessarily trying to get away, they were more interested in standing their ground and trying to intimidate me into leaving them alone.  As you can see in the video above, these spiders shake rapidly when disturbed.

After clearing the ladder that led down into a section of transformers, I descended down. into the mass of webs, burning them away as I went.  I was wearing my Carhartt coveralls, leather gloves, safety glasses and my hard hat.

 

Carhartt Coveralls

Carhartt Coveralls

Once down between the transformers, I had to burn away the webs over my head.  Massive amounts of spiders were being burned.  Many of them were dropping on me from all directions.  I knew that even though these spiders are poisonous, they are not able to bite a human because of the shape of their mouth.  I just hoped that the spiders knew that, so they wouldn’t try just in case there was a wide-mouthed spider in the bunch.

I could feel spiders crawling down my neck, inside my hardhat, up my pant legs, around my safety glasses and the sleeves of my coveralls.  Talk about getting the Willies.  I could take one hand and wipe off 10 or 20 spiders from one arm at a time.  I would just point the propane torch at my coverall sleeve and they would all quickly turn to crisp.

As I was working my way down the row of transformers, if someone else had entered the precipitator roof and seen me in there, it would look as if I had been caught by the spiders and wrapped up alive.  There were times when I looked a lot like this picture, only with Cellar Spiders….

Person covered in spider webs from the movie "Kingdom of Spiders"

Person covered in spider webs from the movie “Kingdom of Spiders”

While I was in this situation, I kept having a feeling of claustrophobia, as if I was being smothered by the spider webs crawling with massive amounts of spiders.  I did my best to fight this feeling by concentrating on the task.  I pretended in my mind that I was back in my bedroom as a child cleaning my room.

When I was young my bedroom would be so messy you couldn’t walk across the floor.  I would start in one corner of my room and clean it systematically by expanding out from that one spot, making sure that everything behind me was clean.  That’s what Scott and I were doing.  As we moved through the thick mass of webs, we made sure that we had a clear path back to the ladder.

Another thought that entered my mind was “What would happen if this massive ball of spider web were to all go up in flames at once?”  Luckily that never happened.  The webs just melted. The spiders were so thick that the burning flesh from the spiders gave off the same odor as any other burning flesh, which is a very unpleasant smell.

As I pointed out, when Cellar Spiders are agitated, they vibrate up and down very quickly, so as I was burning my way through the webs, the webs were shaking every which way.  There is a good video that shows a cellar spider in India vibrating so fast that it appears to become invisible.  Watch this:

Here is the direct link:  Vibrating Cellar Spider

After a day and a half, we had completely wiped out the spider population on the roof of the precipitator and were ready to go to work.  I had also taken a few of these spiders home with me.  Some had climbed down into my clothes, so that when I was home and took off my shirt and pants, out came some spiders.  It wasn’t long before we had our own colony of cellar spiders at our house.  They tried taking over my garage.

A few years later when I moved to Texas to work for Dell, some came along with me.  I would find them in my garage, and various places around the house.  I don’t think they liked living in Texas though.  It was probably too hot for them.  They eventually died out, so that I haven’t seen a cellar spider in my house for many years (since originally posting this post, cellar spiders have once again showed up at my house.  I suppose they heard about me being spider-less and decided to help me out with that).

One day in 2003 when I was working at Dell on a project, and was sitting in a small team room, a cellar spider crawled out of my laptop bag and climbed up the wall next to me.  When I saw it, I pointed it out to the consultant with me and showed him how the spiders vibrate when you disturb them.  I also told him this story about the day when we went to battle a solid wall of Daddy Long Legs that had taken over the precipitator roof at the Power plant where I used to work.  That spider stayed in the team room with us for about a week until I think it died of boredom.

It was clear why the spiders had invaded the roof of the precipitator.  It was always full of flying bugs because the lights were always on.  At night, moths, gnats and flies would fly around the light fixtures.  It was a warm protected environment.  We had worked to clear the pigeons out of the enclosed roof area, so they weren’t going to keep the spider population down.

I think there was another reason the Cellar Spiders liked the Precipitator roof.  I suspect that these spiders use their vibrating skills when they are mating to attract each other.  Well.  The roof of the precipitator has 168 vibrators that are used to shake the ash off of the wires inside precipitator.  Vibrators are always buzzing on the precipitator roof.

I suppose to a little Cellar Spider brain (I know… they don’t really have brains), the precipitator roof must have seemed like a Holy Temple to them with all those vibrators buzzing constantly.

For years after this event I would occasionally wake up in a sweat suddenly in the middle of the night, throwing the sheets off my bed in a panic because I felt spiders crawling all over me.  My wife would wake up wondering if I was all right.  I would realize that it was just a dream (or was it?) and go back to bed.

Ok.  I have a side spider story about this:

When I was in the second grade, occasionally, I would wake up at night after having a dream where I picked up a spider in my hand, only to feel a spider really sitting in my hand. I would yell for my parents who would come running to my room (which I shared with my sister and brother).  I would tell my parents that a big spider was on my hand.   My dad would pull my mattress away from the wall and look under my sheets and under the mattress, but would never find a spider.  So, then I would go back to bed.

This happened about three times during a 3 month period.  The same thing.  I would wake up feeling like there was a big spider in the palm of my hand.  Each time, my dad would come and check it out, but never find a spider.

Then came the day that we moved out of the “Married Student Housing” where we lived in Columbia, Missouri to move into a real house where I only had to share my bedroom with my brother.  I was in my bedroom when my dad took my bed apart to load it into the U-Haul.  As he pulled my bed away from the wall, there was a very large wolf spider on the wall.  I yelled out, “There!  That’s the spider that has been crawling on me at night!

 

Wolf Spider

Wolf Spider

End of Side Spider Story

I would like to point out one more thing before I end this post.  It was always an honor to work alongside my friend Scott Hubbard.  I could not have had a better partner during this Spider War.  He had my back throughout this conflict.  Those that work around Scott every day may not realize the amount of bravery and outstanding character that he possesses.  Scott is truly one of the best Power Plant Men I was ever blessed to work with.

 

Final Battle for the Illusive Power Plant Safety Pizza

Favorites Post #25

Originally posted January 24, 2015

The Electric Shop had tried for three years to win the Safety Slogan of the Year award.  Not because we thought we were safer than any of the other teams at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma, but because we really liked pizza (see the post: “When Power Plant Competition Turns Terribly Safe“) .  When the plant was downsized in 1994, the electric shop no longer existed as it had before.  We had become cross-functional teams (See the post: “Crossfunctional Power Plant Dysfunction“).  It looked as if our dream of winning the Power Plant Safety Pizza was no longer in our grasp.

My carpooling buddy, Toby O’Brien had moved from our plant as a Plant Engineer to the Safety Department in Oklahoma City.  He was working with Julia Bevers and Chris McAlister.  Chris had also moved from our plant as a labor crew hand to the Safety Department (This was a great opportunity for Chris!).

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend - Toby O'Brien

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend – Toby O’Brien

Bill Green our new plant manager introduced a jar of beads during his first safety meeting.  We each picked a bead randomly from the jar through a small hole in the top.  Then Bill Green pointed out that the color of bead represented the result of doing something unsafe.

The green color meant that nothing happened.  The other colors reach represented a different type of accident that occurred.  The ratio of beads in the jar represented the likelihood of each type of accident happening.  There was one black bead in the jar.  That meant that you died when you did something unsafe.  I used to keep the number of each color of marble in my wallet, but that piece of paper disintegrated over the years.

The types of accidents were something like:  First Aid Case, Reportable Accident, Lost Work Day Accident, Hospitalized, and Death.

Bill Green

Bill Green

A couple of months after the downsizing, the Safety department announced that they were going to have a Safety contest.  The contest would be held at each plant and it involved each of the supervisor’s computers.  The prize for the contest was that the winning team would be able to eat a free lunch with complements from the safety team.

Great!  Shortly after the electric shop is busted up and we were scattered to the wind, we finally had one last chance to win the ever illusive Power Plant Safety Pizza!  Only, how were we going to do it?  I was working on Alan Kramer’s team.  My old foreman Andy Tubbs (not old in the sense that he was an old man… old in that he was my former foreman) was now one of the other supervisors with only my old bucket buddy (you know what I mean…  not “old” old) Diana Brien as the electrician on his team.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

Before I go further to explain my conflict during this contest, let me explain how the contest worked.

The supervisors had new computers that ran using Windows 3.1.  Back then, the screensaver on the computer didn’t just shut down the monitor like most of them do today.  Instead, they showed some kind of message, or picture or something animated that kept moving around so that your monitor didn’t get burned in with an image that was constantly on your screen, such as your wallpaper and your icons.

The Safety Department said that each team should come up with some way to display the idea of “Safety” using a screensaver.  They suggested using the screensaver that let you type in a message that would scroll across the screen when the screensaver was turned on.  That was a simple built-in screensaver that came with Windows 3.1.

Then the Safety Department would come to the plant on a particular day and judge each of the computer’s screensaver and announce the winner.  Sounds simple enough.

We first heard about the Safety Slogan Screensaver contest in our Monday Morning Meeting with our team.  Alan Kramer said we should come up with a good slogan that we could put on our scrolling message screensaver.  I kept my mouth shut at the time, because I didn’t know exactly how to proceed.  I was having a feeling of mixed loyalty since my old Electric Shop Team with Andy Tubbs as our foreman had written over 300 safety slogans and had purposely been blocked from winning the Prized Pizza each year.

Andy Tubbs - True Power Plant Electrician

Andy Tubbs – True Power Plant Electrician

Not long after the morning meeting, Andy Tubbs came up to me in the Electric Shop and said, “We have to win this contest!  That Pizza should be ours!  I need you to come up with the best screensaver you can that will blow the others away.”  I gave him my usual answer when Andy asked me to do something (even when he was no longer my foreman).  I said, “Ok, I’ll see what I can do.”

I went down our list of safety slogans looking for the best slogan I could find.  Here are a few of them:

“Having an accident is never convenient, So always make Safety a key ingredient.”

“Take the time to do it right, Use your goggles, save your sight.”

“To take the lead in the ‘Safety Race’, You must pay attention to your work place.”

“Unsafe conditions can be resolved, If we all work together and get involved.”

After thumbing through the entire list, I knew we really needed something else.  So, I began to think of alternate screen savers.  One caught my attention.  It was called “Spotlight”. It came with the  “After Dark 2.0 Screensavers” (best known for the “Flying Toaster” screensaver). I had found a freeware version that did the same thing.  You can see how the spotlight works at 7:15 on the video below (just slide the time bar over to 7:15):

For those who can’t view YouTube videos directly through the above picture, here is the direct link:  “After Dark Screensavers“.

The spotlight screensaver basically turns your screen dark, then has a circle (or spotlight) where you can see the background screen behind it.  It roams around on your desktop showing only that portion of your wallpaper at a time.  You can adjust the size of the circle and the speed that it moves around the screen.

Taking our safety slogans, I began creating a wallpaper for the computer screen by filling it with little one liner safety slogans.  I also added yellow flags to the wallpaper because that was a symbol for safety at our plant (for more information why see the post: “Power Plant Imps and Accident Apes“).

See the Yellow Flag Before the Accident Happens

See the Yellow Flag Before the Accident Happens

With the help of Charles Foster and Scott Hubbard (both Power Plant electricians), when I was finished the wallpaper looked like this:

Safety Slogan Wallpaper

Safety Slogan Wallpaper

I printed this out in black and white, but the slogans were written in different colors.

I arranged Andy’s icons on his desktop so they were around the edge of the screen.  That way they didn’t cover up the safety slogans.  I set the speed of the spotlight to very slow and and the size of the spotlight so that it was just big enough to see each safety slogan.  The effect worked out real well.  Imagine a dark screen with a spotlight moving randomly around the screen exposing each safety slogan (and yellow flag… don’t forget about those) as it went.

Besides the electricians, no one else knew that I was working on this for Andy. As far as Alan Kramer knew, I was on his side in this contest.  I even kept Toby O’Brien in the dark about it, because I knew that he was going to be one of the judges and even though he knew how much winning the Safety Pizza meant to me.  I didn’t want to influence his decision.  Besides, this Safety Screensaver was going to win.  It was the coolest screensaver around.  The trick was to keep it hidden from the other teams until it was time for the Safety Department to judge it.

I had the impression from Toby that he had purposely talked the Safety Department into this contest to give me a chance to win the Safety Pizza at our plant.  Scott Hubbard and I had carpooled with Toby throughout the years we were trying to win that pizza, and I think he just felt our pain enough that when he was in the position, he was trying to pay us back for our effort.

The screensaver judging was done during the morning, and was going to be announced that afternoon during the monthly safety meeting.  A short time before the Safety Meeting began, Toby O’Brien came up to me and in an apologetic manner told me that the safety slogan winner probably wasn’t going to be who I thought it was.  I figured that was because he thought I was hoping Alan Kramer’s team was going to win since that was my team.  I just smiled back and told him that it was all right.

It was announced during the safety meeting that Andy Tubbs’ team won the contest, and all the electricians were happy.  I think it was at that point that Alan Kramer realized that I had helped Andy with his screensaver.  He looked at me as if I had betrayed him.  I said something like, “Andy Tubbs has been trying to win a safety contest for years.  It’s about time.”

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

The following week, when Andy’s team was given their prize for winning the safety screensaver contest, he brought two pizzas to the electric shop and we all sat around the table relishing in the pepperonis.  We had finally received our Power Plant Safety Pizza!  Even though I really like pizza anytime, the pizza that day tasted especially good.

Power Plant Pepperoni Pizza

Power Plant Pepperoni Pizza

I don’t know if we ever told Toby that when Andy Tubbs team won, we all won.  Maybe some day he will read this story and know…. “The Rest of the Story”.

In case you can’t read all the little safety slogans on the wallpaper, here is a list of them:

Safety First.  Be Safe.  Safety begins here.  Watch your step.  Check your boundaries.  Have Good Posture.  Haste makes waste.  Bend your knees.  Avoid Shortcuts.  Be Safe or Be Gone.  Know your chemicals.  Check O2 before Entry.  Use Safety Guards.  Know your limit.  Report Spills.  Safety is job #1.  Beware of Pinch Points.  Buckle up.  Safety is no accident.  Impatience kills.  Strive to Survive.  Protect your hearing.  Use the right tool.  Keep your back straight.  Drive friendly.  Keep Aisles clear.  Don’t take chances.  Prevention is the cure.  Safety is your job.  Communicate with others.  Always tie off.  Don’t cut corners.  Wear your glasses.  Act safe.  Barricade Hazards.  Use your respirator.  Be responsible.  Lock it out.  Plug your ears.  Stay fit.  Safety never hurts.  Don’t block exits.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Safety is top priority.    Don’t be careless.  Pick up your trash.  Think Ahead.  Slippery When Wet.  Think Safety.  Don’t hurry.  Report Hazards.  Wear your gloves.  Save your eyes.  No Running.  Wear your Safety Belt.  Plan Ahead.  Avoid Backing.  Use your Safety Sense.  Good Housekeeping.  Get Help.  Keep Cylinders Chained.  Protect your hands.  Don’t improvise.  Beware of hazards.  Get the Safety Habit.  Be Prepared.  Gear up for Safety.  Use your PPE.  Do not litter.  Zero Accidents.  Don’t be a Bead (a reference to Bill Green’s jar of beads).  Eat Right.  Keep Floors clean.  Watch out.  Safety Pays.  Drive Safely.  Take Safety Home.  Know Safety, use Safety.  Read the MSDS.  Cotton Clothes Prevents Burns.  Follow the rules.  Wear your hard hat.  Watch out for your buddy.  Test your Confined space.  Remember the Yellow Flag.  Safe Mind, Sound Body.  Clean up your spills.  Don’t take risks.  Beware of Ice.  Watch out for the other guy.  Obey the rules.  Don’t tailgate.  Circle for safety.  Safety Me, Safety You.  Protect your Toes.  Knowing is not enough.  When in doubt, Check it out.  Falls can kill.  Be Alert!  Avoid slick spots.  Safety is a team event.  Almost is not enough.  Avoid the Noise.  Give Safety your all.  And finally…  This Space for Rent.

Power Plant Saints Go Marching In

Favorites Post #24

Originally posted: June 27, 2015

When I think back about the Power Plant Men and Women that I worked with for the 20 years I spent working at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I still see them as they were back when I first knew them.  I was able to see them come to work each day willing to give all they had in order to keep the plant running smoothly.  I would find out sometimes that behind their stoic behavior of heroism was a person bearing enormous pain.

I will not go into the private lives of each of the Power Plant Men and the personal struggles in their lives beyond those that we all shared at the plant.  Some were bearing such enormous pain that all the Power Plant Men and Women shared their pain.  Others bore their pain in silence leaving the rest of us oblivious to the grief as they sat next to you in the truck or beside you tightening bolts, or checking electric circuits.

I remember a time when one of my best friends seemed to be acting short tempered for a while.  I figured something was eating at him.  Finally after almost a year he confided in me what had been going on in his personal life, and it broke my heart to think of the pain this person had been experiencing all along, while I had been annoyed at his quick temper.

It is an eye opening experience when the person I talked to every single day at work is being torn apart with worry and I didn’t even have a clue.  Well, the clues were there only I was too blind to see.

I began this post on a rather ominous note because one of the great Power Plant Men of his day, Larry Riley, died this past Wednesday, June 24, 2015.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my Power Plant Friend Bud Schoonover passing away.  (See the post: “Dynamic Power Plant Trio — And Then There Was One“).  I mentioned some of the special times we had while we carpooled back and forth to Ponca City, Oklahoma.  I knew Bud was getting along in years, so when I heard about his death, I was not surprised.  I immediately pictured him back together again with Richard Dale, our travelling companion.

On Wednesday night when I was contacted by a number of Power Plant Men and Women who all wanted me to know right away that Larry had passed away, I was suddenly hit with a wave of shock.  I was overwhelmed with grief.  I broke out in tears.

Larry had been important to me from the very first day I worked in the Power Plant.  I worked with Larry and Sonny Karcher before I worked with anyone else.  My original mentors have both passed away now.

Of the 183 Power Plant Stories I have written thus far, the story about Larry Riley was one of the first stories I couldn’t wait to tell others.  You can read it here:  “Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley“.

Through my first years at the Power Plant Larry was there looking out for me when he had no other reason to do so than that he cared for others.  Some pseudo-Power Plant Men mocked him secretly for being a noble person.  Others didn’t have a clue what lengths Larry went to help out a person in need.

Since Larry’s death I have heard a couple of stories that Power Plant Men wanted to share with me about how Larry helped them out when there was nowhere else to turn.  Stories I heard for the first time.  I encourage any Power Plant Men who knew Larry to leave a comment below about him.

Larry was one of those people who used to bear his pain in secret.  He did the same thing with his love for others.  I had mentioned in the post about the Genius of Larry Riley that “…he performed acts of greatness … with complete humility.  I never saw a look of arrogance on Larry’s face.  He never spoke down to you and he never bragged about anything.”

Though Larry did his best to conceal it, there was always a hidden sort of sadden about him.  Since he had the wisdom and knowledge well beyond his years when he was only 24 years old, I figured he must have had a rough childhood that caused him to grow up quickly.  He was humped over as if he carried a burden on his back.  I thought maybe his sadness grew out of that experience.  Of course, I was only guessing.

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him

After I first posted the story about Larry Riley, I was told by a Power Plant Man that Larry had been forced to accept an early retirement because he had a drinking problem.  The Plant Manager was kind enough to let him retire instead of outright firing him, which would have caused him to lose his retirement benefits.

When I heard that Larry was no longer at the plant and under what circumstances he left, my heart sank.  The sadness that Larry Riley had been trying to hide all those years had finally caught up with him in a big way and his world came crashing down.

I know that I am more like an “armchair observer” in the life of Larry Riley.  There were family members and friends that I’m sure were devastated by Larry’s downfall in a lot more ways than one.  Where I sit back and idolize the Power Plant Men as heroes, others are down in the trenches coming face-to-face with whatever realities happen in their lives.

Where others may look at Larry as a failure for developing a drinking problem that brought him to his knees, True Power Plant Men know full well that Larry Riley has a noble soul.  He has always been meant for greatness.

In the post about my last day on the Labor Crew, I wrote the following about Larry, who was my foreman while I was on the Labor Crew (see the post: “Last Days as a Power Plant Labor Crew Hand“):  “…Most of all, I knew I was going to miss Larry Riley… 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.”

I know I am not the only person that remembers Larry the way I do.  When Larry died this past Wednesday, as soon as the Power Plant Men found out, several of them sent me e-mails, and reached out to me on Facebook to let me know.    I think some of them wanted me to share Larry’s greatness with the rest of the world through this post.

As I felt the outpouring of grief from the Power Plant Men, I was overwhelmed by their sorrow.  I happened to be sitting alone in a hotel room in Detroit, Michigan when I first found out.  My phone kept buzzing (as I had it on vibrate) as one-by-one Power Plant Men sent messages letting me know of Larry’s death.  I could feel the sadness hanging over my phone like a fog.

As each message buzzed my phone, my sorrow over Larry’s death grew until I had to just sit on the corner of the bed and cry.  I have never felt more sorrow over the death of a Power Plant Man than I did for Larry Riley.

As I pictured Bud Schoonover meeting up again with Richard Dale after Peter open the gate for him, I pictured Larry Riley somewhat differently.  I envisioned him walking down a dirt road by himself.

In my mind this is what I saw:

As Larry walks away from me down the road humped over with bad posture, struggling to take each step, in pain from the cancer that killed him, seemingly alone, he pauses suddenly.  From the distance in my vision, I can’t quite tell why.  He turns to one side.

Almost falling over, as he walks like an old man to the edge of the road where the ditch is overgrown with weeds, he stumbles down into the brush.  Thinking that Larry has had a mishap, I move closer.

Suddenly I see Larry re-emerge.  This time standing more upright.  Alongside Larry is another Power Plant Man.  I recognize his gait, but his back is turned so I can’t tell for sure who he is.  He is much bigger than Larry.  Larry has his arm across the man’s back holding him up as the other Power Plant Man has his arm wrapped around Larry’s neck as Larry pulls him up onto the road.

The two continue walking down the road toward the sun rising on the horizon.  The Saints Go Marching On.

This is the Larry Riley I knew.

His funeral service will be held on his 61st birthday, July 3, 2015.

I know that those who really knew Larry will take a moment of silence to remember him.  Not for the sorrow that he felt through his life as I originally felt when I heard of his death, but take a moment of silence to remember a great man.  One who secretly inspired others toward goodness.  A man who went out of his way to lift up someone who had fallen along the side of the road.  My personal hero:  Larry Wayne Riley.

Pain in the Neck Muskogee Power Plant Relay Testing

Favorites Post #23

Originally post 2/21/2015

Don’t let the title fool you.  I love testing Power Plant Protective Relays.  There is a sense of satisfaction when you have successfully cleaned, calibrated and tested a relay that is going to protect the equipment you have to work on every day.  With that said, I was hit with such an unbelievable situation when testing Muskogee Relays in 1995 that I was left with a serious pain in the neck.

On August 14, 2003 the electric power in the Northeast United States and Canada went out.  The Blackout lasted long enough to be a major annoyance for those in the that region of the United States.

Map of the power blackout in 2003

Map of the power blackout in 2003

When I heard about how the blackout had moved across the region, I immediately knew what had happened.  I was quickly reminded of the following story.  I told my wife Kelly, “I know exactly why such a large area lost power!  They hadn’t done proper preventative maintenance on the Protective Relays in the substations!  Just like….”  Well…. I’ll tell you that part now:

I have mentioned in a couple of earlier posts that something always seemed a little “off” at the Muskogee Power Plant.  I had decided early on that while working there I would stick to drinking sodas instead of water.  See the post:  “Something is in the Water at the Muskogee Power Plant“.  Even with that knowledge, I was still shocked at what I found while testing relays at the plant.

This story really begins one Sunday at Muskogee when one of the Auxiliary Operators was making his rounds inspecting equipment.  He was driving his truck around the south edge of the Unit 6 parking lot on the service road.  He glanced over at a pump next to the road, and at first, he thought he was just seeing things.  After stopping the truck and backing up for a second glance, he was sure he wasn’t dreaming.  It’s just that what he was seeing seemed so strange, he wasn’t sure what was happening.

The operator could see what appeared to be silver paint chips popping off of the large pump motor in all directions.  After closer examination, he figured out that the motor was burning up.  It was still running, but it had become so hot that the paint was literally burning off of the motor.

Horizontal pump

Like this Horizontal pump only much bigger and painted silver

A motor like this would get hot if the bearings shell out.  Before the motor is destroyed, the protective relays on the breaker in the 4,000 Volt switchgear shuts the motor off.  In this case, the relay hadn’t tripped the motor, so, it had become extremely hot and could have eventually exploded if left running.  The operator shut the motor down and wrote a work order for the electricians.

Doyle Fullen was the foreman in the electric shop that received the work order.  When he looked into what had happened, he realized that the protective relay had not been inspected for a couple of years for this motor.

I couldn’t find a picture of Doyle.  In his youth he reminds me of a very smart Daryl in Walking Dead:

Norman Reedus from Walking Dead

Norman Reedus from Walking Dead

In fact, since before the downsizing in 1994, none of the Protective Relays at the plant had been inspected.  The person that had been inspecting the relays for many years had moved to another job or retired in 1994.  This was just a warning shot across the bow that could have had major consequences.

No one at Muskogee had been trained to test Protective Relays since the downsizing, so they reached out to our plant in North Central Oklahoma for help.  That was when I was told that I was going to be going to Muskogee during the next overhaul (outage).  I had been formally trained to inspect, clean, calibrate and test Protective Relays with two of my Power Plant Heroes, Ben Davis and Sonny Kendrick years earlier.  See the post:  “Relay Tests and Radio Quizzes with Ben Davis“.

My Protective Relay Maintenance course book

My Protective Relay Maintenance course book

Without going into too much detail about the actual tests we performed as I don’t want to make this a long rambling post (like… well…. like most of my posts…..I can already tell this is going to be a long one), I will just say that I took our antiquated relay tester down to Muskogee to inspect their relays and teach another electrician Charles Lay, how to perform those tests in the future.  Muskogee had a similar Relay Test Set.  These were very outdated, but they did everything we needed, and it helped you understand exactly what was going on when you don’t have a newfangled Relay Test Set.

AVO Multi-Amp SR-76 Relay Test Set

AVO Multi-Amp SR-76 Relay Test Set

You need to periodically test both mechanical and electronic protective relays.  In the electronic relays the components change their properties slightly over time, changing the time it takes to trip a breaker under a given circumstance (we’re talking about milliseconds).  In the mechanical relays (which I have always found to be more reliable), they sit inside a black box all the time, heating up and cooling as the equipment is used.  Over time, the varnish on the copper coils evaporates and settles on all the components.  This becomes sticky so that the relay won’t operate at the point where it should.

A panel of Protective Relays

A panel of Protective Relays

In the picture above, the black boxes on the top, middle and right are mechanical relays.  This means that something actually has to turn or pick up in order to trip the equipment.  The electronic relays may have a couple of small relays, but for the most part, they are made up of transistors, resistors, capacitors and diodes.

So, with all that said, let me start the real story…. gee…. It’s about time…

So, here I am sitting in the electric shop lab just off of the Unit 6 T-G floor.  We set up all the equipment and had taken a couple of OverCurrent relays out of some high voltage breakers in the switchgear.  I told Charles that before you actually start testing the relays, you need to have the test documents from the previous test and we also needed the instruction manuals for each of the relays because the manuals will have the diagrams that you use to determine the exact time that the relays should trip for each of the tests.  So, we went up to the print room to find the old tests and manuals.  Since they weren’t well organized, we just grabbed the entire folder where all the relays tests were kept since Unit 6 had been in operation.

When we began testing the relays at first I thought that the relay test set wasn’t working correctly.  Here I was trying to impress my new friend, Charles Lay, a 63 year old highly religious fundamental Christian that I knew what I was doing, and I couldn’t even make a relay trip.  I was trying to find the “As Found” tripping level.  That is, before you clean up the relay.  Just like you found it.  Only, it wouldn’t trip.

It turned out that the relay was stuck from the varnish as I explained above.  It appeared as if the relay hadn’t been tested or even operated for years.  The paperwork showed that it had been tested three years earlier.  Protective Relays should be tested at least every two years, but I wouldn’t have thought that the relay would be in such a bad condition in just three years.  It had been sitting in a sealed container to keep out dust.  But it was what it was.

I told Charles that in order to find the “As Found” point where the relay would trip, we would need to crank up the test set as high as needed to find when it actually did trip.  It turned out that the relay which should have instantaneously tripped somewhere around 150 amps wouldn’t have tripped until the motor was pulling over 4,000 amps.  I could tell right away why the Auxiliary Operator found that motor burning up without tripping.  The protective relays were stuck.

As it turned out… almost all of the 125 or so relays were in the same condition.  We cleaned them all up and made them operational.

There is an overcurrent relay for the main bus on each section of a main switchgear.

A picture of a clean switchgear. Picture 6 rows of switchgear like this

A picture of a clean switchgear. Picture 6 rows of switchgear like this

When I tested the “As Found” instantaneous trip for the main bus relay, I found that it was so high that the Unit 6 Main Turbine Generator would have melted down before the protective relay would have tripped the power to that one section of switchgear.  The entire electric bus would have been nothing but molten metal by that time.

As I tested each of these relays, I kept shaking my head in disbelief.  But that wasn’t the worst of it.  The mystery as to why these relays were all glued shut by varnish was finally solved, and that reason was even more unbelievable.

Here is what I found…..  The first thing you do when you are going to test a relay is that you fill out a form that includes all the relay information, such as, what it is for, what are the settings on the relay, and what are the levels of tests that you are going to perform on it.  You also include a range of milliseconds that are acceptable for the relay for each of the tests.  Normally, you just copy what was used in the previous test, because you need to include the time it took for the Previous “As Left” test on your form.  That is why we needed the forms from the previous test.

So, I had copied the information from the previous test form and began testing the relay (one of the first overcurrent relays we tested)…  Again… I was a 34 year old teacher trying to impress my 63 year old student.  So, I was showing him how you mechanically adjust the relay in order for it to trip within the acceptable range.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t adjust the relay so that it would even be close to the desired range for the longer time trip times…. like the 2 second to 25 second range.  It wasn’t even close to the range that was on the form from the last test.

The form from the last test showed that the relay was in the right range for all the levels of test.  When I tested it, like I said, it wasn’t even close.  So, I went to the diagram in the instruction manual for this type of relay.  The diagram looks similar to this one used for thermal overloads:

Thermal Overload Tripping curves

Thermal Overload Tripping curves

See all those red lines?  Well, when you setup a relay, you have a dial where you set the range depending on the needs for the type of motor you are trying to trip. Each red line represents each setting on the dial.  Most of the relays were set on the same number, so we would be using the same red line on the diagram to figure out at different currents how long it should take for a relay to trip….

Here is the clincher….The time range that was written on the previous form wasn’t for the correct relay setting.  The person that tested the relay had accidentally looked at the wrong red line.  — That in itself is understandable, since it could be easy to get on the wrong line… The only thing is that as soon as you test the relay, you would know that something is wrong, because the relay wouldn’t trip in that range, just like I had found.

I double and triple checked everything to make sure we were looking at the same thing.  The previous form indicated the same settings on the relay as now, yet, the time ranges were for a different line! — Ok.  I know.  I have bored you to tears with all this stuff about time curves and overcurrent trips… so I will just tell you what this means…

This meant that when the person completed the forms the last time, they didn’t test the relays at all.  They just filled out the paperwork.  They put in random values that were in the acceptable range and sat around in the air conditioned lab during the entire overhaul smoking his pipe. — Actually, I don’t remember if he smoked a pipe or not.  He was the Electrical Specialist for the plant.  I remembered seeing him sitting in the lab with a relay hooked up to the test set throughout the entire overhaul when I had been there during previous overhauls, but I realized finally that he never tested the relays.  He didn’t even go so far as try to operate them.

I went back through the records to when the plant was first “checked out”.  Doyle Fullen had done the check out on the relays and the test after that.  Doyle had written the correct values from the manual on his forms.  I could see where he had actually performed the tests on the relays and was getting the same values I was finding when I tested the relays, so I was certain that I wasn’t overlooking anything.

As I tested each of the relays, I kept shaking my head in disbelief.  It was so unbelievable.  How could someone do such a thing?  Someone could have been killed because a protective relay wasn’t working correctly.  This was serious stuff.

One day while Charles and I were working away on the relays, Jack Coffman, the Superintendent of all the Power Plants came walking through the lab.  He asked us how we were doing.  I swiveled around in my chair to face him and I said, “Pretty good, except for this pain in my neck” as I rubbed the back of my neck.

Jack stopped and asked me what happened.  I told him that I had been shaking my head in disbelief for the last two weeks, and it gave me a pain in the neck.  Of course, I knew this would get his attention, so he asked, “Why?”  I went through all the details of what I had found.

I showed him how since the time that Doyle Fullen last tested the relays more than 10 years earlier, these relays hadn’t been tested at all.  I showed him how the main bus relays were so bad that it would take over 100,000 amps to have tripped the 7100 KV switchgear bus or 710 Megawatts!  More power than the entire generator could generate.  The main generator was only rated at about 550 Megawatts at the most.

Jack stood there looking off into space for a few seconds, and then walked out the door…. I thought I saw him shaking his head as he left.  Maybe he was just looking both ways for safety reasons, but to me, it looked like a shake of disbelief.  I wonder if I had given him the same pain in the neck.

That is really the end of the relay story, but I do want to say a few words about Charles Lay.  He was a hard working electrician that was nearing retirement.  People would come around to hear us discussing religion.  I am Catholic, and he went to a Fundamental Christian Church.  We would debate the differences between our beliefs and just Christian beliefs in general.  We respected each other during our time together, even though he was sure I am going to hell when I die.

People would come in just to hear our discussion for a while as we were cleaning and calibrating the relays.  One day Charles asked me if I could help him figure out how much he was going to receive from his retirement from the electric company.  He had only been working there for three years.  Retirement at that time was determined by your years of service.  So, three years didn’t give him too much.

When I calculated his amount, he was upset.  He said, “Am I going to have to work until I die?”  I said, “Well, there’s always your 401k and Social Security.”  He replied that he can’t live on Social Security.  I said, “Well, there’s your 401k.”  He asked, “What’s that?” (oh.  not a good sign).

I explained that it was a retirement plan where you are able to put money in taxed deferred until you take it out when you retire.  He said, “Oh.  I never put anything in something like that.”  My heart just sank as I looked in his eyes.  He had suddenly realized that he wasn’t going to receive a retirement like those around him who had spent 35 years working in the Power Plant.

When I left the plant after teaching Charles Lay how to test the relays, that was the last time I ever saw him.  I don’t know what became of Charles.  I figure he would be 83 years old today.  I wonder if he finally retired when he reached the 80 points for your age and years of service.  He would have never reached enough years of service to receive a decent amount of retirement from the Electric Company since he didn’t start working there until he was 60 years old.  That is, unless he’s still working there now.

As I said earlier in this post, Charles Lay was a very good worker.  He always struck me as the “Hardworking type”.  I often think about the time we spent together, especially when I hear about a power blackout somewhere.  — A word of caution to Power Companies…. keep your protective relays in proper working condition.  Don’t slack off on the Preventative Maintenance.  — I guess that’s true for all of us… isn’t it?  Don’t slack off on Preventative Maintenance in all aspects of your life.

Added note:  On 7/6/2019, 3 weeks after re-posting this story, look what happened:  Con Edison says cause of NYC blackout was substation’s faulty relay protection system

 

Comments from previous posts:

Ron Kilman 

Great story! And I don’t mind the lengthy technical stuff. I like it.

We bought our current house in 2004. It was built in 1983. About 4 years ago we lost power to the GFI outlet in our “guest” bathroom and to an outlet in the “Florida room”. I replaced the GFI, but that didn’t fix anything. The power to the GFI was off. The affected bathroom was used very little, so it wasn’t a big deal. In the “Florida room” we just ran an extension cord from a different outlet and went on. I just assumed that a mouse or squirrel in the attack had messed with the wiring. Maybe I had pulled some wiring lose when I was crawling in the attic. Last December, I finally “bit the bullet” and called an electrician. What he found was a GFI in another bathroom had been wired backwards. It was wired in series with the GFI in the other bathroom. The mis-wired GFI had tripped but it didn’t cut the power to it’s own outlet. It only cut power to the other bathroom GFI and the “Florida room” outlet. It cost me $80 to re-learn what I had learned long ago – “Never assume previous work was does correctly – even if done by a “professional””.

Dave Tarver 

KB,
I suppose the old timers knew more about this! not sure as in they had a saying at relief time between shifts No sparks out of any motors, no paint burning off any bearings, the truck is in the parking spot and filled with gas, all in all had a smooth shift! LOL! What would fascinate me was the mill fires in the early days – you go down there and here is this whole thing cherry red glowing! unbelievable! I have been over to said plant a few times and their switch gears were pretty dirty typically ours were aways very clean and the breakers always worked very well, very reliable and dependable.

  1. Plant Electrician 

    Yeah. That was the first thing I noticed about Muskogee. Our plant took more pride in keeping things clean. To be fair, the Muskogee plant was close to the coal pile and the plant was down wind. So coal dust would blow right into the plant covering everything.

    Andy Tubbs 

    Charles came to our Plant and Calibrated Relays on Unit #1 in Sept. of 2011. Brought his wife with him and called it a working vacation. Still a very nice and intelligent man.

    Mark Lanesbury 

    This is bringing back the memories. Worked in a coal fired plant for many years as a T.A. (Technicians Assistant) doing the protection maintenance and even the commissioning of a new power station for a couple of years in Australia.
    And I agree, it is a place that gets in your blood. And as you are attesting here, some of the stories are unbelievable.
    And I must put in my bit about those AVO multi Amp test sets. The day that we received one they were affectionately known as the ‘T.A.’s’. Apparently they could be relied on to not make a mistake (unlike the occasional human 🙂 ), and give correct settings. Us human T.A.’s were told, ‘if they could have made coffee they would have sacked the lot of us!’ 😀
    Great story Plant Electrician, a good throwback to yesteryear. I wonder with all the computer gear they now have what has become of the technicians. It’s all probably digitised and in constant readouts to a computer test panel somewhere. One technician probably does all testing from a clean, air-conditioned room somewhere 🙂

Heroes and Kings of the Power Plant Palace

Favorites Post #22

This story was originally posted on February 11, 2012:

There are five main power plants in the electric company in Central Oklahoma, and maintenance men from each plant would work at other plants when there was an overhaul.  An overhaul is when a generator was taken off line for the purpose of doing maintenance on major parts of the plant that can only be done when the unit isn’t running.  Such as repairing boiler tubes, and working on the turbine and generator.

Because employees would work at other plants for months at a time, living in camping trailers or cheap hotel rooms to save money, most people were able to work with and had the opportunity to know the Power Plant Men  from the other four plants.

I have noticed that most non-plant people have a general misconception about Power Plant Men when they first meet them.  As a young 18 year old entering my first job with real men, I learned very quickly  that they each possessed a certain quality or talent that made them unique and indispensable   Sure there were some “bad apples”, but they were never really and truly Power Plant Men.   They either left because of incompatibility or were promoted to upper management.

I know more than once the plant hired someone new only to have them work one day and never show up again.  There were few if any real Power Plant Men that ever left the plant where the character of the plant and its ability to be maintained properly wasn’t instantly changed.

While I am writing this post this evening a wake service is being held at the First Methodist Church in Moore, Oklahoma for a true Power Plant man; Jimmy Armarfio.  He was an electrician at Mustang plant.  I had heard some stories about Jimmy before I actually met him; most of them about humorous things that had happened to him at one time or other.

Everyone liked his African accent (Jimmy was from Ghana, a country in Africa) as they would imitate his voice while telling the stories.  It seems that Bill Bennett our Electrical A foreman had more than a few stories to tell.

Jimmy came to our plant on an overhaul and worked out of our electric shop.  The first time I talked to Jimmy, he was leaning against a counter during lunch just finishing a book.  I happened to notice when I was walking by that the book was titled “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  I had read that book not too long before, so I stopped and asked him what he thought of it.

He said that it was interesting how this man who was in a prison camp in Siberia living in a miserable state could go to bed at night thinking that he had a pretty good day.  I think I said something like, “Yeah, sort of like us working in this Power Plant.”

Then he said something that has always stuck in my mind.  He said that in the English language there are many words that mean the same thing.  For instance, for a rock, there is pebble, rock, stone and boulder.  In his native language there is one word.  It means “rock”. You may say, large rock, small rock, smooth rock, but there is only one word for rock.  It made me reflect on the phrase, “In the beginning was the Word…”  Suppose there was one word that included everything.

What I didn’t know at that time was that not only was Jimmy Armarfio from Ghana but he was the king of his tribe.  Steven Trammell said that his friends referred to him as “King Jimmy” after he was elected King of his tribe.

When I heard that Jimmy had died, I looked at the funeral home site and saw that one of his coworkers George Carr said the following:  “Jimmy was a beloved coworker and one of my personal heroes.”

Another friend, Jack Riley wrote: “It was my blessing to work with Jimmy.  The most cheerful person I have had the privilege of knowing.”  I have included his picture below.  Jimmy Armarfio…. Take a good long look at  A True Power Plant Man!  A Hero and a King!

Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley

Favorites Post #21

Originally posted February 25, 2012.  I added Larry’s Picture at the end:

When I first began working at the power plant (in 1979), one of the people I spent a good deal of time with was Larry Riley.  I was 18 and knew very little about  tools, equipment, power plants and how to speak in the Power Plant language.  I quickly found out that in those early days, when the plant was still under construction, a lot of people turned to Larry Riley when they were faced with an obstacle and didn’t know how to approach it.

Larry Riley was a 24 year old genius.  I was amazed by his vast knowledge of seemingly disparate areas of expertise.  When he was asked to do something, I never heard him say that he didn’t know how.  He just went and did it.  So, after I asked Larry how old he was, I asked him how long he had been at the plant.  He hadn’t been there very long, but he had worked in the construction department before transferring to the power plant.

Larry Riley already at the age of 24 had a beat up hard hat full of hard hat stickers.  One indicating that he was a certified industrial truck driver.  I think he had about 5 safety stickers and various other hard hat stickers.  He was a thin clean cut dark haired young man with a moustache that sort of reminded me of the Marlboro Man’s moustache.  He walked like he had a heavy burden on his back and he was rarely seen without a cigarette in his mouth.

Yep. That's the Marlboro Man

Yep. That’s the Marlboro Man

I worked with Larry off and on throughout my years as a summer help and during that time Larry taught me the following things (to name a few):  How to drive a tractor.  How to mend a fence.  How to bleed the air out of a diesel engine’s fuel line (which is more important than you would think).  How to operate a brush hog (a large mower on the back of a tractor).  How to free a brush hog from a chain link fence after you get one of the bat wings stuck in one.  Tie rebar, and pour concrete and operate a Backhoe.

I remember asking Larry why a backhoe was called a backhoe.  I think Sonny Karcher was in the truck at the time.  You would have thought I had asked what year the War of 1812 was fought!  I’m sure you are all chuckling while reading this (especially all the power plant men).  But for those of you who are as green as I was, I’ll tell you.  A Backhoe is called a Backhoe because the Hoe is on the Back.  Gee.  Who would have thought?

A Backhoe

Here is a picture of a backhoe

Later when I was a full time employee and had worked my way from being a Janitor to being on the Labor Crew, Larry Riley became my foreman.  At that point on occasion I would call him “Dad”.  He would usually disown me and deny that he had anything to do with it.  On occasion when he would own up to being my dad, he would admit that when I was real little I was dropped on my head and that’s why I acted so odd (though, I don’t know to what behavior he was referring).

There was this other guy at the plant the first summer I was there that had the unique title of “Mill Wright”.  His name was Gary Michelson.  He evidently had gone to school, taken some tests and been certified as a Mill Wright and this probably brought him a bigger paycheck than the other regular workers as well as a much bigger ego.

Gary would spend days at a time at a band saw cutting out metal wedges at different angles so that he would have them all in his pristine tool box.  I worked with him a few times during my first summer as a summer help.  I will probably talk more about Gary in a later post, but just to put it plainly…  I could tell right away that he wasn’t a real “power plant man”.

The rest of the power plant men I’m sure would agree with me.  I wouldn’t have traded Larry Riley for ten Gary Michelsons unless I was trying to help some engineers change a light bulb (actually.  I have met some good engineers along the way.  Some of them very good.  But they were not the norm.  At least not those assigned to power plants).

I have mentioned some different things that Larry had taught me and if you remember, he was the person that I worked with on my second day at the plant when Sonny Karcher and Larry had taken me to the coalyard to fix the check valve (in my post about Sonny Karcher “In Memory of Sonny Karcher – Power Plant Man“).  There will always be one day that first comes to my mind when I think about Larry.  This is what happened:

I drove a truck down to the Picnic area on the far side of the lake from the plant.  Jim Heflin drove a Backhoe down there.  I believe he was going to dig up some tree stumps that had been left over after the “engineers” in Oklahoma City had decided where to put all the trees in the area.

What the engineers in Oklahoma City did was this:  They cut down all of the trees that were in the picnic area and planted new trees.  Some of them not more than 15 or 20 feet away from a tree that had been there for 30 years and was a good size.  So, there were a lot of stumps left over from the big hearty trees that had been cut down that needed to be removed so that the sickly little twigs that were planted there could prosper and grow without feeling inadequate growing next to a full grown he-man tree.

Anyway.  I had climbed out of the truck and was making my way around the picnic area picking up trash and putting it in a plastic bag using a handy dandy homemade trash stabbing stick.  As Jim was making his way across the “lawn” (I use the word “lawn” loosely, since the area was still fairly new and was not quite finished) when he hit a wet spot.  The Backhoe was stuck in the mud.

There wasn’t much I could do but watch as Jim used the hoe to try to drag himself out.  He rocked the backhoe back and forth.  Use the stabilizers to pick up the backhoe while trying to use the scoop to pull it forward.  I would say he worked at it for about ten minutes (even though it seemed more like half an hour).  Eventually it was time for us to head back to the plant to go to break.

Back at the plant, Jim told Larry about his predicament and asked him if he would help him get the backhoe out of the mud.  Larry said he would come along and see what he could do.  At this point, I was thinking that he would jump in the Wench Truck and go down there and just pull him out.  Instead we just climbed in the pickup truck and headed back to the park (notice how it went from being a picnic area to a park in only three paragraphs?).

When we arrived, Larry climbed into the Backhoe after making his way across the vast mud pit that Jim had created while trying to free himself before.  He fired up the Backhoe…. cigarette in mouth…  then the most fascinating thing happened…  using both feet to work the pedals, and one hand working the controls in the front and the other hand working the levers in the back, Larry picked up the backhoe using the scoop and the hoe and stabilizers and cigarette all simultaneously, he walked the backhoe sideways right out of the mud pit and onto dry land just as if it was a crab walking sideways.  I would say it took no longer than three minutes from the time he started working the controls.  Jim just looked at me in amazement.  Patted me on the back, shook his head and said, “And that’s how it’s done.”

The Splittin' Image of Jim Heflin

This is the best picture I could find of Jim Heflin

Now that I’m on the subject of Larry Riley on a backhoe, let me tell you another one.  I have seen Larry digging a ditch so that we could run some pipe for irrigation.  Now picture this.  The bucket on the backhoe is digging a hole in the hard red clay of Oklahoma, and Larry suddenly stops and says….. “I think I felt something”.  What? (I think) Of course you did, you are operating this machine that has the power to dig a big hole in the ground in one scoop like it was nothing and Larry said he felt something?

He climbed off of the backhoe, jumped down into the ditch he was creating, kicked some clods of dirt around and lo and behold, he had just scraped clean a buried cable.  He hadn’t broken it.  He had come down on it with the bucket and had somehow “felt” this cable buried under all that dirt.  I wonder what it felt like that told him he had encountered something that wasn’t just dirt.  Maybe the electromagnet forces from the electricity in the cable caused the backhoe to be slightly magnetized and it tugged on his key chain.   I think the entire labor crew just went down on one knee before his greatness for a moment of silence – all right, so we didn’t really.  But we were somewhat  impressed.

The one thing that makes Larry a True Power Plant Man with all the rest is that he performed acts of greatness like what I described above with complete humility.  I never saw a look of arrogance in Larry’s face.  He never spoke down to you and he never bragged about anything.  To this day, I still picture Larry Riley working at the power plant working feats of magic that would amaze the rest of us as he thinks that he’s just doing another day’s work.  That’s the way it is with True Power Plant Men.

Since I first created this post two years ago, I have found a picture of Larry Riley taken many years after this story:

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Since I first posted this story about Larry, he has passed away.  I described the day of his passing in the post:  “Power Plant Saints Go Marching In