The 102nd “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 8/22/2015
In the morning when a Power Plant Man drives through the gate at the plant, with the boilers and smoke stacks looming ahead of them, they know that whatever lies ahead for them can be any one of over 20,000 different Power Plant Man Jobs! Yes. That’s right. There are over 20,000 separate jobs that a person can be assigned on over 1,000 different pieces of equipment.
The bravery brings to mind the “Charge of the Light Brigade” (by Alfred Lord Tennyson), where “…All in the Valley of Death rode the six hundred”… only there were about 44 He-men and Women to repair whatever was in need of repair that day. And as in the commemorative poem about the Battle of Balaclava where “… Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the Left of them, Cannon in front of them… Into the Jaws of Death, Into the Mouth of Hell Rode the Six Hundred.” Or 44 in the case of the Power Plant Men and Women.
It is true of the bravery possessed by True Power Plant Men and Women as they go about their daily quest for perfection. Unlike the Charge of the Light Brigade, who through an error in the command structure was ordered to perform a suicide mission, Power Plant Men go into daily battle well prepared using the correct tools, Safety Gear, Clearance Procedures and the knowledge of how to perform any one of the 20,000 jobs that could be assigned to them on any given day. (wait! Did I just create an extremely long run-on sentence? — No wonder I could never get an A in English class!).
As Lord Tennyson Memorialized the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 by writing the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, one day when I showed up to work during the spring of 1998, I was assigned a similar task at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. “What’s that you say? Similar to writing the Charge of the Light Brigade?” Yeah. You heard me. I was given the job of chronicling each and every task that a Power Plant Man or Woman could possibly ever perform at the Power Plant.
For the next three years, I spent 50% of my time at the plant sitting in front of a computer in the Master Print Room (where the master blueprints for the entire plant are kept) entering each task into the program called SAP. You may have heard me mention this program before.
We had started using SAP a year earlier at the Electric Company (1997). The benefit of using this product was that it connected all of the functions of the company together into one application. So, as soon as a Power Plant Man took a part out of the warehouse, it was reflected in the finance system on the Asset Balance sheet. When our time was entered into SAP, the expense was calculated and charged to the actual piece of equipment we had been working on during that day. It gave us a lot of visibility into where and how the company was spending their money.
This became even more useful if we were able to tell SAP more and more about what we did. That was where Ray Eberle and I came in. Ray was assigned to enter all of the Bill of Materials for every piece of equipment at the plant. I was assigned the task of entering all of the possible jobs that could be performed at the plant into SAP.
I entered jobs into a section called “Task Lists”. When I created a task about a specific job, I had to tell SAP all about how to perform that job. This is referred to as “Expert Data” in the world of Enterprise Software. (sorry to bother you with all these boring technical terms).
Each task had to include any Safety Concerns about doing the job. It included a list of instruction manuals for the equipment that needed to be repaired and where to find them. I had to include the Safety clearance procedure that needed to be performed in order to clear out the equipment before working on it.
The Task also included all the parts that could be used to fix the equipment if something was broken along with the warehouse part number. Then I would add a list of tools that would be used to perform the job. This would include every wrench size, screwdriver, soft choker, come-along, pry bar, and nasal spray that might be needed for the job (well, you never know… there could be job that required the use of nasal spray). Ok. You have me… I only threw that in there because I found this great picture of Nasal Spray on Google Images and this was the only way I think of to show it to you:
Finally I would list each of the steps that a person would take to fix the equipment they were assigned to repair. This was a step-by-step procedure about how to perform the job.
My first thought when I was assigned the job of chronicling every possible job a Power Plant Maintenance Man could perform was “Great! I will get to work on the computer! Everyone will be glad to help me with this task as it will make their lives easier!” Well… After I began the task of collecting information about the jobs, I unexpectedly found a lot of opposition to the idea of listing down each of the steps that a Power Plant Man performed to do their job. — Can you guess why?
Well… Yeah. It’s true that I have an annoying personality, and sometimes I may come across as unpleasant, but that wasn’t the main reason. Here is what happened….
When a Maintenance Order was created, one of the planners, Either Ben Davis (Planner 3) or Tony Mena (Planner 4) would flag the work order as needing a Task created for that particular job.
I would pull up the list of work orders and start creating the task list for that job. I could tell who was assigned to it, so I figured I would just go up to them and ask them how they were going to fix the equipment.
I remember going up to the first person on my list (Earl Frazier) the first day and explaining to him what I was doing. I asked him if he could tell me the steps to replacing the tail roller on belt 18 in the Surge Bin Tower. His response was, “Why should I tell you? You will just put all of that into the computer and then when you have described how to do all of the jobs, they can just get rid of us and hire some contractors to do our jobs.”
Oh… I hadn’t thought about that. It seemed unlikely, because there is a big difference between having a low wage contractor working on something and a dedicated Power Plant Man. There just isn’t any comparison.
In order to write up the task for this job, I just waited until the men were up in the Surge Bin Tower pulling the roller off of the belt, and I went up there and watched them. I took notes of all of the tools and equipment they were using, and asked one of them the steps they were taking to get the new roller up to the tower, and how they were taking the old one out, etc.
Ok… I wasn’t going to do this… but I can feel your anticipation clear from here while I am writing this, that you really want to know what kind of tools it took to pull the roller from the Surge Bin Tower Conveyor belt…. Here is a list of just the tools needed…. just warning you… reading this list of tools just may cause you to drop whatever you are doing and drive out in the country to your nearest Power Plant and apply for a job…. just to warn you… if you don’t think that would be good for you, you may want to skip this next paragraph.
One 9 Foot Extension Ladder. Two 1-1/2 ton come-alongs, and one 3/4 come-along. Two large pry bars, a 15/16 in. and 3/4 inch sockets, an air or electric impact wrench (to be used with the sockets). An 8 foot step ladder. One can of WD-40. a 3/8 in. screwdriver. Oxygen-Acetylene tanks with Torch, a Welding machine, two 8 ft. 2 by 4’s (that’s two pieces of wood). A hammer, a 1/8 in. wrench. One small pipe wrench. One hook to hold up the roller. Three extension cords, with adapters for the coal-handling safety plug-ins. One 4 in. electric grinder. Two 6 in. C Clamps and four 6 ft. Steel Chokers.
I decided that I would make things easier for myself up front by working on all of the electrician maintenance jobs first since I knew how to do most of those already. So, I spent the first year almost solely working on Electrical and Instrument and Control jobs. I could easily write the task lists for these, because I new all of the steps.
For instance… If I needed to take a clearance on the A Tripper Drive motor, I knew that the breaker was on the Motor Control Center (MCC) 13B Cubicle 1C already. I didn’t have to even look that one up. (I often wondered what they were thinking when they put Tripper B on MCC 13B Cubicle 2B. Why not put it in the same place (1C) on the next Motor Control Center? It would make things less confusing — Just things I think about when I’m sitting on my “thinkin’ chair”).
Some tasks were short and easy. Others were novels. Take “Elevator is Malfunctioning” Maintenance order. I included all sorts of troubleshooting tips for that one. I even drew a sort of diagram of relays showing how they should be picked up and dropped out as the elevator went up and down… When the elevator was going up, I put in a table of relay positions like this (U means the relay is picked up, D means it is dropped out). Those names at the top are the names of the relays.
|At Start up||D||U||D||U||D||D||D|
|Slowdown 2 up||D||D||D||D||D||D||U|
|Slowdown 3 up||D||D||D||D||U||D||U|
|At Stop up||D||D||D||D||U||D||D|
I wrote a similar one for when the elevator was going down.
Anyway….I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Ray Eberle and I worked together side-by-side for most of the three years while I was writing the task lists (see the post “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“). After I had written a number of novels about different Electrician jobs in the form of task lists, I began working on the general maintenance tasks.
After a while the Mechanics came around and saw the benefits of the task lists. I remember one of the men who had been the most vocal about not telling me how to do his job (yes. Earl Frazier) came up to me after I had written a task list about changing out the number 2 conveyor belt gear box and he asked me to add another wrench to the list. He said, that they had to go all the way back down the belt at the coal yard, drive back to the shop and retrieve the wrench, all because they hadn’t taken it with them the first time. I added it in a heartbeat and he left smiling.
Every once in a while I would run across a Maintenance Order where I could be somewhat creative. For instance, I had to write a task list about how to inspect the railroad tracks and right-away from the plant to where the tracks entered the town of Red Rock, Oklahoma about 5 miles away.
After explaining how the person connected the railroad truck to the tracks and drove on the tracks toward the growing Metropolis of Red Rock (population 282). I explained about how they were to make sure that all the wildlife was being treated well. I also said that when they arrived at Red Rock, they should go into the feed store and build up our public relations by striking up friendly conversations with the “locals”.
After completing over 10,000 different task lists….. I had begun to get into a routine where I felt like my creativity was becoming a little stifled. Then one day, Ray Eberle suggested that when I’m writing my task lists, I should think about how Planner 4 (Tony Mena) would like to see something a little more exciting than the usual…. “this is how you fix this piece of equipment” task list…
One day I remember writing a task list about something called a “Sparser Bar”. A sparser bar is something that sprays water at the bottom of a sump to stir up the coal when the pump is running so that it doesn’t build up or maybe on a conveyor belt for dust suppression. Anyway… One of the tasks I needed to write was for a person to “create a new Sparser bar”.
I wish I had the exact Task List that I wrote. I know that many years later, Ray Eberle sent me a copy of it when he ran across it one day, but I don’t have it readily available, so I’ll just go by memory (until someone at the plant wants to print it out and send it to me). I don’t know… I may be able to write a better one now…. let me see….
Here are the instruction:
- Cut a one and a quarter inch pipe 30 inches long.
- Drill 1/8 inch holes along the pipe so that you have exactly 24 holes evenly distributed across the pipe leaving at least 3 inches on either side of the pipe.
- If you accidentally drill 23 holes, then you should add an extra hole so that you end up with exactly 24 holes.
- If you drill 25 holes, then you should discard the pipe and start over again.
- Note: Do not drill holes that are larger than 1/8 inches in diameter as this will be too big. If you drill holes bigger than 1/8 inches, then discard the new sparser bar and begin again.
- Another Note: Do not drill the holes smaller than 1/8 inches in diameter. If you drill holes that are smaller than 1/8 inches, then obtain a 1/8 inch drill bit and use that to increase the diameter of the holes that you have drilled.
- Once you have exactly 24 holes in the new Sparser Bar, then rotate the pipe 30 degrees and drill 24 more holes in the exact same positions as the holes that are now 30 degrees from where you are going to drill the new holes.
- Note: Do not drill the second set of holes at a 40 degree angle from the first set of holes as this is not the correct angle. Only drill the holes at a 30 degree angle from the first set of holes.
- Also Note: Do not drill the holes at a 20 degree angle, as this is also not the correct angle from the first set of holes.
- Caution: If you find that you have drilled the second set of holes at an angle other than 30 degrees, please discard the sparser bar and begin again.
- Once you have exactly 48 holes (count them… 24 + 24) in the sparser bar, thread both ends of the pipe.
- After you have threaded both ends of the new sparser bar, put a metal cap on one end of the sparser bar.
- Note: Do Not under any circumstance put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar as this will render the sparser bar useless because there will not be any way to attach the sparser bar to the water line.
- Caution: If you find that you have accidentally put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar, then remove the metal cap from one end (and only one end) of the sparser bar so that it can be attached to the water line.
- After you have completed creating the new sparser bar with two rows of 24 1/8 in. holes each at an angle of exactly 30 degrees, then using a medium pipe wrench attach the new sparser bar to the water line.
- Align the holes on the sparser bar so that they will have the maximum desired affect when the water is turned on.
See? Only 7 easy steps. I think Tony Mena said he fell asleep trying to read my “Sparser Bar Task List”. I seem to remember Ray Eberle telling me that Tony said, “Kevin’s a nut!”
So, I have one more story to tell you about writing task lists, and then I will conclude this post with the proper conclusive paragraph….
At the plant, every piece of equipment had their own “Cost Center”. This came in handy when you were looking for spending trends and things like that. The structure of the cost center was like this: SO-1-FD-A-FDFLOP — I just made that up. It’s not a real cost center… I just wanted to show you the structure…. The first two characters SO represent the plant. The following “1” represents the unit. We had 2 units. The FD represents a “functional area” like “Force Draft Fan. The “A” represents the number of the piece of equipment, like A or B or C, etc…. depending on how many there are. The FDFLOP is the piece of equipment. In this case it might be a Forced Draft Fan Lube Oil Pump.
I’m explaining this apparently boring aspect of Power Plant Life, because I made an attempt to make it a little more interesting. Here is what I did…. The Ultra Clean water that goes in the boilers to make steam and are used to turn the turbine are stored in a couple of large water tanks in front of the main power transformer. The code for their functional area just happened to be: “AM”. So, when you were creating a task for working on a piece of equipment on the first of the two tanks, the Functional area would look like this: SO-1-AM-A…..
See where I’m going with this? It looks like it is saying… “So I am a….” This quickly reminded me of Jim Arnold, who was the Superintendent of Maintenance. The guy that had assigned me to write all of these task lists in the first place. He always seemed like he was king of the jungle, so I thought I would have a little fun with this….
I created a completely new Functional Area Cost Center for this water tank for a non-existent piece of equipment…. I called it the “Gould Outdoor Detector”. So, when I created the Cost Center string, it looked like this: SO-1-AM-A-GOD. For the Gould Outdoor Detector. — I know… I was being rotten.
Then using this cost center (that looked like “So, I am a God”), I created a Task List called: “How to be Superintendent of Maintenance”. I added a lot of steps to the task about how you can humiliate your employees and over work them, and kick them when they are down, and stuff like that. I don’t remember the details. Anyway, that was a lot of fun.
I created task lists up until the day before I left the plant. At my going away party Jim Arnold asked me how many task lists I had created in the last three years… the count was something close to 17,800 task lists. Yeah. That’s right. I wrote over 17,000 descriptions of Power Plant Man jobs in three years. Our plant had over three times more task lists in SAP than the rest of the entire electric company put together.
You can see that I was proud of some, like my the novel I wrote about Elevator Maintenance. You can also tell that working side-by-side with Ray Eberle kept us both entertained during those years. We were the best of friends when I left. I don’t know how many times I just about passed out because I was laughing so hard while we worked together.
If I were to write Power Plant Tasks today, I think I would write the ones that aren’t assigned to a Maintenance Order… they would be more like “How to be a True Power Plant Man”. It would be a novel that would describe the tremendous character of each and every True Power Plant Man and Woman that I learned to love during my stay at the “Power Plant Palace.”
NOTE: On December 17, 2019 Mike Gibbs sent me an email from the Power Plant saying that he had been assigned to sweep the Main Electric Switchgear. The tools for the task were these:
- High Precision, extra durable, polished handled, floor sweeping broom.
- Dust Pan
- plastic trash bags
The Instruction Manual was this: RED SKELTON’S MANUAL ON CHIMNEY SWEEPS, GARBAGE COLLECTING AND MAINTAINING CUSTODIAL INTEGRITY.
Mike made the comment that I may have to return to the plant to update the new hires on who Red Skelton is.
The 101st “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted on 8/15/2015
Power Plant Men working for a large Coal-Fired Power Plant have the kind of culture where Cleanliness is next to “Leroy Godfrey-ness”. If you knew Leroy Godfrey, then you would know that he was a perfectionist in a lot of ways. Or… Well, he expected the Plant Electricians to be anyway. A few years after becoming an electrician, there was some work being done by Ben Davis, one of our best electricians, at the Conoco (Continental) Oil Refinery twenty miles north of the plant in Ponca City.
Being a low level Electrician Apprentice, I was not included in whatever was happening at the Refinery. I didn’t work at the refinery for many years. When I finally did go to Conoco, I wished I hadn’t.
What was happening? A Co-Generation plant was being built there. It is called a “Co-Generation” plant because it serves two purposes. Waste gas from the refinery is used to fire the boiler that produces the steam to turn the turbine. Any steam left over is sent over to the refinery to supplement their own needs. The electricity is used by the refinery and any left over electricity is sold by the Electric Company for a profit. So, in a sense, it is a “Co-Existence”.
For the most part, Power Plant Men were looking for opportunities to get in a company truck and leave the plant grounds to work on something outside the confines of the plant where they work every day, week in and week out. Trips to the river pumps or the parks on our lake were always nice, because you would see wildlife along the way. You could look out over the Arkansas River in the morning as the sun was rising and feel the cool breeze and smell the pastures nearby.
Trips to Enid to our small peaking units were fun too, because we were able to work on some different equipment out in a quiet substation where mud daubers were the only sound until the units came online. The drive to Enid was nice because the 45 mile trip across the countryside is pleasant and the traffic is very light. You can go for miles without seeing another car.
After only a couple of visits to the Conoco Oil Refinery, I never looked forward to the 20 minute drive from the plant when we had to work on the Co-Generation Plant co-owned by our company and the Oil Refinery. There were a few things about the refinery that bothered me about working there. One annoying factor was the hideous smell.
I had lived in Ponca City for three years and the sour odor that poured out of the Oil Refinery to the south of our house generally blew right up our street. One winter morning I remember stepping out of our rental house into the dark on my way to work, and the exhaust from the oil refinery must have been blowing directly down the street to our house where I lived because when I took a breath I gagged immediately and was at the point of vomiting on the front lawn.
A side note…
My wife and I lived in this tiny house shortly after we were married. Kelly was an RN (nurse) at the local hospital working the night shift while I was an electrician at the Power Plant during the day. I had the philosophy that if we started by living in a dump and saved our money, then as we gradually worked our way up to a bigger house, we would feel as if life was getting better, and we never had to worry about money, since we always lived well below our means.
I figured that if we lived far below our means, our means would keep growing. Living just below your means meant always staying in the same economic spot (how many sentences can I put the words “means” and “meant” right next to each other?). The quality of Life doesn’t get much better. When living well below your means, life continues to get better even if your job stays the same your entire life. I had figured that I was going to be a plant electrician until the day I retired, so, this was my way of planning ahead.
My wife endured living in this tiny house one block away from the railroad tracks traveled by the coal trains on their way to our plant (which shook our house as they passed) for three years before we moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma where we lived with more than twice the square feet and no smell from the oil refinery.
end of side note…
I started out by saying that the culture at our Power Plant was that Cleanliness was very important. I suppose this was true at the Oil Refinery as well, only, it seemed that even though the clutter was all picked up, there was something “inherently” dirty about the oil refinery. I’m not sure how to describe it, but you just felt like you didn’t want to touch anything because it was going to leave some sort of dirty film on you. It was….. grimy (one could say… oily… well… it was an oil refinery).
Our Power Plant is in North Central Oklahoma, and during the summer going for an entire month with over 100 degree weather every day was not uncommon. There are parts of the plant where you had to work some times where the temperature reached 160 degrees. Of course, you can’t stay in that environment very long, and those areas are generally not the areas of choice when choosing which job to work on next.
One hot summer day in 1996, Charles Foster and I had to go to the oil refinery to our Co-Generation plant to fix an Air Conditioner Condenser Fan Motor.
This isn’t like one of those fans on the side of your house in the box that you know as your “air conditioner” that blows hot air out when the air conditioner in your house is running, though it performs the same task, only on a much bigger scale.
When you entered the oil refinery you had to wear a long blue cloak or coat called “Nomex” (pronounced “No Mex”).
The reason for wearing this heavy “woolen” coat was to help save your life in case you happened to be around the next time (next time?) something exploded, blasting flames in your direction. — Yeah…. comforting huh? Knowing that this flame retardant coat was going to keep you from being burned alive when something exploded in the refinery. Oh joy.
Everyone in the refinery was wearing these blue coats. It was a requirement before you could drive your pickup through the security gate.
Once inside the gate, Charles and I checked our clearances to make sure it was safe to work on unwiring the motor that was mounted under the air conditioner coils. Another fan was running that was turning a large fan blade blowing hot air down next to us. We had brought our own fans to blow cooler air on us while we worked on the motor. This particular motor weighed about 400 lbs, to give you an idea of the size of motor we were repairing.
Charles and I had brought a temperature gun to check how hot everything was when we were working.
When we checked the temperature, we found that the area where we had to stand was 160 degrees. The motor itself was even hotter than that. We had to wear leather gloves just to work on it without burning our hands. Asbestos gloves would have rendered us useless because they make you feel like you are wearing “Hulk Hands” where your fingers are about 2 inches wide.
See what I mean?
The air was too hot to breathe except for quick shallow breaths. Even though we had a fan blowing directly on us, we took turns approaching the motor, turning some bolts a couple of times, and then quickly moving out of the area to where we could be in the cooler 105 degree temperature.
There is nothing like a mild irritation (such as working in extreme heat) to motivate you to hurry up a job. Charles and I worked diligently to remove the motor and then lowered it down with a platform hand lift that we kept in the shop.
This fan motor was on the roof of a building, so once we had removed the motor from where it was mounted, we still had to lower it down to the back of the truck which was backed up to the side of the building. Once in the truck, we brought it back to the plant where we could work on it.
When you first went to work in the oil refinery you had to take a specially designed safety course when you are issued your Nomex coat. During that class, you are told that if you hear the sirens go off, that generally means that there are some toxic gases being released accidentally in the plant, you are supposed to take action quickly.
The funniest (or not so funniest) instructions was that when the sirens go off, you are supposed to run in the opposite direction away from the sirens. Which sort of reminds me of Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail when they had to run away from the viscous fighting rabbit. Yelling “Run Away! Run Away!” Great safety evacuation plan. — Plan of action: “Run!!!”
The toxic gas that everyone was worried about is called Hydrogen Sulfide or H2S. This is the gas that smells like rotten eggs. The only problem is that when there is more than the minimal amount of H2S in the air, you can’t smell it for more than a few seconds because it quickly deadens your sense of smell.
Another fun reason to not want to go work in the Oil Refinery.
Anyway, Charles and I safely reversed the process to return the motor to its rightful place mounted on the bottom of the coils on the roof.
A few times I had to go to work at the Co-Generation plant because something was broken (like the fan motor), but most of the time that we went to the plant was to do our quarterly battery inspections. For more information about battery inspections, you can read this post: “Importance of Power Plant Backup Battery Preventative Maintenance“.
I have told you all the reasons why I didn’t enjoy working at the Oil Refinery in Ponca City, Oklahoma. There were reasons why I did enjoy it. I suppose if you have been reading my posts, you will know the most obvious answer to that question (oh. I guess I didn’t really ask a question… but if I had…). The only redeeming factor with working at the Co-Generation plant at the oil refinery was being able to work with the best Power Plant Men and Women in the country.
I have given you an example above when I worked with Charles Foster. I also worked with Scott Hubbard and Diana Brien.
Both of them top class electricians and First Class Friends. Just to be able to work side-by-side with such terrific people made me forget about the poison gases. I didn’t mind the heat. I even forgot I was wearing the heavy suffocating Nomex Coat. What’s a little grime when your friend tells you about their day? About what they are planning for the weekend? Or the rest of their life?
Actually, I think that’s what made everything about working both at the Oil Refinery and the Power Plant itself the most enjoyable job I can imagine. Sure. We had a culture of “cleanliness” at the plant but I think it was the culture of “friendliness” that really made all the difference. It was also the most painful part the day I finally left the Power Plant to adventure out to find the rest of the world in 2001.
The 100th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 8/01/2015
The first time I saw Ray Eberle was during my first summer as a summer help in 1979. He was standing in the midst of a group of mechanics who sat around him as school children sit around the librarian as a story is being read. Ray was telling a story to a group of mesmerized Power Plant Men.
I had actually been seeking him out, though I didn’t know it. A week or so earlier I noticed that Sonny Karcher started putting on a distinct drawl at times when he was telling a story. Every once in a while Sonny would change his way of talking when he was making a point where he would let his lower lip come forward and work its way left and right as he talked, and he would close one eye more than the other and talk in a strange sort of a southern drawl.
I just knew he was imitating someone because it was so different than just the regular Sonny (See the post “Power Plant Invocations and Imitations of Sonny Karcher“). So, one day when I heard that drawl coming from someone in the welding shop, I veered over in that direction to find out who it was, and there was Ray Eberle sitting in the middle of a ring of welders all listening intently while Ray weaved a story full of intrigue and excitement.
Many years later I heard that Ray was invited to tell stories to hunters who were hunting elk in Montana around the campfires at night as an occupation. I think he passed on that opportunity. Who would think of leaving the comfort of a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to go sit around telling stories by campfires in Montana?
For many years I didn’t have the opportunity to work with Ray. He had joined the Safety Task Force that we had created at the plant. He had also become a member of the Confined Space Rescue Team, and was a HAZWOPER Emergency Rescue responder. I was on all of these teams with Ray, but I really had never worked side-by-side with him.
I know that at times, I had disappointed Ray by not living up to his expectations of what a True Power Plant Man should be. When we were on the Safety Task Force, after the reorganization, we had shifted gears to be more of an “Idea” task force instead of one that actually fixed safety issues. I was pushing hard to have the company move to a “Behavior-Based Safety” approach. It was a misunderstood process and if not implemented correctly would have the exact opposite effect (see the post “ABCs of Power Plant Safety“)
I know this bothered Ray. He let me know one day when I received an intra-company envelope with a memo in it. It said that he was resigning from the team:
I hang on to the oddest things. Some things that lift me up and some things that break my heart. I figure that there is a lesson for me in this memo. That is why I have held onto it for the past 20 years. I suppose this enforces my philosophy of trying to make a “Bad First Impression” (See the post: “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“).
Ray Eberle told me once that he had always thought that I was a lazy stuck up electrician that didn’t like to get dirty and just sat around in the electric shop all the time. (read the post: “Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“) He said that he saw me as a “higher than thou” type of person that looked down on others. Then one day I said something that totally changed his perception of me. I said, “Don’t get twisted.”
It’s funny to learn sometimes what people actually think of you. Then it’s even funnier to think what makes them change their mind. You see… when Ray Eberle was sharing his thoughts about me, we had become very good friends. He said that he felt that he finally understood me when I uttered those three words “Don’t get twisted.”
I remember the moment I had said that. As members of the Confined Space Rescue Team, we were responsible for inspecting the SCBAs (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) each month. We were standing in the control room and had a couple of the SCBAs sitting out while the instructor was showing us the proper way to inspect them.
Ray had asked a few “what-if” questions (like “What if the pressure is right at the minimum amount?” or “What if we send a tank off to be refilled and we have an emergency?”) and his questions weren’t being answered. He was getting a little hot under the collar, so I said, “Don’t get twisted.”
I remember Ray’s reaction. He turned to me and said, “What did you say?” I looked him straight in the eye with a grin on my face and repeated “Don’t get twisted.”
At that moment I didn’t know if Ray was going to haul off and belt me one, so I was mentally preparing my various responses…. like…. get ready to duck… just try to stand there as if nothing had happened… run and call a therapist because my ego had been shattered (no… wait… that wasn’t then)…. Anyway… instead Ray just smiled at me and said calmly, “I thought that was what you had said.” I could see that he was in deep thought.
It was a couple of years later that I found out that at that moment Ray Eberle’s perception of who I was had done a 180. Isn’t it funny what causes someone to change their mind sometimes? Maybe he saw a spot of dirt on my tee shirt.
One day during the spring of 1998 my foreman, Alan Kramer told me that Jim Arnold wanted me to be assigned to create “Task Lists” in SAP.
Task lists are instructions on how to perform jobs associated with trouble tickets. Jim Arnold (probably to keep me out of trouble) had assigned me to write task lists and Ray Eberle to write Bill of Materials (or BOMs). Thus began our three year journey together working side-by-side entering data into the computer.
Writing task lists didn’t mean that I just sat in front of the computer all day. In order to create them, I had to find out what tools a person would use to fix something, and what procedure they would perform in order to do their job. This meant that a lot of times, I would go up to a crew that was working on something and I would ask them to tell me all the tools they used and how they did their job while standing at the job site.
I will write another post later about how I actually did the task of writing task lists, so I won’t go into any more detail. (Now that I have written all of the posts, I find that I have scattered my story about task lists through various other posts, but mainly, down below). After a short while, Ray and I figured out that we needed to be in the front office close to the Master Prints and the room where the “X-Files” (or X-drawings) were kept.
X-Files didn’t have to do with “Aliens”. X-Files were files in cabinets that had all the vendor information about every piece of equipment at the plant (just about). They were called X Files because their filing numbers all began with an X. Like X-160183. Which is probably the source of the name of the TV show.
About 50% of my time for the next three years was spent creating task lists. The rest of the time, I was still doing my regular electrician job, and going to school. After the first year, I moved into the Master Print Room and Ray and I set up shop working on the computers next to each other.
Ray was a collector of Habanero Sauce bottles.
He would travel the country looking for unique Habanero Sauce bottles. Each day, Ray would bring a bottle of habanero sauce to work and pour some on his lunch.
I ate the same boring lunch every day. It consisted of a ham sandwich with a slice of American cheese. Then I had some kind of fruit, like an apple or an orange. Since I was no longer eating lunch in the electric shop where Charles would give me peppers with my sandwich, when Ray asked me if I would like some hot sauce for my sandwich I was quick to give it a try.
There is something very addictive about habanero sauce. After a few days of having this sauce on my sandwich, I went to the grocery store and bought some of my own bottles of habanero sauce and salsa.
Ok. One side story…
I was sitting at home reading a school book at the dining room table, my 9 year old daughter Elizabeth walked up to the table and took a tortilla chip from my paper plate, dipped it in the (habanero) salsa in the bowl next to it, and began to put it in her mouth. Without looking up from my book, I said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Thinking that I meant that she shouldn’t be stealing my chips, she went ahead and put it in her mouth. Grinning because she had stolen my chip, she began to walk away. Then she started to squeal a little. Moments later she was hopping all over the kitchen trying to find some way to put out the fire.
I told her the best remedy is to eat more chips. Don’t drink water. It makes it worse. Eat chips without salsa.
End of side story…
I mentioned above that Ray Eberle is a very good storyteller. He told me a series of stories that I call the “Walt Oswalt Stories”. These were real life stories about a Power Plant Man at our plant. They were so funny that I would go home and share them with my wife and she would fold over laughing at them. She said that Ray needs to write a book about Walt Oswalt.
I have shared some of these stories with various people in my later career and the reaction is always the same. These stories belong in a book. Later this year, I will share some of the Walt Oswalt stories in a post or two then you will see what I’m talking about. (See the posts: “A Window into a Power Plant Man Bedroom“, “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“, “Power Plant Trip leads to a game of Frogger“).
One time in 2007 when I worked for Dell, I was meeting with the CEO of the world’s leading timekeeping company called Kronos (now UKG or Ultimate Kronos Group). His name is Aron Ain.
My director, Chris Enslin was with us in Massachusetts.
Aron had taken us out to eat dinner, and Chris asked me to tell Aron some Walt Oswalt stories, so I shared a couple.
Then a couple of years later in 2009, Chris told me that he was at a meeting with CEOs from companies all over the United States, and there was Aron standing in the middle of a group of CEOs telling them a Walt Oswalt story.
Here is a picture of Ray Eberle sitting next to me at our computers in the master print room at the power plant:
Each day at lunch, after we had eaten our sandwiches, Ray would reach into his lunch box and pull out a worn black book and begin reading it. He would spend about 10 to 15 minutes reading. Sometimes he would stop and tell me something interesting about something he had just read. When he was done, the book went back into his lunch box and we continued working.
I remember some of the interesting conversations we used to have about that worn black book in his lunch box. One time we talked about a story in the book about how a hand just appeared out of nowhere and began writing on a wall when this guy named Belshazzar was having a party. Then this guy named Daniel came and told him what it meant, and that night Belshazzar was killed. Ray said, “…. God sent the hand that wrote the inscription.” What do you think about that? My response was…. “Yeah. God sure has class. He could have just struck the guy down right there and then. Instead he has a hand appear and write something on the wall. That way we can now have the saying: The writing on the wall’.”
I always thought if you were going to pick a good friend to have, if you pick one that reads their Bible every day during lunch, they are bound to be trustworthy. I could tell that I could trust Ray with anything. So, I spent the three years with Ray telling him everything I knew about myself while Ray shared a good deal of his life story with me. Of course… being nine and a half years older than I was, he had lived a lot more life than I had.
When I left the Power Plant in 2001 to work for Dell, one of the things I missed the most was sitting next to Ray talking about our lives, eating our lunch with Habanero Sauce, and listening to Ray’s stories about Prominent Power Plant Men! I have considered Ray a very dear friend for many years and I am honored to have him take me into his confidence. I only hope that I could be as much of a friend to Ray as he has been to me.
The 99th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 7/25/2015
Many years ago in my earlier days as a Power Plant Electrician while working on Relays at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, Ben Davis, a plant electrician and True Power Man introduced me to one of his favorite Rock and Roll Bands, the “Dire Straits”. One of their hit songs is “Money For Nothing.” About 14 years later, the Power Plant Men learned exactly how to make “Money For Nothing” and other “Money Matters”!
Albert Einstein was once asked what the greatest miracle known to man is, and he replied “Compound Interest”.
One day at the Power Plant our timekeeper Linda Shiever invited a Financial Planner to come to the plant and talk to the Power Plant Men about the importance of planning ahead for your retirement. This may have been the first time many of the Power Plant Men had ever heard of such a thing as “Compound Interest”.
To a Power Plant Man, “Compound Interest” sounds more like “paying close attention when you pound something with a sledge hammer”.
The Financial Planner explained to the Power Plant Men that it is important to begin planning for the future early in your life. He gave us a sheet of paper titled “Put the Magic of compounding to work for you.” It showed how someone 25 years old investing in the stock market (S&P 500 which averages 10% annually over time) by putting $2,000 in something that gives you a 10% return for 8 years, and then stops, while another person waits 8 years until they are 33 and spends the rest of their life putting $2,000 into the same stock market they will never have as much as the person who only put in $2000 for 8 years beginning when they were 25 years old.
Let me explain this a little more: Using compound interest at 10% rate for his example (since that is what you receive in the S&P 500 over time), he showed that the person that invested $16,000 beginning at 25 years old and adding $2000 each year for only 8 years will have a net earnings of over $1,000,000 by the time they are 71 years old. Yet the person that waited 8 years and invested $78,000 by adding $2,000 each year until they are 71 will only have a net earnings of $800,000. The importance was that compound interest works best when you start early.
This is a great lesson to learn. The problem was that the majority of the audience was already well over 40 years old. There may have been one person in the room that was 25 years old, and that was only because they weren’t telling the truth about their age.
On Friday, September 6, 1996 a group of us from the plant were told to show up at a hotel conference room not far from corporate headquarters to attend a meeting that was called “Money Matters”. The other phrase they used to describe the meeting was that it was a “Root Learning” class. The reason it was called Root Learning was because the company that put the class together for the Electric Company was called Root Learning.
When we arrived, we were told which table we were going to sit. Bruce Scambler was the leader of the table where I was appointed to sit. When we were assigned seats, it was in a way that the Power Plant Men were spread out across the tables, so that we were each sitting with people from other departments in the company. I supposed right away that this was so that we could maximize the spread of the Power Plant culture to others.
This turned out to be a class about how the company has problems that need to be resolved. When the class began the leader placed a poster in the middle of the table. It showed a picture of a canyon. The workers were on one side and the leaders were on the other with the managers stuck in the middle. It was very similar to this picture:
This was an ingenious representation of the problems the company had with the management structure. The poster we had was customized for our particular company.
We talked for a couple of hours about how we could bridge the gap between management and the workers. What were some of the barriers in the tornado that kept destroying those bridges…. etc.
The following year on September 24, 1997, we attended another meeting in Enid Oklahoma where we learned about Shareholder value. The leader of my table this year was a young man from HR at Corporate Headquarters (I’ll mention this guy in a later post). This topic made more sense as it really did talk about Money this time. This time the maps they showed us had race cars on it which showed the different competing electric companies. Something like this:
Being the main electric company in the state, our truck was on the Regulated track. Some of the electric providers had figured out a way to go the unregulated route. Our company kept looking for ways to get on the unregulated road by offering other services that were not regulated. After looking at the poster that looked similar to the one above for a while and talking about it, we moved on to the next poster:
Even though the chart is the main part of this picture, most of the discussion took place around the “Expense Street” section in the picture. There was an added pie chart that was on a card that was placed on this street which showed how the expenses of the company were broken down.
The main expense for the company was Fuel. I want to say that it was close to 40% of expenses. Taxes was the next largest expense for the company. It made up somewhere around 30% of our total expenses. The rest of the expenses were the other costs to run the company. Employee wages made up around 8% of the total expenses for the company.
It was the job of the leader at the table to explain that the cost for fuel was pretty well fixed, so we can’t do anything about that. We also can’t do anything about how much taxes the company pays. We didn’t have control over the supplies and other costs the company buys. So, the bottom line was that the little sliver of expenses for the company that represented “Employee Wages” was really the only thing we can adjust to increase shareholder value…..
What? Run that one by me again? We were a 3 billion dollar revenue company. We had around 3,000 employees which we had reduced to around 2,000 employees when the Corporation Commission cut how much we could charge for electricity, and now you’re saying that the only way to keep the company afloat is to “adjust” employee wages because 92% of everything else it “out-of-bounds”? I think you can see why we spent a lot of time discussing this… This turned into a pretty lively discussion.
Learning about the “Time Value of Money” can be very helpful. I had a financial calculator that I kept at the plant. One day one of the Power Plant Men came to me and asked me to figure out how they could buy a Harley Davidson Motorcycle. Earl Frazier said that he could only afford something like $230 per month and the wanted to buy this motorcycle. How would he do that? The motorcycle cost something like $38,000 or more. I don’t remember the exact details.
Sounds complicated doesn’t it? How does a Power Plant Man buy a Harley Davidson for only $230.00 per month with only a four year loan? Earl had heard that I knew all about the “Time Value of Money” and that if there was a way, I would be able to tell him how to do it. His parameters were that the cost of the motorcycle was $38,000 (I’m just guessing as I don’t remember the exact amounts), and he could only pay $230 each month.
Well. Even with a no interest loan, it would take over 13 years to pay for the motorcycle. So, my only option for solving this problem was to pull out my financial calculator:
This calculator allowed me to find the monthly payment quickly for a loan at a specific interest rate over a specific number of months. So, I worked backward from that point. I told Earl to come back in a couple of hours and I would let him know his options.
When Earl returned, I had his answer…. I told him this…. Each month he needed to begin putting his $230.00 into an annual CD at the bank for 5% (yeah… they had those at that time). In two and a half years, he would stop doing that. And just put his money in his regular checking account. Then 9 months later, he takes the money in his checking account and buys the Harley Davidson. This way he would put 10% down up front (because CDs would have been rolling into his account also).
Then, each month, as his CDs became available, he would roll part of them back into another year, leaving out a certain amount each time to supplement the $230.00 he would still be paying each month for his motorcycle, since his payments would be significantly higher than that. Then exactly after 4 years, he would have used up all of the money in his account just as he would be paying off his motorcycle. This would only work if he could get a loan for the motorcycle that charged 3.7% interest rate or less which was a reasonable rate at the time.
Earl responded by saying, “You mean I will have to wait 3 years before I can buy the motorcycle?!?!” Yeah. That was the bottom line… and by the end of it all, he would have to pay for the motorcycle over a 7 year period when it came down to it. He wasn’t too happy about having to wait, but that was the only way he could do it for $230 monthly payments.
Here is a side story… A few years later when I went to work for Dell, we also had Root Learning classes there as well. Here is one of the posters we used during the class:
In this picture, Dell is the big boat at the top. When I walked into the class I recognized the style of the poster right off the bat. Oh! Root Learning! This will be fun. These types of classes were a fun way to express the realities of the business and the obstacles they have to overcome to achieve their goals.
I still remember the leader at our table 13 years later. His name is Jonah Vaught. I worked with him about 5 years after that class. I acted like I knew him, and I could tell that he was wondering where we had met. So, I finally told him…. “You were the group leader when we were doing that Money Matters class back in 2002.”
End of Side story….
Now when I listen to the Dire Straits’ song “Money For Nothing” (like Paul Harvey’s “Rest of the Story”) you know what goes through my mind… First sitting in the switchgear working on relays with Ben Davis listening to Rock and Roll on the radio (see the post: “Relay Tests and Radio Quizzes with Ben Davis“).
Secondly, I remember the Power Plant Men learning the “Time Value of Money” in a fun way that kept them interested.
Thirdly, I remember Charles Lay finally realizing when he was 63 years old that he was going to have to work the rest of his life because he hadn’t been saving for retirement…. See the post “Pain in the Neck Muskogee Power Plant Relay Testing“). Some times when you learn about the Time Value of Money…. it’s too late to do anything about it because time has already run out.
The 98th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 7/4/2015
When I first became an electrician at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, my foreman Charles Foster and I would sit each day at lunch and talk about movies we had seen. We would go into detail explaining each scene to each other so that when I actually watched a movie that Charles had described, I felt as if I had seen it already. In the years that followed, after we had described to each other just about every movie we could remember, we moved on to playing games.
Sure, there were those jokes we would play now and then, but I’m not talking about those. This was something different. One of the games that we played was Chess.
I brought a computerized chessboard to work one day that had pieces on a board that you pressed down when you wanted to move a piece, then you moved it and pressed down on the square where you placed the piece in order for the board to keep track where all the pieces were on the board.
This chessboard had 8 levels of difficulty when you played against the computer. Charles, Terry Blevins, Scott Hubbard and I were not really the competitive type. We were more of the team player types. So, when we played, we played against the computer as a team.
We would set the level of difficulty to the highest level, then as a team, we would spend a long time analyzing our moves. Sometimes we would discuss making our next move over several days. Actually, at the highest level, the computer would at times take up to 7 hours to decide what move to make. — This was when computers were still relatively slow.
We figured out that at level 8, the chessboard would think of all the possibilities for the next 8 moves. Once we realized that, then we knew that we had to think 9 moves ahead in order to beat it. So, you could see how together we would try several strategies that would put us ahead after we had basically forced the computer to make 9 moves… It wasn’t easy, but by realizing what we were dealing with, we were able to beat the chess computer on the highest level.
The game where we beat the computer on the highest level took us over 3 months to play and 72 turns. The four of us had teamed up against the computer in order to beat it. I remember that I would wake up in the morning dreaming about that game of chess when we were playing it and I would be anxious to go into the electric shop to try out a move that had popped in my mind when I was in the shower.
Once we were able to beat the chess board we went on to other things.
Diana Brien (my first and only “Bucket Buddy”) and I would buy Crossword puzzle magazines and when we were in a spot where we were waiting for an operator to arrive, or for a pump to finish pumping, etc.
We would pull out the crossword puzzle magazine and start working on them. If we weren’t doing crossword puzzles, we were doing Word Searches, or Cryptograms… more on them in a moment.
This kept our mine sharp, and just as Fat Albert and Cosby Kids used to say, “If you’re not careful, you might learn something before you’re through.”
I had bought some Crossword puzzles that had other types of puzzles in them. Some were pretty straightforward like Cryptograms. That is where you have a phrase where each letter of the alphabet has been changed to another letter of the alphabet, and you have to figure out what it says. So, for instance, an “A” may have been changed to a “D” and a “B” to a “Z” etc. So, you end up with a sentence or two that looks like gibberish, but it actually means something once you solve the puzzle.
The cryptogram magazine I copied for the picture isn’t complete because of the green rectangle is blocking out part of it, but I can see that it says: “Everyone wants to “understand” art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? (Pablo Picasso).”
We were becoming expert cryptogram puzzle solvers, when one day we ran into a short cryptogram that didn’t have many words. We tried solving this cryptogram for almost a week. Scott Hubbard was getting frustrated with me, because I would never give up and look at the answer in the back of the book. So, after he became so fed up with me, he finally looked in the back of the book and wrote the answer in the puzzle. The answer was this: “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring”
Now… how is someone supposed to figure out a puzzle like that? I had figured on the “ing” in Spring and Harbinger but since Harbinger was barely in my vocabulary to begin with, I was never going to solve this one… I’ll have to admit.
Regardless, I was upset with Scott for looking at the answer in the back of the magazine, so I ripped out all the answers from the magazine and threw them in the dumpster so we would never be able to look at them again….. Still…. I would probably be trying to figure out “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring” to this day if Scott Hubbard hadn’t looked in the back of the book. I just felt like I wasn’t getting my money’s worth if we looked at the answers…. Yeah. all $3.95 worth (pretty cheap entertainment).
So, I have a side story to go along with working Cryptograms….
In my later life I changed jobs and went to work at Dell in Texas. (It just so happened that the Puzzle Books we would buy were usually “Dell” puzzle books…. totally unrelated to the Dell Computer company where I worked). That’s not really the important part of the side story, but I thought I would throw that in for good measure.
Every so often, our department would have an offsite where some team building events were held in order to… well… build teams.
One particular team building event was held in a park in Round Rock Texas where we were assigned to teams and each team was assigned to their own picnic table. When the game began we were each given a poster board with some phrase on it… and guess what? It was a cryptogram!
I was the only person on my team that knew how cryptograms worked, though most had seen them in the newspaper below the crossword puzzle, no one on our team had ever tried solving them. As a team, we were supposed to solve the puzzle. The quote was fairly long, which made it easy for someone who had been obsessed with cryptograms for years…. — Myself.
I took one look at the puzzle and said…. “That word right there is “that” and I wrote in the word “that”. Then I began filling in all the letters that had “T”, “H” and “A”. I quickly found a couple of “The”s which gave me the “E”, then I had one three letter word that began with an “A” and ended with an “E” that could only be the word “Are”. Which gave me the letter “R”. I could see that there were a couple of places that ended in “ing”, so I quickly filled those in, and as quickly as we could write all the letters into the puzzle we were done.
My director, Diane Keating, happened to be on my team. When I first pointed to the word “That” and said, “That is the word ‘that'”, she said, “Wait, how can you tell?” I said, “Trust me. I know Cryptograms.” When we had finished the puzzle within about a minute and a half, we called the person over to check it and she was amazed that we had solved the puzzle so quickly.
That is the end of the side story, except to say that I give credit to the games that Power Plant Men Play for teaching me the fine art of solving Cryptograms. Our team came in first place…. needless to say after solving three cryptograms in a row.
There were other more complicated but equally fun types of anagram/cryptogram combination puzzles that I worked when we had worked all the cryptogram puzzles in the Dell Variety Magazines. Eventually Charles Foster and I were looking for something different. That was when Charles ordered a subscription to a magazine called “GAMES”.
This was a monthly magazine that was full of all sorts of new games. Today, I understand that this magazine is more about the Video Games that are out than puzzle sort of games. Each month we would scour the pages of the Game magazine looking for puzzles to conquer. We worked on those for about a year.
At one point in my days as an electrician, I wrote a Battleship game for my Sharp Calculator that was a two player game. We each had a battleship in a 100 x 100 grid, which you could move around. It was sort of like the Battleship game where on the commercial they would say, “You Sunk My Battleship!” Only, our ships could move and we only had one.
Each turn when you would plug in the coordinates to shoot at the other person’s ship, it would only tell you how much you missed by. Then you could plot it on a graph paper and try to figure out where the other person’s ship was. Even though it could move. If you were close, then it would damage the other ship, and it would slow down so it couldn’t move as fast.
When the next person took their turn, they could see if their ship had been damaged or sunk, or even had become dead in the water….
The person was randomly assigned a home base at the beginning of the game and they could go there to repair their ship and be given more ammo in case they were running low. If they did this more than twice, then the other guy would know because the circles they would draw on their graph paper would keep intersecting at that one point.
Anyway…. that was the calculator game I made that I played with Terry Blevins for a while.
While other Power Plant Men were playing “Rope the Bull” with an Iron rendition of a bull welders had created, some of us in the electric shop were playing different kinds of games. Puzzles.
I think the reason that electricians like puzzles so much is because a lot of what they do from day-to-day is solve puzzles. When something isn’t functioning and the electrician has to figure out why, they usually have to follow through a bunch of steps in order to figure out what exactly went wrong. Solving Circuit problems are a lot like the puzzles we were playing.
Sometimes they are like “Word Searches” where you are looking for needles in the haystacks. Sometimes they are like Cryptograms where a circuit has been wired incorrectly and you have to figure out which wire is supposed to go where. Sometimes you get so frustrated that you just wish you could look in the back of the book at the answer page. In real life, you don’t always have an answer page exactly.
Some of us may think that you can find all you need to know in the Bible, but there are different kinds of “Bibles” for different kinds of jobs. In the Electric Shop we had the National Electric Code. We had the Master Blueprints that showed us how things were supposed to be wired up. Some times we just had to wing it and try putting words in crossword puzzle that we knew might not be the right ones, but they were the best we had at the time.
I’m just glad that I spent that time working puzzles with my friends at the Power Plant. If solving puzzles together helps build a team, then we had the best darn team around!
Because someone asked me about the game we played against the computer… Here is the play by play (for those who know how to read Chess Playing Geek Language):
The 97th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 6/20/2015
My friends will tell you that I tend to not take things too seriously. It seems that the more serious the situation, the more I joke around about it. I know that this drives some people up the wall sometimes. Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, used to call me “rascal” and maybe that was because I was one. That was the way life seemed to be for the majority of the people at the Power Plant. One of the funniest days in my life happened when Corporate Headquarters learned a thing or two about not taking things too seriously.
Eight (or was it 9?) Power Plant Men had been assigned to work in Corporate Headquarters for a ten week period. I wrote about the reason for this in the post: “Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?” I also wrote a post about how the Power Plant Men played one joke after the other on Kent Norris the entire time. See the post: “Corporate Executive Kent Norris Meets Power Plant Men“. We know that the entire floor of corporate headquarters was kept in a slightly disturbed state as they were constantly hearing the “hee-hawing” coming from our over-sized cube where they had put us in a corner of the building hoping to isolate the ruckus we were making constantly.
We didn’t make enemies of our victi… uh.. I mean “our friends” when we played jokes. We tried to do them in such a way that they would appreciate the thought and ingenuity that went into each joke we played on them. On the other hand, passerby’s and those that worked within earshot had to endure the constant uproar of laughter. They were missing out on all the fun, and we were just being a bother.
I think that’s why we received the initial reaction we did when we arrived at an SAP banquet during the last week we were going to be at Corporate Headquarters. The banquet was being held in a banquet room in a hotel on the west side of Oklahoma City. We had all carpooled in a couple of cars and arrived at the same time.
When we walked into the banquet room, we could see right away that we didn’t fit in. No one had told us that we were supposed to wear a suit…. well, it wouldn’t have mattered if they had, we still would have arrived in our blue jeans and tee shirts. At least our clothes were clean. I didn’t have one coal dust stain on my entire shirt.
We were told where we were supposed to sit. The Power Plant Men were directed to a large circular table in the back middle of the room. We figured they didn’t want us close to podium in case someone was going to be taking pictures of the speakers. This was an appreciation lunch for the SAP project teams. We were only a small group compared to the rest of the room.
During the lunch, recognition was given to the different SAP teams. We were mentioned for having completed our tasks two weeks early and had been given additional work and had completed that as well. All together, we had rewritten over 140,000 warehouse part descriptions so they would fit in SAP and would be easily “searchable”. We stood up and bowed and everyone applauded.
I think up to that point, the rest of the room had thought that the people sitting at our table was going to be providing the entertainment and that we were all “in costume”. Once they realized that we were Power Plant Men, their gaze turned from “anticipation” to “curiosity”. When a bunch of Power Plant Men are all sitting at one table and there is food involved, we can become quite a spectacle.
After the lunch was over and recognition and awards were given, an interesting man stood up and started to speak. He seemed like a rather goofy person and while he spoke he kept playing with a paper cup. Popping it up in the air and catching it… or accidentally not catching it and having to go pick it up. I thought he was becoming rather annoying as he kept distracting us from his boring words of wisdom because he kept playing with this stupid paper cup.
After a minute, he mentioned that there are lots of things you can do with a paper cup to entertain yourself. You can pop it up in the air and try to catch it. You can turn it over on a desk and beat it like a drum. You can put in over your mouth and suck in to create a suction and walk around with the cup stuck to your face in order to impress your coworkers. You can talk into it and sound like Darth Vader. You can tie a string between two paper cups to make a telephone.
Ok. That was a little more interesting than the speech he had been making. I began formulating in my mind how I might play a trick on Gene Day using a paper cup telephone when I returned back at the plant (never let an important tip go to waste).
I borrowed this picture from a fellow WordPress blogger: “The B.S. Report”
This speaker’s name turned out to be Stephen Kissell and he is a “motivational speaker”. I had heard about Motivational Speakers by watching Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live as the Motivator who lived in a van down by the river. See the following short YouTube loop for my conception of a Motivational Speaker:
for those who can’t view the video from the video above can click here: “Matt Foley Down by the River”
Anyway, Steve Kissell was dressed about the same way as Chris Farley in that skit. It was definitely mismatched clothing. I wondered if he lived in a van down by the river as well.
Then Stephen said that he needed some people from the audience to come up and help him with something. He had the names of some people he would like to help him. Obviously, someone had given these names to him in order to make the next “skit” he was going to perform turn out best. He called up three people, a couple of well dressed and prim and proper ladies and a man. They looked like they were the upper class stuck up types which, as it turned out was essential for this to play out properly.
Then Steve explained that in projects, in order to complete large task, you just have each person do smaller tasks, and when you put them all together, you can actually perform something great. So he asked each one to do one little task when he tapped on his paper cup.
I don’t remember the exact tasks, but they were simple like shrug your left shoulder, and then your right, or squat down and then stand back up. Little things like that.
Then after he had instructed each person what they should do, he tapped out a tune on the paper cup and they each performed their simple tasks over and over until he stopped.
After trying that a few times, he added other little tasks to each person one at a time. The result was that after a while he had each of them performing a real goofy dance that made them all look silly dressed up in their finest clothes dancing around like kids.
There was something so funny about the way Stephen Kissell had set this up that everyone was laughing their hearts out. The laughter was so thunderous that it sounded like one loud roar. I thought I was going to lose my lunch. I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.
This guy who had stood up and begun by annoying his audience (which was my philosophy as well… See the post: “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“) had turned them into driveling piles of laughter after 10 minutes. Up to that point, I hadn’t laughed that hard since I had seen the movie “Gus” when I was a boy.
Ok. Here is a side story about the movie “Gus”.
In 1976, when I was 15 years old, my brother (who was 11) and I went to the movies to see a Disney movie called “Gus” about a donkey who can kick a football through the goal post and ends up on a football team. It starred Don Knotts and Tim Conway, two comedians who were masters of slap stick comedy. This was still back when the movie theaters were large and there was only one theater in the building. — Yeah. They would only show one movie at a time. Amazing. Huh?
Anyway, there is a scene in a grocery store where they are chasing the donkey down the aisles trying to catch him. The comedy had built up so much that by that point the entire audience of children were laughing so hard that the sound was deafening. You literally could not hear anything but a loud constant roar. I remember that I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard.
I suppose it is a little like the Kennedy/Nixon debate… When you heard it on the radio, Nixon won the debate, but when you saw it on Television, Kennedy won the debate… I say that because fast forwarding 10 years, in 1986, I had the opportunity to watch Gus on TV. I couldn’t wait to relive the hilarious moment in the Grocery store.
When the moment finally arrived, it came and went and I didn’t really see much humor in it at all. It was just Don Knotts and Tim Conway fumbling around acting goofy. I couldn’t understand what had been so funny in the movie theater when the entire theater had erupted with such intense laughter. I guess you just had to be there in the movie theater at the time. Whatever it was didn’t translate to the TV.
I talked to my brother about it a few years later when he brought up the same topic. He said he had rented the movie Gus and had insisted that his four children sit and watch it all together as they ate popcorn. They all sat around and watched the movie and my brother Greg said, “it wasn’t funny at all.” He couldn’t figure it out.
End of Side Story
I heard that same statement a few years later when I had said something at Dell and my manager Cara Pack thought it was so funny that she went and repeated it to our director. When she did, she said it didn’t sound funny at all when she said it. The truth is, it’s not always what you are saying… it’s how you say it. The inflection in your voice and the expression on your face. Pausing at just the right time.
When we had all been sufficiently slain in the spirit of Stephen’s humor, and the banquet was over, we were all given a copy of Stephen’s book “Surviving Life With Laughter”.
We were also given a copy of a second Steve Kissell book:
In Steve Kissell’s books, he tells stories and jokes that you can use or modify to fit the type of job you may be in at the moment. This was something that Power Plant Men already knew how to do well, but always appreciated a good joke.
I found that Stephen Kissell is still out there after 19 years spreading good humor to the corporate world and the rest of humanity. If you’re in the need of a motivational speaker. You may consider looking up Stephen. Or…. you may find him living in a van down by the river!
As my readers know, I have written a number of posts about Power Plant Humor, See the post: “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“. Humor is the best motivator I have found to keep people on track and not get too carried away with details. I have learned this by working with the Power Plant Men over the years.
The most solid advise I remember from the “Pre-Cana” sessions (a program you have to go through in order to be married in the Catholic Church) we had with the priest when my wife and I were preparing to be married was “Always keep your sense of humor”. So, when the situation looks hopeless, and there doesn’t appear to be a viable solution available, that is the time to take a step back in your mind and look for the humor in the situation.
It has always been important that true Power Plant Men not play jokes on another person in a way that would end up hurting them. Whenever that would inadvertently happen, then a sincere apology would definitely have to follow and some sort of retribution. Usually, sharing your Squirrel Stew with them during lunch was an appropriate form of retribution for any joke gone awry.
Even though we played one joke after the other on Kent Norris, after 12 weeks of torment, he still remained friends with the Power Plant Men. I heard from him a week after we left when Kent sent a letter to me through intra-company mail. He returned my name tag to me…. I have kept this letter with the name tag since that day in 1996 as a reminder of the days we spent torturing Kent with humor:
The 96th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 6/5/2015
I began writing this Power Plant blog on January 1, 2012. The reason I did was because the first Power Plant Man I had met at the plant my first day on the job was Sonny Karcher and he had recently died. I had always led Sonny to believe that someday I would be a writer and I would write stories about the Power Plant Men.
When Sonny died on November 11, 2011, and Saint Peter gladly welcomed him through the Pearly Gates (as they needed someone special to mow the grass on the green pastures), Sonny realized that I had never really intended to set the wonderful stories of great heroes of Power Plant Fame down on paper.
Sonny being Sonny, made sure to send messengers (of sorts) to me reminding me of the commitment I had made to him many years earlier (in 1979) to spread the Wisdom of Power Plant Men to the rest of the world. What could I say? I had told him when he asked if I was going to write about the Power Plant Men that “maybe…. I hadn’t thought about it…” I knew that was just as good as a commitment to Sonny.
My very first Power Plant Post was about Sonny and how that first day on the job as a summer help opened up a whole new world to me full of wonders that some take for granted in the Power Plant Kingdom (see the Post “In Memory of Sonny Karcher – Power Plant Man“).
During the very first job I ever did with Sonny and Larry Riley, I went to the tool room to obtain a list of tools that to me sounded like the first of many Power Plant Man jokes that were to be played on me… As it turned out… there really was a tool called a “Come-along” and a soft choker and 3/4 box ends (who would’ve thunk it?).
When I went to the tool room to ask for these tools, as I walked up to the entrance I came face-to-face with a tall bear of a man. He had a grin on his face as he stood there at the gate to the tool room. I would say he was a big man… bigger than Daniel Boone, who was also said to have been a big man (according to the song about him).
Bud Schoonover was his name. When I asked him for the tools waiting for the joke to begin, he handed me each tool one-by-one as I asked for them. As I left the gate carrying a load of tools in my arm I said, “Thanks Bud.” He grinned back at me as if he knew….. I wasn’t sure exactly what he knew, but he looked at me as if he did anyway.
That first encounter with Bud may have seemed relatively insignificant, but I have always remembered that moment as it is etched firmly in my mind. I didn’t know it at the time that over the years Bud and I were going to become great friends.
I suppose that some day when I’m old (oh! I’m almost there now!), and I can’t remember what stories I have already told to my grandchildren, if I ever have any, or to the person standing behind me in the line at the grocery store, I will tell them over and over again about the first time I ever met Bud Schoonover. I will tell them that story as an introduction to all the other stories about Bud that I love to tell.
In past Power Plant Posts about Bud Schoonover, I have often said that there was something about Bud that reminded me of Aunt Esther on the TV Show, Sanford and Son, only a lot bigger, whiter and more male.
The reason was that Aunt Ester had the same squint as Bud, and she would protrude her chin out the same way as Bud when he was telling you something important.
Tonight when I was eating dinner with my parents at the Olive Garden in Round Rock Texas, I asked them “Do you remember Bud Schoonover?” My dad immediately said, “Yeah! I remember Bud Schoonover!” Not that he had ever met Bud in person… He had only heard about him off and on for the last 36 years. Everyone in my family knew Bud Schoonover.
Tonight I told my parents that Bud Schoonover died the Wednesday before last on May 27 (2015). They were surprised to hear that. My mom said, “How old was he?” (a common question asked by older people… I have found).
I had always talked about Bud as he was when I knew him, which made him seem timelessly younger. I told them he was 76. “Oh. He was young” answered my 80 year old dad. “Yeah Dad… He was.” I responded.
I have written many posts where I talked about Bud Schoonover these past 3 1/2 years. A couple were pretty much solely dedicated to spreading Bud’s special Wisdom about the rest of the world… as Sonny Karcher insists to this day… My first post about Bud is called “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“. This is one of the first posts I wrote after talking about Sonny Karcher and Larry Riley, as Bud Schoonover has always been one of my favorite Power Plant Men of all time.
Last September I wrote a post called “Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud“. This post relays a number of my favorite stories about Bud. The most endearing story is the one where Bud would never let you check out a tool or supply if it was the last one left. It would crack me up the entire day when I would go to the tool room to get some supply only to have Bud tell me that he couldn’t let me have it because he only had one left.
As a new 18 year old summer help in 1979, Bud Schoonover offered me some advice that I decided to take. As I was sweeping the floor of the Maintenance Shop near the tool room one day, Bud waved me over, and he said, “Let me tell you something.” “What is it?” I asked. He said, “Maybe it’s not such a good idea to wear a shirt that says ‘Kiss Me I’m Left Handed’ at a plant that’s just about made up of all guys (my sister had bought that shirt for me). I decided that maybe he was right about that. I couldn’t get away with it the way that Betty White (I think that was her name), another warehouse worker could when she wore the shirt that said, “Eat Your Heart Out! I’m married!” That was Bud… looking out for me right from the start.
I mentioned earlier that Bud and I were destined to become good friends, and we did just that. For three years from May 1986 to May 1989 we carpooled together with Dick Dale and Jim Heflin. The Carpooling adventures came from the 750 round trips Bud Schoonover, Jim and Richard and I took to and from the Power Plant each morning.
Each day carpooling with Bud was special to me. Three years may not seem like a long time in a person’s life, but we actually drove together around 750 days in those three years. Each day. Four larger men all crammed into one car. My poor Honda Civic could hardly move when the four of us were in the car. My gas mileage went from 40 miles per gallon down to 30 with all of us in the car. — It’s true. A 1982 Honda Civic 1300 would go 40 miles on a gallon of gas!
750 days of talking to Bud Schoonover, Dick Dale and Jim Heflin (well, Jim left after two years to try his luck somewhere else). Bud, Jim, Richard (I always liked calling Dick Dale, “Richard” though everyone else called him Dick) were the Dynamic Trio. The three of them were the best of friends. Each day as they drove to work I felt like I was a fifth (or a fourth) wheel invited to a family get together. You couldn’t find three brothers closer than Bud Schoonover, Dick Dale and Jim Heflin. They had carpooled together before I showed up in 1986.
I rarely think of any of these three men without thinking about the other two. I picture them together all climbing out of my Honda Civic in the parking lot at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma after we had driven the 20 miles from Ponca City to the plant all crammed in my car. It always reminded me of one of those circus cars that pulls into the tent during the show and a bunch of people come pouring out and you wonder how did all those big guys fit in that little car.
Last year I wrote a post about Dick Dale (see the post “Dick Dale and the Power Plant Printer Romance“). that post begins with this sentence…. “When I first moved to Ponca City I carpooled to the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma with Dick Dale, Jim Heflin and Bud Schoonover.” I wonder how many times my parents and my children (and my coworkers) have heard me begin a story with that sentence….
My daughter thought for many years that the one year in 1993 at the Christmas Party in Ponca City when Bud Schoonover dressed up as Santa Claus, that this Santa was the real one! She told me on the way back home to Stillwater that she could look in Santa’s (Bud’s) eyes and tell that this Santa was the “Real Santa Claus!” She was always so happy to have actually met the real one when everyone else just met Mall Santas.
In actuality, Bud was so shy when the children came up to sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas that he could only smile and look down at them with tears welling up in his eyes. I remember when he looked over at me standing by as he was listening to my daughter. He had nothing but love in his eyes.
In the story about the Printer Romance I mentioned that Dick Dale died on Christmas Day, 2008.
Now I am writing a post about the second person of the Dynamic Trio that has finally found their peace and are once again joined together as family. Richard and Bud I know you are together again. I know because today the two of you asked me to look for Jim Heflin, the third brother in your Power Plant Family.
So, before I sat down to write this post this evening, I opened Facebook at Bud’s and Richard’s urging and searched for Jim Heflin. I don’t know how many there were, but there were a lot of Jim Heflins. I didn’t know what Jim would look like since I hadn’t seen him for the past 27 years. After scrolling down a few pages of Jim Heflins, one person caught my eye…. Could this be Jim?
One way to find out…. I looked at Jim’s friends, and sure enough….. There was Brenda (Bulldog) Heflin. This was my long lost friend. The last of the Dynamic Trio. Still alive and still with the same eyes…..
You see… over the past years, I have written stories about Jim Heflin too…. See the post “Power Plant Adventures with Jim Heflin” I have described Jim as giving you the impression of a friendly Hound Dog….
Well, here is the Facebook picture of the Jim Heflin I found tonight. I know it’s him. He has the same eyes that used to roll around when he would walk up to me to pat me on the back and tell me some words of wisdom….
I have missed my friend Jim Heflin, along with Bud and Richard until today. Now I feel like I have them back again.
Why did Richard and Bud want me to find Jim? They wanted me to tell Jim that they are back together again after all these years. I think they also wanted me to reach out to Jim for another reason as well…. Well… I’ll see about that…. How about it Jim?
I sent Jim a Friend request. That sounds real funny to me. To send a “Friend Request” to someone that I have held close to my heart since the first day I met him in May 1980.
Maybe some day Jim and I will be up there with Richard and Bud and we can go for a ride together….. I can see us now all crammed in that Fiery Chariot. Bud telling us about the weather report…. “Sunny”… of course…. Jim staring out the window up at the sun trying to pull up a sneeze (as Jim would sneeze in sunlight some times)… Richard and I rolling our eyes at each other as the Chariot comes to a halt in the middle of the stars because some school bus full of little angels has stopped and put out the Stop Sign three clouds over…. — Sonny Karcher, out in the Green Pastures on his tractor mowing the grass smiling at me for finally writing these stories…
From now on, I will keep to the straight and narrow so that one day I can be up there with my friends. All the True Power Plant Men that have gone before me. For now, I will just remember them….
Let me just end by saying, “Way to go Bud! I Love You Man!”
The 95th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted May 9, 2015
Mother’s Day came a week early for the men at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma in the year 2000. Instead of the scheduled May 14th Mother’s Day, the Power Plant Men gathered in the First Baptist Church in Pawnee Oklahoma to say goodbye to their Power Plant Mother Saturday, May 6, 2000. That was the day that Juliene Alley, our Power Plant Mother was laid to rest.
You might think that a woman welder spending her time at a Power Plant welding boiler tubes in the dark insides of the boiler during overhaul, or crammed up inside a bowl mill where the air you breathe can be as hot as 160 degrees Fahrenheit would fit the image of a broad shouldered tough woman that you wouldn’t want to meet in an Alley at night. This in no way describes Juliene. If I had a picture of Juliene, you would see a woman of small stature with a slightly worn countenance and a humble but confident expression with a slight smile that had been etched permanently into her face from years of being content with whatever lot in life she had been dealt.
I am not able to say what her life was like before she arrived at the Power Plant in 1985 one week before her 34th birthday. I know she had one son named Joseph Alley and she had been married to a man named Red. For me, her life began when I first met her at the tool room waiting to get a tool from Bud Schoonover. She was being treated with extra care by her welding crew. They were very protective of her at first. My first impression was that she was kind and soft spoken.
I didn’t work around Juliene for quite a while. I don’t even remember if she had worked her way through the Labor Crew as we were required when I hired on at the plant. I worked with Juliene only after the last downsizing when we were on the same cross-functional team in 1994. By that time, the welders referred to Juliene as their “Mom”.
I never heard an unkind word come from Juliene. It may have happened immediately following a Power Plant Joke had been played on her, but since it never would have occurred to me to play a joke on her, I only ever heard kind words from Juliene. I’m sure her son Joe could tell us more about that. Juliene spent a lot of time working with Ed Shiever. They were about the same height and it seemed to me that the two of them were paired often to work the same jobs.
The title “Mom” wasn’t given to her as a ceremonial title just because of her gender. When I watched Juliene with the welders, I could see and hear that she treated each one of the welders as if she was really and truly their Mother. I have heard her scold them, put them in their places, and even calm them down when they needed to be put in “time out”.
Juliene did not die unexpectedly. She died from a failing liver that lasted over many months. It seems to me that her son Joe married his sweetheart Shauna a little earlier than intended so that it was in time for his Mother to attend the wedding in September 1999, eight months before she passed away. The last time I talked with Juliene was when someone at the plant had called her in the hospital in Oklahoma City from the tool room telephone. When I walked in the tool room to get a part, someone asked me if I wanted to speak with Juliene.
When I talked to her, I could tell that she was trying to be pleasant in spite of the knowledge that she only had about a week or two left. I told her I would be praying for her. She asked me if I knew where she could find a new liver. I think I said something like, “I don’t have a spare one myself, but these machinists here are pretty good, maybe we can have one of them whip one up real quick.”
I have mentioned one of Juliene’s sons, Joe. I have also mentioned Ed Shiever, who was a Power Plant Son to Juliene. Here are some of Juliene’s other Power Plant children:
With Ed Shiever, that makes over a dozen Power Plant Sons. I’m sure there are others. (If any others would like to be added, let me know, and if I have your pictures, I’ll post them here).
I attended Juliene’s funeral ceremony at the First Baptist Church in Pawnee on May 6, 2000. The church was crowded that day with Power Plant Men. Some had come from other Power Plants in the state to say goodbye to the Power Plant Mom we had all come to love. Her Power Plant Sons stood up front and said their departing words to Juliene and to share their memories.
I have said in one of my early Power Plant Posts that each time a True Power Plant Man or Woman left the Power Plant that the character of the Power Plant would change. The gift that Juliene Alley gave to the maintenance shop for many years was one of calm and civility. I watched the welders over the years, and some of them began their Power Plant career with a less than “savory” attitude about life. Over the years, I think the affect of having Juliene constantly in their lives tamed the welding shop to mold them into the respectable, caring, fine Power Plant Men that they became. When Juliene left us that day at the Church, she left her character behind in her Power Plant Sons.
In memory of their Power Plant Mother, no character was lost from the Power Plant the day Juliene departed to tend to other pastures. Eight months to the day of Juliene’s death on January 3, 2001, Joseph Edward Alley, her son, joined the ranks of Power Plant Men as he came to work at the Power Plant. The joy of having the actual son of Juliene working in the plant was a reflection of how much we all loved his Mother.
As you can see, Juliene’s family continues to grow. Tomorrow we will be celebrating Mother’s Day. Today, on Saturday, I remember back to Saturday May 6, 2000. The day we celebrated our Power Plant Mother’s Day a week early.
The 94th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 4/25/2015
Power Plant Men cherish few things more than Friday afternoon when they head out to the parking lot and the weekend officially begins. Coolers full of ice, a quick trip to the convenience store for some beer and they are ready for the next two days. That’s why when a suggestion was made that the Power Plant Men might have to start working on Saturdays as well, the idea was not well received.
The Maintenance Department at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma had downsized from 13 crews to 4 teams. We were struggling to figure out how to make that work. We had four teams and only seven electricians. Which meant that one team had only one electrician. Diane Brien was the lucky “one”. She was the only electrician on her team.
We were spread out so far already, how could we possibly cover an extra day of the week? Who (besides operators – who work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) would want to give up their Saturday to work straight time at the Power Plant. I mean…. we all loved our jobs (for the most part), but this was asking a lot.
We had learned from the last two downsizings and the the Quality Process that when the company hired consultants, things were going to change. We were convinced that consultants were hired to take the heat off of upper management. They could just say, “Well…. This is what the Consultants told us would work best, so we’re cutting our staff in half.”
So, when consultants were hired for over $100,000 to figure out how we could work an “alternate work schedule”, we were suspicious. Any of us could sit around and put two and two together to figure out a way to work alternate work schedules. This led us to believe that this was another attempt to force us into something by saying, “The Consultants….. (not us)….” Bringing to mind the phrase from Star Wars, Return of the Jedi; “Many Bothans Died for This Information.”
Picture this lady telling the Power Plant Men how they were going to work on Saturdays and they were going to like it. The phrase “T’ain’t No Way!” comes to mind. Here is how the meeting went….
We were called to the main break room, which doubled as the main conference room, and tripled as the Men’s Club Gathering Sanctuary. The consultants were introduced to a room of silent, glaring, suspicious Power Plant Men types. We were told that they had been working on alternate work schedules that we might possibly want to consider. No matter what, they were not going to force anything on us. We were told that we would only go on an alternate work schedule if we voted and the majority were okay with it.
Power Plant Men chins began to jut out in defiance. The rattle of someone’s dentures came from the back of the room. A nearly unanimous vote of “No” was already decided by about 90% of the people going by the the body language of the men in the room.
The consultants continued by saying that they had three alternatives that they would like to run by us. The first one was to provide coverage 7 days of the week. I think everyone in the room knew that there were only 7 days in a week, and this meant that they wanted the four maintenance crews to work every day of the week. Including Sundays, since we figured that Sunday must be included in the 7 days, since we couldn’t think of 7 days without including Sundays.
Currently, Sundays were double time. If Sunday became a regular work day, then the only double time would be during the night. You can see the reason why management wanted to increase our regular coverage to the weekend. It would eliminate a large amount of overtime. This isn’t a bad idea when you are trying to figure out how to save money.
The consultants (I’m probably going to begin a lot of paragraphs with the words… The consultants… for obvious reasons) said that the benefit of working on Sundays was that every 4 weeks we would get 6 days off of work in a row! What? How does that work? They showed us how it worked, but the majority was not in favor of working Sundays.
I personally thought that if we had to work on Sundays, then I was probably going to be looking for a new job some place else. I knew operators did this, but this was something that they had accepted up front when they became operators. Operators are a special breed of workers that dedicate their lives to the plant. Maintenance crews, though they are equally loyal, are not willing to give up a regular work habit. Even though I worked Sundays when an emergency came up without question, this day was normally reserved for going to Church and spending the day at home with my family. So, this was never going to be a long term option for me.
The options to work on Sundays meant that there was only one day each week (Thursday) when all four of the teams would be working on the same day. That would be the day when we would have plant-wide meetings, like the Monthly (or had it moved to Quarterly) Safety meetings.
There were two options that included Sundays. Neither of them were acceptable to the Power Plant Men. The third option was to cover Saturday. The consultants showed us how we could cover Saturday as a normal work day and every four weeks we could have 5 days off in a row. How is it, you ask, can you cover one extra day and you have more days off?
The Consultant’s answer: Work 4-10s (four tens). That is, work four ten hour days each week. When you work ten hour days for four days, you still work the same 40 hours each week, only you have to show up at the plant for four days instead of 5. This means, you have one extra day each week where you don’t even have to go to work.
Think about this… We normally arrived at the plant at 8:00 and left at 4:30 (8 hour day with a 30 minute lunch). We were being asked to come in at 7:00 and leave at 5:30. Two extra hours each day and you only have to work 4 days. The company will not only be covering a Saturday now, but they would be covering 10 hours each day instead of just 8. The dentures rattled again in the back of the room, only this time it was Bill Green’s (our plant manager)…. he was salivating at the prospect of covering an extra 20 hours each week (2 extra hours each week day and 10 hours on Saturday) by just shuffling around the work schedule. That’s 50% more coverage!
Think about this some more….. I only had to do laundry for four days of coal and fly ash soaked clothes instead of five. I only had to drive the 25 miles to the plant and the 25 miles back, four times each week instead of five. That reduces my gas by 20%. It also gives me an extra hour each week when I don’t have to drive to and from work… this comes out to 48 extra hours free each year (after subtracting vacation) for just not having to drive to work five times each week. More than an extra week’s worth of vacation. saved in driving time alone. I’ll tell you some more benefits after I show you how this worked….
The consultants explained the 4 – 10s covering a Saturday with four crews like this….. We worked on a four week cycle. Each week, each team was on a different week in the cycle. We all worked on Wednesday and Thursday. The rest of the days, there were less than 4 teams working… it worked like this….
If you are working on week 3 (Monday thru Thursday), after Thursday you don’t go back to work until next Wednesday! Five days off in a row without using any vacation!
Crazy huh? The only catch was that you had to work on a Saturday once every four weeks. But think about this…. (I seem to enjoy saying that in this post…. “think about this…”) I think it’s because the first thought is that this is dumb. Why would I want to work two extra hours each day? Why would I want to give up one of my Saturdays? Ok… while you’re thinking about that, I’ll move on to the next paragraph…
I suppose you realized by now that there are 13 Saturdays that each person would work in a 52 week year when you work a Saturday once every four weeks. Thinking about it that way isn’t so bad. Especially since the Power Plant Men had at least four weeks vacation (160 hours) by this time since the majority of the Power plant Men had been there for at least 10 years. Those with 20 years had 5 weeks vacation (200 hours). My fellow electrician Charles Foster said that to me as we were going back to work…. “I can just take vacation every time we have to work on Saturday.” — We’ll see….
With 10 hour days, that meant that if you have 4 weeks vacation, then you have 16 days off. You could take your Saturday off for vacation for the entire year, giving you a three day weekend instead of two days off in a row every 4 weeks using only 10 hours of vacation, and you can avoid having to work any Saturdays (if that’s really what you want).
The Power Plant Men decided to give it a try to see how we liked it for a few months. The majority of us had mixed feelings about this new work schedule. The other thought in our mind was, “We paid over $100,000 for someone to come up with this? Maybe we’re in the wrong line of work.”
One problem with this plan is that we had to have an alternate carpooling schedule. Scott Hubbard and Fred Turner and I were not all on the same teams. So, we had to figure out when we were working on the same days and try to remember who drove the last time we had that particular configuration of carpoolers in order to figure out whose turn it was to drive. We figured something out that seemed to work… there were just a few times when the neighbors would hear… “No, it’s my turn! No! It’s mine! Remember last Friday? But that was you and Scott! No! I have it right here in my notes! Fred drove, we talked about Deer Stands and types of feeders. I nodded my head a lot.”
The first Saturday Charles Foster and I showed up to work, we noticed a great benefit right away. Our team was the only team working in the Maintenance Shop. That meant that we had all the trucks to ourselves! No fighting over truck keys! We didn’t have to wait in line at the tool room. No waiting around for Clearances on the equipment. We had full reign over the shop. We also had Sue Schritter go to Ponca City to pick up parts shortly before lunch so that she could bring back Pizza for us! (ok. yes. we were bribed with Pizza) Courtesy of our foreman, Alan Kramer:
oh. almost forgot the picture of the pizza:
We really enjoyed working on Saturday. It turned out to be the best day to work. No management stalk… um… walking around watching us from around corners…. No meetings… Just working away without interruption. We would complete a lot of work on Saturdays.
Another benefit that I don’t think was expected was a big reduction in Sick Leave. I no longer had to take off time to go to the doctor or the dentist. I now had days off during the week, so I would just schedule doctor appointments when I was not working.
Holidays were handled two ways. You still only had 8 hours off for a holiday instead of 10, so you had to work around that. When there was a holiday, you could either work four 8 hour days (instead of 10) that week and take off the holiday just as you normally would, or you could take off 8 hours just on the holiday, and either use 2 hours of vacation or come into work for 2 hours (2 hours vacation made the most sense since you wouldn’t want to drive that far to work for just 2 hours).
When it was all said and done, the Power Plant Men stayed on 4-10s working every fourth Saturday at our plant. Other plants were able to decide on their own work schedules. I know one of the other plants decided they didn’t want to change. They still liked driving to work five days each week instead of four. They liked cleaning five days worth of dirty clothes each week instead of four. They liked having two days off each week instead of an average of three days. Maybe they didn’t know what they liked.
This brings to mind a book that I read once after reading another book recommended by Toby O’Brien. Toby gave me a book once called “One Minute Manager”.
One of the authors wrote another book called, “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D. I encourage everyone to read this:
Reading books like these are a lot cheaper than hiring a consultant for boo-coos just to make changes. You just have “Power Plant Reading Time” during the morning meeting and read a chapter from this little book.
The 93rd “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 4/11/2015
I began writing this blog more than three years ago in order to share some of the stories about the great Power Plant Men and Women that I was privileged to work with for twenty years at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. I have put the men and women of this plant on a well-deserved pedestal. Don’t just take my word for it. The rest of the world had their eyes fixed on our plant. Of the 700 Coal-fired Power Plants operating in the United States, there was one that stood out above all the rest. It was no wonder to me.
The Power Plant had been told that in 1995 our plant had the lowest operating and maintenance cost of any fossil fueled Power Plant in the United States. This included the cost for the fuel, which was coal being transported from Wyoming on trains. The second lowest operating Power Plant was our sister plant in Muskogee. After that was a plant in Texas that happened to sit on coal mine, and didn’t have the cost of shipping their coal 1,000 miles before they burned it.
The company was so proud of our achievements that they gave each of us a Jean Jacket with our names embroidered on it. On the upper right it said, “1995 Low Cost Award”.
I don’t do Selfies, that’s why I draped this over a chair.
A couple of years later, we were again awarded as the low cost provider of electricity in the country. This time they gave us Denim shirts. Okies like Denim… I guess you could tell. The cuff on the sleeve says, “1997 Sooner Power Plant Model Of Cost Efficiency”.
In the spring of 1998 (someone can correct me on the year), a plant manager, Mark Draper from England came to our plant to study us. He wanted to see how a group of 124 employees could run a plant the size of a small city as efficiently as we did. Throughout the year he worked on various teams to see how we operated. He wanted to learn our secret. The plant was willing to share everything with Mark.
Mark would spend a month working as a welder, then another month working as an Instrument and Controls Technician, then another in the machine shop. He continued throughout the year bouncing from job to job watching and learning. He spent a lot of time working with the Engineers. I kept waiting for him to work as an electrician.
I had our second biggest secret just waiting to show to Mark, but it seems that it never occurred to Mark that electricians had something to offer to the efficiency of the Power Plant. Because during the twelve months Mark spent at our plant, he never worked as an electrician.
The first biggest secret came in the form of an Engineer named Larry Kuennen. He had studied the way the coal burned in the boiler and had come up with ways to increase the efficiency. I’m sure Mark learned a lot from working with Larry.
I kept itching for the day that Mark Draper ended up working out of the electric shop. I was going to take him on a tour and show him how we were saving a huge amount of electricity at our plant in a way that is totally overlooked by everyone else. Without this secret, there would be no way we would have been the low cost provider of electricity. I think at the time our plant could create electricity at a rate around 1.5 cents per killowatthour (someone at the plant can correct me. It has been a while and I may be confusing this with the percent cost of IT by revenue at Dell).
Before I tell you about the report that Mark Draper gave us at the end of his year of studying the heman habits of Oklahoma Power Plant Men, let me expand on the way the electricians had increased the efficiency of the power plant. It has to do with what a foreman, Mark Fielder would refer to as “My Baby.” The precipitator.
The Precipitator is the piece of equipment that uses more power than just about everything else at the plant combined. It takes the ash out of the exhaust before it goes out of the smoke stack. That is why you don’t see smoke coming out of the smoke stack on a coal-fired Power Plant when it’s running. When a precipitator is running efficiently, it should be able to take out 99.97% of the ash from the exhaust from the boiler.
The amount of ash going out of the smoke stack is measured by opacity. That is, how much do the particles in the exhaust block a ray of light shining across the stack. We tried to keep the opacity below 5%. I think we legally had to keep it below 20%, but anything above 8% didn’t look good when you drove by the plant. You would be able to see the smoke.
The precipitator at our plant used Static electricity to collect the ash. Like I said, it used a lot of electricity. Megawatts of power. The secret is that Static electricity shouldn’t use much power. Practically none. If you calculated the work that actually had to be done, it was miniscule compared to running a conveyor or a big fan or a bowl mill. This meant that 90% or more of the electricity used by an Electrostatic precipitator is wasted energy. It is leaking, and in many cases actually working against collecting the ash. A fine tuned electrostatic precipitator shouldn’t use much electricity.
We had found a number of ways at our plant to manipulate the electric pulse used to charge the plates in the precipitator in order to reduce the wasted electricity. When everything ran correctly, when the unit was at full load (510 Megawatts), the precipitator could have an opacity close to 0% using less than 100 Kilowatts (yes. I said Kilowatts) of power. This was so unheard of that the company that manufactured our controls refused to believe it even when they were standing in the Precipitator Control Room watching it operate.
To put this in perspective. One winter day, while I was tuning the precipitator, the space heaters in the Precipitator control room was using more power to heat the room than the entire precipitator was using to remove the ash at full load. The opacity was almost 0%.
Another side story about this is that at one point, the opacity monitor was measuring a negative 0.2%. Tony Mena, the Instrument and Controls Technician worked on calibrating the monitor. He would take it to the logic room and set it up on some stands there that had the same measurements as the stack. No matter how many times he calibrated the monitor, he was still coming out with -.1 or -.2% when he hooked it up to the smoke stack. The final conclusion was that the precipitator was operating so efficiently that the exhaust going out of the smoke stack was cleaner than the ambient air. — I know… I know… impossible… right?
I’ll admit, it wasn’t just the manipulation of the electric pulse, it was also sensitive to the temperature of the exhaust and the amount of sulfur in the coal. We burned Wyoming coal which has a very low amount of sulfur. This made it more challenging.
I couldn’t wait to show this to Mark Draper, the UK Plant Manager. This was my baby, and I was proud of it. Only, Mark never showed up.
One day I saw a man with a clipboard walking around the precipitator hoppers writing something down as he studied them. So, I walked up to him. I could tell right away that he was someone from England that had come as part of Mark Draper’s crew of spectators. I asked him if he was interested in learning how we ran our precipitators.
I thought, maybe this is someone who is finally interested in how we save tons of money in operating cost each year by not wasting it on the precipitator. He was an engineer taking notes on our ash transport system. He wasn’t interested in how we operated the controls. He said in England they just throw the switch and power up the precipitator to full power and let it go at that. — A total waste of power and it’s less efficient. I couldn’t even convince him to take a walk through the control cabinets just to see the voltage and amp meters.
Oh well, I thought… This would just be our plant’s little secret. No one else seems to want to know about it.
At the end of the year during our monthly safety meeting, Mark Draper gave us a report of his findings. He went through a lot of bullet points in a PowerPoint Presentation. — Yeah. We were beginning to get fancy with the computers around that time.
The first thing that Mark brought up was this…. He said that there was no way he was going to be able to go back to England and repeat what he had learned here. The reason was that the Fine Power Plant Men and Women at our plant came to work each day and began working at 8:00. They took close to a 20 minute break in the morning and in the afternoon. They took a 40 minute lunch (Breaks were technically 15 minutes and lunch was 30, but…. you know how it is… you have to stretch them a little). He explained that at our plant, we had about 6 and a half hours each day of productive time. 6-1/2 hours of actually working on something.
In England, this was impossible. When the workers arrived at the plant in England, they took a long time getting ready for work. They took longer breaks and longer lunches, and at the end of the day, they would take a long time to take a shower and clean up. Almost an hour to clean up at the end of the day. In England they were lucky when they were able to get 4 hours of actual work out of their workers. Because of union agreements and such, they were helpless to change this culture.
Mark was impressed at the amount of pride people took doing their jobs. I will paraphrase what Mark told us: He could tell that the Oklahoma Power Plant Men and Women wanted to do a good job. They received satisfaction by applying their skills to their work. In England, the attitude of the worker was more like this was just a job. Their real satisfaction in life was when they left the plant. In Oklahoma, when the Power Plant Men left the plant, they left with more of a feeling of pride over doing a good job.
Mark did offer us some advice on how we could better ourselves. He did give us his honest opinion about some things that he thought we might do better. They sounded more like they were coming from his Plant Manager training than from his experience at our plant.
As Mark never did work with the electricians, I was never able to work with him. Others who did, found Mark to be very friendly. I know that some also kept in touch with him long after he left to go back to England. I missed the opportunity to befriend Mark. I wish I had.
Mark Draper must have had a tremendous amount of character to be able to persuade those in England that he should take off an entire year to go work at a Power Plant in Oklahoma U.S.A.. Just think of the commitment he was making to leave his home for a year to go work alongside skilled labor in another country.
I didn’t know Mark personally like a lot of the other Power Plant Men did, but after I originally posted this post (yesterday), a Control Room Operator, Jim Cave who knew Mark better told these stories to me:
Mark told me that he wanted to live a normal American life while in the states. Bill Green had bought him a gift of an outdoor grill. The first opportunity that he had to use it he told me that he grilled the family some burgers and then they all went and sat in the car and ate them!
He also went and bought some American jeans so he would blend in with the workers. He caught all kinds of grief from the guys when they noticed his jeans didn’t have any back pockets! His wife had to go back to the store and buy him some “guy” pants.
He WAS a very nice and very smart guy. The cultural differences were interesting. He came into the control room one day asking me for “a pair of steps”. We had no idea that he wanted a ladder.
Mark did make sense when he said that what he saw at our plant he would not be able to reproduce in England. The truth was that what Mark saw at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma was something that few plants in the United States could reproduce. I have been attempting to make this point each week for the past 3 years.
There was something very special at this Power Plant during the 20 years when I worked there. Something you are not going to find just anywhere. The plant housed a collection of some of the most fantastic minds and personalities on the planet. They had somehow all come together to perform a team that not only produced the “Model of Cost Efficiency” as it said on our shirts, but had also created a group of extraordinary teamwork.
Whenever I sat in a meeting like the Monthly Safety Meeting, where the entire maintenance department was present, as I looked around the room, I honestly could see that for the most part we were more of a family than we were employees. I was lucky to have been invited to be a part of this family. Kudos to you all.