This is a repost of a story that was Posted on January 21, 2012. I rewrote it slightly and added a story to the bottom of it.
When I worked on the labor crew, we used to have a lot of fun cleaning out the boiler. Especially the economizer section where we had that three-foot crawl space in the middle where you had to lie flat with the hydraulic spreaders and the four-inch vacuum hose trying to suck out the chunks of ash clinkers before the crawl space filled up with ash. After lying around in this wonderful environment for a day or so, one begins to look around for something to break the drone of the sucking sound of the vacuum and the swishing sound of the crosscut saws welded end on end as they rose and fell in a rhythmic beat propelled by Labor Crew He-men ten feet above this large bundle of Economizer tubes.
Bob Lillibridge was never in a bad mood when it came to cleaning the boiler. His thin physique allowed him easy access to the crawl space. The wild glare in his eye and cigarette smile kept everyone guessing what he would do next. The texture of Bob’s face was like those bikers that have spent too many hours riding their Harleys through the desert without wearing a helmet. Especially after working in the economizer for a week.
He was especially cheerful when we were able to work in the Economizer crawl space with Ronnie Banks. Ronnie Banks, unlike Bob, was not wiry. His stature was more like a thin black bear standing on his hind legs. He sort of walked that way too. I developed a song when Ronnie Banks and I worked together that went to the tune of the Lone Ranger theme (the William Tell Overture), that consisted of saying his name rapidly over and over again (like: Ronnie Banks Ronnie Banks Ronnie Banks Banks Banks). It felt good to sing this song, and it seemed to amuse Ronnie Banks.
Bob on the other hand knew that Ronnie was highly claustrophobic. So, he would let Ronnie crawl through the too small hole into the economizer, then would crawl in after him. After they were in the entrance far enough, Bob would grab both of Ronnie’s legs and hug them as hard as he could.
This would send Ronnie into a Claustrophobic seizure where he would flail himself around wildly yelling unrecognizable words such as “Blahgruuuee” and “uuunnnhh-ope” and other similar pronunciations. I think Bob Lillibridge just liked to hear Ronnie Banks speaking in tongues.
I have to admit it did give you a strange sort of spiritual high when you saw the smile of pure satisfaction on Bob’s face as his body flew by while he was hugging Ronnie’s legs that were spinning and twirling all round a crawl space that was only three feet high.
I think it was these kind of spiritual moments that gave me the dream to write a story about the day that Bob Lillibridge met the Boiler Ghost. It went like this:
The Boiler Ghost
From the darkness of the boiler it came.
The Boiler Ghost, black, enormous, full of hate.
I watched with disbelief as it edged its way along.
Its eyes, red and piercing, with a stare of terror.
It glanced first this way and then that.
As its eyes passed through me I was filled with
Such a terrible fright that I felt near the point of death.
The massive head hung down between two pointed
Shoulder blades vulture-like.
The most terrifying thing of all was the gaping mouth
That hung open.
It was full of such a terrible darkness,
So dark and evil as if it were the gates of Hell.
Just then I noticed its eyes had fixed on Bob.
He was pressed against the wall by the piercing stare,
His mouth open wide as if to scream.
Eyes bulging out in utter terror.
Mindless with pure fright.
I tried to scream, but felt such a choking force
I could make no noise.
With steady movement the monster advanced toward Bob.
Bob was white as ash staring into that dark empty mouth.
Smoke poured out of a flat nose on that horrid face.
It reached out a vile and tremendous hand
And grabbed Bob,
Who burst into flames at his touch.
In one movement he was gone.
Vanished into the mouth of pure darkness.
The Evil Ghost glanced first this way, then that,
And into the darkness of the boiler it went.
All was quiet,
The roar of the boiler told me I was safe once again.
Until the boiler ghost should decide to return.
I showed this poem to Bob after I had written it down. He chuckled a little, but didn’t seem too amused by it. Actually he looked a little worried.
Some time after I had written this poem and was actually on the labor crew (I had been on loan while I was a janitor when we were cleaning the economizer), we were in the bottom ash hopper at the bottom of the #2 boiler while it was offline. There are two hoppers side-by-side, and we were breaking up some hard clinkers that had built up in there. I had climbed over the one hopper where we were entering the hoppers to check something out, when all of the sudden someone started sandblasting the other hopper.
Now, these hoppers are quite large and you would have thought that someone sandblasting over on the other hopper wouldn’t really bother you if you were over in the other hopper, but I can assure you, that isn’t the case. As I was only wearing a t-shirt and jeans, when the sandblast hose started blowing out sand, before I could climb over the hopper to try to escape, I was being pelted by sand.
It felt as if someone was just aiming the sandblast hose over the top of the hopper toward me (which could very well have been the case). I searched around the hopper to find a place where I was being pelted the least, and then I just crouched there with my face against the side of the hopper to protect it. Finally after 10 to 15 minutes (though it seemed more like an hour), the sandblast hose was turned off, and I was able to climb over the hopper and out the portal to fresh air.
I don’t think anyone even realized I was over in the other hopper when they decided to turn the sandblast hose on. I just climbed out of there and went about my business just slightly bruised all over from being blasted by sand. — It didn’t occur to me until just now that this is the hopper where I had seen the Boiler Ghost climb out, and Bob was there that day, and may have even been the person holding the sandblast hose…
Later Bob was able to move off of the labor crew. I think he went to the welding shop. Then later during the 1987-88 reshuffle, I think he was told that he was going to have to go back to the labor crew, and that was too much for him after being on the labor crew so long before being able to move off. So, he left the plant. I never knew for certain what happened to Bob. I think he still lives somewhere around Pawnee, Oklahoma.