I have always been a late bloomer. It wasn’t until I was 60 before I realized that every time I yanked a hair out of my nose, I had one less hair on my head. Imagine my surprise. Now that I have to wear a hat when I go outside to prevent a sunburn on my dome, I wish someone had told me about this a long time ago.
As a young boy, I knew something was up the day my mom received a letter with the results from the IQ test we had taken at school. She seemed excited at first as we were standing at the mailbox. After opening it and quickly reading the results, she suddenly folded it up and put it back in the envelope without divulging her findings. At first I took that as meaning that I was such a genius that my mom didn’t want me to know in case it would go to my head.
I thought to myself… “Well, if I knew it meant that much to her, I would have paid more attention when I was taking that dumb test.” I was more interested in the instructions the teacher had given us at the time, which was that when we had finished this test, which had nothing to do with our grades, we could go outside and play for the rest of the day.
I knew I looked at the world differently than my classmates. Sometimes I would answer a question or make a comment that seemed perfectly obvious to me, and the rest of the class would suddenly go silent as if I had just said something very stupid. I would look around at them like, “Am I not making myself clear? The answer is obvious.” I couldn’t help it if they didn’t understand. But then again, I realized that maybe it was just me.
Even at 60 years old, I still have that same effect on people. Often when I give my input in meetings, everyone seems to pause as if to indicate that I just said something rather dumb. I’m used to it. As I said, I knew I see the world differently even at an early age. I also knew all along that I didn’t know a lot of things that other people just seemed to know instinctively.
That was why the first day I showed up at the Power Plant as a summer help in 1979, I was rather cautious about my first encounter with Power Plant Men. I didn’t want them to immediately know that I was “slow”. I had years of practice at hiding that fact, so I put on a look of “confident kindness” thinking that if I was friendly, then who cares if I’m dumb. I looked young for my age. Even though I was 18 I knew I looked more like I was 15 or even younger.
My first encounter was with Sonny Karcher, as I described in the post In Memory of Sonny Karcher – Power Plant Man. Before long, I was working with a number of Power Plant Men that took me under their wing. Especially after I had told them that some day I might write a book about them. Which for someone as dumb as me, I thought was a brilliant idea.
I soon became so popular that a number of crews would ask if I could go along on jobs with them. I had never been one for being lazy, and manual labor suited me just fine. I was a perfect “gopher” who didn’t mind taking the truck back to the shop to “go for” parts and tools.
Even though I was just a temporary employee for the summer, I was invited to help disassemble and reassemble pumps and gearboxes, as the plant at the time was going through something called “check out” before they actually came online and began producing electricity for the first time. I was enjoying my notoriety. Never before in my life had I experienced the feeling of friendship that I received from the men in the maintenance shop.
The A foreman, Marlin McDaniel (or Mac) came up to me one day and explained that some people in the shop were complaining that I was working on things that they should be doing. Since I was going to be going back to school at the end of the summer, they should be the ones working on the equipment, since they will need to know everything going forward. They made a good point.
I knew that I probably would never need to know about the tolerance level between the size of a bearing and the bearing housing of a pump end bell, but they would. I would be gone, and they would have missed the opportunity to learn at a critical stage of their training. So, I was not surprised when Mac gave me my next job.
Mac took me over to a corner of the maintenance shop where pallets of large boxes had recently been unloaded from a truck that had backed into the shop that morning. He said that these were office desks that needed to be assembled. There were 15 of them all together. Some would be used as work benches in the shop, and others would be brought to the office area upstairs.
I was going to assemble the desks by myself in a corner of the maintenance shop, so I dragged a box over to an open spot on the floor and pulled the parts out of the box and looked at the instructions. It seemed as if each desk consisted of the parts for each of the drawers, and the desktop and sides and back, and about 10,000 little bolts.
As I started working on the first desk I realized that it was going to take all day just to assemble one of these. Using my exceptional brain power, I quickly calculated that this amounted to 15 days of work, or three weeks. It so happened that I was going to be at the plant for only 3 more weeks before I left to go back to school. It looked as if this was going to be the only job I was going to be doing the rest of the summer.
I began feeling a little sick about my prospects, after spending two months working side-by-side with other Power Plant Men that had treated me as an equal. Now I was consigned to my own little corner of the shop where I was going to be spending my days alone. I was surprised by how much this seemed to rub me the wrong way. The monotony of using a nut driver to install each bolt seemed like such an overwhelming burden to me.
This surprised me since my life up to this point was spent enjoying menial tasks such as this. It was my new friends I was missing. As they carried their tool boxes to their trucks to head out on a job, I watched them as they glanced over at me, sorry that I wasn’t going to be able to go with them.
That morning on the way to work I had been looking forward to whatever job I was going to be doing that day. On the ride home that evening, I was silent, sitting the in back seat of Dale Hull’s Volkswagen Sirocco. My knuckles were scraped up from the protruding bolts as I reached into tight spots to assemble drawers, and the cabinets that fit under the desks. I was painfully aware of my over reaction to my turn of events.
The next morning when I began assembling my second desk, I waved goodbye to the various crews that had adopted me in the previous weeks as they took off to do their jobs. I noticed that after building the first desk, I was able to assemble the second one a lot faster. By lunch time, I had almost finished it. This meant by the end of the second week I should be done.
After I came down from the lunch room and began my work finishing up the second desk something remarkable happened. Dale Hull came up to me and said, “Mind if I help?” Overjoyed for his help, I tried to appear calm as I gladly said, “Sure! That would be great!” He walked across the shop and grabbed his tools and came back with Ricky Daniels. They each grabbed a box off of the stack of desks, and began assembling them.
I thought, “With 3 of us working, we could be done with 5 desks by the end of the day! 1/3rd of them in 2 days!
While I was hoping that Dale and Ricky would be able to stay and finish their desks before being called away, Tom Dean came over and slid a box off of a pallet and began working without even saying anything. Sonny Karcher, Larry Riley and Jerry Mitchell were the next three that grabbed a box. Before long desk parts were strewn over half of the shop as Power Plant Men were building all of the desks!
Someone had brought a radio over and plugged it in and everyone was listening to music and talking as if they were having a party. By the end of the day all of the desks had been assembled. My 15 day lonely task had turned into a 2 day task ending with a party of Power Plant Men all pitching in to help.
That evening during the drive home, sitting in the back of Dale Hull’s car, I was overwhelmed at how quickly things can turn around when you have friends. Little did I know that the next day, I would be given quite a different task. Not one where I worked alone, but one that would keep me busy for the next 2 weeks until I left to go back to school. You can read about that in this post: Power Plant Painting Lessons with Aubrey Cargill.